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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Rich Smyth's Where Are They Now? They Didn't Quite Follow John Brown--Luke Parsons and Charles Moffett

Among the men from his Kansas days that John Brown counted on to accompany him on his Virginia campaign, there were some that ultimately made other plans.  This article is about two of Brown's associates who are part of his story, but who never made it to Harper's Ferry.

Luke Fisher Parsons was twenty-two years-old when he first encountered John Brown in Kansas and participated in battles against pro-slavery forces with him. He was working and rooming at the Free State Hotel in Lawrence when it was burned. Parsons would participate in the abolitionist convention in Chatham, Ontario, Canada.  Rather than follow Brown to Harpers Ferry, however, Parsons headed west to mine for gold in the Pikes Peak area of Colorado. While passing through Council Bluffs, Iowa, he received a letter from Brown asking him to return as the raid was a sure go.
Parsons did not return to support Brown, nor did he make a fortune in the gold fields, and only returned back east when the Civil War started. At this point he joined the Union army and served three years and nine months.  Parsons settled in Salina, Kansas after the war and died on April 221926, at the age of ninety-three.  He is buried in Gypsum Hill Cemetery in Salina. 

Parsons was married Katherine Amanda Houston Parsons in 1867, who is lies buried with him in block 1, lot 37, space 4, in the Gypsum Hill Cemetery. Katherine died two years prior to her husband at the age of eighty-one. They had one child, Addie Parsons Mitchell (1868-1955). Parson's obituary was recorded in April 1926:

Last Survivor of John Brown's Raiders is Dead 
Kansas, 93 Years old, Joined Famous Abolitionist in Struggle for Free State
Death that he had confronted so often as a youth, laid its hand on Luke F. Parsons, Salina, Kan., 93 years old, last survivor of the famous John Brown band of slavery days. 
When Parsons came west into Kansas in the spring of 1856, the country was in the throes of the free state-slave state agitation. He joined the famous abolitionist, John Brown, and his five sturdy sons in their fight to make Kansas a free state, and was with him in all his battles with the border opponents who sought to control Kansas politics and to extend slavery into the state. 
Although selected by Brown as one of his 10 picked men for the raid into Virginia at Harper's Ferry, Parsons could not be with him and thus probably escaped the fate that befell that little party. He was in Colorado at the time, whither the gold rush had taken him. Parsons was day clerk at the famous Eldridge or free state hotel at Lawrence, Kan., when it was burned by Quantrill’s band. 
Following the hanging of Brown, Parsons became the first sheriff of Saline county, Kansas. He entered the Sixth Kansas Cavalry at the outbreak of the Civil war, serving nearly four years.1
In 1913 Parsons wrote a reply to a letter written by fellow abolitionist, Charles Wesley Tolles, in which he recollected his association with John Brown. The letter is reproduced in appended form here:
Parsons grave.  Courtesy of Find A Grave
contributor Peace (#46998723).
Salina, Kas. Oct. 18th  (1913)
Friend C. W. Tooks  (Tolles),
Ottumwa,  Iowa.
My dear Sir:
 Your favour of the 18th inst. is before me in which you ask questions of so long ago that I fear I will not be able to answer all correctly, but will do the best I can.
 John Brown made two trips through Iowa from Tabor east by N. one in fall of 1857, the other in Feb. 1859. I was with him on the first trip but not on the second. The first trip we had only one slave, one team of mules and wagon. We crossed the Mo. River I think at some ferry below Neb. City. We left Tabor late in the day and camped after about ten miles. We were loaded heavy for the team and poor roads and most of the men walked. We all slept in camp. Made a fire of logs, poles etc. Had a large canvas that we put up on the side of the cold wind slanting from the ground up towards the fire, we all slept there side by side and were tolerably comfortable, barring the smoke. We had in our company Brown, Kagi,  Stevens. Tidd. Cook, Leeman, Realph, Owen Brown, Slave, Luke F. Parsons. I don't remember the exact route we took or where we camped. I think we passed through Des Moines. We went to Springdale in Cedar Co., Iowa, and spent the winter there drilling and studying military Tactics.
 Of the Feb. trip, 1859, Brown bad three ox teams und twelve slaves. On the 29th of Jan. after Brown had left Topeka and before he reached the Nebraska line be came to Spring Creek. He found the creek too deep to ford, and while waiting for the creek to run down, he discovered across the creek a company from Atchison commanded by A. P. Wood, which barred the way to liberty, said to be 80 men. Brown with twenty –two men, black and white, crossed the stream above, slipped down along the timber, and burst all unexpectedly on the foe. They made off as fast as they could, with a loss of one killed, three prisoners, four horses, pistols, guns, etc., etc.. Such was the terror of his name. This has been called the "Battle of the Spurs."
 On Feb. 1st John Brown left Kas. never to return. He crossed the Mo. River at Neb. City. Besides the 12 slaves he had Kagi, Stevens, Tidd, and Gill and one or two others whom I did not know. I do not know the route they took but they passed through Cedar Co. Never heard of Brown being at the meeting where a reward was offered for his scalp. Brown got those slaves in Mo. the night of Dec. 20, 1858. The men who went with him were Kagi, Stevens, Tidd, Gill Anderson, and probably some others.
 You ask where these men are or what became of them. John Henri Kagi was in the Armory at Harpers Ferry, swam out on the rocks in the Shenandoah River and was shot from the railroad bridge . John Edwin Cook escaped from Harpers Ferry, but was afterwards captured and hung. Richard Realph served in Union Army, but afterwards, jumped off a ship in San Frisco bay and was drowned. Aaron D. Stevens was terribly wounded with Brown at Harpers Ferry but afterwards hung. Charles P. Tidd escaped from Harpers Ferry but died while fighting at the island of Roanoke under Genl. Burnside. William Leeman was shot at Harpers Ferry from the railroad bridge. Owen Brown escaped from Harpers Ferry with Tidd, but later drifted to Pacific coast and died near Pasadena. Richard Richardson, a Negro slave, we left in Canada. Charles Moffat died at Montour, Iowa, about 10 years ago. Luke F. Parsons [is he] who has written this long letter to an old friend whom he has never seen. Ï am the last John Brown man in Kansas, the sole survivor of the Battle of Osawatomie. Now I hope you will take pleasure in reading this and not lose either as you did ray other letter, for I am in my 82nd year and don't like to write very well.
Yours Truly
Luke F. Parsons 2

