1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 30 Part 5


The Battle-Field
Black Jack
On the 26th of May, John Brown and his company went to the claim of Jason Brown on Brown's Branch, where they made a camp in the timber. A. O. Carpenter, who lived south of Palmyra, in Douglas County, went to the camp and requested John Brown to lead his company to the head waters of Ottawa Creek, saying that there were two parties in that vicinity, searching for those who had slain the men on the Pottawatomie. That night Brown led his men in the direction of Palmyra. In the party were John Brown, Frederick, Salmon, Owen and Oliver Brown, Henry Thompson, Weiner and Townsley and August Bondi. Carpenter was the guide. A company of soldiers had camped in a lane near the California crossing of the Marais des Cygnes River. The picket challenged with the question, "Who are you?" John Brown answered that "there are a few of us going toward Lawrence." The sentry said they might pass on. The men immediately rushed through the lane, and were quickly out of sight. Early the next morning they went into a deep wood on the broad bottom of Ottawa Creek and camped near a spring of good water. This camping-place was near one of the crossings later used by the Federal Government in carrying supplies from Leavenworth and Lawrence to Fort Scott. It was at this camp that James Redpath found John Brown on the 30th of May. Redpath was a newspaper correspondent. He was born in Berwick, Scotland. He was in thorough sympathy with the Free-State cause and did it much good service, and later he wrote a biography of John Brown.

Captain Shore lived only a little way to the north of John Brown's camp. On the 31st of May he visited Brown, bearing some provisions, and said that a large party of Missourians were then camped at Black Jack, a point on the Santa Fe Trail, five miles east of Palmyra. It is well to say here that there were two places on the Santa Fe Trail known as Black Jack. They were some seven miles apart. The Black Jack at which the Missourians were camped was sometimes known as Black Jack Springs. The Black Jack famous in the annals of the old Santa Fe Trail was locally known as Black Jack Point. It was the place where the Trail reached the greatest elevation in going from Palmyra to Willow Springs. It is probably the highest point in that country, and the view from it is magnificent.

After a discussion of the conditions prevailing about Palmyra, it was decided to make some show of resistance to the Missourians encamped at Black Jack. Captain Shore was to assemble his company and repair to Prairie City, where John Brown was to meet him before 10 o'clock on the 1st of June. When they arrived there it was found that church services were to be held. So many people assembled that only the women could be admitted to the church. The men, bearing their guns, stood about the door. Three horsemen went by the church at a rapid pace, headed for Black Jack. The horse of one of them fell, and he was captured, as were his companions, who held up to see if he had been injured in the fall. They were carried before John Brown, who questioned them closely. They said they belonged to the company of H. Clay Pate, who had been made a deputy United States Marshal. Pate lived at that time at Westport, and had been at the sacking of Lawrence, where his horse was gaily decorated in ribbons in honor of the destruction of that city. Upon hearing of the death of the Pro-Slavery men on the Pottawatomie, he had immediately set out to search for the Browns, stopping first at Paola. These prisoners told Brown that Pate had captured a preacher named Moore. Two of Moore's sons were in Captain Shore's company, and they urged that the combined force of Captain Shore and John Brown immediately attack Pate and attempt to rescue their father. This, however, could not be done. Pate's men had committed robberies about Palmyra on the 31st of May. It was decided by Brown and Shore to attack Pate the next morning. The total force of the two companies was about forty men. They started that night for Black Jack. Many of them fell out of the ranks and did not get there. On the march, John Brown, who at that time had been given the title of Captain, led the advance. Near midnight the Free-State men halted at a grove some two miles west of Black Jack. The plan of battle was there agreed to. Brown was to be in command. The horses were left in the grove under the care of Fred Brown. Five men were detailed by Captain Shore to remain with Fred Brown to watch their horses. John Brown's company was to be in the center of the line with Captain Shore's men thrown out as skirmishers on the flanks. In this formation they were to charge the camp of Pate. These arrangements consumed much time. It was daylight when the Free-State men again took up the march toward Pate's camp. Brown's company had received some reinforcements and consisted at that time of Captain John Brown, Owen, Frederick, Watson, Salmon and Oliver Brown, Henry Thompson, Charles Kaiser, Theodore Weiner, Carpenter, the two Moore boys, Dr. Westfall, Benjamin Cochrane, August Bondi and James Townsley.

