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JOHN BROWN

 

Remembering John Brown's 'Other Raid'

 Thursday, June 21, 2007, The Nevada Daily Mail, Nevada, MO

Then and Now by Patrick Brophy

 

      Likely most Americans have heard of John Brown. And likely mere mention of his name brings to most minds the image "John Brown's raid." And if anything's added, it's almost bound be "Oh, yeah. Harpers Ferry, Va., Now West Virginia." Yet there was another "John Brown's raid." It involved 25 raiders, not a mere 19 like that piddling Harpers Ferry affair! And it was a success. Harpers Ferry was a fatal flop.

     Likely most modern Vernon Countians know, vaguely, Old Brown raided us too, not just Harpers Ferry. Possibly they even cherish a gut-dislike for the old s.o.b., handed down from the days when their forerunners suffered at his hands, and found true bills of indictment against him and all his men, known and unknown, for grand larceny and murder.

     An aging, restless ne'er-do-well, "a crazy man for years" according to old acquaintances, full of muddled abolitionist zeal, Brown had long dreamed of a raid on the South through the Appalachians, inciting the slaves to rise up and murder their masters. Nice man.

     The scheme was far along when Brown's "military adviser," out-of-patience with the nuttiness and the slow pay, "defected" and began leaking details. The "Secret Six," Brown's moneymen, suffered assorted attacks of nerves and called for indefinite postponement. Go back to Kansas, they begged Brown, and lie low till the heat dies down.

     So the year 1858 found a disgusted Brown back in Kansas, not to lie low but determined to pull off a smaller, western version of his raid to prove it could be done, and incidentally wreak "a sensation in the national press." The new "free-state" government had obligingly quashed his murder indictment for the savage Pottawatomie Massacre of 1856, but Brown took no chances. Settling down right on the Missouri line, miles east of his old haunts, he began for the first time to grow that famous beard, as a disguise for what was to come.

     In his "press release," known as "John Brown's Parallels," he wrote that a Missouri slave had sought him out with a tale of woe and a plea for rescue. Perhaps so, but it was suspiciously just the sort of pretext Brown was looking for, a "heaven-sent" opportunity. The next night, Dec. 20, 1858, Brown's 25 men went galloping off, over into snowy, wintry Missouri.

     Brown himself led the main file of 15, making for the farm of his slave tipster's late master, James Lawrence, midway between modern Stotesbury and Hume. Harvey Hicklin, the Henry Township constable, as well as Lawrence's son-in-law, was living in the house with his wife and children, and would leave a revealing eyewitness account of that epochal night.

     The raiders took Lawrence's five slaves, two men, a woman, and two infants, plus all the livestock and other property they could haul, including personal valuables. They then moved on to the nearby Isaac Lame farm and repeated their good works, taking five more slaves.

     Meanwhile the other file of nine men crossed the Little Osage on the Kansas side and rode to the home of David Cruise, just south of the river and just north of modern Stotesbury. Cruise had only two slaves, but more significantly had a reputation for "buried gold." The spirited old man tried to defend himself, but was felled by a revolver shot and bled to death on his hearthstone. The raiders held a gun to young Lucinda Cruise's head and demanded all her valuables. They left with these, "a fine new horse," and one female slave. The other slave, "a likeable man named George," had fled in terror from his would-be liberators.

     Through the bitter winter the freed slaves were escorted up around Missouri, across Iowa, and across the Detroit River to Windsor, Ontario, where a sizeable colony of fugitive slaves has descendants to this day.

     Meanwhile Brown was selling the stolen goods and sending the money to his family, while the sensationalist Northern press built him up into a virtual saint. "The name of John Brown soared aloft, and the name of David Cruise, the old white-headed pioneer, guilty of no offense whatever, vanished beneath the notice of idealists." The next October, Brown and his 19 descended on Harpers Ferry. Most soon met bloody death. Brown himself was found guilty of treason and swiftly strung up.

     This spring, Iowa's State Historic Preservation Office, as part of a program to mark every waystation on John Brown's 1859 trek across Iowa with the fugitive slaves, expressed interest in the Vernon County spot where it all began. James Denny of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources responded, "The Missouri DNR will be happy to provide a marker in Missouri for the John Brown raid, as a cooperative venture with the Bushwhacker Museum, the Freedom's Frontier National Historic Area, and your John Brown signage program." The marker would be much like the Civil War plaque the DNR placed at Deerfield last November.

     In May, Bushwhacker Museum Coordinator Terry Ramsey and this writer contacted and met with W.A. (Art) Mullies and other area residents at the Lawrence Cemetery, the likely spot for such a marker. James Lawrence, deceased owner of the slaves who were John Brown's pretext for the raid, was the first person to be buried in the cemetery. His daughter, Nancy Hicklin, who along with her husband faced John Brown, is buried beside him.

     Afterwards the group pilgrimaged to the site of Lawrence's house, half a mile southwest of the cemetery. Foundation stones, plus the old well, lost in a thicket, are all that remain of the house and the rather modest "quarters" for the five Lawrence slaves.

     Douglas Jones, of the Iowa group, is among those to commit the common error of calling Lawrence a "planter" and his 160-acre farm a "plantation." Not only were these words going out of use in Missouri in the 1850s, Lawrence's probate record shows just how modest was his prosperity. John Brown's larceny cut his gross worth, apart from real estate, exactly in half. David Cruise was a "yeoman farmer" who by a lifetime of hard work had amassed a bit of real estate, plus that "buried gold." (Yes, said his son, it was really there. Brown's men got the gold out of his father's pants, but not that buried in the floor of the saddle shed.) David Cruise was a typical pioneer, in his day an honorable soldier. He was anything but a "planter."

     Interested Vernon Countians look forward to working with others to mark "John Brown's other raid," probably the most nationally significant event ever to occur here. It will be their special brief and duty to make sure Harvey Hicklin's concluding words, in his 1886 statement to the compiler of The History of Vernon County, were prophetic: "I do not hold any particular malice or prejudice on account of these old transactions. Old things have-passed away; but the truth can never pass away."

Reprinted with permission

 

 

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2011

Vernon Co, MO County Coordinator

Nancy Thompson