William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 4] [part 2] [Cutler's History]


By the "Pottawatomie Massacre" is meant the killing of James P. Doyle, and his two sons--Drury and William Doyle--Allen Wilkinson and William Sherman, by John Brown and a party of men under his command. The massacre occurred on the night of the 24th and morning of the 25th of May, 1856, not far above the junction of Mosquito Creek with the Pottawatomie. The object of the massacre was to protect the Free-state settlers, by terrorizing in the most effectual manner the Pro-slavery men, settlers and non-settlers.

For the truth of history it is important that the facts connected with this massacre, concerning which there has been so much controversy, and to which attaches a peculiar interest, should be obtained as nearly as practicable. To this purpose we obtained on August 3, 1882, in the presence of Judge Hanway, one of the sons of Hon. James Hanway, the following statement from James Townsley, the only surviving, communicative, eye-witness of the tragedy.*

*This statement is essentially the same as that made by him to Judge Hanway, which was published several years since, and is corroborative testimony rather than new, as Mr. Townsley reiterates and affirms the truth of his former statement, with what modifications and additions he might choose to make.

"I joined the Pottawatomie Rifle Company at its re-organization, in May, 1856. At that time, John Brown, Jr., was elected Captain.

On the 21st of this month, Lawrence was sacked by a Pro-slavery mob, under Sheriff Jones, and on the day of the sacking, information was received that a movement to that end was in progress. The company was hastily called together, and a forced march to aid in its defense immediately determined upon. We started about four o'clock in the afternoon. About two miles south of Middle Creek, the Osawatomie Company, under Captain Dayton, joined us. Upon arriving at Mount Vernon, we halted for two hours, until the rising of the moon. After marching the rest of the night, we went into camp, near the house of John T. Jones, for breakfast. Just before reaching this place, we learned that Lawrence had been destroyed the day before, and the question arose whether we should go on or return. It was decided to go on, and we proceeded up Ottawa Creek to within about five miles of Palmyra. We remained in camp undecided over night, and until noon the next day. About this time, Owen Brown, and a little later, old John Brown himself, came to me and said information had just been received that trouble was expected on the Pottawatomie. The old man asked me if I would go with my team and take him and his boys down there, so that they could watch what was going on. I replied that I would do so, my reason being that my family was then living on the Pottawatomie, in Anderson County, about one mile west of Greeley. Making ready for the trip as quickly as possible, we started about two o'clock in the afternoon. The party consisted of old John Brown, and four of his sons--Frederick, Oliver, Owen and Watson--Henry Thompson, and his son-in-law, Mr. Winer and myself. Winer rode a pony; all the rest rode in the wagon with me. We camped that night between two deep ravines about one mile above Dutch Henry's crossing.

After supper, John Brown first revealed to me the purpose of the expedition. He said it was to sweep the Pottawatomie of all Pro-slavery men living on it. To this end, he desired me to guide the company some five or six miles up to the forks of the creek, into the neighborhood where I lived, and point out to him on the way up, the residences of all the Pro-slavery men, so that on the way down, he might carry out his designs. Horrified at his purpose, I positively refused to comply with his request, saying that I could not take men out of their beds and kill them in that way. Brown said, 'Why don't you fight your enemies.' To which I replied, 'I have no enemies I can kill in that way.' Failing to prevail upon me, he decided to postpone the expedition until the following night, when they would go, as the old man himself said, where they knew Pro-slavery men to be. I then proposed to him that he take his things out of my wagon and allow me to go home; to which he replied, that 'I could not go, that I must stay with them; there was no other way of getting along.' We remained in camp that night and all the next day. During the morning of this day, the 24th, I tried to dissuade him and his boys from carrying out the expedition, and to this end talked a great deal. Brown said it was necessary to 'strike terror into the hearts of the Pro-slavery party,' and taking out his revolver, said to me, 'Shut up! You are trying to discourage my boys. Dead men tell no tales.' From the last remark, I inferred that I must henceforth keep still or suffer the consequences. Shortly afterward I stepped down into the ravine, when Owen Brown and Henry Thompson each picked up his rifle and, without saying a word, walked down the banks of the ravine on either side of me. When I returned, they returned. But little more was said during the day.