The summit of the hill or roll in the prairie was reached within about half a mile. From that the Free-State men looked down on the camp of Pate and his Missourians. After studying the position of the enemy for a moment, John Brown called out, "Now, follow me," and he and his company started down the slope on a run. When they had gone half a mile, the Missourians began to fire at them. Brown's men did not fire, as the distance was too great, but Shore's men, who were behind, returned the fire of the Missouri pickets. As soon as the alarm was sounded, Pate's men ran to arms and began to fire volleys at the approaching enemy. Coming to the Santa Fe Road, Brown's men jumped into deep gulleys washed in the Trail, and began to fire on the Missourians. Shore's company had not followed Brown down the hill. Shore himself was there, but none of his men, who yet remained on the hill, wasting their ammunition. They fired for a time but soon left the field. John Brown got into the channel of the west prong of Captain's Creek, which gave him a sheltered position. Pate and his men took position in the bed of the other fork of Captain's Creek. The two hostile bodies were separated then by a distance of about one-eighth of a mile. But these little valleys or channels in which the combatants were sheltered united only a very short distance below.

The first wounded was Henry Thompson. He was shot through the lungs, and was lead away by Dr. Westfall. Carpenter had the end of his nose shot olf, and the same bullet lodged in his shoulder. He had to be taken from the field. John Brown was passing up and down the ravine, sometimes viewing the enemy through his field glasses, and always cautioning the men, saying "be careful to save your ammunition." Captain Shore squatted himself on the ground and said to John Brown that he was very hungry, to which John Brown made no reply. As Brown went up the ravine to close up the gaps left by the wounding of Carpenter and Thompson, Captain Shore said, "Boys I have to leave you to hunt up some breakfast." He then left the field. Townsley, at that time, requested that he be sent for ammunition, to which John Brown made no reply. Townsley then departed. He was not seen again on the battle-field until after Pate had surrendered. About nine o'clock John Brown surveyed the lines of the Missourians through the glass, and said to Weiner and Bondi, "It seems the Missourians have also suffered from our fire. They are leaving one by one. We must never allow this. We must try and surround them. We must compel them to surrender." He then took the two Moores, Weiner, and Bondi, and ascended a rise south of the Missouri camp. There Brown told the Moores to shoot at the horses and mules exclusively and not to shoot at any men. The Moore boys with four shots killed two mules and two horses. This alarmed the Border-Ruffians, and several of them rushed from the battle-line and mounted their horses, leaving for Westport. Brown then advanced toward the enemy about sixty feet, when he waved his hat, which was a signal Łor Weiner and Bondi to come up; and the Moore boys were to advance also, but at a slower pace. Upon Captain Brown's advance, those of his men yet in the trenches came out, and all of them advanced toward Pate's line. Frederick Brown would no longer remain with the horses. He was anxious to engage in the battle. He mounted a horse and charged down the Santa Fe Road. He was accompanied by Colonel W. A. Phillips, correspondent of the New York Tribune. Frederick Brown went on beyond the Border-Ruffian camp, and called to his father that the Missourians were surrounded. He was fired at repeatedly, but never hit. Captain Pate, supposing Frederick Brown was leading reinforcements, saw no hope of being able to escape, and he sent out a flag of truce. John Brown inquired of the bearer if he was the Captain of the company. Upon being assured that he was not, he ordered a Mr. Lymer, a Free-State prisoner who had been sent with the flag of truce, to return and call the commander. It is said that a Mr. James carried the flag of truce, and some claim that it was Lieutenant Brocket. Whoever the man, he remained with Captain Brown while Mr. Lymer returned for Captain Pate, who went over to the Free-State position with some misgivings. This was about one o'clock. Upon being asked whether he had a proposition to make, he hesitated and said he believed he had not. He then entered upon a long explanation of his authority. John Brown cut this short, saying that he wanted to hear no more about it, ending with the words, "I know exactly what you are, sir. I have a proposition to make to you - that is, your unconditional surrender." As Captain Brown held a large revolver close to Pate's head, there was little that he could do. Brown ordered his men to go to the Ruffian branch of the ravine to prevent the escape of the Missourians, while he went to the camp with Pate. Brocket objected to surrender, and talked defiantly, but Brown demanded of Pate that he order Brocket and his men to lay down their arms and surrender. And as the large revolver was thrust a little nearer, Pate ordered them to comply, which they did. Twenty-two Pro-Slavery men surrendered to nine Free-State men. The losses of Captain Pate were as follows: twenty-one surrendered, twenty-seven wounded and escaped. The Free-State men secured a large quantity of arms and ammunition, and recovered much property the Missourians had stolen from the settlers. They got four wagons fairly-well loaded with provisions.