The cemetery is located at 2020 East Iron Ave, Salina, Kansas.

Charles Wesley Moffett was a childhood friend of the man who became John Brown’s secretary of war, John Henrie Kagi. In 1855 Moffett and his brothers Erastus and Orlando moved to Kansas where Charles served in the Free State militia under Jim “James Henry” Lane. Moffett followed John Brown to Springdale, Iowa where he spent the winter training in military tactics with Brown’s small army. It was here that he met a woman named Emma Manfull. It is possible that his attraction for Emma caused him to lose interest in Brown’s plans to free the slaves. Regardless, he accompanied Brown to Canada where he attended the Constitutional Convention at Chatham with other Brown followers.3

It was sometime after this that Moffett began to express doubts about Brown’s plan and was not present for the raid on Harpers Ferry. It also may have been a matter of timing. The raid was delayed when it was discovered that Hugh Forbes who had been enlisted by Brown to train his men in military tactics had revealed details about the raid to a number of people. Forbes was unhappy about the pay he was receiving for his part in training the Raiders. Moffett was also one of several suspected of writing the “Floyd Letter.”4

Moffett had returned to Springdale, Iowa and was there at the time of the raid. Five months later he traveled to Tama County, Iowa where he married his Springdale sweetheart at her family home. The couple had seven children, four sons and three daughters. Six are listed here: Edwin (1861-?), Edith (1863-?), Georgiana (1865-?), Murray (1867-1943), Jesse (1871-1957) and Hannah M. Moffett Falls (1873-1957).
Moffett grave.  Courtesy of Find A Grave contributor
Lyle & Marsha (#47442725).
His traveling now over, Moffett and Emma lived next door to her parents for the rest of their lives.

Moffett died after a long and painful illness on August 191904 at the age of seventy-seven, at his home in Highland township, Tama County, Iowa. Emma died six years later at the age of seventy-nine.  They are buried together in Maple Hill Cemetery (also known as Montour Cemetery) in Montour, Iowa.

The cemetery is located southeast of town at the intersection of state roads T47 & E49.

As late as 2014, Moffett’s son Murray was still living on the old homestead in Montour, Iowa.--Rich Smyth


 1 Obituary courtesy of Linda Morice.

 2 David C. Mott , The Annals of Iowa, Charles Wesley Tolles,  State Historical Society of Iowa 14:8 (Spr. 1925): 621-32.

 4  In a friendly effort to stop John Brown from launching his raid, two letters were anonymously written and sent to United States Secretary of War John B. Floyd stating Brown’s intentions. One letter so misstated some facts and was ignored by the secretary. See B. F. Gue, "John Brown and His Iowa Friends," Midland Monthly (Feb & Mar. 1897), 103-13; 267-77.