Thursday, May 17, 2018
Small Wonder(s)--Battle of the Spurs
There's something vintage Old Testament about the whole story, something that feels decidedly like myth. But it happened; and just a bit north of Topeka, atop a hill along the road, a somewhat unkept highway marker tells part of the story, the part that can't be doubted. What can is far more fascinating.
That John Brown (yes, that John Brown) was willing to die to put an to end slavery is not news, either to us or the "border ruffians" who, for a time at least, ran the government in Kansas. John Brown was willing to die, but he was also willing to kill--and did, not only at Harper's Ferry, but also in eastern Kansas. Because slavery was of the Devil, fighting a holy war was his calling.
That historical marker on the hill is all about him. He was, after all, at the reins of a prairie schooner full of runaway slaves that ended up in the neighborhood of that highway marker--ten--no eleven--runaway slaves to be exact, Mrs. Daniels having just had a baby. It was cold, not unmercifully so, but it was January, 1859; and for all intents and purposes, in Kansas the Civil War had begun, even though Ft. Sumter was a year and a half away.
For more than a year, Kansas had become a checkerboard of areas controlled by the slavers, who wanted to make Kansas a slave state, or the abolitionists, the "free-staters" who'd gone west to homestead land but mostly to fight slavery.
When a pro-slavery bunch, then in power, got wind of John Brown and his runaway slaves, they formed a posse--thirty men, well-armed--to stop that criminal activity. They called themselves "law-and-order" party.
Meanwhile, John Brown sent word into nearby Topeka, where, on Sunday morning, Col. John Richee and family had taken a pew in their Congregational church. When Richee, an abolitionist leader, got whispered the news, he stood up and said, "There is work for us," then walked out. The preacher quietly told his flock there'd be no worship. Something had come up.
A dozen church-goers hurried to the Fuller cabin just outside of a tiny town named Holton, where they found John Brown gearing up for a trip to Tabor, Iowa, the next stop on the underground railroad. Brown told the Topekans that he and the others were going to ford Straight Creek and head north, according to plan. Col. Richee, et al, suggested that because the creek was high, it might be wise to go another five miles up, where the ford was less demanding.
John Brown had mission in his soul. He was going to cross Straight Creek where God intended him to cross, come hell or that very high water, even though he knew that pro-slavery posse had assumed battle stations for an attack. Brown could not have missed them. He knew. He had to.
He climbed into the seat, took the reins, aimed the team up the road toward Straight Creek, fire in his eyes, the straight and narrow out there clearly in front of them, as if there were no guns at all, only the arms of the Lord.
Here's the Old Testament. For reasons forever unknown, the pro-slavers held their fire, then turned and got the heck out of there, took off and ran without firing a shot, which is why, today, up there on the hill above the creek, that weathered highway marker is titled "The Battle of the Spurs." The only weapon the slavers used that wet January morning was the spurs they dug into their horses' flanks.
By the way, the Topekans were right about the ford. That prairie schooner got stuck in the creek. It took several hours to get it out.
Less than a year later, John Brown and his men, after a failed rebellion at Harper's Ferry, were behind bars, facing the hangman's noose. One of his men, Aaron D. Stevens, wrote Jennie Dunbar, his friend, to say his wounds were healing and that he wasn't feeling guilty in the least "for there was no evil intention in my heart." His note from death grips the heart. "Slavery demands that we should hang for its protection," he wrote Miss Dunbar, "and we will meet it willingly, knowing that God is Just, and is over all."
True believers they were--perfectly true believers.
At what point does faith become fanaticism? Answer me that.