Pate afterwards said, "I was taken prisoner under a flag of truce. I had no alternative but to submit or to run and be shot. I went to take Old Brown and Old Brown took me." The arms of the Missourians were taken from them and they were marched to John Brown's camp on Ottawa Creek. Just as the prisoners were being started on the march to that point, J. B. Abbott arrived on the battle-field with his company of "Stubbs." He had heard the firing in the morning, and had speedily assembled his company and come to the assistance of Brown, but arrived too late to be of any service. Pate afterwards affirmed that he had not been fairly dealt with, and that he was captured under a flag of truce. John Brown cared very little as to how he had captured Pate or any other Border-Ruffian, but there is no evidence beyond the assertion of Pate that he violated a flag of truce. In the New York Tribune of July 11, 1856, appears the reply of John Brown to Captain Pate, and this reply is a good account of the battle. It also contains the articles of agreement entered into between Captains Brown and Shore, and Pate. It is here set out:


I have just read in the Tribune of June 13, an article from the pen of Capt. H. C. Pate, headed "The Battle of Black Jack Point," (in other words the battle of Palmyra), and take the liberty of correcting a very few of Capt. Pate's statements in reference to that affair, having had personal cognizance of what then occurred. The first statement I would notice is in these words: "At first the enemy squatted down in open prairie and fired at a distance from 300 to 400 yards from us. Their lines were soon broken and they hastily ran to a ravine for shelter." This is wrong, as my company formed a distinct line from Capt. Shore and his men, and without stopping to fire a gun passed at once into a ravine on the enemy's right, where we commenced our fire on them, and where we remained till the enemy hoisted the white flag. I expected Capt. Shore to form his men and occupy a similar position on the left of the enemy, but was disappointed, he halting on the eastern slope above the ravine, in front of the enemy's camp. This I consider as the principal mistake in our part of the action, as Capt. Shore was unable to retain this unfortunate position: and when he with part of his men left it and joined my company, the balance of his company quit the field entirely. One of them was wounded and disabled. Capt. Shore and all his men, I believe, had for a considerable time kept that position, and received the fire of the enemy like the best regular troops (to their praise I would say it) and until they had to a considerable extent exhausted their ammunition. Capt. Pate says: "When the fight commenced our forces were nearly equal." I here say most distinctly, that twenty-six officers and men all told, was the entire force on the Free State side who were on the ground at all during the fight or in any way whatever participated in it. Of these Capt. Shore and his company numbered sixteen all told. My company, ten only, including myself. Six of these were of my own family. He says further, "but I saw reenforcements for the Abolitionists were near," &c. Capt. Pate, it seems, could see much better than we; for we neither saw nor received any possible reenforcements until some minutes after the surrender, nor did we understand that any help was near us, and at the time of the surrender our entire force, officers and men, all told had dwindled down to but fifteen men, who were either on or about the field. Capt. Shore and his men had all left the field but eight. One of his men who had left was wounded and was obliged to leave. Of the eight who remained four, whose names I love to repeat, stood nobly by four of my men until the fight was over. The other four had, with two of my company, become disheartened and gone to a point out of reach of the enemy's fire, where, by the utmost exertion, I had kept them to make a little show, and busied one of them in shooting mules and horses to divert the others and keep them from running off. One of my men had been terribly wounded and left, after holding on for an hour afterward. Fifteen Free State men, all told, were all that remained on and near the ground at the time the surrender was made; and it was made to nine men only, myself included in that number. Twenty-five of the enemy, including two men terribly wounded, were made prisoners. Capt. Pate reproaches me with the most dishonorable violation of the rights secured under a flag of truce, but says: "My object was to gain time, and if possible have hostilities suspended for a while." So much, in his own language, for good faith, of which he found me so destitute. Now for my own dishonorable violation of the flag of truce: When I first saw it I had just been to the six discouraged men above named, and started at once to meet it, being at that moment from sixty to eighty rods from the enemy's camp, and met it about half way carried by two men, one a Free State man, a prisoner of theirs; the other was young Turner, of whom Capt. Pate speaks in such high terms. I think him as brave as Capt. Pate represents. Of his disposition and character in other respects I say nothing now. The country and the world may probably know more hereafter. I at once learned from those bearing the flag of truce that in reality they had no other design than to divert me and consume time by getting me to go to their camp to hear explanations. I then told young James to stand by me with his arms, saying, "We are both equally exposed to the fire of both parties," and sent their prisoner back to tell the Captain that, if he had any proposal to make, to come at once and make it. He also came armed to where I and young James were - some forty