History, Research, and Current Themes

"The world needed John Brown and John Brown came, and time will do him justice." Frederick Douglass (1886)

Search This Blog & Links


Sunday, January 19, 2020

Rich Smyth's Where Are They Now? Pottawatomie Creek, Part 1

   In response to the sacking of Lawrence, Kansas and beating of Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the United States Senate, John Brown and other Abolitionist settlers including some of Brown’s sons raided the cabins of pro-slavery men. Five of the men were taken from their homes and killed near the Pottawatomie Creek in what has become known as the “Pottawatomie Massacre.”

   For many years it was unknown whether John Brown actively participated in the attack with detractors saying he planned it and shot James Doyle in the head. Some Abolitionists argued that he was not present. Brown himself was quiet on the topic.

    In 1879, a newspaper sent a representative to Lane, Kansas, to make inquires in the matter. John Hutchings located James Townsley who was one of the party that night having drove the wagon with Brown and four of his son’s and Brown’s son-in-law riding with him (Frederick Brown, Owen Brown, Watson Brown, Oliver Brown, Henry Thompson). Theodore (Thomas) Weiner, the seventh in the group, rode alongside on a pony.1

On December 6, 1879, Townsley stated that Brown told him of the plan the night before the attack. When they had arrived at the Pottawatomie River “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.”2

Townsley went on to describe the attack: “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.”  Townsley concluded: “That night and the acts then perpetrated, are vividly fixed in my memory, and I have thought of them many times since.”3

The raiding party then went to the house of Allen Wilkinson who was killed. From there, they crossed the Pottawatomie, and forced their way into the cabin of James Harris. There were three other men staying at the house with Harris: John S. Wightman, Jerome Glanville, and William Sherman, the brother of Henry Sherman ("Dutch Henry"), a militant pro-slavery activist for whom Brown was searching. After interrogating all the men, William Sherman was led to the edge of the creek and hacked to death.

James Pleasant Doyle (father), and sons William (age 22) and Drury (age 20)--Different sources give general directions to the Doyle’s burial location. The first direction is given by a Civil War researcher who states: “The Doyles were buried just about a half mile up the hill to the northwest,” of Douglas Terrace off of Virginia Road in Lane, Kansas.4

The second set of directions states “Return to Virginia Road; climb the hill.  To the north on Vermont Terrace (minimum maintenance road–impassable if wet) is the burial site of the Doyles.”5

A third set of directions is from Kansas, a Guide to the Sunflower State (Tour 12B, p. 493), first published in 1939. The printed guide states: "On the dirt road, in a timbered pasture about 20 rods (right) from the road are the graves of James P. Doyle and his sons, William and Drury who, with William Sherman and Allen Wilkinson, were the victims of the Pottawatomie Massacre by John Brown on the night of May 24th 1856.  The graves marked with flat engraved limestone slabs are covered with the tangled masses of brush and the fallen limbs of trees. The site of the Doyle house is about 400 yards northeast of the graves on the north side of Mosquito Creek at Flat Rocks, a solid rock bottom ford.”6

The directions listed in the guide printed seventy-seven years ago, which may no longer be valid, are as follows:
• Junction with US 59 – Osawatomie Rd. - This route branches east from its junction with US 59 at a point 8.5 miles south of Ottawa.
• At 9 Miles is the junction with a graveled road.
• Right on this road is the junction with a dirt road, 3.5 miles, Right 0.8 miles on the dirt road, in a timbered pasture about 20 rods (right) from the road are the graves.
The Franklin County Historical Society in Ottawa, Kansas had additional information in their archives:
1. Deceased Lane County historian Homer White said the burials were in the NE quarter of section 21 of 18-21, then the southwest quarter of that and then the northeast quarter of that (NE ¼, SW ¼, NE ¼).
2. The 1885 property owner atlas of Franklin County marks a large area there and marks it “Cemetery by John Brown.”
3. Former Franklin County Historical Society Director, John Mark Lambertson said it was on the south side of Mosquito Creek about ½ mile south of Finney Road.
4. Finally, Franklin County Historical Society Archivist Susan Geiss located a map of Franklin County that showed a cross at about the location where Vermont Terrace dead ends in section 21 near the creek.
A letter written in 1909 gives some further details:
The Doyles were burried aboute [sic] one mile north of the Dutch Henry crossing on the south sid [sic] of the mound and I think Wilkinson was burred [sic] on the plase [sic] that he lived on aboute [sic] one half mile north of the crossing - and I am not shure [sic] where Sherman was burred [sic]. but I think he was burred [sic] aboute [sic] three miles East of the crossing where his Brother Peter was burried [sic] but I am not Shore [sic].7
Two researchers, Bob Marsh and Cameron Mott have done extensive work in attempting to locate the burial sites of the Doyles, William Sherman, and Allen Wilkinson. The approximate Coordinates are 38.47036 -95.08621.

