Civil War Looms: Searing The
Frank Yerby: A Victim’s Guilt
Episode One: The Fugitive Slave Law Click Here
Episode Two: The Underground Railroad Click Here]
Episode Three: Enslaving Kansas Click Here
Episode Four: Another Death In The Family Click Here
Episode Five: Bleeding Kansas Click Here
FINAL EPISODE: Rescuing Ellen
A V I C T I M ’S G U I L T 4 1 7
Mr. Frank, they’ve found her!” Shields Green bursta into the cabin that he and Frank Yerby have called home for many years. But for the past year, the cabin was their home only when they were not scouring Kansas, Missouri and Texas, looking for Ellen Ingraham. And not a day, not even an hour, passes without Yerby feeling gut wrenching, mind numbing pangs of guilt. How could I have let them take her? He asks himself over and over again.Why didn’t I protect her when she needed me most
Yerby replays the scene in his mind. Ellen had come to him, clinging and crying, letting him know how much she loved him and, yet, in that instant ____ in that all too brief a moment ____ she was gone. “The boy sent by the repudiation committee,” Yerby remembered “said his name was Jimmy and that they needed Ellen at a meeting.”
But there was no meeting. That was the last time he saw her. Even though its been a year, to Yerby it was just like yesterday. How he longed to hold her just once more, feel her breath on his face, wipe away the sadness from her eyes ____ be the man he had always
wanted and hoped to be.
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“Mr. Frank, did you hear me?” Shields says again, “they’ve found her. Miss Ellen, she’s alive.”
Frank Yerby sinks to his knees as he had done many times recently, but this time instead of begging for her life, he offers a prayer of thanks to whatever merciful power had seen fit to safeguard Ellen’s life.
“Where is she? Is she safe?” Yerby asks Shields while giving him a great hug.
“I can’t say for sure,” Shields replies, “but Mr.Foote says that she’s on a plantation just across the river in Clinton County.”
“How is she?” Yerby asks.
“They say she’s doing poorly.”
“Clinton County!”Yerby muses, “That’s not more than fifty miles from here. How did he find her?”
“That general friend of your’n,” Shields replies,“General Hitchcock done told Mr. Foote of Miss Ellen’s whereabouts.”
“I understand that they have located Ellen Ingraham,” Yerby says bursting unceremoniously into the office of Mayor Foote The austere, scholarly-looking lawyer who replaced Stoddard Hoyt looked up from his paper-strewn desk. Clifford Foote was
not a Quaker and neither was he happy being interrupted by a Negro. He frequently expressed the opinion that it was a great misfortune that Africans were ever imported into America. Foote looked forward to the time when all the darkies were shipped back to Africa ___ or to Canada, anywhere away from Kansas. Foote was a no-nonsense kind of person who, for all his free state background, had no special fondness for Negroes, free or runaway and he was offended by Yerby’s insolence.
“Yes, that is correct,” the mayor replies dryly turning his attention back to his desk. “We just received a dispatch from General Hitchcock. I assume your ‘boy’ delivered my message. I thought you should be informed immediately.”
“Yes,” Yerby stammers, “you were absolutely right. What are your plans for rescuing her?”
A V I C T I M ’S G U I L T 4 1 9
“Rescuing her?” The mayor frowns and begins fumbling with some papers. “Yes, her rescue,” he repeats. “Well, you see that might be somewhat difficult considering her status, you see.”
“Her status!”Yerby shouts, giving the cold-eyed attorney a start.“What do you mean her status?”
“I understand that Ellen was a fugitive slave. And, well,” the lawyer stammers,“there’s the law ___ not that I agree with it personally, you understand.” Foote turned his attention back to reshuffling the papers on his desk. “But as you well know, being an educated Negro, as much as we all regret this terrible law, we still must obey it. After all, it is the law.”
“Do you know what she has done to defend this town?” Yerby storms. “If it had not been for Ellen Ingraham, there might not be a Lawrence, Kansas, today.”
“I am certain that is true,” Mayor Foote replies, nodding his head in agreement, “but you must understand that the issue of Kansas and statehood is still far from resolved. And the Buchanan administration is still very sound on the goose, if you get my meaning.”
Yerby looks down on Mayor Foote who still refuses to look up at the Negro. “We certainly do not want to provoke another vigilante attack, do we? Who knows how long the federal troops will remain in Lawrence.”
John Geary, the territorial governor, had been forced to resign. Geary had stationed federal troops in Lawrence. Yerby knew that the federal troops could be withdrawn by the next territorial governor without notice. Without the protection provided by the US Army, vigilantes were certain to invade again.
“You see, there is really nothing we can do,” Mayor Foote says once again fumbling with his papers, hoping that this “colored boy ” would just take the hint and leave.
Yerby understands Foote’s meaning. To the mayor and the other citizens of Lawrence, Ellen was a fugitive slave. No white citizen in Lawrence was going into Missouri to free no nigger slave. Yerby abruptly leaves Foote’s office. He decides to seek out the one white man he knows will help rescue Ellen.
“Can you get us some horses and supplies?” Yerby asks Shields.
“Where are we going and for how long?” Shields inquires.
“If we’re to rescue Ellen,” Yerby declares, “we’re gonna need some help. We need to find John Brown.”