Sometime after dark we were ordered to march, and went northward, crossing Mosquito Creek above the residence of the Doyles. Soon after crossing the creek, one of the party knocked at the door of a cabin, but received no reply. I do not know whose cabin it was. We next came to 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 away, ostensibly to see that no one escaped from the house, but really, as I believe, that Brown and Winer might act as guard over me. About this time a large dog attacked us. Frederick Brown struck the dog with his short two-edged sword, after which I struck him, also, with my saber. I do not know whether or not the dog was killed, but we heard no more of him.

The old man Doyle and his sons were ordered to come out. This order they did not immediately obey, the old man being heard instead to call for his gun. At this moment, Henry Thompson threw into the house some rolls or balls of hay in which during the day wet gunpowder had been mixed, setting fire to them as he threw them in. This stratagem had the desired effect. The old man and his sons came out, and were marched one-quarter of a mile in the road toward Dutch Henry's crossing, where a halt was made. Here old John Brown drew his revolver and shot old man Doyle in the forehead, killing him instantly; and Brown's two youngest sons immediately fell upon the younger Doyles with their short two-edged swords. One of the young Doyles was quickly dispatched; the other, attempting to escape, was pursued a short distance and cut down also. We then went down Mosquito Creek, to the house of Allen Wilkinson. Here, as at the Doyle residence, old John Brown, three sons, and son-in-law, went to the door and ordered Wilkinson out, leaving Frederick Brown, Winer and myself in the road a little distance east of the house. Wilkinson was marched a short distance south and killed by one of the young Browns with his short sword, after which his body was dragged to one side and left lying by the side of the road.

We then crossed the Pottawatomie and went to Dutch Henry's house. Here, as at the other two houses, Frederick Brown, Winer and myself were left outside a short distance from the door, while old man Brown, three sons and son-in-law went into the house and brought out one or two persons with them. After talking with them some time they took them back into the house, and brought out William Sherman, Dutch Henry's brother and marched him down into Pottawatomie Creek, where John Brown's two youngest sons slew him with their short swords, as in the former instances, and left his body lying in the creek.

It was Brown's intention to kill Dutch Henry, also, had he been found at home, as well as George Wilson, Probate Judge of Anderson County, had he been found at Dutch Henry's house, as it was hoped he would be.

The killing was done with swords in order to avoid alarming the neighborhood by the discharge of fire arms. What mutilation appeared upon the bodies was consequent upon the manner in which the men were killed.

I did not then approve of the killing of those men, but Brown said it must be done for the protection of the Free-state settlers, that it was better that a score of bad men should die than that one Free-state man should be driven out. It was my refusal to pilot the party into the neighborhood where I lived that caused us to remain in camp all night, May 23, and all day May 24. I told him I was willing to go to Lecompton and attack the leaders, or to fight the enemy anywhere in open field, but that I could not kill men in that way. The deeds of that night are indelibly stamped upon my memory.

In after years my opinion changed as to the wisdom of the massacre. I became, and am, satisfied that it resulted in the good to the Free-state cause, and was especially beneficial to the Free-state settlers on Pottawatomie Creek. The Pro-slavery men were dreadfully terrified, and large numbers of them soon left the Territory. It was afterward said that one Free-state man could scare a company of them.

Immediately after the killing of William Sherman, the two sons of John Brown who had done all the killing, except the shooting of the old man Doyle, washed their swords in Pottawatomie Creek. I did not wash my sword, having done nothing with it but strike the dog.

Soon after midnight we went back to where my team and the other things had been left, and remained there in camp until the next afternoon. Just before daylight Owen Brown came to me and said 'There shall be no more such work as that.'

