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John Brown, Jr., Jason, and Salmon to John Brown

Friday Morning, June 22, 1855.

DEAR FATHER, - Day before yesterday we received a letter from you dated Rockford, Ill., 24th May, which for some unaccountable cause has been very long delayed on the road. We are exceedingly glad to hear from you, and that you still intend coming on. Our health is now excellent, and our crops, cattle, and horses look finely. We have now about twelve acres of sod corn in the ground, more than a quarter acre of white beans, two and a half bushels seed potatoes planted and once hoed, besides a good garden containing corn, potatoes, beets, cabbages, turnips, a few onions, some peas, cucumbers, melons, squashes, etc. Jason's fruit-trees, grape-vines, etc., that survived the long period of transportation, look very well: probably more than half he started with are living, with the exception of peaches; of these he has only one or two trees. As we arrived so late in the season, we have but little expectation of harvesting much corn, and but few potatoes. The rainy season usually commences here early in April or before, and continues from six to eight weeks, during which a great amount of rain falls. This year we had no rain of any consequence before the 12th or 15th of May; since then have had two heavy rains accompanied with some wind and most tremendous thunder and lightning; have also had a number of gentle rains, continuing from one to twenty-four hours; but probably not more than half the usual fall of rain has yet come. As the season last year was irregular in this respect, probably this will be to some extent. We intend to keep our garden, beans, and some potatoes watered if we can, so as to have something if our corn should be a failure. As it is, the prospect is middling fair, and the ground is ploughed ready for early planting next year. Old settlers here say that people should calculate on having the spring's sowing and planting all done by the middle of April; in that case their crops are more abundant. The prairies are covered with grass, which begins to wave in the wind most beautifully; shall be able to cut any quantity of this, and it is of far better quality than I had any idea.

In answer to your questions: Good oxen are from $50 to $80 per yoke, - have been higher; common cows, from $15 to $25, - probably will not be higher; heifers in proportion. Limited demand as yet for fine stock. Very best horses from $100 to $150 each; average fair to good, $75 to $80. No great demand now for cattle or horses. A good strong buggy would sell well, - probably a Lumberee best. Mr. Adair has had several chances to sell his. Very few Lumberee buggies among the settlers. White beans, $5 per bushel; corn meal, $1.75 per bushel of fifty pounds, tending downward; flour, $7 per hundred pounds; dried apples, 12 1/2 cents per pound; bacon, 12 to 14 cents here; fresh beef, 5 to 6 cents per pound. Enclosed is a slip cut from a late number of the "Kansas Tribune" giving the markets there, which differ somewhat from prices in this section. It is the paper published at Lawrence by the Speers.

I have no doubt it would be much cheaper and healthier for you to come in the way you propose, with a "covered lumber buggy and one horse or mule," especially from St Louis here. The navigation of the Missouri River, except by the light-draught boats recently built for the Kansas River, is a horrid business in a low stage of water, which is a considerable portion of the year. You will be able to see much more of the country on your way, and if you carry some provisions along it is altogether the cheaper mode of travelling; besides, such a conveyance is just what you want here to carry on the business of surveying. You can have a good road here whithersoever you may wish to go. Flour, white beans, and dried fruit will doubtless continue for some time to come to be high. It is believed that a much larger emigration will arrive here this fall than before. Should you buy anything to send by water, you can send it either to Lawrence, thirty-five miles north of us, or to Kansas City, Mo., care of Walker & Chick, sixty miles northeast of us.

A surveyor would soon find that great numbers are holding more land, and especially timber, than can be covered by 160 acres, or even 320, and that great numbers are holding claims for their friends; so that I have no doubt people will find a sufficient amount of timber yet for a long time. Owing to the rapid settlement of the country by squatters, it does not open a good field for speculators.