“Marse Brown will help,” Green agrees. “I’ll see what I can do. I’ve done enough work for these folks ’round here that they surely owe me the use of some horses.”
A homesteader outside of Franklin tells Yerby and Shields Green that John Brown had
headed towards the Missouri border a couple of days earlier. Brown was chasing
Charles Hamelton and his gang of Georgia bushwhackers. Hamelton lived on a homestead in a free state settlement near Ottawa. Believing Hamelton to be a free stater, all the homesteaders in the area befriended him and helped him through his first Kansas winter. But when his gang arrives at the Ottawa settlement, Hamelton leads the bushwhackers in an attack on his free state neighbors. One by one, Hamelton pillaged and burned their cabins and took eleven men captive, killing the others. When word reached John Brown of Hamelton’s attacks, Brown led a posse of free staters after him. Hamelton realized that, with John Brown on his tail, his free state captives only slowed him down. Hamelton ordered the free staters into a ravine by the Marais des Cyr River and ordered his men to shoot them. Five died, five were wounded, and by pulling one of the dead bodies over him, one homesteader escaped injury altogether. Afterwards Hamelton and his bushwhackers took off for Missouri. Yerby and Shields caught up with John Brown and his sons camped where the Marais des Cyr River crossed the Kansas border into Missouri near an Indian trading post.
A V I C T I M ’S G U I L T 4 2 1
“We found Ellen Ingraham,” Yerby tells the war captain. “She’s on the Clinton Plantation in Missouri. We need your help to rescue her.”
“If you want to get her out alive,” Brown said simply, “you need some kind of plan.” Brown gives Yerby a blank stare. “And right now my only plan on this battlefield is to keep myself and my boys alive for another day. And possibly help these poor souls.”
John Brown looks around ar the Induans who crept close by his camp. Though his camp is a short distance away from the trading post, already several Indians have found it. John Brown had a reputation for fair dealing and supporting Indians whenever he could. Yerby thought the free state warrior looked tired and needed rest.
“You say that General Hitchcock sent word of Ellen’s whereabouts?” Brown replies after Yerby and Green had rested and fed the horses and were relaxing by thescamp fire.
“Yessir,” Green responds.
“Why don’t we contact the general?” Brown suggests. “If anyone can come up with a rescue plan, the general can.”
Yerby went to the Indian post to sent General Hitchcock a message. However, the Indian trading post had no telegraph station, All it had was only wretched Indians trying to get the agent to take their artifacts in trade for clothing, utensils and especially food. The agent told the Indians that their feathers, beads and other native symbols were worthless. Once in a while, however, an Indian did bring something the agent would accept ____ gold, silver, furs or guns. Then the agent would offer the Indian a drink of his rotgut whiskey. It usually took only one drink to get the Indian to trade his valuables for a bottle. The agent almost never gave the children any food. The Indian trading post on Kansas’ Marais des Cyr River was a miserable acre of man-made hell surrounded by drunken Indian men and starving, sickly Indian women and children.
Yerby returned to Lawrence and sent a telegraph message to Ethan Allen Hitchcock. Hitchcock responded the next day. “Meet me in St. Catharines,” read his terse reply.
It was early summer. The trip to St. Catharines was not as arduous as it might have been during the winter. In many ways the trip was quite pleasant. Riverboat and rail travel, even in the steerage and baggage cars, was a relief from the dangers and hardships of frontier life. Had not been for the seriousness of its purpose, the gathering at St. Catharines might have been an enjoyable family reunion.
“Well, ladies and gentlemen,” Ethan Allen opens the discussion. ”Some of you well know it is far easier for a slave to escape on his or her own than to be rescued by others.” He takes a deep draw from the Meerschaum pipe that he teceived as a gift in Austria. “I suggest that we provide Ellen all the information and support available and let her make a run for it.”
Harriett Tubman’s home, like most in St. Catharines, was large and well-insulated against the harsh Canadian winters with well sealed and insulated floors and windows. Harriett Tubman’s home was the center of St. Catharines colored community. Lots of love and good times were always found at Harriett’s collection of cabins that were all joined to a common dining and sitting area. At any one time, Harriett lodged four or five families while their own cabins were being built. When notified of the rescue meeting, Harriett cleared her home of all her lodgers and made room for the rescue party which had grown larger since Hitchcock told Yerby to meet him in Canada.
A V I C T I M ’S G U I L T 4 2 3
As soon as John Brown had arrived at St. Catharines, he told Harriett Tubman about their mission. Harriett belonged to Hitchcock’s spy network which was built not only agents infiltrating pro-slavery vigilance committees as well as post office agents, but his spies also infiltrated a good part of the Underground Railroad. Freddie Douglas and Harriett Tubman both worked for and were supported by General Hitchcock. Not only was Hitchcock engaged in political intrigues but John Brown conducted more than one raid on the orders of Ethan Allen Hitchcock. The general sent Harriett to Rochester tp tell Freddie Douglas about their plan to rescue Ellen.
“Count me in,” Freddie said. “I’ll meet you back at St. Catharines. But I’ve gotta go to Boston.”
