In Kansas, violence broke out over rival land claims, town sites, railroad routes, and, most dangerous of all, the question of slavery. In one episode, a proslavery grand jury indicted members of the free soil government for high treason, and 800 pro-slavery men marched into Lawrence, Kansas, to arrest the leaders of the antislavery government. The posse burned the local hotel, looted a number of houses, destroyed two antislavery printing presses, and killed one man.
John Brown (1800-1859), a Connecticut-born abolitionist, announced that the time had come "to fight fire with fire" and "strike terror in the hearts of proslavery men." In reprisal for the "sack of Lawrence," he and six companions dragged five proslavery men and boys from their beds at Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas, split open their skulls with a sword, cut off their hands, and laid out their entrails.
A war of revenge erupted in Kansas. Columns of proslavery Southerners ransacked free farms while they searched for Brown. At Osawatomie, proslavery forces attacked Brown's headquarters, leaving a dozen men dead. Before it was over, guerrilla warfare in Kansas left 200 dead.
Six months after leaving for Kansas, and six months before the attack at Pottawattomie Creek, John Brown wrote the following letter to his father, describing the deepening crisis over slavery in Kansas.
I feel very thankful for the interest you still take in the different members of my numerous Family, & for all your efforts to do them good in things spiritual & temporal.... As I become a little more acquainted with this part of the Territory I think quite favorably of it; & I would by no means advise those of my friends who are here to leave in search of a better country. We feel more, & more certain that Kansas will be a Free State. At this moment there is quite an excitement here growing out of a report of the Murder of a young Free Stater man by a Missourian. Large numbers on both sides are said to be in Arms near Lawrence; & some anticipate a Bloody fight. We do not seem to get direct information of the true state of matters there; & I think of going immediately there to learn the facts in the case. The distance is about 35 Miles. I will endeavour to give you a more full account of the matter; if there should be much of it. I have no time fixed in my own mind as yet for my return; & have no thought of leaving before some time in the Spring.…