[logo:Kansas Heritage Group]

Kansas History


The Pottawatomie Killings

It is Established Beyond Controversy That John Brown Was the Leader.

Statement of James Townsley.

["Republican Citizen," Paola, Kansas, 20 Dec 1879, page 5, column 5]

A controversy has been going on for some time in the State papers, notably in the Lawrence Journal, concerning the killing of the Doyles, Sherman, Wilkinson and other Pro-slavery men on the Pottawatomie creek in 1856 by Free State men. The great question was as to whether John Brown was the leader of the killing party or not. James Redpath and other abolitionists of the East having set up that Brown was not present when the murders were committed, it was necessary to find somebody who was present to settle the question either one way or the other. The Lawrence Journal sent Hon. John Hutchings down to Lane to inquire into the matter two weeks ago. He finally found James Townsley, who makes the following statement:

I am a native of Hertford-co., State of Maryland, and was born August 29, 1815. In August, 1839, I enlisted in Co. I, Capt. Benjamin L. Bell, Second United States Dragoons, and served five years in the Florida war, waged against the Seminole and Creek Indians, a part of the time under the command of General Taylor, and was discharged in August, 1844, at Fort Washita, Indian Territory. I am a painter by trade, and followed that business in Fullston, in my native county, until October 20, 1855, when I emigrated to Kansas with my family, and settled in Anderson county, on the Pottawatomie Creek, about one mile west of Greeley. I joined the Pottawatomie Rifle company at its reorganization in May, 1856, at which time John Brown, Jr., was elected Captain. On the 21st of the same month, information was received that the Georgians were marching on Lawrence, threatening its destruction. The company was immediately called together, and about four o'clock p.m. we started on a forced march to aid in its defense. About two miles south of Middle Creek, we were joined by the Osawatomie company, under Capt. Dayton, and proceeded to Mount Vernon, where we waited about two hours until the moon rose. We then marched all night, camping the next morning-the 22nd, for breakfast, near Ottawa Jones'.

Before we arrived at this point news had been received that Lawrence had been destroyed, and a question was raised whether we should return or go on. During the forenoon, however, we proceeded up Ottawa Creek to within about five miles of Palmyra, and went into camp near the residence of Captain Shore. Here we remained undecided over night. About noon the next day, the 23rd, old john Brown came to me and said he had just received information that trouble was expected on the Pottawatomie, and wanted to know if I would take my team and take him and his boys back so that they could keep watch of what was going on. I told him I would do so. The party, consisting of old John Brown, Frederick Brown, Owen Brown, Watson Brown, Oliver Brown, Henry Thompson, (John Brown's son-in-law), and Mr. Winer, were soon ready for the trip, and we started, as near as I can remember, about two o'clock p.m. All of the party, except Mr. Winer, who rode a pony, rode with me in my wagon. When within two or three miles of Pottawatomie creek, we turned off the road to the right, drove down into the edge of the timber between two deep ravines and camped about one mile above Dutch Henry's crossing.

After my team was fed and the party had taken supper, John Brown told me for the first time what he proposed to do. He said he wanted me to pilot the company up to the forks of the creek some five or six miles above, into the neighborhood in which I lived, and show them where all the Pro-slavery men resided; that he proposed to sweep the creek as he came down of all the Pro-slavery men living on it. I positively refused to do it. He insisted upon it, but when he found that I would not go he decided to postpone the expedition until the following night. I then wanted to take my team and go home, but he refused to let me do so, and said I should remain with them. We remained in camp that night, and all day the next day. Some time after dark we were ordered to march.