“You can count on us,”Wes Parks told Freddie as soon as he learned about Ellen. “Ruby and I’ll meet you in St. Catharines. But I’ve gotta get the kids. Ben is over at Harvard. I have no idea where Phoebe is. And I’ve gotta tell Joe Collins, though it’ll be a waste of time.”
“Why is that?” Freddie asks.
“Joe Collins has become a low life pimp. He lives off women and drugs,” Wes shrugs.
Joe worked for the Boston shipping interests, the same Boston Brahams that Caleb Cushing represented as a member of the US delegation that dictated the terms ending the Chinese Opium wars.
“Dwight,” Wes said, “Ellen has been captured by slave catchers, and she’s on a plantation in Missouri.” As soon as he learned of Ellen’s whereabouts, Wes raced over to tell Dwight Ingraham.
“Ellen’s a slave!” Dwight gasped, trying to catch as the sudden news of his wife acted as if Wes had smacked him on the back.
“Ruby and I are going up to St. Catharines. Freddie, Harriett and some others are planning to rescue her. Do you want to join us?”
. “Of course I ll go,” Dwight replies. Dwight Ingraham often thought of Ellen. He remembered their love and how much she had meant to him ____ once. “But I’ll have to meet you there. I have to tell Dwight Jr.and Elaine. Just don’t leave St. Catharines without us.”
“We won’t,” Freddie assured him .
On the way to St. Catharines, Freddie sends P.B. Randolph a telegraph message. When Randolph learned of Abby’s death and Ellen’s suffering, he had born a sense of guilt. When he got Freddie’s message, Randolph replied immediately. “I will join
you at St. Catharines.”
Hitchcock suggestion that Ellen be allowed to escape on her own finds little support among her rescuerers. “With all due respect to your experience, General,” Yerby says, “if Ellen had wanted to escape on her own, don’t you think she would have done it by now?”
Dwight Ingraham js interested in the general’s reply.
“It was just a suggestion,” Hitchcock says.“Possibly you have a better one?”
“We have no choice,” Yerby replies.“We have to rescue her.” The others nod their heads in agreement.
“I’d like to know why, Mr.Yerby?” Hitchcock asks.
“Why what, General?”
“Why you believe she can’t escape by herself. Why do you think we’ve gotta go get her?”
A V I C T I M ’S G U I L T 4 2 5
“Ellen blames herself for Abby’s and Louise’s deaths,” Yerby explains. “She probably believes that she deserves what happened to her.”
Hitchcock thinks about it for a while.“You could be right,” he concedes. “But let me say this. The chances of our succeeding are not good and some of us may not survive.” He looks at each one of them. “Is the chance of sacrificing several lives worth saving one?” He looked over the group. He could see that none of them had actually considered the
costs. But he saw no weakness. They all remained firm in their resolve.“Okay,” Ethan Allen decides,“I see this is going to be a three-pipe problem. Let ’s get down to work.”
The general had detailed information about where Ellen was being held. The Clinton plantation was located outside the town of Plattsburg in Clinton County, Missouri. As Yerby had observed, it was barely fifty miles from Lawrence and only about thirty miles from the Kansas border. Even so,the Clintons boasted that none of their slaves had ever escaped. The Clintonsy employed a hundred patty rollers to patrol every possible escape route day and night. These patrols used dogs specifically bred for tracking and capturing runaway slaves. The Clintons had an ingenious intelligence system. They used the slaves themselves to inform on one another. The slaves all could be trusted to keep their masters informed. The slightest infraction and the most innocuous remark were reported to the overseers and punished. The overseers, both black and white, were chosen for their bulk and brutality. The punishment for an attempted escape was death. The fugitives were either beaten to death or, on occasion, fed to the dogs. The slaves on the Clinton plantation were servile and degraded. Only the bravest or most desperate slave ever attempted to escape.
“I can get her out,” John Brown announces. “These people are not invincible. My sons and I have been fighting and beating them for the past five years. Just give me information about the plantation.”
“You don’t expect us to ride onto the plantation and seize her by force, do you?” General Hitchock asks. “The chances of success aren’t very high. Don ’t you agree, Mr. Yerby?” The general smirks. Yerby, disregarding Hitchcock’s sarcasm, remains silent. “This
means that someone has to go onto the plantation, find Ellen, and bring her out to rendezvous with the rest of us,” Yerby replies.
“Who will that be?” Ethan Allen asks.
“That will be my job,” Harriett says. “I won’t have no trouble locating Ellen.”
“The women can’t come on this trip,” one of John Brown’s sons offers. “This could be bloody work.”
“I’ve forgotten more about helping slaves escape plantations than any of you will ever know,” Harriettt retorts. “I’m coming with you. Besides, they are less likely to suspect a woman.” John Brown would lead the rescue party into Missouri. He, his They would assemble outside the Clinton plantation, get someone onto the plantation, locate Ellen and bring her out.
“Well, that settles it,” John Brown says. “My sons, Dwight and I masquerade as slave catchers. while Wes, Ben, Freddie, Dwight Jr.,Shields, Randolph, and Yerby would be fugitive slaves. We’ll …”
“Hold on.” Shields Green speaks up. “I should be the one to go onto the plantation and find Miz Ellen,” he explains. “If there’s any trouble, I’ll be able to handle it, bettern’ she can.” Shields’ proposal sets off a controversy that takes some time to settle. Freddie and Brown support Harriett. She was the best person for the job. Together they convince the others. Seeing that the group decides against him, Shields relents.