or fifty rods from either party and I alone. He immediately began to tell about his authority from the General Government, by way of explanation, as he said. I replied that I should listen to nothing of that kind, and that if he had any proposal to make, I would hear it at once, and that, if he had none for me, I had one for him, and that was immediate and unconditional surrender. I then said to him and young James, (both well armed,) "You must go down to your camp, and there all of you lay down your arms," when the three started, they continuing armed until the full surrender was made. I, an old man, of nearly sixty years, and fully exposed to the weapons of two young men at my side, as well as the fire of their men in the camp, SO far, and no further, took them prisoners under their flag of truce. On our way to their camp, as we passed within hailing distance of the eight men who had kept their position firm, I directed them to pass down the ravine in front of the enemy's camp, about twenty rods off, to receive the surrender. Such was my violation of the flag of truce. Let others judge. I had not during the time of the above transactions with Capt. Pate and his flag of truce a single man secreted near me who could have possibly have pointed a rifle at Capt. Pate, nor a man nearer than forty rods till we came near their camp. Capt. Pate complains of our treatment in regard to cooking, &c, but forgets to say that, after the fight was over, when I and some of my men had eaten only once in nearly forty-eight hours, we first of all gave Capt. Pate and his men as good a dinner as we could obtain for them, I being the last man to take a morsel. During the time we kept them it was with difficulty I could keep enough men in camp away from their business and their families to guard our prisoners; I being myself obliged to stand guard six hours - between four in the afternoon and six in the morning. We were so poorly supplied with provisions that the best we could possibly do was to let our prisoners use their own provisions; and as for tents, we, for the most part, had none, while we sent a team and brought in theirs, which they occupied exclusively. Capt. Pate and his men had burned or carried off my own tent, where one of my sons lived, with all its contents, provisions &c, some four or five days before the fight. We did not search our prisoners, nor take from them one cent of their money, a watch or anything but arms, horses, and military stores. I would ask Capt. Pate and his men how our people fared at their hands at Lawrence, Osawattamie, Brown's Station and elsewhere, my two sons, John, Jr., and Jason Brown, being of the number? We never had, at any time, near Capt. Pate, or where his men were, to exceed half the number he states. We had only three men wounded in the fight, and all of those have nearly recovered, and not one killed or since dead. See his statement. I am sorry that a young man of good acquirements and fair abilities should, by his own statement, knowingly and wilfully made, do himself much greater injury than he even accuses "Old Brown" of doing him. He is most welcome to all the satisfaction which his treatment of myself and family before the fight, his polite and gentlemanly return for my own treatment of himself and his men have called forth since he was a prisoner, and released by Col. Sumner, can possibly afford to his honorable and ingenuous mind. I have also seen a brief notice of this affair by Lieutenant Brocket, and it affords me real satisfaction to say that I do not see a single sentence in it that is in the least degree characterized by either direct or indirect untruthfulness. I will add that when Capt. Pate's sword and pistols were taken from him at his camp, he particularly requested me to take them into my own care, which I did, and returned them to him when Col. Sumner took him and his men from us. I subjoin a copy of an agreement made with Capt. Shore and myself by Capt. Pate and his Lieutenant Brocket, in regard to exchange of prisoners taken by both parties, which agreement Col. Sumner did not require the Pro-Slavery party to comply with. A good illustration of governmental protection to the people of Kansas from the first:


This is an article of agreement between Captains John Brown, sen., and Samuel T. Shore of the first part, and Capt. H. C. Pate and Lieut. W. B. Brocket of the second part, and witnesses, that in consideration of the fact that the parties of the first part have a number of Capt. Pate's company prisoners that they agree to give up and fully liberate one of their prisoners for one of those lately arrested near Stanton, Osawattamie, and Potawatamie and so on, one of the former for one of the latter alternately until all are liberated. It is understood and agreed by the parties that the sons of Capt. John Brown, sen., Capt. John Brown, jr., and Jason Brown, are to be among the liberated parties (if not already liberated) and are to be exchanged for Capt. Pate and Lieut. Brocket respectively. The prisoners are to be brought on neutral ground and exchanged. It is agreed that the neutral ground shall be at or near the house of John T. or Ottawa Jones of this Territory, and that those who have been arrested, and have been liberated, will be considered in the same light as those not liberated, but they must appear in person or answer in writing that they are at liberty. The arms, particularly the side arms, of each one exchanged, are to be returned with the prisoners, also the horses so far as practicable.



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A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans , written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 1998.

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