In the afternoon we started back to join the Pottawatomie company under John Brown, Jr. We reached them about midnight, in camp near Ottawa Jones' place. When daylight had come, some members of the company noticing the blood and hair upon my sword, picked it up, and after examining it, remarked, 'There is no human blood upon that saber!'

This was the end of the expedition."

As to old John Brown's connection with this affair, there is, without James Townsley's statement, abundant evidence, although he himself may, at certain times have positively denied it, as Redpath and Sanborn in their lives of him state that he did repeatedly. At other times when interrogated in regard to it, he said, "I never shed the blood of a fellow man except in self-defence, or in promotion of a righteous cause." In a speech, at Cleveland, Ohio, March 22, 1859, he said he "had never killed anybody, although on some occasions he had shown the young men with him how some things might be done as well as others, and they had done the business ." Hon. James Hanway, who was a member of the Pottawatomie Rifle Company under Capt. John Brown, Jr., and present with the company at the time old John Brown, with his party of seven men, started off on his Pottawatomie expedition, wrote a letter under date of March 12, 1860, to James Redpath, from which we quote:

"They started in the afternoon, and three cheers were given to the success of Capt. Brown and his men. Now, sir, what I am going to relate to you I have never mentioned to but one man living, and that is, one of the party made a proposition to me to join the company, and also, gave me such information in regard to their contemplated enterprise as to satisfy my mind that they were the chief actors in the Pottawatomie tragedy."

In a letter published in the Kansas Monthly, for January 1880, Judge Hanway wrote: "I ventured to approach one of the eight, and from him I learned the programme contemplated. In fact I received an invitation to be one of the party, and being unwilling to consent before I learned the object, I was made acquainted with the object of the expedition; it shocked me," etc.

Judge Hanway also says, in his letter to Redpath, that after the return of the party. "That portion of the company who resided near the Shermans on Pottawatomie Creek recognized several horses which belonged to the ruffians, and several of our men remarked that they hoped they would not take them (the horses) in the neighborhood of the Osawatomie, because they were well known. A few days after the massacre two of Judge Hanway's neighbors, Dr. Gilpatrick and Elbridge Blunt, called on him and made particular inquiries "about the dress of old John Brown--his leather cravat, light coat," etc., etc. These neighbors had started for Kansas City on the morning after the massacre, and had called at Wilkinson's for their mail, he being Postmaster. Mrs. Wilkinson was sick in bed, and told them she feared her husband had been killed. She also gave them a description of the "old man who appeared to be the leader of the party" who had taken her husband out of the house during the night. His dress was also described by other women and men at Sherman, and in summing this part of the testimony up Judge Hanway says: "All I have to say is that my recollection is that it agreed precisely with that worn by John Brown, Sr. Of this there is no doubt."

There can be no doubt that old John Brown was the leader of the party that committed the Pottawatomie massacre. That he, with his own hand, shot James P. Doyle seems almost equally well established. James Townsley has emphatically testified to it, over and over again. Brown habitually carried a revolver, and was too brave and consistent a man to influence other men, especially his own sons, to do what he would not do himself. He believed it was a step necessary to prevent a similar massacre of the Free-state settlers by their Pro-slavery neighbors, and that it was only a question as to who should strike the first blow. At the time the blow was struck opinion was divided even among the Free-state men as to its necessity, but as time has passed the numbers of those living in the immediate neighborhood who approve of it has increased.

The question as to whether it was justifiable depends primarily on its necessity. And its necessity depends on whether there was a conspiracy among the Pro-slavery settlers to massacre the Free-state men.

James Townsley says that George Wilson, whom Brown hoped to find and kill at Dutch Henry's, "had been notify Free-state men to leave the Territory. He had received such a notice from him himself."

Judge Hanway, in the same letter from which we have already quoted says: "I was personally acquainted with the Doyles, Wilkinson and Sherman and am fully satisfied, as everybody else is, who lived on the creek in 1856, that a base conspiracy was on foot to drive out, burn out and kill; in a word, the Pottawatomie Creek from its mouth to its fountain head was to be cleared of every man, woman and child who was for Kansas being a free State."