St. Louis considers itself the New Orleans of the west. It bustles with economic activity. Its wharves and warehouses burst with wheat, tobacco and cotton destined for European markets. And in the middle of St. Louis, auction houses offered a wide assortment of slaves for any purpose imaginable. Within its commercial district, St. Louis has everything required to keep a plantation operating at peak efficiency. In its stockyards, one could find the finest farm animals and the highest quality horses. And it was in St. Louis that the little band of setting out to rescue Ellen Collins purchased their supplies, weapons, wagons, horses and mules.
“Why do we need this keg of nails and this barrel of scrap iron?” Dwight asks.
“You’d be surprised how handy nails and iron are out west,” Hitchcock replies. “I’ll bet if you asked Captain Brown, he’d tell you that a keg of nails at the Indian trading post would be worth their weight in gold. Isn’t that right, Captain?”
One of John Brown’s sons piped up, “You’re right about that, general!”
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One they have provisioned themselves, they continue on to Kansas City where Hitchcock settles the group in one of his ‘safe houses.’ Then he hires a buggy and two fine horses and drives the fifteen ouses.miles to the Clinton plantation. On the way, Hitchcock and Tubman discuss the best way for her to get onto the plantation. Hitchcock favors a direct approach. “Why don’t I just take you up to the house and sell you to the Clintons?” he proposes. “That way you won’t be a stranger and you’ll have more freedom of movement.”
“That won’t work,” Harriett replies,“The first thing they’ll want to do with some old and leathery nigger like me is put me out in the fields. And I’ll never get near Ellen. And that’s even if they’ll buy me at all. They’ve probably got all the field slaves they need,
especially if harvesting is over. It would be easier for me to sneak onto the plantation. That way I can make contact with Ellen without too much trouble. Nobody will be watching me.”
“But what if someone sees that you don’t belong on the plantation?” Hitchcock asks. “You’ll be in a lot of trouble.”
“Nobody has ever heard of a black woman sneaking onto a plantation for any other reason than to be with her man,” Harriett chuckles. “And the plantation masters don’t mind that a bit. They know that even someone like me wants a little lovin’ sometimes. You just give me some information about the other plantations in the area and I’ll be all right.”
On the road to the Clinton Plantation, they passed many riders, but none of them pay much attention to the white gentleman and his black slave. Observing the forms of civility, they merely tip their hats and continue on their way. Hitchcock picks a convenient spot near the plantation, in a wooded grove, to let Harriett out of the carriage. “You’ve gotta make all the arrangements in three days’ time,” he tells her. “If you want, you can leave me a message under that big rock by that grove of poplars over there.” He walks over and shows her the spot. “But no matter what, you and Ellen have to be here in three days. Do you understand? Three days!”
In eight years, Harriett Tubman led over three hundred slaves to freedom. So when she stared at Hitchcock, it was with a decided fit of pique. This white man don ’t know
nothing, but thinks he does, she tells herself. But Harriett decides that to say anything to him would just be a waste of breath. In an instant, she disappears, right before his eyes.
Though Ellen could rightly say that very little surprises her any more, but the slightly built, exceedingly strong and sinewy black woman, appearing sprite-like in Ellen’s cabin, certainly does. “Harriett!” the surprised Ellen whispers. “How did you get here? Where did you come from?” Ellen asks Harriett.
Ellen Ingraham is not the beautiful yet sad-faced woman she had met in St. Catharines seven years ago. Gone is the full-figured, soft look of a young ingénue. In her place stood a withered, thin middle-aged woman with leathery skin and washed-out hair that tells a story of past hardships. Ellen had not lost her beauty. Ellen would always be beautiful. But now, Harriett decides, Ellen had matured gaining some other look. Some indefinable glow borned of indomitable will and essential goodness radiated from within. Ellen’s beauty seemed to emerge from her soul.
“I’ve come to rescue you,” Harriett says.
“Rescue me!” Ellen exclaims with a degree of understandable skepticism. “All by yourself?”
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“No,” Harriett explains, “a group of your friends have come to take you away.”
“Ah, the people of Lawrence have come to rescue me,” Ellen sighs. “I knew they would come.”
“No, honey chile,”Harriett says patiently, “not the people of Lawrence, your family, your friends. They’re the ones coming for you. John Brown’s leading the group and they’ll be here in three days.”
“Oh dear,” Ellen replies. Her face clouds over with a look of concern.
“What ’s the matter?” Harriett asks, “don’t you want to be rescued?”
“Yes, of course I do,” Ellen stammers, “but …”
“But what?” Harriett asks.
“Well, you see,” Ellen blurts out.“I am the only teacher here and there is so much more for me to do.”
This, of course, is not her real concern. How am I going to face them? she asks herself.
Harriett looks at Ellen for awhile. A wave of sympathy passes between them. Harriett wants to tell Ellen that she understands, but decides this not the time.
And after a long silence, Harriett speaks softly to Ellen.“There are many more to be taught back home.”
