August 1859 - Cass County, Missouri
Straightening and shoving his hands into the small of his back, he rolled his neck. “That is the last one,” and taking off his cap, he wiped sweat from brow.
The younger man stepped back with a groan, his boots sloshing in the mud, they had created, cooling the metal tire to the wagon wheel. “Thank goodness, my stomach’s startin’ to believe I up and forgotten it all together.”
The first man, who had the wide shoulders of one used to hard labor, released a short, huffing laugh. “Hell Lucian, the way ya go on ’bouts food, I find it hard to believe ya ain’t hungry, the moment, ya get up from the table.”
Lucian replied with a smile so large, his cheeks rose up full and round, so that the last golden rays of sunlight highlighted the freckles smattered across them. “Keep on and I will convince Ma, ya been spoutin’ off ’bouts her cooking, then I can have your share, too.”
Kicking water and mud at his brother, Jefferson shouted, “ya will do no such thing.” Turning away, a satisfied glow lit his eyes as he took in the three wagon wheels stacked in the shop that matched the one at his feet. “The money these will bring, we’ll be able to purchase a third dairy cow, winter shoes for the girls, and have a bit to spare for rainy days.”
“Way ya squirrel coins away for rainy days, ya’d think the great flood is gonna be returnin’. Man alive, I’d sure like to use a bit for a ride to Harrisonville, maybe enjoy ourselves some.”
Jefferson looked to the purpling sky, watching the flickering movements of fireflies. Spending hard earned money wastefully was an ongoing debate that he did not feel like having with Lucian. At the moment, he wanted nothing more than to wash up, eat, and kick back on the porch to enjoy his pipe.
Strolling to the house through the apple orchard, they smelled dinner wafting from the outdoor kitchen and hurried their steps. Their home was casting a long shadow across the lawn, which they were just stepping into when they both froze. Jefferson’s deep-set, blue eyes shifted first to his brother and then back over his shoulder, where fifteen men were emerging from the south end of the orchard. Watching them, he thought it odd that only four were riding horses. Then the hairs on the back of his neck rose up, all thick and stiff, when he saw every last man carried a Sharps rifle.
As they drew closer, Lucian nodded toward three men with their heads down, being herded along. “Is one of them three fellas, Jim Pritcher?”
“Appears to be.”
Before much more could be said, the strangers raised the open bores of their Sharps toward Jefferson and Lucian.
A thin, narrow-faced man riding a big bay, spurred the horse within talking distance of the brothers, “Who are you, boys?”
Taking a step forward and sliding in front of his brother, Jefferson raised his chin, looking the bearded man straight in the face. “This is our land. I am Jefferson Huebert, and this is my brother Lucian. We are wheelwrights, are ya needin’ some repairs, Doctor Jennison?”
The rider’s eyes narrowed, “How is it, you know me?”
“I had ya pointed out to me, when I was makin’ a delivery in Mound City.”
Nodding toward the house, Jennison asked, “Who is inside?”
“Our mother and three younger sisters,” Jefferson replied.
A swirling, breeze whistled through the apple trees, rustling the leaves, and gooseflesh rose up along Jefferson’s arms, despite the August heat. It was not the wind, which raised the chill, but recalling a conversation, he had with Dick Mitchell while in Mound City.
Mitchell had said, ’You see that man, name’s Charles Jennison, or Doc, as he is most often called. He brags on his close friendship with that religious fanatic, John Brown. He is also a regular companion of James Montgomery. I’ve heard it, Doc, over there, and Montgomery, they preach on about how the Lord above agrees with abolitionism. Ain’t got a problem with that, but them two, also declare, the Lord will forgive any transgressions made in the name of abolitionism. ‘Specially, if those transgressions are done in an effort to rid the world of slave owners, who they claim are unrequited examples of evil.’