"I will give one item which has never been published. When the party called at the house of the Shermans, Mrs. Harris, who was living there, commenced getting breakfast, believing the party that had arrived were friends who were expected from Missouri to carry out the Border Ruffian plan of clearing the creek of Abolitionists. This important fact alone is evidence that John Brown was correct in his predictions. This evidence came through a moderate Pro-slavery man, who was astonished to learn that such a plan was under consideration:

"Threats were made to various persons: 'Squire Morse, John Grant and his family, Mr. Winer and others.

"Old John Brown was at my house at various times in 1858. He asked me how the people on the creek regarded the killing of Sherman and the others at that time. My remark was that 'I did not know of a settler of '56 but what regarded it as amongst the most fortunate events in the history of Kansas--that this event saved the lives of the Free-state men on the creek--that those who did the act were looked upon as deliverers.'

"The old man said, 'The first shock frightened the Free-state men almost as much as the ruffians, but I knew that when the facts were understood a reaction would take place. If the killing of these men was murder, then I was an accessory.' The remark did not surprise me, because I had heard his brother in law, Rev. S. L. Adair, say that the old man had said the same to him.

"Take in connection the fact of John Brown running into the Border Ruffian camp with his surveying instruments, and there hearing the plans on foot to drive out or exterminate the settlers on the creek, and I think we have sufficient reason to believe that our lives were in danger, and that John Brown and his little band saved us from premature graves."

In summing up the whole matter, it may be said that although, possibly, the details of the massacre as they occurred may not have been brought to light, or, in other words, although possibly we may not know which particular individual of old John Brown's party killed, which particular individual of the Pottawatomie victims, yet it must be considered established that John Brown Sr.'s party of eight men, including himself, killed the three Doyles, Allen, Wilkinson, and William Sherman, on the night of May 24, 1856, in a determined and remorseless manner; that whether or not old John Brown, with his own hand shot old Mr. Doyle, it is established that he did lead the party from near "Ottawa" Jones' place to the Pottawatomie valley, with the definite and distinct design of murdering as many as "necessary" of the Pro-slavery men living therein, and that he was not only present at, but commanded the murdering of each of the five miserable victims. His brain may not have conceived the plan originally, and he may have been only the instrument selected by others; but his brain conceived the method of the execution of the plan.

Time will test the truth of Mr. Townsley's statement. It is corroborated now in some particulars. That there was shooting was testified to under oath by Mrs. Doyle, who said she heard two pistol shots, and by John Doyle, who was spared on account of his youth, who said he saw a bullet-hole in his father's forehead. Knowles Shaw, who assisted in the burial of the mangled remains, corroborates the statement of Mr. Townsley as to the places where the killing was done, and also as to the killing of the dog. This is as far as we can now go. What has not been told, or told untruthfully, time will doubtless divulge.

The immediate cause of old John Brown's starting off "on the war path," at that particular time, was that Major H. H. Williams had that day brought the information to the camp of the Pottawatomie Rifle Company that "trouble was expected on the Pottawatomie." 'Squire Morse kept a little store on the creek, and furnished, among other things, gunpowder to the Free-state men. Morse had received notice to leave the Territory within three days, or take the consequences of remaining, one of the charges against him being that of "smuggling in" gunpowder. He was very much frightened, and in fact white with fear, when Major Williams saw him that morning, and he asked of the Major what he should do. After giving Squire Morse the best advice he could as to where to go for protection, the Major rode over to the company, with the result already detailed.

The John Brown writers, as they may, not inappropriately, be styled, as Redpath, Sanborn, Hinton, and Webb, for a long time strenuously contended that he was not present at the tragedy; was in fact twenty-five miles away, and was not at all cognizant of it until after it had been committed, basing their argument on his own statements to that effect, and on the assumption that "John Brown was incapable of telling a falsehood."