“If I leave, some others, including children, will have to be taken along as well,” Ellen says.
“If it were up to me, I’d rescue the whole plantation,” Harriett replies, “but there are others who need to know.” The next night Harriett sneaks back to the poplar grove and leaves a message for Ethan, telling him of Ellen’s insistance on bringing out an additional
ten slaves from the Clinton plantation. She concludes her message saying, “All twelve of us will meet you here as planned,” leaving Hitchcock no option other than to rescue the additional fugitives.
A V I C T I M ’S G U I L T 4 3 1
Hitchcock John Brown and the others meet outside Plattsburg
on the Platte River. “Ellen intends to bring others with her,” he informs the
“That changes everything,” John Brown announces. The others begin to murmer.
“We didn’t plan on this, but I it really doesn’t change very much,” Yerby says.
“We’ve come this far, we can’t turn around now,” Dwight adds.
“I don’t see what difference it makes,” Freddie observes, “one or eleven, we’ve still gotta get back over the border into Kansas without getting caught by the patrollers.”
“It makes a big difference,” Hitchcock says.“If we’re pursued, we could put Ellen on a horse and abandon the wagons. Then it would be a race to the border. But with a bunch of pickaninnies, we would have to keep the wagons and there is no way we could outrun
any of the patty rollers. That means that we’d have to stand and fight. And I don’t have to tell you what our chances in a fight would be.”
“If it comes to it, then, we’ll just have to stand and fight,” Freddie says grimly.
Wes Parks and Frank Yerby agree and Shield Green sits back and listens. Throughout the trip, Shields has studied Dwight Ingraham, wondering why he had married Ellen in the first place. And once he married her, how could he have let her ___ just like that. Must be a lot more about white folks that I just don’t understand, he decides. Likewise did Dwight study P.B. Randolph wondering what his wife had seen in this foppish, rather delicate mulatto with fiercely burning eyes. On their way to the rendezvous, Shields strikes up a conversation with Dwight. The discussion was by mutual consent. Dwight knew that Shields had been with Ellen from the very beginning and was interested in learning every detail of her adventures. Dwight’s easy-going manner and lack of racial animus made it easy for he and Shields to get along. Shields told Dwight stories about the cold Canadian winters and the equally cold Kansas plains. He told Dwight how Elllen braved the bushwhackers to bring ammunition for the Sharp’s rifles to Lawrence. He also narrated the events that led to Louise’s death. Dwight, Jr. as well as Wes’ son, Ben, listened to Shields’ stories, fascinated by Ellen’s adventures. Neither did the two young Bostonians ever tire of hearing John Brown’s sons recount their skirmishes with the border ruffians.
“Tell us the real story behind the Pottawattamie massacre,” Dwight Jr. asks. He and News of the massacre was covered by the Boston newspapers; this was an opportunity for the younsters to learn what reall y happened.. But this time, John Brown’s sons go silent. On the other hand, P.B. Randolph keeps to himself. He speaks only to Hitchcock, with whom he shares a passion for esoteric philosophy. Both of them are initiates into the ancient mysteries of the fama frateritatis. John Brown is an initiate of the same brotherhood. But Brown is more practical; he loves not the pleasure of intellectualism; rather he answers the call to action. Freddie and Wes entertain themselves by indulging in their interminable political debates.
“How many men is she bringing?” John Brown asks.
“Harriett didn’t say,” Hitchcock replies.. “We’ll just have to see.”
“Well, the plan, as I see it,” John Brown says, “is to divide the women and children into each of the two wagons with the general in one and Frank in the other. The rest of us will divide into two groups flanking either side of the wagons but out of sight of the road. We need a picket a mile or so in front and another in the rear. We’ve got ten men armed and on horseback; we should be able to surprise any bushwhacker patrol. The biggest danger remains the slow pace of the mules.”
“What’ll we do if we’re attacked?” Freddie asks.
“We ’ll have to beat off the attack, hitch the wagons to horses and pray that we get across the border before those ruffians can bring reinforcements,” John Brown replies. He looks each of the men in the eyes. “If we are attacked, there won’t be more than eight or ten ruffians. But we can’t let any one of them escape to sound the alarm. Is that understood?”
The group murmurs and shakes their heads in agreement.
None of them, not even Ben and Dwight Jr., were under any illusion about the danger. No one in Missouri was hated more than “nigger stealing ”Yankees. Even cattle rustlers and
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horse thieves got more respect. Rustlers were still hung as soon as they were
caught, but to the Missourians, hanging was too good for anyone caught stealing niggers.
Ethan Allen was happy for the moonless night, but, for the life of him, he couldn’t find that poplar grove where Harriett was supposed to bring Ellen and the other fugitives.
“ __must be getting old,” he tells himself. But on the other hand, Hitchcock was never much good at field work. This kind of action was for young men. The general continued wandering about. After awhile, he finds Harriett and Ellen huddled with five women, three children and two men. Harriett had assigned each of the children to an adult and spread them just far enough to minimize the sounds. The children are well-behaved. Hitchcock remarked to himself. Each has eyes wide with wonder while clinging tightly to their adult but not a sound escapes their mouths.
“We were beginning to get anxious,” Harriett whispers.
