Sep 6, 2009
|Terrorism is not new to this country - Sunday, September 6
Today we finally checked out of our campground near Independence, Missouri and we headed back into the state of Kansas. Our destination was the town of Osawatomie, an hour south of Kansas City and not far from the Kansas/Missouri border. A border that in the 1850’s was seething with tension.
Kansas and Nebraska were up for statehood, and since no one in the country liked the Missouri Compromise Congress decided to try Popular Sovereignty. Stephen Douglas proposed it, and in 1854 President Franklin Pierce signed it into a law called the Kansas Nebraska Act. But the ink had not dried on his signature before Popular Sovereignty was just as unpopular as had been the Missouri Compromise.
Popular Sovereignty allowed the people of Kansas to decide whether they wanted to be admitted to the Union as a free state or a slave state, and while that may sound very democratic, as with any compromise between good and evil, good had nothing to gain. Slaveholders and Abolitionists alike rushed into Kansas, each side hoping to pack the state with settlers who would swing the vote their way.
Tensions turned to anger, anger turned to violence and by 1855 the citizens of Kansas and Missouri were literally at each other’s throats. The era became known as ‘Bleeding Kansas’ and our old friend John Brown of Mt. Elba, New York was right in the middle of it.
In early 1855 three of John Brown’s sons moved to Kansas and settled along Potawatomie Creek a few miles from the town of Osawatomie. In October their father joined them. Brown’s half sister Florella Adair lived in Osawatomie with her husband Samuel who was a preacher. Like the Browns, the Adairs were also steadfast abolitionists. The winter of 1855 was a hard one and everyone spent the winter months merely trying to survive, but in the spring of 1856 violence flared up in earnest again.
On May 21 the town of Lawrence, Kansas was attacked and sacked by Missourians led by Sheriff Samuel Jones and encouraged by Missouri Senator David Rice Atchison. This act, and the reported beating of Senator Charles Sumner by a southerner on the floor of the United States Congress, sent John Brown and his boys over the edge. The Browns retaliated in an act of vengeance that became known as the Potawatomie Massacre.
On May 24, Brown, four of his sons and two other settlers attacked pro slavery settlers and hacked five of them to death with broadswords. It was a deliberate act of terrorism, and it had the desired effect. John Brown became the most feared and hated man on the Kansas frontier. Rewards were posted for his death or capture and a number of attempts were made to ‘take him down’. Some nearly succeeded but Brown not only eluded them, in one attempt he actually captured three of his pursuers, prompting the Leavenworth Times to remark, “Old Captain Brown is not to be taken by ‘boys’ and he cordially invites all pro-slavery men to try their hands at arresting him.”
The murder and pillage in Kansas did much to hasten the start of the Civil War, and indeed Osawatomie claims for itself the title ‘Cradle of the Civil War’. Brown and his men were attacked in Osawatomie and they were badly outnumbered and nearly overrun. They escaped by retreating across the Marais des Cygnes River, but several abolitionists were killed including John Brown’s son Frederick. The town of Osawatomie was burned, and shortly thereafter Brown returned to the east to plan the raid on Harper’s Ferry.
He returned to Kansas briefly in 1857 and again in 1858 when five free-state men were murdered. On this visit Brown made a daring raid into Missouri which resulted in the death of one slaveholder and the freeing of 11 slaves whom Brown helped to escape to Canada. Brown left Kansas for the last time in February of 1859, and in October of that same year he led the raid on Harpers Ferry. The raid failed, Brown was captured, and on December 2 he was hanged by the State of Virginia.
Today a spacious city park occupies the battlefield where the Battle of Osawatomie once raged. The park has a bronze statue of John Brown, and not far from the statue a stone building houses the Adair cabin and a small John Brown Museum. Next week the town hosts it’s annual Freedom Festival which features reenactments of the battle and some of the other events. We will miss the festival, but we have now paid our respects and that is enough.
We continued on to Stockton Lake, Missouri and camped for the night in a primitive campsite that is quiet and serene now that Kansas and Missouri no longer bleed.