That he was present and did in fact command the murderers when they were committing the murders, is now established and admitted by them. They still, however, contend quite as strenuously that John Brown did not himself kill anybody, basing their conclusion on the same argument as before; viz: John Brown says that he did not kill any one, and he is incapable of telling a falsehood; therefore, etc. If it should some time be established beyond cavil that he did actually kill some one of the five, his especial admirers will then say, as they do now, in regard to his presence there, that they did not understand him, when they understood him to say he did not kill anybody.

But why this studied and persistent attempt to defend him against the charge of having shot old Mr. Doyle with his own hand? He himself frequently admitted that he "approved" of it, that he "endorsed" it, that, "if it was murder he was not innocent," "that he was an accessory;" and he even said to Col. Samuel Walker, now living in Lawrence, that he "was in command of the party and ordered the execution." Is it so much worse to kill one, than to be present at and order the killing of five? Or is it so much worse to lie than to murder? If so, then assuredly it is pressingly incumbent upon educators to introduce a new system of ethics into our schools.

Henry Sherman was killed in March, 1857, while traveling the public highway, by two Free-state men. This murder was entirely inexcusable. For although "Dutch Henry" had done his full share of threatening Free-state men, the time had now arrived when, on account of the thousands of Free-state emigrants that were pouring into the Territory, he had ceased to be regarded as dangerous to them or their rights. Private malice prompted the deed.


This famous cabin was located one mile southwest of Lane Postoffice, in this county, on the northwest quarter of Section 4, Township 19, Range 21. It was built by Judge James Hanway in 1857, for pre-emption purposes, and was occupied by himself and family about two years. It was made of oak, hickory and walnut logs, was chinked and daubed, had floor, doors and windows, and was withal a very comfortable cabin.

During the years 1857-58, John Brown was accustomed to visit Judge Hanway's family, then living in it, and it was here he wrote his "Parallels," published in the Lawrence Republican and the New York Tribune. Anderson, Kagi and others who fell at Harper's Ferry, often found an asylum in it, as did also Col. Montgomery and his men, when pursued by Gen. Harney.

It was in a cabin about four miles southwest from Lane, owned by Charles Severns, that John Brown successfully secreted eleven fugitive slaves for a full month, when the whole country was filled with hunters in pursuit.

Old John Brown never owned the Hanway cabin, nor professed to own it, and never occupied it, save as a visitor or guest. It was photographed by A. W. Baker, of Ottawa, and by him named "John Brown's Cabin." Being thus named, the photograph of it met with immense sale all over the United States.

John Brown never owned a cabin in Kansas; but he erected one on contract for Orson Day, a brother of his last wife, in the winter of 1855-56. This cabin is located one and a half miles west of Rantoul, Franklin County.


