History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs


Battle of the Spurs

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John Brown, 1850'sOn December 20th, 1858, ten slaves were taken from the Hicklin, Cruise and LaRue farms in Missouri, as spoils of a raid by Free-state men from Kansas, led by John Brown. The slaves were brought into Kansas by Brown, who with George B. Gill as the only escort, started on one of the routes of the Underground Railroad for Canada. The party passed through Lawrence, where clothing was secured for the freed slaves, then on through Topeka to Holton. By that time, they no longer feared to travel by daylight, and Brown pushed on to the log cabin of Albert Fuller on Straight Creek, one of the stations of the Underground Railroad, where they decided to spend the night. Here, he was detained several days on account of high water. One evening Dwight Stevens, one of the men who had joined Brown near Topeka, after the fugitive slaves were safely in the cabin, went down the stream to water his horse, when he was accosted by two U.S. Deputy Marshals on horseback.


They asked him if he had seen any slaves in the vicinity, to which Stevens replied that there were some in the Fuller cabin at the time, and volunteered to accompany them to the house. This apparent frankness on the part of Stevens threw the men off their guard and only one accompanied him.


Stevens spent some time in attending to his horse, in order to give the men in the cabin time to see who was with him and to prepare for them, then moved to the cabin, threw open the door and said, "There they are, go take them." The marshal moved forward, but found himself covered by revolvers, and was taken prisoner. This man was a member of a posse under command of John P. Wood, a U.S. Deputy Marshal from Lecompton, Kansas who was on the lookout for Brown in hope of securing the reward of $3,000 offered for his apprehension by the governor of Missouri.

The terror with which Brown had inspired in his enemies was never better illustrated than at this time. The Wood posse numbered some 30 men, all well armed and acting under authority of the law, while opposed to them were Brown, his three associates and the unarmed freed slaves, but the posse was afraid to attack. Wood drew up his forces in shelter of the timber on the creek and sent for reinforcements. In the meantime one of the men crept out of the cabin under cover of darkness, went to the home of a farmer well known for his anti-slavery sentiments nearby, and asked him to go to Topeka and inform Colonel John Ritchie that Brown was surrounded at the Fuller cabin on Straight Creek. The messenger reached Topeka on Sunday morning, found Ritchie in church and informed him of the condition of affairs. The minister dismissed his congregation and preparations were at once made to go to the rescue. Much secrecy was maintained; however, because the free-state men did not want the Federal authorities to know that a party was being organized, or that John Brown was in the country. About a dozen men left Topeka on January 30, 1859, traveling all night and the next afternoon reached Holton, where they were joined by a few others and then pushed on toward Straight Creek.


When they arrived at the cabin, Brown's three companions were hitching the horses to the wagon, while across the creek, a half a mile away, lay Wood's posse entrenched in rude rifle pits they had thrown up to command the ford and the road leading to it. Upon learning that Brown proposed to cross the ford in the face of the enemy they attempted to dissuade him, saying that the stream was high, the crossing dangerous, and that there was a much better ford five miles up the creek. Brown said that he intended to travel straight through, that those who were afraid might turn back but he intended to use the Fuller Crossing, saying, "The Lord has marked out a path for me and I intend to follow it. We are ready to move."


Some of the men were uneasy, knowing that 45 entrenched men were waiting across the creek, but with Brown in the lead, the 21 men moved into the road and started straight for the crossing. Brown appeared utterly unaware of Wood and his posse, and led the way to the ford. Not a shot was fired and as the first of the free-state party reached the creek, there was noticed some commotion in the rifle pits. Part of Wood's men ran toward the horses, and within a short time nearly the entire posse was retreating in wild panic. The Topeka party charged across the creek to give chase but found only four men left in the rifle pits. They threw their arms on the ground and informed Ritchie that they had remained merely to show that there were some of the Wood party who were not afraid. These men were made prisoners and Brown proceeded on his way toward Iowa, being accompanied by the Topeka party as far as Seneca, Kansas.




Richard Hinton, a reporter from he East, gave this affair the name "Battle of the Spurs," as he believed spurs were the most effective weapons used, not a shot being fired by either side, and what promised to be a serious affair terminated as a farce. This bloodless battle was important, however, for had Brown been captured there probably would never have been the affair at Harper's Ferry to fan the slumbering blaze into open flame, and the name of the great emancipator would have remained practically unknown outside of Kansas.



Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated March, 2017.


About the Article: This historic text was published in Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Volume I; edited by Frank W. Blackmar,  A.M. Ph. D.; Standard Publishing Company, Chicago, IL 1912.



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