The land on which we are located was ceded by the Pottawatomie Indians to the Government. The Ottawa lands are soon to be sold, each person of the tribe reserving and choosing two hundred acres; the remainder open to pre-emption after their choice is made. The Peoria lands have been bargained for by the Government, and are to be sold to the highest bidder without reservation. But Missourians have illegally gone on to these Peoria lands, intending to combine and prevent their going higher than $1.25 per acre, and then claim, if they go higher, a large amount of improvements, - thus cheating the Indians. The Ottawas intend to divide into families, and cultivate the soil and the habits of civilized life, as many of them are now doing. They are a fine people. The Peorias are well advanced, and might do the same but for a bad bargain with our Government. [Here is drawn a plan of the Brown settlement or claim.] There is a town site recently laid out on the space marked "village plat;" as there are two or three in sight, it is uncertain which will be taken. The semicircle is even ground, sloping every way, and affording a view in every way of from twenty to thirty miles in every direction, except one small point in the direction of Osawatomie; the view from this ground is beautiful beyond measure. The timbered lands on Middle Creek are covered with claims; the claimants, many of them from Ohio, Illinois, and the East, are mostly Free-State folks. There are probably twenty families within five or six miles of us.

Day before yesterday Owen and I ran the Peoria line east to see if there might not be found a patch of timber on some of the numerous small streams which put into the Osage, and which would be south of the Peoria line. We found on a clear little stream sufficient timber for a log-house, and wood enough to last say twenty families for two or three years, perhaps more, and until one could buy and raise more. Here a good claim could be made by some one. The prairie land which would be included is of the very best I have ever seen; plenty of excellent stone on and adjoining it. Claims will soon be made here that will have no more than two or three acres of timber; and after these are exhausted prairie claims will be taken, the claimants depending on buying their timber. Already this is the case, and many are selling off twenty, thirty, and forty acres from their timber claims to those who have none.

[Note of Sanborn:] The above, though without signature, is in the handwriting of John Brown, Jr.; and the plan of "Brown's Station" is drawn in his neat surveyor's manner. In the same envelope evidently went the two following letters from Jason Brown (familiarly called "Jay" by his family) and Salmon, the eldest son of the second marriage.

OSAWATOMIE, K. T., June 23, 1855.

DEAR FATHER, MOTHER, BROTHERS, AND SISTERS, - We received a few days since a letter from mother, since then one from father, which we were all very glad to get. I should have written you before, but since we laid little Austin in the grave I have not felt as if I could write. I shall not attempt to say much now. We fully believe that Austin is happy with his Maker in another existence; and if there is to be a separation of friends after death, we pray God to keep us in the way of truth, and that we may so run our short course as to be able to enjoy his company again. Ellen feels so lonely and discontented here without Austin, that we shall go back to Akron next fall if she does not enjoy herself better. I am well pleased with the country, and can be as well content here as anywhere else if it proves to be healthy. It is a very rich and beautiful country. I should think it would be altogether best for father to come by land from St. Louis. Salmon has a very good claim (as well as the rest of us), and seems to be very much pleased with it. We are all living together in tents and in the wagon, and have no houses yet. I used all the money I had for freight and passage before I got here, and had to borrow of John. We have no stoves; I wish now that we had brought ours along. We would all like to hear from you often. All well.

Your affectionate son and brother,
J. L. BROWN.

P. S. If you should come by Akron on your way here, and could buy and box up a middle-sized stove and furniture, with about four lengths of pipe, and send or bring it to me at Kansas City, I will contrive some way to pay you for it. I think they can be got there and shipped here cheaper than they can be bought here. I would like to have you inquire, if you will.

OSAWATOMIE, K. T., June 22, 1855.

DEAR FATHER, - We received your letter from Rockford, Ill., this week, and are very glad that you are going to get through there soon, and that you are going to be here before fall. In answer to your questions about what you will need for your company, I would say that I have one acre of corn that looks very well, and some beans and squashes and turnips. You will want to get some pork and meal, and beans enough to last till the crop comes in, and then I think we will have enough grain to last through the winter. I will have a house up by the time that you will get here. My boots are very near worn out, and I shall need some summer pants and a hat. I bought an axe, and that you will not have to get. There are slaves owned within three miles of us.

Your affectionate son,
SALMON BROWN.

Source: F. B. Sanborn, ed., The Life and Letters of John Brown. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1891., pp. 194-98


Chapter Four: To “defeat Satan and his legions” in Kansas

His Soul Goes Marching On

West Virginia Archives and History