Saturday, December 20, 2014

Cars mark bloody crossing

By KATE SHELTON, Herald Staff Writer | 8/15/2014

LANE — Mark this one off the list of weird things found in a creek.

On the southern bank of Pottawatomie Creek, just east of the Kansas Avenue bridge and north of Lane, sits about 20 cars parked closely — and in some case, on top of one another — rusting away. Some are barely recognizable as vehicles.

LANE — Mark this one off the list of weird things found in a creek.

On the southern bank of Pottawatomie Creek, just east of the Kansas Avenue bridge and north of Lane, sits about 20 cars parked closely — and in some case, on top of one another — rusting away. Some are barely recognizable as vehicles.

Nestled in the summer overgrowth and surrounded by trees, the corroded cars look to be from the early to mid-20th century. Some are mangled and in pieces while others remain mostly whole — though hardly in pristine condition. The creek bed below is littered with car parts washed away by rainfall and high water.

At this bend, the creek isn’t too deep because of the summer drought, but it’s wide with steep banks and ravines surrounding the area. Where the cars rest, however, the bank shallows out, for a more gradual slope.

The cars on the bank of the Pottawatomie Creek mark Dutch Henry’s Crossing, a 19th-century ford used to cross the water. The ford was on California Road, which connected Fort Scott, Lane and Ottawa, before finally meeting the Santa Fe Trail near Palmyra (present day Baldwin City), according to

“A river ford requires two conditions¬≠: a rock creek bottom so it is solid under the wheels of vehicles and horses, and gently sloped sides, so that said vehicles can get up them without too much effort,” Deb Barker, Franklin County Historical Society director, said.

The cars were put in by the railroad to prevent the banks from further erosion, Lee Arnett, Lane resident, said. They are held by cables and have survived floods that hit the region.

“It’s a good indicator [the cars] are here to stay,” Arnett said.

Dutch Henry’s Crossing is named after Henry Sherman, a founder of Shermanville (present day Lane), and played a special role in the county and country’s lore. One of the most well-known figures in Kansas history, John Brown, a radical abolitionist, regularly used the ford. Brown’s company camped about a mile above the crossing the night before the Pottawatomie Massacre, a pre-Civil War execution of five pro-slavery men, according to James Townsley, a witness to and participant in the killings. William Sherman, Henry Sherman’s brother, was among those to die in the massacre.


On May 21, 1856, Lawrence, was sacked by pro-slavery forces. As the Pottawatomie Rifle Company, led by Brown’s son, traveled to Lawrence to help the Free State cause, they learned the sacking ended. They turned around near Palmyra, according to Townsley. Brown approached Townsley and said there would be trouble on the Pottawatomie and asked him to point out where pro-slavery men lived. Townsley said he refused, but Brown forced him to reveal the location.

The band of men — which included Brown, his son-in-law, four of his sons, Townsley and Theodore Weiner — traveled in Townsley’s wagon with Weiner accompanying on horseback, Townsley said.


Three days later, May 24, the killing began.

The men traveled north from the Pottawatomie to the first occupied cabin they reached, the Doyle cabin, where James Doyle and his two eldest sons, William and Drury, were dragged from their home, Townsley said. Brown shot James Doyle in the head while the two youngest of Brown’s sons killed William and Drury Doyle with swords. Drury had attempted to flee, but was pursued and struck.

According to the affidavit of James Doyle’s wife, Mahala Doyle, men entered their home claiming to be the northern army and ordering a surrender. Initially, Brown directed all the sons outside, but Mahala Doyle begged that her youngest be spared. Brown agreed, though the others were drug outside to their deaths

“ ... I heard the report of pistols. I heard two reports, after which I heard moaning, as if a person was dying,” Mahala Doyle said in her affidavit.

The next morning, she went in search of her husband and eldest son, William, and found them about 200 yards from the home. The affidavit of her living son, John Doyle, was nearly identical. He found his father and brother about 200 yards from the home in the road. His other brother, Drury, was found about 150 yards away from the home in the grass near a ravine.

“His fingers were cut off; and his arms were cut off; his head was cut open; there was a hole in his breast. William’s head was cut open, and a hole in his jaw, as though it was made by a knife, and a hole was also in his side,” John Doyle said in his affidavit. “My father was shot in the forehead and stabbed in the breast.”

Doyle said that an old man with a dark complexion and a slim face had been in charge of the company, and that about eight men were involved. He also said he thought the attackers were northern men because of their accents.


After the Doyle killings, Brown’s company proceeded south along Mosquito Creek to Allen Wilkinson’s cabin. Wilkinson was the postmaster of Shermanville, a member of the Kansas Territorial Legislature, and a part-time member of the territory’s judicial branch, according to the Kansas Historical Society. Wilkinson was marched out of his cabin some distance and slain in the road by one of the younger Brown sons. His body was dragged to the side of the road and left, Townsley said.

According to the affidavit of Wilkinson’s wife, Louisa Jane Wilkinson, the house was awakened when the dogs began to bark violently. Brown’s company knocked and asked for directions to Dutch Henry’s Crossing.

“One of them said ‘You are our prisoner. Do you surrender?’ [Allen Wilkinson] said ‘Gentlemen, I do,’” Louisa Wilkinson said in her affidavit.

Four men then entered the Wilkinson cabin and the wife begged to let Allen Wilkinson stay because she was sick with the measles and had no one to help her.

“The old man, who seemed to be in command, looked at me and then around at the children, and replied ‘You have neighbors,’” Wilkinson said in her affidavit.

Allen Wilkinson was found in the morning about 150 yards away from the cabin in a pile of dead brush with a gash in his head and side. His throat was cut twice.

Louisa Wilkinson identified one of the men as Brown’s son, but said she did not know Brown.

“The old man, who seemed to be commander, wore soiled clothes and a straw hat, pulled down over his face,” Wilkinson said. “He spoke quick, is a tall, narrow-faced, elderly man.”


After Wilkinson was killed, the company traveled south to the home of James Harris in Shermanville. One or two people were marched outside and questioned and then brought back inside, Townsley said. William Sherman was marched to Pottawatomie Creek, near Dutch Henry’s Crossing, and slain by the two youngest Brown sons. His body was left.

According to the affidavit of James Harris, the cabin’s occupants were awoken by a company of men claiming to be the northern army. Harris recognized Brown and his son, Owen. Three men, including William Sherman, were staying with Harris that night. Harris and the other men were escorted outside individually. When Harris was questioned by Brown, he was asked if he had pro-slavery ties and for Henry Sherman’s whereabouts. Harris said Sherman was out on the plains searching for lost cattle. Brown allowed Harris back inside, but ordered William Sherman out.

“I heard nothing more for about 15 minutes. Two of the northern army, as they styled themselves, stayed in with us until we heard a cap burst; and then these two men left,” Harris said in his affidavit.

In the morning, Harris found William Sherman in the creek near Dutch Henry’s Crossing.

“Sherman’s skull was split open in two places and some of his brains was washed out by the water,” Harris said. “A large hole was cut in his breast, and his left hand was cut off except a little piece of skin on one side. We buried him.”


The bank of Pottawatomie Creek today looks more like a junkyard than the site of a Civil War-era killing.

But more than 150 years ago, that spot, Dutch Henry’s crossing, was a lifeline across the water. It aided early Kansas settlers in moving from town to town and played a part in events leading up to a war that pitted neighbors against one another. It remained a vital crossing until roads and bridges were expanded in the area, according to historians.

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