1885 Atlas, Franklin County, Kansas, showing "Cem by John Brown"
in upper center (image courtesy of Bob Marsh)

Google Earth image of the approximate site
(Courtesy of Bob Marsh)

Possible locations of the Doyle graves based upon available information
compiled by Bob Marsh and Cameron Mott.  All these sites are now
located on private property

Possible location of the Allen Wilkinson burial site (above).

As relayed by historian James Malin, the only evidence regarding the burial location of Allen Wilkinson was a "witness stating that he was buried, and an 1857 newspaper article saying when his widow, Louisa Jane Wilkinson returned to Kansas the year after the massacre to try and settle their land claim she walked on to the property to visit her husband's grave (and was run off by the current squatter).”8

Louisa and Allen Wilkinson had two children;,Harvey and Archey. In her affidavit she stated: “I have two small children, one about eight and the other about five years old.”  After her husband’s death she went to live with her father in Tennessee with the children.9

“According to the Tract Books of the General Land Office, John Stroup filed claim to the Wilkinson land on May 12th 1857, citing February 14th 1857, as his date of settlement.”  Allen Wilkinson had been murdered on May 24th 1856. John Stroup may have been the landowner at the time of Mrs. Wilkinson’s visit to her husband’s grave.10

James W. Townsley, who accompanied Brown and his men to the Pottawatomie Creek, was born on August 29, 1815 in Maryland. In August 1839 he enlisted in the United States Dragoons, and saw action against the Seminole and Creek Indians in Florida. He was discharged in August,1844, at Fort Washita, Indian Territory.  Townsley married Letitia Kenly on July 26, 1845, and they had four children: Henry N. (1848-?), Mary Eliza (1850-died before 1920), George Washington (1854-1895), and Hannah Rebecca (1855-1937).

Townsley was a painter by trade, and returned to Maryland where he worked until October 20, 1855, when the family emigrated to Kansas and settled in Anderson County on the Pottawatomie Creek. It was here that he met John Brown. During the Civil War he served in the 19th Regiment, Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. Townsley was a corporal at the time of his discharge.

Burial site of Letitia Kenly Townsley,
Wesleyan Chapel Cemetery, Aberdeen, Md.
(Thom Painter, Find A Grave contributor)

Letitia and James may have divorced since she was still alive when he married “Anna” in Kansas in 1877. James was 62 and Anna 36. Anna and James had one child, John Lewis (b. September 23, 1877 in Kansas).  It seems that Anna was pregnant at the time of their marriage.

Burial site of James Townsley, Spring Grove
Quaker Cemetery, Lane, Kan.
(Thomas & Darlene, Find A Grave contributors)
Letitia died July 25, 1888 in Maryland and is buried in Wesleyan Chapel Cemetery in Aberdeen, Maryland. Townsley died on December 3, 1890 and is buried in Spring Grove Quaker Cemetery, Lane, Kansas [Plot location: row G, Lot 10.] The cemetery, also known as Spring Grove Friends Church Cemetery, is located in Miami County off of West 379th Street, west of US 169 and east of Edgerton Road.