We started, the whole company, in a northerly direction, crossing Mosquito Creek above the residence of the Doyles. Soon after crossing the creek some one of he party knocked at the door of a cabin but received no reply. I have forgotten whose cabin it was if I knew at the time. The next place we came to was the residence of the Doyles. John Brown, three of his sons and son-in-law went to the door, leaving Frederick Brown; Winer and myself a short distance from the house. About this time a large dog attacked us. Frederick Brown struck the dog a blow with his short two-edged sword, after which I dealt him a blow on the head with my sabre and heard no more from him. The old man Doyle and two sons were called out and marched some distance from the house toward Dutch Henry's in the road, where a halt was made. Old John Brown drew his revolver and shot the old man Doyle in the forehead, and the two youngest sons immediately fell upon the younger Doyles with their short two-edged swords. One of the young Doyles was stricken down in an instant, but the other attempted to escape, and was pursued a short distance by his assailant and cut down. The company then proceeded down Mosquito creek to the house of Allen Wilkinson. Here the old man Brown, three of his sons and son-in-law, as at the Doyle residence, went to the door and ordered Wilkinson to come out, leaving Frederick Brown, Winer and myself standing in the road east of the house. Wilkinson was taken, marched some distance south of the house, and slain in the road with a short sword by one of the younger Browns. After he was killed his body was dragged out to one side and left.

We then crossed the Pottawatomie and came to the house of Henry Sherman, generally known as Dutch Henry. Here John Brown and the party, excepting Frederick Brown, Winer and myself, who were left outside a short distance from the door, went into the house and brought out one or two persons, talked with them some, and then took them in again. They afterward brought out Wm. Sherman, Dutch henry's brother, and marched him into Pottawatomie creek, where he was slain with swords by Brown's two youngest sons, and left lying in the road.

It was the expressed intention of Brown to execute Dutch henry also, but he was not found at home. He also hoped to find George Wilson, Probate Judge of Anderson co., there, and intended, if he did, to kill him too. Wilson had been notifying Free State men to leave the Territory. I had received such a notice from him myself.

I desire to say here that it was not true that there was any intentional mutilation of the bodies after they were killed. They were slain as quickly as possible and left, and whatever gashes they received were inflicted in the process of cutting them down with swords. I understood that the killing was done with these swords, so as to avoid alarming the neighborhood by the discharge of firearms.

I desire also to say that I did not then approve of the killings of these men, but brown said it must be done for the protection of the Free State settlers; that the Pro-slavery party must be terrified and that it was better that a score of bad men should die than that one man who came here to make Kansas a free State should be driven out.

Brown wanted me to pilot the party into the neighborhood where I lived, and point out all the Pro-slavery men in it, whom he proposed to put to death. I positively refused to do it, and on account of my refusal we remained in camp all of the night upon which the attack was first intended to be made, and the next day. I told him, I was willing to go with him to Lecompton and attack the leaders, or fight the enemy in open field anywhere, but I did not want to engage in killing these men. That night and the acts then perpetrated, are vividly fixed in my memory, and I have thought of them many times since.

I then thought that the transaction was terrible, and have mentioned it to but few persons since. IN after time, however, I became satisfied that it resulted in good to the Free State cause, and was especially beneficial to Free State settlers on Pottawatomie Creek. The Pro-slavery men were dreadfully terrified, and large numbers of them soon left the Territory. It was afterwards said that one Free State man could scare a company of tem. I always understood that George W. Grant came to our camp on Ottawa Creek, near captain Shore's, with a message from his father John t. Grant, to John Brown, asking for protection from threatened assaults of the Sherman's and other Pro-slavery ruffians. But I did not know George W. Grant at the time, and do not remember of seeing him. I frequently heard the circumstance mentioned as a fact.

After the killing of William Sherman, some time after Midnight, we all went back to camp, about one mile distant, where we had left my team and other things. We had left my team and other things. We remained in camp until after noon of the following day, and then started to again join the Pottawatomie Company under Capt. John Brown, Jr. When we reached Ottawa Jones' about midnight we found them in camp at that place.

The next morning the company called together just after breakfast, and John Brown, Jr., announced his resignation, and requested the company to elect another Captain in his place. The name of H. H. Williams, now of Osawatomie, and my own were presented, and a vote taken, which resulted in the election of Williams. The company then broke camp and started for home. After crossing Middle Creek at Mount Vernon, John Brown, with the rest of the party who accompanied him on the Pottawatomie expedition, fell back from the balance of the company and struck off to the left of the main Pottawatomie road, in the direction of the cabins of john Brown, Jr., and Jason Brown. That night we staid at the cabin of the former, keeping up a guard all night. The next night we went to Jason Brown's, about one mile an a half away. Here we remained several days, all the time on the watch. While we remained here August Bundy, and, I think, Benjamin L. Cochran, joined us.

