The Hunt for Jacob Branson, Part Four

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Trouble at Hickory Point: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

The Hunt for Franklin Coleman: part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

The Hunt for Jacob Branson: parts 1, 2, 3

Sheriff Samuel Jones and his posse relented and let Jacob Branson put on some pants, and a coat, before hauling taking him away. The posse left Branson’s claim on horseback, but it seems they only had a mule for their charge. He testifies that previous to him, Franklin Coleman rode the animal.

Then the posse went to Harrison Buckley’s house. Buckley’s deposition doesn’t shed any light on this, but presumably he asked for a side trip to check on his claim. Given his land and Branson’s both abutted Coleman’s, they wouldn’t have had to go far out of their way. According to Branson:

Buckley, and I think one or two others, then got off and went into the house, and got a bridle, and caught another horse. There were several trunks set outside the house; some of them were open; Buckley pushed one back into the house and said that the damned Yankees, or abolitionists, I do not recollect which, had been robbing his house, and that was the way he had found it when he got home.

Whoever fired Buckley’s home didn’t commit the arson until near dawn.

Buckley mounted up on his own horse and the posse rode to the home of a Mr. Freeland. Two remained outside to guard Branson, while the rest went in.

They remained in there for some time, I think from half an hour to an hour. They brought some liquor out to the other men in a jug, and gave me some. I was almost frozen-very much chilled, as it was a clear cold night.

Good thing they let Branson put some pants on. Pants or otherwise, he got to stew outside while the posse had their drinking session. Sufficiently lubricated, the posse continued along. They came up to Blanton’s bridge. It appears that only then did Jones make his business, aside the fact that he put Branson under arrest, known to his prisoner:

Sheriff Jones, who called himself the high sheriff of this county-the one that first presented the pistol to me in my house and called me his prisoner-claimed to be the leader of the company. He never showed me his warrant, and did not tell me for what I was arrested, until a short time before I was rescued. He then rode up to where I was, and I asked him what great criminal act I had been doing, that he brought so many men to take me?

Given Branson couldn’t Google Jones and get a look at his picture or see him on television, I can believe that he didn’t know the man on sight. He says as much later in his testimony. But could he really have gone this long in doubt of just why a bunch of proslavery men came to arrest him? Possibly. It’s obvious to us that the Coleman-Dow affair led to all of this, but from Branson’s perspective, Jones could just as likely have come simply because Branson served in the Kansas Legion. Jones explained that he had a peace warrant against Branson, which naturally led to the next question:

I then said, it took a great many men to come after an old man like me. He said, “these men that came along with me we expected would have a little fun; we heard that there were about a hundred men at your house to-day, and we hoped to find them there to-night, as we wanted to have some sport with them;” and said he regretted they were not there, and that they were cheated out of their sport.

Jones likely would not have relished the odds of about a dozen vs. a hundred, and Branson has every reason to paint him in the worst light, but this sounds to me like fairly ordinary frontiersman bluster. The sheriff certainly assembled his posse with the expectation of trouble and he and his deputies probably did hope for a little action, if not to take on an enemy that outnumbered them ten to one.



The Hunt for Jacob Branson, Part Three

Hugh Cameron

Hugh Cameron

Trouble at Hickory Point: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

The Hunt for Franklin Coleman: part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

The Hunt for Jacob Branson: parts 1, 2

Sheriff Samuel Jones set out in the evening of November 26, 1855, to arrest Jacob Branson for the threats he’d made on Harrison Buckley’s life. He went armed with a warrant from justice of the peace Hugh Cameron and a posse to help execute it. That posse included Buckley and Josiah Hargis, both of whom the free state mob had threatened. Alice Nichols speculates that they saw the light of their burning homes in the distance, bright fruits of free state wrath. The precise timeline remains murky to me, but they must have passed quite near. Hargis lived on a claim directly adjoining Coleman’s, just as Jacob Branson did. William McKinney puts the burning of Buckley’s home around dawn on the 27th, which would make it after the posse came and went, but McKinney also testified that Franklin Coleman’s home burned on the night of the 26th. The posse could very well have seen that.

The posse rode through the night, coming to Branson’s cabin around two or three in the morning. None of the three men told what happened when they met Branson in their depositions, but Branson had plenty to say about it to the Howard Committee. He finished up his day with a meeting at the site of Dow’s murder where he and other free state men questioned witnesses, then went home and retired around seven.

My wife woke me up. I do not know how long I had been asleep, but thought it was but a short time. I found that a good many persons were coming towards my house, and by the time I was fairly awake I heard a rap at the door. I asked who was there? and the answer was, “Friends.” Before I could tell them to come in, the door was burst open, and the room was filled with persons. I had got out, and was sitting on the side of the bed, with nothing on but my shirt.