“I got kind of lost,” the spymaster replies sheepishly. “But I’m here now, so get your group moving. We’re meeting the others just over that rise there.” Hitchcock points westward. Harriett signals her little group and, to Hitchcock’s amazement, they line
up, quickly, efficiently and noiselessly. Then Harriett moves the fugitives forward to the waiting wagons and horses.
At the sight of her husband and son, Ellen is overcome with emotion. But this time, Ellen hugs Dwight and Dwight Jr. Tears flood down her face. Dwight Ingraham weeps as well.
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Soon, not a dry eye remains, as Ellen goes up and embraces each man in the group. Ellen even embraces P.B. Randolph. Recognizing Ellen’s embarrassment, Randolph gives her a deep bow. This relieves the tension. Only the grizzled old veteran, Pottawatamie Brown, remains aloof..
and John Brown’s stern demeanor helps the band regain its composure.
“It will be dawn soon,” Captain Brown informs the group,“and you all will be
surely missed. Let us be on our way.”
Not long after their trek begins, Brown realizes the impracticality of riding parallel to the wagons. It was too dark and the horses stumbled about. He decided to divide his party into a vanguard in the front and a rear guard behind. But the mules were unbearably slow. By the time the morning sun began illuminating the eastern horizon, they party had barely gone five miles, but they continued to plod along. By midday, they could smell the Missouri River. And still there was no sign of pursuit.
John Brown goes back to the wagon where Ethan Allen rides with Ellen and Harriett.
“We should have seen someone by now,” he says. “I think we ought to send scouts out to make contact.”
The general frowns. “If you do, you risk having the scout captured. Then they’d know for sure what we’re up to. They’re just playing cat and mouse with us right now. They don’t know where we are. How far is it to the border?”
“About thirty miles,” one of John Brown’s sons who had just ridden up from the rear replies. “No one is following us, yet.”
“When are we gonna stop, anyway?” Yerby asks, joining the discussion. “I’m not used to all this riding. I know the women and children need a break! And I know the women and children are tired.”
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“Stop!” John Brown shouts. “We can’t stop until we cross into Kansas. And we won’t be safe even then. We won’t be safe until we get to Lawrence.”
“But the children,” Ellen protests, “they need a comfort break if nothing else.”
“Just because we haven’t seen them, doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for us,” John Brown insists over the noise of the wagon wheels and trotting horses. Surveying the horizon, he says, “If they haven’t attacked yet, it’s only because either they haven’t enough men or they plan to hit us once we stop. They know time is on their side.” Then, looking into the wagon at the children’s scared faces, he softened. “All right,” he says, “we’ll keep going until it’s dark, then we can stop.”
John Brown was correct on both points.The Clintons didn’t have enough patrollers to hunt down their fugitive slaves. The Clinton plantation were transporting its fresh tobacco crop to the Missouri River for shipment to the tobacco markets The entire crop was due at the auction houses in St. Louis. The Clintons had hired every white man available to watch and control the slaves transporting their tobacco crop from the plantation to the river. They didn’t have enough border ruffians immediately available to hunt down John Brown’s party. But everyone on the Clinton plantation was well aware of the escape. A black informant reported the missing fugitives to his master early that morning. The Clintons sent a messenger to Leavenworth promising to pay one hundred dollars to anyone who helped round up the fugitives. The messenger was told to offer
Claude Coombs two hundred dollars to join in posse.
“Claude will chase them to hell and back,” one of the Clintons laughed. “I’m glad these niggers tried to escape. We need to show the other darkies what will happen if they try running for it.” Claude Coombs was happy to join in retrieving the Clinton’s slaves. And when the messenger let it be known that Pottawatomie Brown was leading the es-
cape, Billy Quantrill signed up as well.
“We’ll catch them nigger stealers by noon tomorrow, ’less I miss my
guess,” Claude exalts to Billy, rubbing his Bowie knife lovingly.
Of course, John Brown didn’t know any of this at the time. All he knew was that they had to get to the Kansas border as fast as they could. By nightfall his group was exhausted, but they still had some ten miles to go before crossing into Kansas. “We can’t run the risk of fires even though we’ll have sentries out all night,” Brown informs the others.“You’ll have to make do with the bread, dried fruit and nuts we’ve brought.” Brown divides the men into three watches. He puts each watch under the supervision of one of his sons. Then the warrior takes the better part of an hour to explain to each man his duties as a sentry. “Your job is to stay alert and identify everything you see and hear around you. If you notice any change in what you see or what you hear, that is a signal that someone or something is out there. If you spot someone out there, get back here as quickly and as quietly as you can and report what you saw or heard.”
“What if you can’t get back because you think they ’ll catch you?” Ben asks. He tries to hide want the how frighten he is.
“If you can’t get back here safely, hide yourself as best you can,” John Brown replies. “That many men would certainly be spotted by another sentry, unless they come single file Indian-style, which is not very likely.”
After the first watch had been posted and the women have served the children what little food is available, Brown begins to discuss his plans for the next day with Hitchcock.