In response, Jefferson had informed Mitchell, he was not worried as his family did not own slaves. Except now with Charles Jennison in his yard, Jefferson could clearly recall the serious expression which had darkened Mitchell’s face as he had said. ’Still, you take yourself a good look at Doc, so you will know ’em. ‘Cause, he and his pals are damn indiscriminate when they go on their forays. Me, I have seen the goods they bring back to sell at auction. I tell you, despite their religious talk, they take great pleasure and profit in plunder, burning homes, and being the judge and jury of a man’s guilt.’
Hearing the echo of the words, ‘judge and jury’, Jefferson realized Dick Mitchell had been subtly warning him, Jennison and his followers had no qualms regarding the subject of murder. Fighting against the burn he felt rising in him, Jefferson took a breath, determined to remain cordial to the Judge sitting above him, and to hide his anger, he shoved his balled up hands in pockets.
“Is the pair of you armed?”
Lucian replied, in his sarcastic tone, which so often got him in trouble, “We’ve been workin’ in the wheel shop all day, why the hell would we be armed?”
Kneeing his horse closer, so the animal’s warm breath, drafted across the brothers, Jennison asked. “Are there weapons in the house?”
“We ain’t soldiers, so we ain’t necessarily got weapons,” Jefferson answered, stepping even more in front of his younger brother. “But, like everyone, we do keep a pair of muskets on hand for huntin’.”
Jennison’s heavy-lidded eyes stared hard at the Huebert brothers, the other men, still, made no sound. The silence grew taut, stringing out Jefferson’s nerves till they felt near ready to break.
With a sharp nod that matched the steel of his tone, Jennison snapped. “You are now our prisoners! Men to the house.”
Lucian bristled up, “what the hell does ya—“
“Hush!” Jefferson hissed, spinning on his brother, “do not anger them.”
Playing the parts of obedient prisoners, the brothers’s allowed themselves to be ushered to their home. As they walked, Jefferson could feel the rifles aimed at them and it set up a terrible itch in the middle of his back, which had him wondering, if they would reach the front door alive.
At the yard gate, Jennison swung down from his horse and Jefferson found he stood taller than the man. But, something about the indifferent set of his narrow face, made Jefferson feel even more ill at ease, “Why are ya here? What do ya require?”
Doc Jennison responded, “For you to lead us inside,”
Jefferson worried at his lower lip, looked to the house, to his brother, who had been placed with the other prisoners, and back to Jennison, ‘maybe, if I play along, all will be fine.’ Taking a breath, he unlatched the garden gate and feeling like a Judas, he led the men in and across the threshold of the two-story house, he had assisted in building, and since his father’s death, was honor bound to care for.
Perplexed, he looked about, ‘why has Mother not lit the lamps?’ But, even as he thought this, he caught an acrid whiff of smoke and knew she had blown them out. ’Suppose she reckoned darkness might ‘en give me an upper hand, as I know the room and these strangers do not. But, what can I do, with Lucian being held at the whim of their mercy.’
Then a match was struck and the room leapt to life, in the far corner beyond the sitting area was Abigail Huebert, fearfully guarding her three daughters. The red-bearded man struck another match, setting it to the stump of a candle; he pulled from his pocket. Wearing a twisted sneer, which advertised him as a bully right down to the center of his core, he went round lighting the lamps with the candle.
The light was harsh after so deep darkness; but its arrival revealed the conflicted emotions of the room. Each face personified with either fear or power. Taking in the eight armed men, Jefferson knew unequivocally, none of the power belonged to him.
In a tone, so polite, he could have, just as easily, been requesting directions to the local church, Jennison asked, “where are the firearms?”
Jefferson answered, “upstairs.”
The red bearded man and another shoved Jefferson up the stairs, followed by a collection of six more.
Abigail Huebert’s face paled, her upturned eyes following the clumping boots above. Her face flinching at the clamor created by their search. When a horrendous shatter overrode all other sounds and Abigail, just knew, it was the full-length mirror her husband had gifted her.
