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"Owen Brown’s Account of the Fight at Black Jack, Kan."

Springfield Republican
January 14, 1889


A Striking Episode of Border History in 1856, Now First Printed as Owen Brown Told It.

This fight occurred on Monday, the 2d day of June, 1856. Father and his men had moved from his camp on Ottawa creek to Prairie City, on Sunday, the 1st, where a number of settlers had gathered at a log-house to attend a prayer-meeting. After setting a guard, most of our company went into the meeting. I was one of the guard. About 2 o’clock in the afternoon three men were seen riding by in an easterly direction toward Black Jack. They came so near that we cocked our guns and called on them to halt. Two of them stopped and the other ran away in the direction they had been going. Both of these men had new saddles and one or two pairs of new boots which had been taken from Hutchinson’s store at the sacking of Lawrence a few days before. The halting of these men made such disturbance that it ended the prayer-meeting for that day, and brought out the whole congregation. A council was held at once in which Capt. Shore and some of his men took part, and it was decided to go at once in search of the Missourians’ camp, which we had heard was located five or six miles distant, near Black Jack,--a place named from the “Black jack” oaks, abundant in that region. Capt. Shore had 18 or 20 men; Father I think had nine men with him at that time. We started about 4 o’clock Sunday afternoon, going over the prairie without regard to any road, and continued the search until near midnight, which was very dark. Then Father ordered a halt, and the horses to be picketed (we were all mounted). We had no blankets with us; so we all lay on the ground and slept an hour or two, and then moved on before daylight. Coming to a log house near the Santa Fe road we got something to eat. Between daybreak and sunrise we noticed a man on horseback about a mile east of us. When we were within a half-mile of him he fired his gun and fled. On reaching the Black Jack oaks, Father ordered us to dismount and tie our horses to the trees; and brother Frederick was left to watch the horses. On reaching the high ground where their guard had stood we could plainly see the Missourians’ camp, a half-mile distant, with their tents and covered wagons drawn up in front, and a number of horses and mules picketed on the higher ground beyond. This camp (under command of Capt. H. C. pate, as we found later) was on a point of land lying between two ravines, at this time dry; but at other times they had an outlet into a larger ravine, the latter lying between us and Pate’s camp (the ground descending toward us). Father ordered us to form a skirmish line, and Pate’s men commenced firing at us. When within rifle range Capt Shore ordered his men to halt, and, though in a very exposed position, they bravely began in earnest to return the fire. Father directed us to reserve our fire, and to follow him in a diagonal direction into the larger ravine. Pate’s men gave us the full benefit of their shooting, their bullets cutting the grass around us in a lively way. Though I do not think I was much scared, I noticed I felt very light on my feet, as if marching fast would be no effort.

We crossed the ravine and Father placed us at short range, behind a natural bank in the bend of the ravine, so that their wagons afforded them no protection from our fire. During the time we were taking this position Capt Shore kept up a constant firing, and by the time our men were located, he ordered his men to lie down and shoot from that position. At much shorter range we shot at any of Pate’s men we could see, and into their tents. Within 10 or 15 minutes the Missourians began to run from their wagons and tents over into the opposite ravine for greater securing, and Capt Shore’s men came running, a few at a time, to where we were. Carpenter, one of his men, had a Sharp’s carbine, and rather recklessly exposing himself, in spite of warning, was soon badly wounded. In this manner the fight was kept up for over half a day. Henry Thompson, my brother-in-law, was so anxious to get a shot at them that he went higher up on the bank, and continued to shoot from there whenever he could see a man. I cautioned Henry, as I had Carpenter, that he was making too good a mark of himself, and that he ought to come back more below the bank. A few minutes later, while he was on his knees loading his gun, a musket ball hit him below the shoulder and passed under the shoulder blade. Falling he rolled down the bank and lay there several minutes, the blood flowing freely. He then got up and saying, “Boys, I’m going to do those fellows all the good I can while I live,” he resumed his firing from his former position. This he kept up until his whole left side was red with blood, when he fainted and fell again. One or two of Capt Shore’s men then took him away.

