LIKE JOHN PRICE, JOHN BROWN was freezing during the winter of 1855–56, which he spent huddled with family members on the plains of Kansas. He had arrived in October, just a few months ahead of the “bitterly cold and cutting winds” that would keep everyone “shivering over their little fires” until spring. Five of Brown's sons had arrived earlier that year, among the thousands of Free-state emigrants who moved to Kansas in order to resist the imposition of slavery on the newly created territory. Once the brothers had established themselves in a settlement dubbed Brown's Station, not far from the town of Osawatomie, John Brown, Jr., wrote to his father about the virtues and challenges of life in Kansas, emphasizing both the beauty of the prairie and the depredations of the Missourians who were determined to spread slavery by violent means. John, Jr., was discouraged by the passivity of the other Free-staters, calling them “abject and cowardly.” He asked his father to provide the five brothers with arms, including two revolvers, a rifle, and a bayonet for each man. “Every day strengthens my belief that the sword … will soon be called upon to give its verdict,” he wrote.
In the words of biographer Oswald Garrison Villard, the appeal for arms was one that “Brown could not have resisted had he desired to.” In the company of another son and a son-in-law, he headed west with, as he put it, a wagon load of “Guns[,] Revolvers, Swords, Powder [and] Caps” that he obtained from supporters in Ohio. The overland journey took the better part of two months, much of it covered on foot in order not to overtax his “nice young horse.” In Kansas, he found his sons and their families sick with fever and nearly destitute, living in tents and makeshift cabins. Of the eight adult men in the settlement, only one was in good health.
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