The Battle of Osawatomie occurred in Osawatomie’s modern-day John Brown Memorial Park on Aug. 30, 1856. It was the largest battle during the “Bleeding Kansas” era of Kansas and American history.

In addition, John Brown’s leadership of the Free State forces at the Battle of Osawatomie earned him the nickname “Osawatomie Brown,” a nickname for John Brown that is still in use today.

John Brown and Osawatomie are inextricably linked in history, and visitors travel from all over the nation and the world to John Brown Memorial Park to walk where John Brown and 30 to 45 Free State guerrilla fighters fought 200 to 400 pro-slavery militia men at the Battle of Osawatomie.

Osawatomie was a target for attack by pro-slavery guerrillas due to the reality that Osawatomie was a base of operations for not only John Brown’s abolitionist guerrilla group, but other Free State guerrilla groups as well.

Osawatomie was derisively described by pro-slavery settlers in Kansas Territory as an “Abolitionist Nest,” for Osawatomie was a relay station for the Underground Railroad. Slaveholders hated the abolitionist founders of Osawatomie, and they viewed them as brigands and thieves who rode out from Osawatomie and stole their slave property and sheltered their valuable slaves until they could be moved on to other “Abolitionist Nests” in Kansas Territory and up to Canada.

Slaveholders also hated the abolitionist founders of Osawatomie, for the abolitionist guerrillas who rode out of Osawatomie during the “Bleeding Kansas” era of Kansas and American history raided pro-slavery settler’s homes, farms and businesses not only in Kansas, but also in western Missouri as well. They stole whatever they could get their hands on in the process, and they brought their stolen goods back to Osawatomie to use for themselves or to sell for a profit.

John Brown and other abolitionists morally justified this thievery by asserting that anything that a slaveholder possessed was actually the property of the slaves that they were freeing, and therefore they were not “stealing” but “liberating” the possessions that they brought into Osawatomie after raids on pro-slavery settler’s homes, farms and businesses.

It is interesting to note that according to laws passed by the prevailing pro-slavery government of Kansas Territory in 1856, the force that attacked Osawatomie on Aug. 30, 1856, was a legally constituted Kansas State Militia acting with the authority of the Territorial Government of Kansas. John Brown and the Free State guerrilla fighters who fought the pro-slavery militia were legally a criminal gang opposing the forces of the law.

The perception of the battle on the pro-slavery side of the Battle of Osawatomie was that they were rooting out and destroying a den of thieves that was a clear and present danger to law and order in Kansas Territory.

John Brown and the Battle of Osawatomie was, and is still, studied due to the controversy that surrounds the battle, a controversy that is not likely to ever cease to exist in the present or the future.

Grady Atwater is site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site.

(1) comment

Chambersburg Brown

Thank you, Grady, for this concise reminder of how convoluted things can get. Keep up the good work. - Doug Dobbs, Chambersburg, PA[smile]

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