John Hutchings worked as a lawyer, member of the School Board of the city of Lawrence, Kansas and a prosecuting attorney. He married Josephine E. Hoyt August 7,1861. They had four children: infant son (?-1880), John B. (1872-1874, died at 19 months), Josephine E. Hutchings Crane (1865-1955) and Helen M. Hutchings De Mers (dates unknown).11 John died on April 2, 1892, in Kansas City, Kansas ,and was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Lawrence, Kansas (Interred in Section 8 S).

Hutchings burial site, Oak Hill Cemetery,
Lawrence, Kan. (Find A Grave contributor,
Mr. Peepers
Josephine died on October 10, 1922 in Litchfield, Connecticut and was buried next to her husband along with both sons and daughter Josephine.

The cemetery is located at the end of Oak Hill Road in the town of Lawrence.-Rich Smyth

End of Part 1 (See Notes Below)


As always, I'm appreciative of Rich Smyth's invaluable contributions to this blog.  His "Where Are They Now?" column is a great resource and represents a passionate grassroots researcher's labor.  

Furthermore, I'm sure that Rich will not mind my finding occasion to address some of the framing historical narrative material offered in this installment on the Pottawatomie Creek episode.

It is important to point out that many narratives on this so-called massacre (to his credit, Rich does not employ this overused term in his title) begin with the notion that Brown's violent assault was based upon rage and revenge.  Rich's narrative somewhat relies on this notion, and for the sake of clarity, I would like to make it clear that I do not hold that the Pottawatomie strike was made either out from rage or revenge.   

First, it would be well for readers to revisit a fine contribution by this blog's other renowned friend, H. Scott Wolfe, "Raising Cane: John Brown, Charles Sumner and the Perpetuation of False History" (Aug. 6, 2011).  Here, Wolfe quite thoroughly puts the Sumner caning vendetta notion to bed for good, although it probably will take some time before this apocryphal motivation for the killings will finally vanish from narratives about Brown in Kansas.  Suffice it to say that the Pottawatomie killings had nothing whatsoever to due with the outrage in Washington D.C. that involved that near fatal beating of Sumner in 1856.

John Brown in Kansas
Source: Holloway, History of Kansas (1868)
Second, as Rich points out, Brown certainly made no public comments on his role in the killings.  As I have argued elsewhere, while Brown's sons and allies largely contributed to the false notion that he was not involved in the killings, "the most reasonable conclusion" based upon the evidence "is that the old man had deliberately misrepresented his involvement in the killings" (p. 219).  To be sure, Brown privately admitted to his role in a rare case or two, but it is clear that he handled the matter largely by making no comment, or by stating that he approved of the killings.  That he took this position is quite understandable.  Free state people in the east, who were passive and unschooled in the realities of the civil war that actually was taking place in the Kansas territory, would never have understood Brown's desperate actions.  Many of them doubtless would have jumped to condemnatory conclusions without considering the real crisis that the Browns had to resolve on their own, facing the likelihood that they would be overrun by violent terrorists led by their own pro-slavery neighbors.  More importantly, Brown camouflaged his admissions or misrepresented his involvement in the Pottawatomie killings probably because he wanted to shield his sons and associates from prosecution, acts of revenge, and public excoriation.  "The rush to pronounce the Pottawatomie killings as sheer homicide or terrorism is commonplace, although neither conclusion fits the fullest consideration of the evidence" (Freedom's Dawn, p. 220).

Finally, some consideration is needed when using James Townsley as a witness to the Pottawatomie affair because actually he made two or three different statements over time, as William E. Connelley put it, "no two alike--all different" (Connelley, John Brown, pp. 191-92).  As far as the notion that Brown shot and killed the elder Doyle, this is logically and evidentially incorrect despite one of Townsley's statements. Connelley, who is still the best scholar on John Brown's Kansas story, pointed out in 1900 that this claim had "always been denied by the other members of the company."  At his most clear, Brown admitted to seeing and guiding the whole attack, but never admitted to personally striking a blow.  Given that Brown both perceived himself and acted as a military commander in this strike, he had no need to do so.  As Connelley also concludes, Townsley was left to stand guard during the attack, and could not have been present to see who did the killing (pp. 200-01).  