A Mass Convention was held at Centropolis, August 14, 1857. Similar conventions were held at different places in the Territory during the same summer and early fall. The question in each convention was whether the Freestate men should take part in the election to be held October 5, of that year. They believed it to be of vital importance to the people of Kansas that its government should be controlled by the bona fide citizens of the Territory instead of as heretofore, by the citizens of Missouri. They also believed that in a fair election they could outvote the Pro-slavery residents of the Territory. And as Governor Walker had repeatedly pledged himself that a full and fair vote should be had before impartial judges, they agreed to participate in the election. At that election the majority of the Free-state party, on delegate to Congress was 4,089, and they elected a majority of the members of the Territorial Legislature, thus for the first time obtaining control of their own government. It was at this time that the short-lived town of Minneola came into existence. Lecompton had too many Pro-slavery associations connected with it to be satisfactory to the Free-state Legislature as a capital; hence although compelled by law to meet there, they invariably adjourned each year for three years to Lawrence to hold their sessions. The location at Centropolis not being any more satisfactory than the associations connected with Lecompton, the idea was conceived at Lawrence of starting Minneola. Perry Fuller was the leading spirit in the enterprise. He said that nine quarter sections of land, or 1,440 acres, lying one mile east of Centropolis, in a beautiful location, could be secured for $3,131. This land belonged to the following parties: Charles L. Robbins, Wm. E. Crum, Samuel T. Shore, Wm. Mewhinney, Terry Critchfield, Joab M. Bernard, Frederick Ruch and two others. These men were willing to throw their interests into a town site, on condition of being made share holder's in the town company. The total cost of the land including attorney's fees, building of necessary houses, filing plat, and conveyancing, amounted to $3,700. A large number of people were desirous of becoming stockholders in the town company, which when organized consisted of the following members, those in italics being members of the legislature: R. Gilpatrick, James G. Blunt, Jacob G. Reese, Gideon Seymour, John Curtis, P. P. Orr, A. Berry, C. Columbia, Henry Owens, Calvin Smith, Robert B. Mitchell, A. T. Stile, Hiram Appleman, George H. Keller, Samuel Stewart, C. Graham, Wm. Pennock , S. S. Cooper, O. E. Learnard, B. H. Weir, James S. Emery, Robert Morrow, G. Danforth, S. B. Prentice, S. C. Russell, Terry Critchfield, Ralph Mayfield, William Y. Roberts, William McClure , E. St. John, F. G. Patrick, Daniel Sibbett, John Wright, H. Miles Moore, Augustus Wattles, Oliver Barber, A. A. Jamison, C. F. Currier, Joel K. Goodin, Hugh S. Walsh, Gaius Jenkins, John Mann, A. J. Shannon, Edward S. Nash, John P. Hattersheit, R. G. Elliot, George Ford, Lyman Allen, A. R. Morton, J. A. Marcell, C. L. Robbins, William E. Crum, Joab M. Bernard, Perry Fuller, John Goodall, C. W. Babcock, O. A. Bassett, G. W. Deitzler, S. W. Eldridge, Charles Robinson, Asa Reynard, T. Sampson, S. Stewart, John Speer, Charles Jenkins, A. F. Mead, E. W. Morrill, Thomas McCage, A. G. Patrick and M. J. Parrott.

The name Minneola, was suggested by E. N. Morrill. At the time the organization of the Minneola Town Company was effected, the Legislature, in session at Lawrence. passed an Act under date of February 10, 1858, making Minneola the capital of the Territory. One half-section was entered as the Town site, the rest of the nine quarter-sections were deeded to the Town Company, the grantors receiving Town Company stock in exchange. Money was raised by assessments and by mortgage; buildings erected, including a hotel, and a hall in which the sessions of the Legislature were to be held, the hotel costing about $8,000 and the hall about $1,500, and all in less than six weeks. These men were in earnest about making Minneola the capital of the Territory and State-to-be. Ex-Judge Bassett was made secretary and surveyor, and Perry Fuller, business manager. The same Legislature that made Minneola the capital, made provision for numerous railroads, all centering there. Maps and bird's eye views were made, representing this to be the case. Town lots in the choicest locations were sold at exorbitant prices. Everything seemed to betoken a brilliant future for the town. But "the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft' aglee." The Territorial officers refused to move the substantial portions of the government to Minneola. The legality of the act making that town the capital was called in question, and being referred to the Attorney-General of the United States, was by him declared to be in violation of the Organic Act. In the meantime the Legislature had provided for a Constitutional Convention to be held in Minneola. This convention assembled March 23, 1858; James H. Lane was elected President of the Convention, and Samuel F. Tappan, Clerk. There were seventy-two delegates present. In order to dampen the hopes of Minneola and reduce her chances for becoming the capital, soon after the convention was called to order, a motion was made to adjourn. The contest over this motion lasted all day and until early into the morning of the 24th, when the convention adjourned to Leavenworth, reassembling there on the evening of the 25th.

Failing to become the capital, Minneola soon began to decline, and the town site is now divided up into farms. The delegates to this convention from Franklin County, were Joel K. Goodin and Jacob G. Reese.

[TOC] [part 4] [part 2] [Cutler's History]