The heat by this time was intense, and we suffered much for want of water. Some of Capt Shore’s men now left us, saying they were out of ammunition, and others went around to a high point of ground where they were not much exposed. Father said to us, “Hold your ground, boys,” and he then went to Shore’s men and directed them to shoot Pate’s horses and mules, so as to cut off his means of escape. This they did in an effective way. While Father was gone Capt Shore said to me, “I am out of ammunition, and don’t see as I can do any more good,--would it not be as well if I go?” I said, “Perhaps it is best.” Then James Townsley took his gun and, in a stooping posture, went up on the bank and started to run away. He was one of Father’s men. I called to him to come back and he came back, but soon after disappeared. When I discovered that Townsley had fled, I said: “There must no more men leave to-day; the first man that attempts to leave we will shoot.” To this brother Oliver replied, “Yes.” During this time a number of Capt Pate’s men were leaving him singly, on horses and on foot, going toward Missouri. While Shore’s men were engaged in shooting the horses and mules, brother Frederick, hearing the firing, could not longer content himself to stay back with the horses, but mounting one of them and brandishing a sword, rode round Pate’s camp on a full run, and called aloud, saying, “Father, we have got them surrounded, and have cut off their communications.” A number of shots were fired at Fred without hitting him or his horse. A few moments after this ramrod with a white handkerchief fastened to it was raised by the Missourians as a flag of truce, and the firing ceased, except from those who were shooting at the horses. These from their position had not seen the flag.

Capt Pate took the flag, and, bringing with him a free-state prisoner whom he had captured at another time, came to where he stood and said, “I come out to tell you that we are government officers sent out in pursuit of criminals, and to let you know that you are fighting against the United States.” I replied: “You are just the kind of government officers we want to fight—the kind that burned Lawrence, yes,--robbed and killed free-state men.” Father, who had not seen the flag, but had noticed that the firing had ceased, came back, walking rapidly. Then Capt Pate repeated to him what had been said to me. Father replied: “If this is all you have to say, I have something to say to you. I demand of you an unconditional surrender.” Then Father ordered us to go with him and Pate to where the latter had left his men, and we came up nearly together. Father repeated to Lieut Brockett, of the Missouri men, what he had just said to pate. Brockett replied, “We don’t surrender unless our captain gives the order.” His men then cocked and leveled their guns on us. Father said to us, “Put a dozen balls through the first man of them that shoots.” Charley Kaiser, the Hungarian, said to father, “One ball is shoost to goot as a dozen.” Father raised his large army-sized Colt’s revolver and, pointing it within two feet of Pate’s heart, said to him, “Give the order!” and he did. Brockett still hesitated, with his Sharp’s rifle at a “ready.” I had a navy cutlass drawn, and stepping up to him I seized his rifle by the barrel and said to him, “Let go.” He said: “You are a man of honor and I trust this gun in your hands. I hope to receive it again, as it was intrusted to me to be returned.” To this I made no reply. As they were in the act of delivering up their arms to us, Brockett drew from its holster a navy revolver that had been presented to him by friends in the South (having engraved on it the names of the honors), and threw it as far as he could into the grass of the prairie. The rest of their arms, ammunition, wagons, horses, etc., were at once given up to us, and the prisoners put under guard.

Before we had fairly commenced our return march, a company of about 150 men accompanied by Capt Shore and, I think, Maj Abbott from Wakarusa, came and returned with us to the place where the prayer-meeting had been interrupted the day before. Dr Graham, a free-state man who had attempted to escape from Pate during the fight and was wounded in the legs (being fired on by Pate’s men), aided at once in dressing their wounds before he attended to his own. The prisoners were soon after removed to Father’s camp on Ottawa creek, and were treated by him with civility and much kindness. Here an agreement was signed for a mutual exchange of prisoners. Capt Pate, Brockett and their men were to be exchanged for a like number of free-state men who had been previously arrested or captured in the territory. Pate and his men were, however, soon after set at liberty by order of Col. Sumner of the United States dragoons, no respect being paid by him to that mutual agreement.

Source: John Brown Scrap Book, compiled by Frank Sanborn, Vol. 4, Boyd B. Stutler, West Virginia State Archives. A handwritten note indicates the article was written by John Brown Jr. from his brother Owen’s account.


Chapter Five: Bleeding Kansas

His Soul Goes Marching On

West Virginia Archives and History