Following Connelley's book, Katherine Mayo's priceless field research and interviews done for Villard's 1910 biography further show that Townsley was incorrect in this claim.  Mayo interviewed Brown's sons Salmon, and son-in-law Henry Thompson, both of which were part of the Pottawatomie strike.  Not only did they deny that Brown shot Doyle dead, but they clearly stated that Doyle already was dead when Brown fired the shot into his body.  Reading the evidence, even Oswald Villard, who was intent on finding Brown a cold-blooded murderer, had to conclude that Brown "killed none of [the five proslavery men at Pottawatomie] with his own hand" (Villard, John Brown, p. 159).  The only real question is why Brown shot Doyle's corpse, and there is only speculation in this regard.  My own sense is that as Brown briefly surveyed Doyle's body, he may have had a momentary sense that the man was still alive and shot him in the head to make sure he was not lingering.  Otherwise, the shot was a personal statement from one father to another, as if to put a fine point on the matter.  Doyle had literally threatened to kill and terrorize his family, and Brown had made certain that no such thing would happen.  But if Brown's sons were not certain, neither can we be certain.

Notwithstanding these points, I am appreciative that Rich's labors here are both fascinating and useful for our work.  The Pottawatomie killings remain a point of controversy and reflection, even for Brown's warmest admirers.  But in our haste to argue about the incident and its significance, we have almost never bothered to consider where the bodies are buried.  We are grateful for the insights offered here, which are the primary purpose of our valued contributor's labor.  Certainly, we look forward to Part 2.--LD

Rich Smyth's Notes for "Pottawatomie Creek, Part 1"

1 James Townsley, “The Pottawatomie Killings; It is Established Beyond Controversy That John Brown Was the Leader. Statement of James Townsley," Republican Citizen [Paola, Kan.], Dec. 20, 1879, 5, col. 5.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 “The Pottawatomie Massacre,” The Civil War Muse (http://bit.ly/3aoKk2L).

  6 Catherine Jane Richards and Deborah Barker, "Southeast Franklin County," Kansas Historical Portal (http://bit.ly/361Q8Mg).

  7 This information was kindly provided by Dick Titterington of The Civil War Muse (http://www.thecivilwarmuse.com/).

  8 J. N. Baker, Greeley, Kan., to William E. Connelley, Topeka, Kan., Jan. 14, 1909, MS06-0007, in John Brown/Boyd Stutler Collection, West Virginia Division of Culture and History (http://bit.ly/379Vjv0).

9 Leavenworth Herald, reprinted in the Doniphan Constitutionalist, Oct. 10, 1857, p. 160.  Quoted in James Malin, John Brown and the Legend of Fifty Six. According to this article, Alan Wilkinson is described as being buried on his claim.  Information courtesy of Cameron Mott.

  10 "Affidavits Regarding the Pottawatomie Massacre; Affidavit of Mrs. Louisa Jane Wilkinson," in Report of the Special Committee Appointed to Investigate the Troubles in Kansas; with the Views of the Minority of Said Committee, House Report No. 200, 34th Cong., 1st Sess. (Washington: Cornelius Wendell, 1856), reproduced in West Virginia Archives and History (http://bit.ly/2RrPDG0).

11 Robert W. Johannsen, "A Footnote to the Pottawatomie Massacre, 1856,"  Kansas Historical Quarterly 22:3 (Fall 1956).  Transcribed by B. Hutchins and L. Nelson on the website of The Kansas Historical Society (http://bit.ly/2NCVbwc).

12 "Frank Day Hutchings," History of Wyandotte County Kansas and Its People (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1911), transcribed on KSGenWeb (http://bit.ly/2toqsfF). Note that burial information on Helen M. De Mers could not be found, although there is a Helen Kinney Hutchings (1875 – 1958) buried in the Hutchings family plot in Oak Hill Cemetery, Lawrence, Kansas.


MKSPro1 said...

Thank you so much. Information here that can be found no where else. I love to see exact locations on Google Earth. Not sure why, but was very happy to find your site.
Michael S.

Louis A. DeCaro, Jr. . . said...

Michael, thank you for your response. It is nice to know there are others interested in the minutia of historic events! Rich Smyth