Unable to remain still any longer, Abigail’s oldest daughter bolted from the corner, fully intent on scolding these men, who were behaving so coarsely.
Ivy turned back to her mother, “we cannot stand here and simply allow ’em to destroy our home.”
Being older, and knowing, how wicked a group of men can be, Abigail shook her head, gathering her daughter in a tight hug.
Out in the black night, Lucian watched a light go up the stairs, and followed its progress through the rooms. His hackles rising at the sounds of destruction, until not able to stand it any longer, he headed for the gate.
A Sharps rifle swung in his direction, the man at the other end snarling, “One more step, Puke, and it will be your last.”
Lucian scooted back to the prisoners. Who, once he had been placed with them, he had found, he knew all three by name: Jim Pritcher, Martin Cave, and Kennedy Morgan. The way these three older men held themselves, also let him know, they were suitably cowed. He wondered if he appeared the same and not liking the idea, brashly asked, “I want to know why the hell we are prisoners, in the first damn place?”
None of the men on guard replied.
“Is y’all deaf, I asked ya a question?”
Kennedy Morgan stepped up close, “Do not be pushin’ em, one of ‘em near about broke Martin’s jaw, when he did. What we know is, they all…” Morgan nodded toward the armed men, “believe us to have assisted a Vigilance Committee, in the hunt and seizure of an escaped slave. Each of us stated, we had no part in the Committee they is speakin’ of, but Jennison refuses to hear our words.”
Lucian frowned, “what they plannin’ on doin’ with us?”
Jim Pritcher looked up forlornly, “we ain’t been enlightened.”
Lucian crossed his arms across his chest, “they got us all wrong, my brother and I are law abidin’. Hell, all we ever do is labor our lives away in the wheel shop.”
Inside the house, not a word of enlightenment had been said to the ladies either. But, when the eight strangers and Jefferson tromped back down the stairs, Abigail released a pent up breath.
Two of the intruders carried a musket each; one had the black powder hunting horn and the other, the satchel that contained all the ammunition. The rest of the men had their arms full of tediously made quilts, along with pillowcases that bulged with household goods. The last man down carried Abigail’s silver vanity set which had belonged to her mother.
Seeing these dear keepsakes, Abigail found her voice, “What are ya men up to?”
Doc Jennison ignored her, instead asking, “Where is your negros?”
“We have never owned negros.”
Turning to Jefferson, he asked. “Were you not a part of Daniel McCall’s crew who ran down a Negro who only wished his freedom?” And, giving no time for a response, Jennison continued on, his voice rising to a roar and his face growing flush. “It is against our rules and the rules of the Lord for anyone, absolutely anyone, to obstruct a negro intent to be free. Slavery is an ultimate abomination! Runaway slaves must be assisted and thusly, myself, and my men, intend to free every negro in Missouri!”
Snagging one of the muskets, taken from upstairs, Jennison removed its bayonet and handed the musket back with a cold smile. He flipped the bayonet in the air, its metal length glinting in the lamplight. Catching it, he jabbed the tip against Jefferson’s chest. “A bayonet such as this is a weapon. It can be used in many ways to do away with a man; some slow and some fast. I asked if you had weapons, and yet, you failed to speak truthfully.”
Jefferson’s wide-eyes stared down his nose at the blade tip balanced against his chest.
Jennison’s smile grew larger and colder, “For example, you could simply stab a man with it, or use the keen edge to slice his throat.”
The room became so still, each person’s breathing could be heard.
“Then there is the slow death; a sliced wrist or, perhaps, a groin artery.” And saying this, he struck out with the blade.
Abigail screamed, as did her daughters.
Jefferson leapt back, bumping against the men behind him, the blade only slicing along the fabric of his clothes.
Jennison’s laughter filled the room and he barked, “Outside.”
Exiting last, Doc Jennison pushed roughly through the ladies and stalked up so close to Jefferson, his cigar bitter breath filled his face. “Let us see, if you can answer truthfully this time, and remember Our Lord is listening. Have you ridden with men who patrol the border, the likes of which, have been known to restrain negros?”
