Skip Navigation


John Brown Jr. Letter

Western Reserve Chronicle
December 22, 1855

(For the Chronicle)
LETTER FROM KANSAS

Brown’s Station, Kansas Ter.,
Dec. 22, 1855

Before this letter reaches you, you will no doubt, have got some report of the recent invasion of this Territory by an armed force, chiefly from the State of Missouri. This affair, like most other questions, has two sides, and the story will be told in a different way by both pro-slavery and anti-slavery partisans. The same facts, it is well known, appears differently when viewed from different standpoints; bearing this in mind, I shall endeavor, though standing on the anti-slavery side, to give you, not my opinion nor my inferences, but the principal facts connected with this matter. Having myself been on the ground as a volunteer in defense of Lawrence, and being an eye and ear witness of the greater portion of the events connected with the siege, I shall confine my narrative chiefly to the things I know; the remainder I shall state only upon well authenticated evidence.

Beginning with those events immediately connected with the recent outbreak, it appears that a Slave State man, by the name of Coleman, and a Free State man, named Dow, had some high words about a matter of difference concerning their land claims, which ended in Coleman shooting Dow, and killing him, though the latter was unarmed. The only witness of this murder, as I am told, was a man named Branscom. Coleman, it appears, soon after gave himself up to Gov. Shannon, for trial. On complaint, a warrant was issued. (by a justice or judge, holding office by the authority of the repudiated Legislature of Kansas, to a Sheriff, by the same authority, named Jones, who resides in Missouri,) for the arrest of the witness, Branscom. The ground of complaint against him was, anticipated violence on his part, to the lives and property of complainants.

Jones and his posse, numbering fifteen armed men, arrested Branscom in the night, and started with him for Lecompton, by way of Lawrence. On their way, about three miles from Lawrence, they were met by a party of eight men, armed with Sharp’s rifles, and were ordered to “halt,” which order the sheriff’s party obeyed. One of the eight then asked if Mr. Branscom was among their number, to which Branscom himself replied, “yes, and I am a prisoner - I don’t know what for.” “Ride forward then,” said the eight. The Sheriff and his men drew up their guns as if to shoot. “If I do,” said B, “they will shoot me.” The eight then cocked and raised their Sharp’s rifles, and commanded Branscom to “ride forward.” At this, the Sheriff’s party laid their guns across their saddles and Branscom got off his mule and joined the eight. “Gentleman,” said the Sheriff, “I want you to understand that I am no coward. I tell you what it is, I am for fighting this matter out.” He and his men then turned and rode off.

Immediately following this, Gov. Shannon issued his proclamation, calling on the Militia of the Territory to aid him in enforcing the laws. This call was answered for the most part, by the residents of Missouri, numbering, as variously stated, from twelve to fifteen hundred men. Of these, the respectable class, as they are styled, enrolled themselves under generals, appointed by Gov. Shannon, while another class, the Atchison men, par excellence, rallied under leaders of their own appointment. A trial of Coleman was had by the pro-slavery men, at Lecompton, which resulted in his complete acquital [sic], and the Atchison men afterwards made him a leader in their camp.

Various and extravagant demands, emanating from the pro-slavery camp, were made upon the citizens of Lawrence, such as a surrender of their arms, submission to the destruction of the houses of some of its leading residents, the suppression of the newspapers published there, and a consent to the service of a number of warrants upon those who had set at naught the enactments of the Kansas Legislature, so called.

These demands were answered by the most vigorous preparations for a bloody resistance. Messengers were sent to the Free State men in various parts of the Territory, calling for help, and this call was responded to by hundreds, who were on their way to the seat of war, within half an hour from the time of receiving notice. But little time was spent before starting in casting bullets, for this work had in general been done in anticipation of a “___ time coming.” These men, armed to the teeth, and numbering about eight hundred, when on the ground at Lawrence, and thoroughly organized, went to work both day and night in the construction of forts, and in an incredible short space of time, these defences were in complete readiness, and bristling with the weapons of deadly conflict.

The next act in the drama, was the murder of Thomas Barber. His residence was about ten miles from Lawrence. From the beginning of the outbreak, he with his brothers had been for a number of days at work on the fortifications at Lawrence. On the afternoon of the 6th inst., learning that negotiations had been entered into with the Governor, he with his two brothers and a brother-in-law, started for home to visit their families. While on their way, sometime before dark, they were overtaken by a party of horsemen from the enemy’s camp, and ordered to stop. Upon refusal to obey, several shots were fired at them, one of which took effect, the ball hitting Thomas in the side near the hips. He exclaimed “I am shot.” During the few minutes he lived, his brothers rode by his side and supported him in his saddle, the murderers still hot in pursuit. When life had fled, and no further assistance could be rendered, the brothers being hard pressed sprang from their horses and fled to an adjoining timber and escaped.

This victim crowned the second assault by the enemy, and as in the case of Dow, the attack was boldly made upon an unarmed man. Next morning the corpse of Mr. Barner [sic] was brought into Lawrence, and placed in a room of the “Free State Hotel,” at that time the garrison of a body of troops whose only clamor was, “lead us on to vengeance!”

You will naturally ask, why did you not attack the enemy and attempt at least to drive them from the Territory? The reason assigned to the soldiers by the “Council” were, that negotiations were pending with the Governor which would probably result in his removing the men under his authority from the Territory, and thus save further bloodshed, and that moreover our action should be stricly [sic] of a defensive character. This line of policy was a hard one for our men to submit to, yet on the whole, the “Council” prevailed. As was anticipated, the negociations [sic] with Gov. Shannon ended in his issuing an order for the return of his men, which was obeyed. The city of Lawrence, no longer besieged, our little army disbanded and each one of us returned home, feeling that the cause of Freedom had triumphed though no battle had been fought.

The documents signed by Gov. Shannon, Gen. Robinson and Col. Lane, binding them only, if binding at all, are such, that, if of any force or virtue, no positions of the Free State party are in the least changed or compromised; on the contrary those positions have been strengthened to a degree which places them, I trust, beyond the power of despots to overthrow.

I need not mention in this narrative, the hospitalities bestowed upon the Governor while in Lawrence - how highly they were appreciated by him, or how happy they caused him to feel. Suffice it to say, Governor Shannon and the people of Kansas understand each other, better than before this acquaintance.

Very truly yours
JOHN BROWN, JR.

Source: Boyd B. Stutler Collection, West Virginia State Archives


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

His Soul Goes Marching On

West Virginia Archives and History