2021: History Boy Summer (Part 16) Black Jack Battlefield

In one of my mini trips to my birthing grounds (Kansas), I wanted to make sure I went back to Osawatomie to visit the John Brown Museum that is there. That particular chapter is yet to come, mostly because I haven’t finished a book about John Brown that I’d like to put in there, but today we will be talking about a place that I stopped at on the way home that was very instrumental in the story of John Brown. That is the Black Jack Battlefield which is located somewhat close to Baldwin city Kansas. I used to live in Louisburg, Kansas (in my distant youth) and trips to this area were somewhat frequent, so it’s crazy to me to see how everything has changed in these past 30 years. Every time I come over here it’s like a reunion of sorts that I’m not ready for.

Black Jack Battlefield; Near Baldwin, City, Kansas

I have never been to Black Jack Battlefield, nor had I really realized it was a historical landmark until I picked up a brochure from a participating site that was a member of Freedom’s Frontier. Once I saw that it was relatively close and within driving distance for a day trip I knew I had to check it out.

Background:

According to the site’s Kansapedia page:

” The Battle of Black Jack was the first armed conflict between proslavery and antislavery forces in the United States. The battle near Baldwin City on June 2, 1856, had implications far beyond Kansas Territory. Some call it the first battle of the Civil War. The debate over Kansas and the events there clearly marked a turning point in the march toward the Civil War.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act had opened Kansas Territory in 1854 and allowed citizens to determine whether Kansas would be a free or slave state. The territory soon became a battleground between those who supported slavery in the territory and those who opposed it.

On May 21, 1856, Sheriff Samuel Jones, who was the first sheriff of Douglas County, and a posse of 750 proslavery men raided Lawrence. In retaliation, John Brown and a small group of men—including some of his sons—violently murdered five men living on Pottawatomie Creek on May 24, 1856. These proslavery men had not been involved in the sack of Lawrence.

Articles of agreement for the exchange of prisoners after the Battle of Black JackAccompanied by proslavery militia, Henry Pate set out to find Brown. He captured two of Brown’s sons and held them prisoner. On June 2, Brown’s free-state militia attacked Pate’s men encamped on the grounds. About 100 men engaged in a three-hour battle, which led to Pate’s surrender.

The battle further divided the nation’s already-polarized abolitionist and proslavery factions. As politicians, newspapers, and citizens watched the story of “Bleeding Kansas” unfold, hints of a larger potentially violent conflict to come became increasingly evident.

Black Jack Battlefield is significant for its association with abolitionist John Brown. Both the battle and the coverage of the battle in the nation’s newspapers introduced John Brown, who called for armed insurrection to end slavery. The battlefield was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012. “

Reading:

So far my go-to book for Bleeding Kansas has been War to the Knife, which I have recommended here a handful of times, but I have a few other things that would be worthy to check out. The history podcast American History Tellers has an amazing series on Bleeding Kansas that talked about this battle, and I would highly recommend it. Another recommendation is a recent TV series that I have not finished called The Good Lord Bird, that takes an almost comedic take on the life on John Brown – episode 1 has a segment on The Battle of Black Jack. I have yet to fully watch this show, but a full review will be forthcoming.

The Trip:

If you end up in Osawatomie, Kansas it’s a fairly uneventful short drive from there to the site of Black Jack Battlefield. I think my only real annoyance was the fact that there was a little bit of road construction and I had to detour. Once you pull then you are start in front of an old farmhouse that is off limits to the public and less an event is going on. There are some signs up in front of the house and a box that contains brochures for a self-guided tour that we grabbed. I will show you now pictures from this self-guided tour where I could take some. I will say that while the site is well maintained, some of the stops numbered posts are either missing or obscured in such a way to where I could not find them. In those times I had to improvise with the approximate place where it would have been. Another tip that I will give is that the site appears to be a haven for spiders, and since it does not appear that the trails are well traveled I spent more time than I liked using a walking stick to clear the path of any spider webs that would go across.

If anyone has severe arachnophobia this would definitely NOT be a place to go. The nature trails were pretty surreal as you can see in my upcoming pictures, as the entire site appears to be home to the ruins of an old farm complex from a time that I cannot determine. Walking through it, overgrown and covered in trees, gave a creepy post-apocalyptic vibe that I truly have never experienced before. In a way this would be the closest I’ve had to a urban exploring experience as I normally don’t do stuff like that.

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Nature Trail

Conclusion:

If you decide to go to this site make sure to dress accordingly, I would not wear shorts and flip-flops or anything of that nature. This is apparently a fairly lightly treaded-on nature trail that, while maintained, has a good portion of wildlife to keep an eye out for. Make sure to bring plenty of bug spray, and maybe a walking stick if you have one. I would also decide to come in a group if you have a chance, as it appears that there have been people hiding out in the old farm area at various times as noted by the graffiti on the inside of the grain silo. That isn’t to say that I think this is an unsafe site, but considering lack of any sort of Ranger on-hand, and a few issues like rickety boards on bridges mean that it has the potential to have a few unsafe areas.

With all that said, this was a fun nature trail and my son enjoyed it quite a bit considering it gave him a sense of adventure that he normally does not have walking through stagnant parks. The spiders were perhaps the only real thing that irritated me, as you could not go more than a foot without having spider webs falling on you. If that’s my only inconvenience then you can see it was well worth the drive.

This article is part of my summer series History Boy Summer, which you can keep up with by following this LINK.

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