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Wes Parks, on the other hand, strips himself to the waist and strides out into the darkness, evading being spotted by Brown’s sentries with ease. He passes within a yard of Freddie Douglas. A half mile past the perimeter of their camp, Wes sinks to his knees
and digs a small pit in the soft Missouri soil. Inside the pit he lights a small fire. Reaching into the pouch he wears around his neck, Wes withdraws some gnarled roots, gummy leaves and a sachet of white powder. Wes tosses the contents of his pouch into the fire, producung a great misty cloud that drifts towards the fugitives camp and envelopes it in its inner sanctum. Chanting in an ancient tongue, Wes sits cross-legged until once more out of the dark appears the spirits of his father, grandfather and great grandfather.
“Mighty ones,” Wes intones,“great were your deeds when you walked the land of Da’s belly. Now your son is in much need of your help.”
One of the spirits, the eldest of them all, moves over and flashes a ghostly smile at his great-grandson. “Hwesu,” the elder says “you have always enjoyed our favor.Why would you doubt us now?”
“Maybe this land has weakened the boy,” his father’s ghost remarks in mock anger.
“His warrior’s blood is cool and his body has grown soft like a woman’s,” his grandfather adds.
“No, father,” Wes cries out, prostrating himself and heaping the soil from his native land that he keeps in another pouch upon his head, “the strength of our land still flows through my veins.”
“Then why do you wish to save this woman who has the color of a fishes’ belly?” asks his grandfather with gravity..
“Because in this land of the Furtoos, there is no love of honor,” Wes replies. “This woman must be saved because her virtue puts the white people of this land to shame,”..
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“That is enough!” Wes’ great-grandfather commands. “There is no need to put the boy to a test, now.” Then his grandfather addresses Wes. “My son, know that we are quite pleased with you. Now run quickly and get some whiskey. We have brought a great spirit. You must present him with an offering.”
Without hesitation, Wes leaps up and retraces his steps to the camp. Creeping past the sentries was no problem. They all, including Freddie, were asleep at their posts. “Sleep well, my friends,” Wes whispers, “my ancestors will protect us all.” Wes takes the bottle of Hitchcock’s special Scotch whisky from the general’s valise ___ one of the spymaster’s few pleasures.
Wes returns to his ancestors with his stolen prize. With great solemnity and reverence, Wes offers up the Scotch whisky to his ancestors. But to his surprise, instead of accepting the offering, they all rush upon him and abruptly force him onto his knees. Suddenly a knobby-kneed, old black man with darting eyes and a mischievous grin appears among them. Reaching for the Scotch whisky, the old man drinks greedily, smacking his lips until very little of the whisky remains. Then casting away the bottle, the old man nimbly leaps to where Wes kneels. The black spirit touches Wes on his head. Then as
quickly as he had appeared, the ancient one disappears.
“Was that Papa Legba?” Wes asks.
“Very good, my son,” Wes’ great grandfather answers in the ancient language of Dahomey. “Very good, indeed.”
Back in camp, John Brown was still talking.“They’re almost certain to hit us tomorrow. And there’s gonna be a pretty big group of them.”
“If they’re gonna hit us, we’d better be ready,” Hitchcock announces grimly.
“That’s the problem,” one of John Brown’s sons says. “We can’t get ready until we know when and where they’re gonna hit us.”
“Then,” Brown says, “someone has to ride out and make contact with them and get back in time to warn us.”
“Warn us to do what?” Dwight Ingraham ventures to say.
“I have a little plan that might work,” Hitchcock smiles. “Tomorrow all the women and children will ride in one wagon. That wagon will stay far in the rear. We’ll load the other wagon with the dynamite, gunpowder and that keg of nails and scrap iron. As soon
as we get word that they are coming, we’ll stop and turn around. The wagon with the women and children will take off. The rest of us will wait until the slave catchers overtakes us. Then we will set it off our surprise wagon, and BANG, no more slave catchers.”
“That sounds like a great plan,” Wes says. No one saw him return. “But …”
“But what?” John Brown asks.
“But there seems to be one or two problems.”
“Such as …?”
“First of all, how do you know they will be coming from in front
of us? They could be coming from the plantation.”
“No,” Brown disagrees. “If they were coming from the plantation they would have hit us by now.They’ll be coming from in front of us, from Leavenworth, most likely.”
“Even if that is true,” Wes continues, “how are you going to release the mules and set off the dynamite in time to blow up the entire ruffian group of a hundred or more men?”
“I might be able to help you, sir,” Ben speaks out. “I study physics and engineering and during the summer, I work on a railroad gang. We’re always blowing things up.”
General Hitchcock and Captain Brown give Ben a look. “I can estimate the size of the
A V I C T I M ’S G U I L T 4 4 1
blast from the amount of explosives we use. I can even arrange for the force of the blast to go in any direction you choose, back, front or to either side, it doesn ’t matter. All I need is a bearing and a marker.”
They spend the rest of the night perfecting their plan. Brown decides to send Shields Green with his oldest son on the scouting mission. Shields and the younger Brown take off two hours before sunrise in search of the Clinton’s slave catchers. At dawn, everyone else breaks camp. Brown puts Yerby in charge of the wagon with the women. Then, prepared for the worse, the rescue party begins the final leg of their dash for the Kansas border. The sun had already passed its noontime height and they are within five miles of the border, when John Brown’s son and Shields Green come racing towards them. Waving and shouting, the scouts ride to a stop in front of the wagons. “They’re on their way!” Shields cries excitedly. “And there’s a lot of them.”
