2021: History Boy Summer (Part 24) John Brown Museum

About a month ago, I did a John Brown double-header by visiting the site of the Battle of Black Jack and The John Brown Museum in Osawatomie, KS. It was a hot day, perhaps not a great one for walking around in spider infested forests and humid parks, but I had a blast all day. I am originally from a town near Osawatomie, KS, so going back seemed like a bit of a homecoming. Unlike Louisburg, Osawatomie somewhat looks similar to when I lived around there (Granted I left in like 1991), which gave me all sorts of nostalgia pings.

John Brown Museum; Osawatomie, KS

From Independence, MO it’s a bit of a drive, but trying to group it with other activities such as the Black Jack site, makes it worthwhile and takes up an entire day trip.

Background:

According to Wikipedia:

“When Kansas Territory was established in 1854, newspapers in the North encouraged settlement in the area to ensure that the new state would be free. The land also offered promise to families—the opportunity to cultivate fertile land, enjoy the peaceful countryside, and protect the territory from the spread of slavery. Samuel and Florella Brown Adair held such a dream. […] Samuel finished his theology program and the two were married and moved westward, where Samuel sought a position in Osawatomie, Kansas Territory. […]

The freestaters and abolitionists rebelled against the controlling proslavery government. They often fought those from Missouri who came into the territory to push proslavery agendas. Osawatomie, near the Missouri border, was attacked and burned by proslavery forces on August 30, 1856. The Adair Cabin, which the family had purchased for $200 in 1854, survived the attack. The Adairs endured much hardship in the territory. As a minister, the Reverend Adair struggled to build his church, the first in Osawatomie and the third Congregational church in Kansas. He provided the walnut lumber and native stone construction materials used for the church building, which was dedicated July 14, 1861. The church still stands today. […]

The Adairs’ house was a typical rough, frontier log cabin. Its fireplace was used for warmth and cooking. It is believed that the room in back was used to hide escaped slaves. John Brown’s son, Frederick, died nearby, the first victim of the Battle of Osawatomie. Because of his activities in and around the area, John Brown became known as “Old Osawatomie Brown.” Brown stayed in the cabin with the Adairs from time to time. In 1911 the Kansas legislature named the site of the battleground John Brown Memorial Park and moved the cabin to its present site. The stone building that encloses the cabin was built in 1928. In 1963 the Kansas Historical Society became the administrator of the site.”

And Here is an entry for the Battle of Osawatomie:

” The Battle of Osawatomie occurred on August 30, 1856, near Osawatomie, Miami County. This battle was the culmination of numerous violent events in Bleeding Kansas in 1856 between free-state and proslavery forces. This battle not only bolstered the morale of John Brown and his supporters, it also earned Brown the name “Osawatomie Brown.”

With continuing threats to Osawatomie most of the 200 residents had abandoned the area by August 1856. Several separate incidents increased tensions in the days before the battle. Free-state troops headed south from Osawatomie on the Fort Scott Road were met by proslavery troops on August 25, 1856. After a brief skirmish the proslavery forces fled. John Brown and his troops joined the free-state troops two days later near the Sugar Creek region in Linn County. Splitting into two smaller groups, the troops conducted raids on proslavery homesteads near Middle Creek. […]

On the evening of August 29 John Yelton, the mail carrier, warned Osawatomie citizens they must “fight or flee.” The next morning at daybreak the Reverend Martin White, a proslavery Baptist minister acting as a guide for General Reid, led the Reid’s troops into town. White shot and killed Frederick Brown who was leading an advance party of free-state men near Osawatomie. The town sounded the alarm to summon help.

When Brown heard about the death of his son he quickly rallied his troop of 40 men. He found a stone corral where his men found a vantage point to fire their Sharps rifles at the enemy. The stone corral helped to protect them from the cannon fire. One of the balls from the cannon fire raked across Brown’s back as he was crossing back and forth in the corral. […]

Failing to catch Brown’s men, the proslavery military plundered and burned nearly all of the buildings in Osawatomie. They spared a few women and children, and captured six prisoners. Reid’s forces continued to the north, attacking other towns along the way toward Topeka. […]

“God sees it,” Brown reportedly said after the battle. “I have only a short time to live—only one death to die, and I will die fighting for his cause. There will be no more peace in this land until slavery is done for. I will give them something else to do than extend slave territory. I will carry this war into Africa.” Brown began to turn his fight to the South, planning for a raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia.)”

Readings:

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. I also read Bleeding Kansas: The Real Start of the Civil War, which wasn’t that great to be honest. It does, however, have plenty of information on Brown if you want the most basic outline. Honestly though Wikipedia might be better.

Finally, 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. The killing of Brown’s son is depicted as well as Brown’s dealings with Reverend White. This was a Showtime miniseries, but I was able to watch it on Amazon prime for a small fee.

The Trip:

There are two main components for this site: a park that contains the grounds where the Battle of Osawatomie happened, with informational placards, and The Adair Cabin, which has been enclosed in a stone outer shell since the 1920’s and has been restored to what it may have looked like when John Brown and his family used it for his headquarters during the partisan warfare period called “Bleeding Kansas”. If you are bringing kids, the park is a fully-fledged family park with playground equipment and large areas to play on. There is also a creek running through the park with cool bridges to see and walk on. Perhaps the biggest attraction is a famous statue of John Brown, something folks travel to see.

Conclusion:

This was a nice museum despite the somewhat small size of the actual cabin. If you do the walking tour, read all the signs, then visit the museum, you can honestly get done within 30 – 45 minutes without too much trouble. The only bad thing I could say about the site was that the gift shop was not really all that well-stocked with John Brown-related items. I was able to pick up a book on civilian casualties during The Civil war, but wanted to see more items actually pertaining to the museum itself. A lot of what was on-hand were things like homemade apple butter. which is awesome, but not something I am clamoring to buy at a historical site. If you are in the area, definitely recommend the double-dose of John Brown history that I did, and perhaps watching the first episode of Good Lord Bird. Having the visual aid, the museums, and the information all together is something that will really help sometime retain what happened.

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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