October 27, 2011

John Brown's Son Reminisces About Antebellum Kansas, 1903

From the Wichita Daily Eagle of Wichita, Kansas on September 20, 1903.



John Brown's Son Talks of Border Warfare. 


How Little Band Routed Missouri Raiders. 

The famous old Kansas border fighters who fought under the man whose body lies a mouldering in the grave, but whose soul goes marching on, greated one another in Portland yesterday after many years, says the Portland Oregonian. One was Solomon Brown, one of the twenty children of the celebrated abolitionist; the other was August Bondi, a wiry little old man, with the dark eyes and expressive face of the people of his native city, Venice.  Mr. Bondi,  a prominent citizen of Salina, Kan., is a veteran of the civil war, visiting Portland from the late San Francisco Grand Army encampment.  He was first sergeant, Company K, Fifth Kansas, and is now 70 years old.  An adventurous old man, inspired by the character of Kossuth and his compatriots under whom he fought for Hungarian liberty, he had come to Kansas in early days and at once thrown his aid to the cause of the Free State party. 

Solomon Brown is a gigantic chip of[f] the old block in appearance.  His resemblance to John Brown's portrait is striking.  A man of low voice and unassuming manners, he impresses one as of the genuine old fighting stock to which he belongs.  He is said to have been a man of enormous physical strength in his prime, though now he is crippled in the right leg from being thrown from a horse some years ago. 

In company with Mr. Bondi, an Oregonian reporter they visited Solomon Brown yesterday at his residence, 353 Grant street, and listened to the story of his famous battle of Black Jack in the old Kansas border days. 

"The battle of Black Jack was the first battle of the war between the north and the south," said Solomon Brown. 

"Yes," said August Bondi, "and its result forecasted the result of the war.  That was on the second day of June, 1856.  Lord! how hungry we were!" 

"That was 47 years ago," said Solomon Brown. "You tell the young man the story, Bondi, if he wants it." 

Out came the reporter's pencil, and August Bondi began: 

"There has been fighting in Kansas, you know, for many months, but when Wilson Shannon was appointed governor of that state by Franklin Pierce the day was looking dark for the freesoilers.  The border ruffian invasion was on, legalized by Shannon, who armed the pro-slavery forces with guns from the United States arsenal at Liberty, Clay county, Missouri." 

"Old Jim Lane afterward burned the town," said Solomon Brown. 

"The Kansans," continued the other, "were all new settlers and poor; their seed grain, their horses and cattle were their only dependence for the future, and these were taken from them by force or destroyed, while many men, the support of those struggling families, were murdered in cold blood.  But old John Brown went marching on.  With eleven of us for a nucleus, he prepared to gather a force to repel the border ruffians. 

"The little company made up of John Brown, Jr., captain; four of his sons--Owen, Solomon, Fred and Oliveu; Charles Kaiser, Theodore Wiener, August Bondi, George Townsley, Ben Cochrane, and Henry Thompson, brother-in-law of John Brown, Sr." 

"We were guided by a settler, Howard Carpenter, to a secure hiding place in the virgin forest of eastern Kansas, on Tauy Creek, near the Douglas county line.  There was a reward out for each of our heads, but nobody was trying to earn it." 

"Why?" asked the reporter. 

"Maybe they thought it might be unhealthy work," laughed Solomon Brown.

"In this retreat," continued August Bondi, "we lay for six days--from May 24 to May 30, 1856.  Twice a day we were rationed with a piece of bran bread baked in a Dutch oven by John Brown.  The last two days we had only a spoonful of molasses each, twice a day, with creek water.  A kind-hearted free soil settler's wife had donated the molasses because it was too sour for her to use." 

"Ha! ha!" laughed Solomon Brown, "Do you recollect, Bondi, how loose the waisteband of Wiener's trousers got?" 

"Yes; he was too stout to begin with--weighed 250.  That same Wiener, by the way, had been a slave holder in the south, but when he came to Kansas and saw the border ruffianism there he joined us." 

"He had a great phrase he often used," said Solomon Brown: "Dead men tell me tales,' but I guess that time he felt more like saying, 'Dead men don't get hungry.'" 

"Well," continued August Bondi, "on May 30 came James Clark Ridpath, afterward the historian but then correspondent for the New York Tribune.  Captain Brown explained to him that we couldn't stay there much longer.  Ridpath advised courage and patience. 

"'You must stay and see it out,' said he; 'you boys at this time are the sole dependence of the Free State party.' 

"While Ridpath was talking, two settlers arrived.  They were McWhinney and Shore, captains of two so-called military organizations.  They told their troubles how the border ruffians were killing their horses, stealing their cattle, etc., but they forgot to bring us a bite of lunch. 

"'Well, how many men can you give me?' asked Captain Brown. 'I want you to understand that I will not sacrifice my men here much longer.  If your people don't want to fight for their homes and firesides, I shall leave you.' 

"The two settlers promised to be around next day to tell him what they could do.  Now, late on the following afternoon seven pro-slavery men surprised 12 Free Soilers who were eating dinner in a log cabin a few miles from our retreat.  They rushed in and covered the Free Staters, who had left their guns and pistols stacked at one side and they cleaned up the bunch.
"That night back came McWhinney and Shore to our camp and told their tale of woe.  While they talked, Howard Carpenter arrived, and we all held council until 10 o'clock under the big oak tree in the center of our camp.  It was settled that the three visitors go out and send runners about the country to announce the rendezvous of armed freestaters at the church in Prairie City." 

