After the sack of Lawrence, John Brown, four of his sons and a few others go to Pottawatomie Creek. On May 24, 1856 they drag five proslavery settlers from their homes and hack them to death with broadswords and pikes.
This massacre unleashes a season of confrontation and mayhem. Missourians cross the border and join forces to strike at Brown. 50 US dragoons from Fort Leavenworth lead by Col. E.V. Sumner arrive and disperse both sides. The pro-slavery faction moves out of site and through Osawatomie, pillage the town and capture 3 prisoners including 2 of John Brown’s sons.
On June 2, Brown confronts a party of Border Ruffians lead by Henry Pate at Black Jack and they battle for 3 hours before Pate and his men surrender. They are exchanged for Brown’s sons and the other Osawatomie prisoners.
The violence escalates and it’s nexus moves into southeast Kansas to Fort Scott, a predominantly pro-slavery area. The military abandoned the fort in 1853 and sold the buildings which now serve as the nucleus of a growing town. Two of the buildings are hotels: one is the ‘Free-State Hotel’ and the other the pro-slavery ‘Western’. Trouble begins there in the summer of 1856 as a group of 30 pro-slavery settlers from South Carolina arrive under the auspices of the Southern Emigrant Aid Society. They terrorize free-state locals and attempt to drive them from Kansas. Free-state men reciprocate with their own brand of terrorism.
On August 30, Osawatomie is again attacked, looted and burned by 250 border ruffians and local pro-slavery men. Five anti-slavery men are killed included Fredrick Brown, John’s son. The pro-slavery leader, John Reid, wishes to move on Topeka and Lawrence with the same medicine, but this battle dissuades him.
In September 1856, a new territorial governor, John W. Geary, arrives in Kansas hoping to restore order. He’ll last until March 1857, to be followed by Robert Walker and then James W. Denver in December 1857.
Radical elements from both sides are drawn to southeast Kansas. James Montgomery leads the free state forces, now known as ‘Jayhawkers’, in a number of violent attacks. In April, he fights US troops at Paint Creek and his men kill one soldier. In May, they drive pro-slavery men from Linn County.
In retaliation, on May 19, 1858, a pro-slavery group of 30 men lead by Georgian Charles Hamilton, kidnap and shoot 11 free-staters, killing 5 and wounding 5, in what becomes known as the ‘Marais des Cynges massacre’.
Montgomery attempts to burn Fort Scott’s Western Hotel but fails. Geary arrives on a peace-keeping mission at the Western. After a brief riot, an uneasy truce is arranged that ends in December when Montgomery’s raiders rescue a free-state man jailed at Fort Scott on murder charges and kill the former Deputy Marshall John Little. Little’s fiancé, writes Montgomery, saying:
Listen to me. Today I heard that you said in a speech a few days ago that you were not sorry you had killed John Little. That he was not killed too soon. Can you before God say so? Oh, the anguish you have caused.
He was one of the noblest men ever created, brave and true to his country and to his word. You can't prove that he ever injured an innocent person. A few days more and we were to have been married, then go south to trouble you no more.
But through your influence, he was killed. He was sent to another world without even time to pray or to say goodbye to his friends. But thanks to God, though you did kill his body, you can't touch his soul. No. No, it is in the spirit land. Now the cry of "the Osages are coming!" can awaken him no more. He quietly sleeps in our little graveyard.
But remember this. I am a girl, but I can fire a pistol. And if ever the time comes, I will send some of you to the place where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth". You, a minister of God? You mean a minister of the devil, and a very superior one too. I have no more to say to you and your imps. Please accept the sincere regards of your future repentance.
John Brown, now planning his later foray in Virginia, returns to Kansas. Others hope to make Kansas a free state, Brown aims a blow at the slave power everywhere. During his last residence, he crosses into Missouri, destroys considerable property, frees 11 slaves and murders a slave-owner.
Several attempts are made to draft a constitution with which Kansas can apply for statehood. Some versions are proslavery, others free state. Finally, a fourth convention meets at Wyandotte in July 1859, and adopts a free state constitution. Kansas applies for admittance to the Union. However, the proslavery forces in the Senate are still able to oppose its free state status, and again stall admission. Only in 1861, after the eleven slave states secede, does the constitution gain approval and Kansas become a state.
End note – John Brown's adopted home of Osawatomie is the site of Kansas’ oldest state psychiatric hospital.