After several days, as I now remember, a young man by the name of Carpenter came to us from Prairie City and gave the information that Captain Pate was in the vicinity in search of Brown. That evening we all took horses and started for Prairie City, where we arrived the next morning about daylight and camped in the timber on Ottawa Creek near Captain Shore's. While John Brown was cooking breakfast for the company Jas. Redpath came into our camp and had some conversation with Captain Brown.

I saw Redpath again after the battle of Black Jack, near Blue Mound, and I desire to say, in this connection, that I never told Redpath at any time that John Brown was not present at the Pottawatomie tragedy. His statement, which has been read to me to the effect that "two squatters, who aided in the execution," gave him such information, is totally false, so far as I am concerned. As Winer and myself were the only settlers in the neighborhood, not members of Brown's family, who were present at the tragedy, I can only conclude he referred to us. IN the afternoon, after we camped in the timber near Captain Shore's, we moved up into Prairie City. We picketed our horses and laid down not over one hundred yards from the store. About the middle of the afternoon six of Pate's men came riding into town, four of whom we captured and held as prisoners.

During the afternoon Captain Shore raised a company of about thirty men, and in the evening started in pursuit of Pate. The next morning before daylight we obtained information that he was camped at Black Jack Point, and we moved forwards with about twenty-four men to attack him. When within a mile of Pate's forces we all dismounted, left seven men in charge of the horses, and with seventeen men made the attack. In about fifteen minutes we drove them into the ravine. The fight continued about three hours, when Pate surrendered. About the time we got the captured arms loaded into the wagons ready to move, Major Abbott's company came up, and we all marched back to Prairie City with the prisoners. Here we remained until col. Sumner released them.

At this time I left John Brown, and in company with Charley Lenhart and some other Lawrence parties, camped in the timber near Ottawa Jones'. A day or two after we went to Blue Mound, a few miles south of Lawrence. Here I again met Winer, Bundy, and also saw Redpath, as before stated. Winer, from this point, went to Leavenworth, and thence to St. Louis, as I have been informed. I went to Lawrence, and from there to Topeka, where I staid one night and then returned to Lawrence, which place I made a sort of headquarters for several weeks. I was acquainted with Martin F. Conway and his brother Jefferson, and saw them frequently while I was there. I knew the Conway's in Maryland, and they were the first persons of my acquaintance that I met after I came to the Territory. I visited my cabin on the Pottawatomie occasionally, but not to stay any length of time, and in July I went to Birmingham, Iowa, to et work. I was taken sick on the way with the ague, and was unable to do much of anything for weeks. In the latter part of the season, Colonel S. W. Eldridge passed through Iowa with a company for Lawrence. I joined them at Oskaloosa, Iowa and accompanied them to Topeka. From Topeka I went to the Pottawatomie, passing through Lawrence again on my way. On my return from Iowa I met John Brown in Nebraska, on his way east. I talked with him, and he advised me not to return. This was the last time I ever saw him.

There is an error in the published statement of Mr. Johnson Clark, fixing the time of the killing of the Doyles, Wilkinson and Sherman, on the night of the day we left the camp of John Brown, Jr., at Ottawa Creek. Mr. Clark must have misunderstood me. I certainly did not understand his statement as it now reads. It was immediately or soon after we camped that night that I refused to go any further, because Brown required me to take them into the neighborhood where I lived, to commence operations, and hence nothing was done until the next night.

I make this statement at the urgent request of my friends and neighbors, Judge James Hanway and Hon. Johnson Clark, who have been present during all the time occupied in writing it out, and in whose hearing it has been several times read before signing.

JAMES TOWNSLEY,

Lane, Ks., Dec 6, '79.


See: WWW-VL: History: The Coming of the Civil War, 1850-1860
WWW-VL: USA: Civil War History, 1861-1865.
Site maintainer: George Laughead Jr., manager, WWW-VL: United States History network. Thanks to Lynn H. Nelson.
Return to Kansas History Web Sites; or the
Kansas Heritage Group