Digital History>eXplorations>John Brown: Hero or Terrorist?> John Brown in Kansas>Testimony of James Harris

Testimony of James Harris

Source: From Franklin B. Sanborn, ed., The Life and Letters of John Brown (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1891), pp. 265 66.

On Sunday morning, May 25, 1856, about two A.M., while my wife and child and myself were in bed in the house where we lived, near Henry Sherman's, we were aroused by a company of men who said they belonged to the Northern army, and who were each armed with a sabre and two revolvers, two of whom I recognized; namely, a Mr. Brown, whose given name I do not remember (commonly known by the appellation of "old man Brown"), and his son Owen Brown.

They came into the house and approached the bedside where we were lying, and ordered us, together with three other men who were in the same house with me, to surrender; that the Northern army was upon us, and it would be no use for us to resist. The names of these other men who were then in the house with me were William Sherman and John S. Whiteman; the other man I did not know. They were stopping with me that night. They had bought a cow from Henry Sherman, and intended to go home the next morning.

When they came up to the bed, some had drawn sabres in their hands, and some revolvers. They then took into their possession two rifles and a bowie knife, which I had there in the room (there was but one room in my house), and afterwards ransacked the whole establishment in search of ammunition. They then took one of these three men, who were staying in my house, out. (This was the man whose name I did not know.) He came back.

They then took me out, and asked me if there were any more men about the place. I told them there were not. They searched the place, but found no others but us four. They asked me where Henry Sherman was. (Henry was a brother to William Sherman.) I told them he was out on the plains in search of some cattle which he had lost. They asked me if I had ever taken any hand in aiding proslavery men in coming to the Territory of Kansas, or had ever taken any hand in the last troubles at Lawrence; they asked me whether I had ever done the Free State party any harm, or ever intended to do that party any harm; they asked me what made me live at such a place. I then answered that I could get higher wages there than anywhere else. They asked me if there were any bridles or saddles about the premises. I told them there was one saddle, which they took; and they also took possession of Henry Sherman's horse, which I had at my place, and made me saddle him. They then said if I would answer no to all the questions which they has asked me, they would let me loose.

Old Mr. Brown and his son then went into the house with me. The other three men Mr. William Sherman, Mr. Whiteman, and the stranger were in the house all this time. After old man Brown and his son went into the house with me, old man Brown asked Mr. Sherman to go out with him; and Mr. Sherman then went out with old Mr. Brown, and another man came into the house in Brown's place. I heard nothing more for about fifteen minutes. Two of the Northern army, as they styled themselves, stayed in with us until we heard a cap burst, and then these two men left.

That morning, about ten o'clock, I found William Sherman dead in the creek near my house. I was looking for him; as he had not come back, I thought he had been murdered. I took Mr. William Sherman out of the creek and examined him. Mr. Whiteman was with me. Sherman's skull was split open in two places, and some of his brains was washed out by the water. A large hole was cut in his breast, and his left hand was cut off except little piece on one side. We buried him.


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