The Trouble at Hickory Point, Part Two

George Douglas Brewerton

George Douglas Brewerton

We left Franklin Coleman disputing his rights to a patch of timber-rich land at Hickory Point, on the Santa Fe trail. He jumped the claim of an absentee Indianan named Frasier, quite in keeping with what others in the same area had done with the approval of the community. This approval, notably, did not depend on one’s opposing slavery. Coleman did not, but he did his claim jumping with a Free State partner, John M. Banks. All might have gone well, save that the claim Coleman and Banks jumped no longer belonged to Frasier. He sold out to Jacob Branson, who Alice Nichols names a leader of the local Kansas Legion.

Here I must briefly digress. Nichols introduces Branson in Bleeding Kansas as commanding the Legion in the area. However, Coleman dates his first confrontation with Branson to November of 1854, prior to the Legion’s founding. While Branson might very well have had the esteem of his antislavery neighbors well before that date, we should not understand him initially as a man in charge of a paramilitary company.

Less than a month after Coleman and Banks set up on their claim, Branson arrived there. Coleman told Branson about his squatting and Branson informed Coleman that he had the claim from Frasier for fifty dollars. He meant to have the land. Coleman offered to put the matter before the neighborhood for arbitration, following the precedent of past disputes in the area. Branson refused, affirming instead, per Coleman’s testimony in Brewerton’s War in Kansas 

that if the laws took a man’s claim away he would defend himself and have his claim, or ‘die right where he was.’

Coleman suggested they had nothing more to discuss then and let the matter sit. Branson did not. He came up the next day to Coleman’s house with a wagon of belongings, another free state man, and found Coleman absent. Branson found two free state men present, Coleman’s partner Banks and a fellow named Graves. He may also have found Coleman’s wife and child, as Coleman names Banks and Graves “the only men” present rather than the only people.

However many people present,

Branson and his companion tried to force his property into my dwelling. Banks requested them to let their goods stand until they could send for me; he did so, and I came immediately.

Who would have gone to fetch Coleman? I doubt either party would risk having numbers against them at the moment. Coleman doesn’t name anyone in particular, which one would expect if some neighbor had come and gone to do the favor. It seems likely either his wife or son retrieved him. Coleman came home to find Branson and Farley within. He

reminded Branson that he had said that ‘he would have my claim or die upon it.’ I then drew a single-barrelled [sic] pistol from under the head of the bed and told him that I should defend myself, and if he was determined to settle the matter in that way, I was prepared to do so.

I don’t know the specifics of Coleman’s cabin, but I can’t imagine an especially spacious one for a brand new settler. A single room with five adults and a child in it seems like a terrible place to have a gunfight for everyone except the local undertaker. The participants noticed the difficulty and remembered, protests aside, their own aversion to gunshot wounds. Farley tried his hand at mediation.

During this conversation, Branson kept his hand upon an ‘Allen’s revolver’ which he had with him in his pocket, but made no motion to draw the weapon, nor did I threaten him with my pistol, further than to exhibit it as a proof of my intention to protect myself.

In this relaxing environment, Branson and Coleman finally agreed to arbitration.

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