Jefferson’s heart raced, yet, knowing he had never ridden with a group seeking a runaway, he stated. “In truth, neither I nor my family deem slavery as a Christian act. ‘Course, neither is attackin’ a man, ‘specially in the security of his home. I am an honest man and I, also, believe strongly in protectin’, not only my own family, but in assistin’ my neighbors in the same such endeavor. It is true that some of my neighbors are slaveholders. Still, I know ‘em to also be good Christian men. The times I have ridden with’em, is when our intentions were to prevent larcenous intruders from despoilin’ our County.” When Jefferson finished, the only sounds being made were by the whispering leaves and shuffling horses.
Doc Jennison had swollen up like a carcass left in the sun and snatching Jefferson’s arm, he shoved him toward the prisoners. “You sound as if you are intentionally pointing fingers, Mr. Huebert.”
“There is an old saying. . .” Jefferson looked at the bearded man closely, “if the shoe fits.”
“Perhaps, who can say… However, for those we judge as being against our cause,” Jennison smiled, but it was not a smile which offered encouragement, “we will take any measure or item we care to, in order to put them down. And, if need be, we shall also make them like the meek, hurrying them along their way to their inheritance of earth.”
Seeing fire rising in the man’s eyes and the way he was making a show of tapping his fingers on his holstered pistol, Jefferson clamped up his mouth.
“The pair of you shall join us, as we require pilots through this unfamiliar territory,” Jennison stated and waving a hand toward some of his men, barked, “and, strike this place that has bred such a nest of vipers.”
“No!” Jefferson hollered, barreling forward, a rifle, hitting him across the head and shoulders, crushing him to his knees.
“Jefferson?” Abigail called, rushing for her son, but a raider held her back. “Let me go! Jefferson!?”
Wrapping an arm about his brother, Lucian assisted him to his feet. But, with a fumbled, lurch Jefferson pulled free, glaring into Jennison’s grinning face, “Now. . . now, refrain yourself Mr. Huebert or, I fear, much worse may happen.” His hooded eyes slanted toward Abigail and her daughters being lead away.
Their cheeks vivid red and eyes glossy hard, the brother’s watched torches set to their home.
Jennison’s men set to leave, their prisoners in tow, and with tears dripping from her chin, Abigail wailed. “Do not take my sons.”
Not one of the intruders answered her.
Lucian called back, “We will find ya soon as we can, Ma.”
Standing stock still, along the dirt edge of her front lawn, with the heat of the fire washing over her, Abigail watched them. Four more of the men rode upon horses, which they had stolen from her stable. Sweat ran freely from her, she remained, watching their fading forms, clutching tight to her girls, and listening until the crackling of the flames was all that remained.
After hours of walking, Jennison held his horse back until the prisoners caught up. “I want the names of men from this County who own slaves and those who have prevented negros from taking their freedom.”
The five prisoners grouped tight together, firm and silent.
A bald, short man from Jennison’s troop stepped forward, “we can squeeze the lot of you in a fence corner, it’ll be a touch painful, so I deem you’ll give over what Doc wants easy enough.”
Intimidated, tired, and scared, Morgan blurted out, “Octavius Barnett, Newman Johnson, Harold Baker, Antonio Crowe, and Samual Davis.”
The others edged from Morgan, disgusted how easily he gave up good men, whom they all knew from church socials and County events.
Taking a breath, Jefferson stepped forward, “There ya been given names. And, still ain’t a one of us who own a negro, or have returned one to slavery. If ’n ya are good Christian men, ya claim, then it would behoove y’all to allow us to return to our families.”
“Ah, Sonny,” a grizzled, bearded man said, jabbing Jefferson with the business end of his rifle. “You are still in the wrong, for each of you has ridden alongside vile men.”
