History buffs revisit John Brown battle site
John Brown, with a wool black coat, wild gray bread and sharp-shooting rifle in hand, stood amongst a grove of trees Saturday afternoon and told the story of the Battle of Black Jack.
To the far side of the crowd stood his protectors, a group of men wearing wool trousers, flannel shirts and straw hats. They, too, were carrying rifles and canteens and had spent the night camped out across the creek. Up the hill, the notes of a lone fiddle and the neigh of horses floated through the warm spring air.
From this battlefield, John Brown learned that slavery could be fought, and with that experience he traveled onto Harpers Ferry. It was his experience at Harpers Ferry that contributed to the Civil War beginning when it did, the bearded man said.
“This is 1856, but sometime in the future, people here will be interested in this historic battle,” John Brown — or more accurately, John Brown re-enactor Kerry Altenbernd — told the crowd of about 50.
The group stood under the shade of the towering trees, a spot where bullets flew on an early morning 153 years before. About 100 yards away, a stake marked the place where pro-slavery leader Henry C. Pate surrendered.
Though no men died and only about 100 fought, some consider the Battle of Black Jack to be the first true battle of the Civil War, which didn’t officially start until 1861. The skirmish, which lasted three hours, was the first time organized military forces for and against slavery fought.
Saturday was the 153rd anniversary celebration of the Battle of Black Jack. Along with a guided tour by Altenbernd as John Brown, the day offered a 19th-century quilt exhibit, dinner, a performance from the Lecompton re-enactors and a special encampment with Wide Awake Films.
The encampment, consisting of The Tater Mess and Holmes Brigade, had 25 men and one woman dressed in 1850s attire. And according to David Bears, the group’s “head wrangler,” they were the finest living history group in the country portraying the Border War fighters of the 1850s.
They were also part of a crew creating a short film for the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.
Among them was Tom Sprague, of Garnett, whose great-great-grandfather fought alongside John Brown in both the Battle of Black Jack and Battle of Osawatomie. Dressed in period costume, Sprague said there was a connection to the past.
“It is a way to understand what was actually happening and to better experience what our ancestors went through,” he said.
Sprague wasn’t the only one absorbing Kansas history Saturday afternoon. Ten-year-old and self-proclaimed history buff Ryan Todd asked for his picture to be taken with John Brown after the tour.
Ryan has visited the battlefield more than five times, coming once even for his birthday party.
“It’s amazing how it’s still here. The place actually still remains. It actually shows people how it was,” Ryan said.