"I recollect how you spoke then, Bondi," said Solomon Brown. "You said, 'Say, can't we have breakfast at Prairie City?'" 

"Yes," laughed August Bondi, "hunger limbered up my tongue.  I was 22 and Solomon was 19, and us young fellows were suffering frightfully.  Well, at 5 o'clock the next morning back came Carpenter to guide up.  We saddled our horses and started--a funny looking cavalcade, I warrant, our clothes nothing but rags stitched together with locust thorns." 

"We had half a blanket each," interrupted Solomon Brown. 

"But at Prairie City there was no breakfast.  They told us to wait till the crowd came.  So we tightened the ropes about our bellies and waited with mouths watering.  At last people began to come in from the surrounding country, some in wagons, some horseback and a few afoot.  It seemed that there must be grace before meat for us.  The Methodist preacher mounted the church steps and, turning, began to talk.  In half an hour we were all in tears.  I shall never forget how women cried and men groaned as the dreadful tale of border ruffianism was gone over.  After the sermon there was common prayer.  The services lasted several hours." 

"I began to get pretty disgusted," said Solomon Brown.  "I thought they might better have been employed molding bullets than weeping and groaning so long." 

"At 3 o'clock," continued the other, "church ended and the women began to bake biscuits.  It was our first real meal in many days and was our last for 28 hours.  While we were eating, three border ruffian scouts were seen in the distance, and Captain Brown sent seven men after them and brought 'em in.  From them we learned where the main border ruffian camp was located and they gave us the news that the pro-s[l]avery people had gone down into our part of Kansas and made prisoners of all the free state leaders there.  Two were brothers of Solomon's, one of whom was a member of the so-called free state legislature. 

"A few men were left in charge of the prisoners, and the rest of our force at once set out for the pro-slavery camp.  McWhinney and Shore mustered 40 men to go with Brown.  Six men were added to Captain Brown's company of eleven, making a total of seventeen.  The six were A. O. Carpenter, now of Mendocino county, California; a Mr. Hill, three brothers named Moore (their father, a preacher, was a member of the border ruffians), and young Hugh McWhinney. 

"We rode until 2 a.m. that night, finally stopping in a post-oak grove, where we tied our horses.  As we rested, John Brown told his company that they were within a mile and a half of the enemy's camp.  At the first break of day, June 2, we started, all except young Fred Brawn, who was left to guard the horses. John Brown had talked with McWhinney and Shore and told them that upon sighting the camp he would give the command to charge, and that they should all charge right in with us. 

"Within half a mile of the camp a picket saw us and fired. 

"'Charge!' shouted Captain Brown.  Our company, without looking back, rushed down the hill to the bottom, when Captain Brown yelled 'Halt!'  He had seen that the other companies, numbering 40 men, had remained behind at the top of the hill, where they began firing a few shots.  John Brown ordered us to take to the washed-out Santa Fe trail, which ran along there.  Then the firing became hot on both sides.  At 6 a.m. Shore rushed down the hill and sat down among us with a long face.  He was hungry, he said. 

"I have to go now and get my breakfast,' he said. 

"Next George Townsley got cold feet. 'Captain Brown,' he said, 'we are getting short of ammunition.  I'd better go after some.' And he departed.  At 8 o'clock, of our diminished party Carpenter was disabled by a shot in the elbow and Henry Thompson was shot through the lungs.  One of Shore's men had also been hit.  It must have been about 9 or 10 o'clock when Captain Brown came to the end of the line, where the Moore, Wiener and I were stationed.  He had already visited the other end, where Solomon and the others were. 

"'Boys,' said he, 'something must be done, or, with these fellows leaving and getting hit, we'll have no force left. Now, I'll go ahead to find a position to command their camp. Follow me.'
"That's the kind of a man John Brown was. 

"When about 300[?] yards from the camp he ordered the Moore boys, who were armed with Sharps rifles, to kill the border ruffians' horses. 'Maybe we can scare them into surrendering.' he said. 'We must kill no more of our enemies than we are absolutely obliged to.' 

"The Moore boys said they'd hit the saddlemarks on the animals and break their backs, and that's what they did, killing two mules and a horse there.  Then we noticed a commotion in the camp. 

"I'll go down and summon them to surrender.' said Captain Brown. 'Bondi, you have the poorest gun, keep close behind me; Wiener, you stay about ten yards behind Bondi, and you Moores keep back about 25 yards with your Sharps.  If I wave my hat, everybody come rushing.' 

"'What are you doing here!' demanded Captain Brown. 

"'I am here making arrests of lawbreakers.' replied Pate. 

"'Well,' said Captain Brown, 'I've a proposition to make to you--I want your unconditional surrender.'  A the same time he jerked out his pistol and covered Pate.  Afterward Pate made quite a roar about Captain's Brown's violence to a flag of truce, but they were already laying down their arms.  They did not know that our little party was backed by so few men.  Brown's bold move did the business, though their surrender was undoubtedly hastened by the sight of a cloud of dust they saw in the distance.  The dust was raised by a part of 25 Free-Staters hurrying to our aid.  They had 17 wounded out of 75 men. 

"So after five hours' fighting we were in possession of the pro-slavery forces that had been the terror of the outlying districts of Kansas.  H. Clay Pate was killed in the Battle of the Wilderness, where he was colonel of the Second Virginia cavalry.  Brockett, his lieutenant in the Blackjack fight, who had been the only man to resist surrender, was soon afterward sentenced by a court martial for indiscriminate murder of peaceful settlers in Bourbon county, Kansas."

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