Brown stops the group. Getting off his horse, Yerby turns the wagon with the women and children around, urging the mules back the way they had come ___ back, he hoped, to safety. Hardly had Yerby gotten the wagon back down the trail, when a great cloud of dust appears on the trail. Soon, horsemen emerge from the dust cloud pounding down the trail towards the fugitives and their rescuers.
“Here they come!” Freddie shouts.
“That’s good! That’s very good!” Hitchcock smiles, seeing that the slave catchers are nearly blinded by the dust that their horses are kicking up. “If they think we’re running, they may overlook this wagon until its too late.”
4 4 2 F R A N K Y E R B Y :
Wes and Freddie unhitched the mules. Ben sets the fuses for the dynamite, positioning the barrels of gunpowder and kegs of nails and scrap iron to explode with maximum effect on either side and to the rear of the wagon. The riders are pounding closer, their bandanas pulled over mouths and noses to keep out the dust. But their grim faces and evil eyes leer leaving no doubt as to their murderous intent. Fugitive slaves, witnessing such a sight, are struck with absolute terror. “All right,” Brown shouts, “everyone mount up. As soon as young Ben lights those fuses, move back. On the count of ten, make a break for it. Wes! Get those mules going. Follow after Yerby and the women. ”Each of them turns around slowly and walks their horses slowly. Then all together they begin their wild retreat.
When Quantrill sees his quarry escaping, he urges his men to ride faster. “We’ve got those nigger-stealers, now, boys!” Billy Quantrill shouts. He and Claude Coombs race into the lead, with the rest of the gang riding like demons to keep up. The posse of slave catchers, intent on catching their victims, pay scant attention to the wagon that the fugitives had left behind. However, no sooner had Quantrill, Coombs and a few others passed by when three sickening explosions, one rolling after the other in rapid succession, belched out molten hot metal in a fiery blast out among the riders. Caught completely by surprise, the hapless slave catchers let out collective groans of pain and agony, which, for most, is the last sound they will ever make. White-hot metal and gigantic tongues of flame lash into the ranks of galloping men with murderous fury. Where moments earlier, a hundred men were chasing their prey, now was a hellish scene of dead and dying men and horses sprawled about the road, clumped in ditches, splattered against rocks wiith body parts pitched haphazaedly into trees and bushes for hundreds of yards.
A V I C T I M ’S G U I L T 4 4 3
Only the ruffians in the far lead and at the very rear escaped serious injury. These numbered not more than ten. Billy Quantrill was knocked unconscious. John Brown directed his band to dismount and use their Sharp’s rifles to pour a savage volley upon the surviving ruffians. Dazed and leaderless, these survivors flee off the road, into the thickets in all directions. Soon only the dead and the dying remain. Brown signals Yerby to return with the women and children. When the wagon reaches the scene of the carnage, Brown orders everyone to remount. “Now let’s make it to Kansas border and don’t stop for anything,” Brown shouts.“We’ve got no more surprises left.”
Claude Coombs is one of the survivors. He crouches on the side of the road beside the unconscious Quantrill. He sees Ellen in the wagon as it approaches. Claude jumps up and, in a fit of uncontrollable rage, he pulls out his Colt revolver and, taking dead aim at Ellen, fires. At that very instant, Yerby throws himself in front of Elln durectly in the path of Claude’s bullet. The forty-four-caliber slug slams into Yerby’s back and explodes out of his chest, lodging deep into the wagon’s paneling. Yerby’s body, under the impact of the gunshot, throws both Harriett and Ellen backwards into the wagon, but neither woman is injured. Yerby’s wound is mortal.
Before Claude Combs can shoot again, Sharp’s rifles ring out. So many forty-five-caliber bullets tear into Coombs’ body from so many directions that he twists around like a corkscrew before slamming into the ground, his sightless eyes staring into the ground. Without pausing either to consider his victory or to care for the wounded Yerby, John Brown urges the party to race towards the Kansas border at a breakneck pace. And they are successful; they have no more encoounters with slave catchers. They cross the Kansas border onto the Kickapoo Indian reservation. From there, they make their way down to Lawrence.
Sometime that evening, just as the reddish rays of the setting sun turned into a deep purple night, Frank Yerby dies. Ellen Ingraham cradles him in her arms all the way into Lawrence.
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To the relief of the mayor and many of the town’s citizens. John Brown remains in Lawrence only long enough to pick up supplies. After several days, John Brown and Ethan Allen Hitchcock leads the rescue party and the eleven freed slaves out of Lawrence and back to St. Catharines.
A V I C T I M ’S G U I L T 4 4 5
n January of 1861, one of the first acts of the new Congress under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln was to admit Kansas into the union as a free state. This single act so enraged the South that, one by one, the Southern states secede from the union, initiating the bloodiest war in American history. In 1863, William Quantrill, an officer in the Confederate army, led another raid on Lawrence, Kansas. Quantrill ordered every man in Lawrence shot. For three hours Quantrill’s men engaged in a orgy of murder, arson and robbery.