Jefferson’s blue eyes looked at the armed men, his tongue tracing across his lower lip, “I do not understand, how can y’all condemn a man for havin’ joined others in protectin’ his home and theirs from thievery and destruction?”
Jennison coughed and said, “I have decided to liberate. . .” He pointed at Kennedy and Pritcher, “as you have each proved your merit and been helpful to our cause. You shall return home and stay put. If I hear of you stirring up problems, which I find unamenable, you shall be put down and I do mean into the grave.”
Jim Pritcher and Kennedy Morgan’s shoulders slumped, exhausted from the stress and pain of imprisonment, but shamefully relieved that they should be released.
Jennison turned his eyes to Lucian, studying him for a time, before saying, “I shall also let loose the boy. You see, Mr. Huebert, we are not butcherous monsters who would kill a babe.” And, pointing to the road beyond, he stated “you three take your leave.”
Lucian moved to stand shoulder to shoulder with Jefferson, “I will not leave, my brother.”
“Have it your own way.” Jennison replied, turning his horse to ride to the front of his men.
Snagging Lucian in a hug, Jefferson mumbled into his neck. “Ya must go. I love ya and want ya to take what is being given.”
“I will not leave ya.”
“Ma and the girls… they need ya.” Jefferson held Lucian tighter, “I will be along, when I can.”
“Ya believe that?” Lucian asked, pulling back to look his brother in the face.
“I do.” Jefferson said, roughing up Lucian’s thick curly hair, just as he had done to him since they were both young. “Now, go on.”
Lucian’s eyes strayed to the men who had hounded and brutalized them. “Jefferson, I think ya ought to come along with us.”
“That ain’t my choice.” Jefferson looked to the ground, inhaling deeply, “ya go now.”
Doc Jennison and his men moved on west with Martin Cave and Jefferson Huebert as their pilots, finally in the deepest hours of the night, they settled down in a pasture to rest.
At dawn, Jefferson and Martin’s boots were kicked. They sat up, rubbing the sleep from their eyes.
“Did you sleep well?” Jennison asked, his shadow pooling around him in the pale light.
Jefferson sighed heavily; the sky above was pearly pink and the breeze blowing in his face held a promise of rain.
Cave said, “Not so well as I would have in my own bed.”
With a hoarse chuckle, Jennison replied, “suppose not.” He pulled out cigarette makings, “either of you like one?”
Both shook their heads.
“I have made my decision. See, the others never admitted riding with men who oppose our beliefs, yet you two did. For this, I have determined, your penalty shall be death by hanging.” Having made his pronouncement, Jennison handed Jefferson some paper and a stub of a pencil, “I shall give you five minutes to write your farewells and make your peace with the Lord.”
The shock of his words having sunk in, Martin Cave leapt to his feet, “why you bastard.”
“Calling me names, will not change your situation Mr. Cave, but if you persist it will lose you the opportunity, I have offered for farewells and peace.”
Sitting atop his horse that had been stolen from their barn the night before, with the rough hemp rope snugged around his neck; Jefferson stared at the horizon. From the corner of his eye, he could see the slight movement of Martin Cave’s body and hear him gagging. Wanting to scream, he swallowed hard, keeping his eyes focused on the brilliant colors painting the sky.
Then his horse was being led forward, his body edging from the saddle, his right leg caught up on the cantle, then drug across the sorrel’s rump, and he was falling.
His fall stopped with a sharp drop.
But, the drop was not sharp enough. Jefferson Huebert twisted in the misty breeze, painfully, gradually, strangling to death.
Once certain he was dead, Jennison rode close and stuffed in Jefferson Huebert’s pocket, the paper the man had inscribed his farewells upon earlier. Except while waiting for him to die, Doc Jennison had added text to the bottom of the page.
These men were executed, by God ordered men of Kansas, who believe in the freedom of all men, they were condemned to hell by riding with slave owners and by association, being their helpmates. August 2, 1859
Post Script: all who break the rules we live by shall be put down just as thoroughly.