Tabor, Fremont County, Iowa, Aug. 13, 1857.
Much as I love to communicate with you, it is still a great burden for me to write when I have nothing of interest to say, and when there is something to be active about. Since I left New England I have had a good deal of ill-health; and having in good measure exhausted my available means toward purchasing such supplies as I should certainly need if again called into active service, and without which I could accomplish next to nothing, I had to begin my journey back with not more than half money at any time to bear my expenses through and pay my freights. This being the case, I was obliged to stop at different points on the way, and to go to others off the route to solicit help. At most places I raised a little; but it consumed my time, and my unavoidable expenses so nearly kept pace with my incomes that I found it exceedingly discouraging. With the help of Gerrit Smith, who supplied me with sixty dollars at Peterboro', and two hundred and fifty dollars at Chicago, and other smaller amounts from others, I was able to pay freights and other expenses to this place; hiring a man to drive one team, and driving another myself; and had about twenty-five dollars on hand, with about one hundred dollars' worth of provisions, when I reached here. Among all the good friends who had promised to go with me, not one could I get to stick by me and assist me on my way through. I have picked up, at different times on the way, considerable value in articles (indispensable in active service) which were scattered on the way, and had been provided either by or for the National Committee. On reaching here I found one hundred and ten dollars, sent me by Mr. Whitman, from sale of articles in Kansas, sent there by the National Committee. This is all the money I have got from them on their appropriation at New York. On the road one of my horses hurt himself so badly that I lost about ten days in consequence, not being in condition to go on without him, or to buy or to hire another. I find the arms and ammunition voted me by the Massachusetts State Committee nearly all here, and in middling good order, — some a little rusted. Have overhauled and cleaned up the worst of them, and am now waiting to know what is best to do next, or for a little escort from Kansas, should I and the supplies be needed. I am now at last within a kind of hailing distance of our Free-State friends in Kansas.
On the way from Iowa City I and my third son (the hired man I mentioned), in order to make the little funds we had reach as far as possible, and to avoid notice, lived exclusively on herring, soda crackers, and sweetened water for more than three weeks (sleeping every night in our wagons), except that twice we got a little milk, and a few times some boiled eggs. Early in the season, in consequence of the poor encouragement I met with, and of their own losses and sufferings, my sons declined to return; and my wife wrote me as follows: “The boys have all determined both to practise and learn war no more.” This I said nothing about, lest it should prevent my getting any further supplies. After leaving New England I could not get the scratch of a pen to tell whether anything had been deposited at Hartford, from New Haven and other places, for me or not; until, since I came here, a line comes from Mr. Callender, dated 24th July, saying nothing has been deposited, in answer to one I had written June 22, in which he further says he has answered all my letters. The parting with my wife and young uneducated children, without income, supplies of clothing, provisions, or even a comfortable house to live in, or money to provide such things, with at least a fair chance that it was to be a last and final separation, had lain heavily on me, and was about as much a matter of self-sacrifice and self-devotion on the part of my wife as on my own, and about as much her act as my own. When Mr. Lawrence, of his own accord, proposed relieving me on that score, it greatly eased a burdened spirit; but I did not rely upon it absolutely, nor make any certain bargain on the strength of it, until after being positively assured by Mr. Stearns, in writing, that it should, and by yourself that it would, certainly be done.
It was the poor condition of my noble-hearted wife and of her young children that made me follow up that encouragement with a tenacity that disgusted him and completely exhausted his patience. But after such repeated assurances from friends I so much respected that I could not suspect they would trifle with my feelings, I made a positive bargain for the farm; and when I found nothing for me at Peterboro', I borrowed one hundred and ten dollars of Mr. Smith for the men who occupied the farm, telling him it would certainly be refunded, and the others that they would get all their money very soon, and even before I left the country. This has brought me only extreme mortification and depression of feeling; for all my letters from home, up to the last, say not a dime has been paid in to Mr. Smith. Friends who never know the lack of a sumptuous dinner little comprehend the value of such trifling matters to persons circumstanced as I am. But, my noble-hearted friend, I am “though faint, yet pursuing.” My health has been much better of late. I believe my anxiety and discouragements had something to do with repeated returns of fever and ague I have had, as it tended to deprive me of sleep and to debilitate me. I intend this letter as a kind of report of my progress and success, as much for your committee or my friend Stearns as yourself. I have been joined by a friend since I got here, and get no discouraging news from Kansas.
SOURCE: Franklin B. Sanborn, The Life and Letters of John Brown, p. 412-4