Already famous for his role in the Osawatomie, Kansas massacre in 1856, Brown resumed his residency in Kansas in 1858 while Eastern supporters planned the Harpers Ferry raid. On December 20, from his camp near present day Fulton, Kansas, Brown and his band – many of the same men who were captured at Harpers Ferry – crossed into Missouri and attacked two homesteads in the extreme northwest corner of Vernon County, and murdered slaveholder David Cruise. Eleven slaves were liberated from the Cruise farm and the nearby farm of the Lawrence family.
Brown accompanied the freed Missouri slaves on a 3 month journey on the Underground Railroad route through Nebraska and Iowa, and by train to Chicago and Detroit, where his charges were ferried to Canada. The entire affair was a media event, and no doubt designed to be.
Brown’s Vernon County raid was the “dry run” for Harpers Ferry, which Brown himself confirmed when he opened his statement upon receiving a sentence of death:
“I have, may it please the court, a few words to say.
In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted – the design on my part to free the slaves. I intended, certainly, to have made a clean thing of that matter, as I did last winter, when I went into Missouri and there took slaves without the snapping of a gun on either side, moved them through the country, and finally left them in Canada. I designed to have done the same thing again, on a larger scale. That was all I intended. I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection.”
Neither the facts stated in reference to the Missouri raid, nor Brown’s intentions, were accurate.