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Presumably Branson means a nightshirt. Hopefully a long one. One of the “friends” who called so kindly

asked me if my name was Branson, and I said it was. He then drew his pistol, cocked it, and presented it to my breast and said, “You are my prisoner, and if you move I will blow through you. Don’t you move.”

Samuel Jones had gone the better part of a year without aiming a gun at a free state man and threatening to kill him. He must have thought it about time he got a second turn. Branson proceeded to resist arrest by the most devilish stratagem:

I went to stoop to get my pants, and he stopped me two or three times, saying, “Don’t you move, or I will blow through you.” I heard others cock their guns, and I saw them present them to me all around me, except at the back of my bed, where they could not get.

We should not automatically take Branson at his word about this whole affair, but Jones did essentially the same thing at Bloomington back in March. It seems entirely in character for him to repeat the performance. Eventually, however, Jones and his posse relented. I imagine they didn’t entirely relish the thought of having Branson riding painfully or walking draftily around in the November night in a state of dishabille.

The Hunt for Jacob Branson, Part Two

Hugh Cameron

Hugh Cameron

Trouble at Hickory Point: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

The Hunt for Franklin Coleman: part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Assume for a moment that you don’t know all the details of Franklin Coleman’s claim disputes with Jacob Branson and Charles Dow. Few in Kansas did, unless they lived in the Hickory Point area. But by late November of 1855, everybody knows that the free state men have a secret military order. Everybody also knows that the slavery question has turned Kansas territory in increasingly violent directions. A proslavery man straight-out killed a free state man only a month ago, in a dispute arising directly from their difference on slavery. The authoritarian territorial government and frequent election stealing, coupled with threats against the governor who tried to curb the latter, had driven many Kansans previously moderate on slavery over into the free soil camp. With proslavery men apparently running wild with official sanction, paramilitary organization clearly sounded downright prudent to some Kansans. Then another proslavery man kills another antislavery man.

Jacob Branson might have done some work to raise the mob hunting for Franklin Coleman, but he probably didn’t need to rely entirely on personal ties or his position as an officer in the Kansas Legion to get men to come and mob with him. Things in the territory had clearly gone out of control and proslavery men seemed entirely out of control. For Coleman to kill Dow just made him the next installment in a growing series of horrors. When Coleman, Buckley, and Hargis ran, it served to both prove their guilt and offered a welcome outcome, even if they’d have preferred to seize the guilty parties and do horrible things to them.

But Coleman didn’t go away, never to return. Instead, he went to sheriff Samuel Jones. Buckley swore to justice of the peace Hugh Cameron that Branson had made mortal threats against him, so the judge gave Douglas County’s favorite proslavery zealot a warrant for Branson’s arrest. Somehow, the murder of a free soil Kansan by a proslavery Kansan had turned into an excuse to hunt down a local free soil leader. Jones wasted no time getting together a posse to come serve that warrant and collect Branson.

William Phillips

William Phillips

William Phillips claims that Jones engaged in some chicanery to get his warrant:

The manner in which they had to proceed about this showed the character of the whole affair. Jones had got a commission for a justice of the peace all filled but the name; and found a man named Cameron, a recreant free-state man, of low repute, who, vain man, for the title “justice of the peace” was willing to sell what little had had of principle.

So per Phillips, and here he probably speaks for many antislavery onlookers, Jones manufactured a justice of the peace. Presumably he would have gotten that commission from Wilson Shannon, with the name handily blank, and went off to find someone who would sign it. This makes for a nice story, but seems very far-fetched. It sounds much more like a rehearsal of standard Whig complaints about Democratic patronage practices. Furthermore, Phillips has demonstrated familiarity with more facts than he admits to in his account previously. He quoted part of Coleman’s statement, but went on to insist that Dow and Coleman had no prior difficulties without acknowledging the contradiction even to cast aspersions on Coleman’s character. This seems like the kind of thing where Phillips would uncritically believe and report popular rumors.

I looked into the date of Cameron’s commission today, but except for an aging webpage that fails to cite any sources I haven’t found any details. A commission dated to late November of 1855 would make Phillips’ supposition entirely credible. I did, however, find a picture of Cameron. However he came about the justice of the peace commission, he honestly earned the title of Most Impressive Beard in Kansas.

Phillips continues:

Before this patent justice Buckley came; and, swearing he was afraid of his life for threats made by Jacob Branson, this Esquire Cameron issued a peace-warrant for the arrest of said Branson, doing so at the same time he received his commission from Jones. The next thing was to secure a posse. Coleman, it was decided, should not go; but he was unloading the pistols and guns, and making other preparations for the expedition. Before long a party of fifteen men, including Jones, Hargus, and Buckley, were ready for the expedition.

Coleman doesn’t say he went with Jones and it would make sense for him to stay behind. The others set out to make the arrest.


The Hunt for Jacob Branson, Part One

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Trouble at Hickory Point: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

The Hunt for Franklin Coleman: part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

We left off at Hickory Point with John Banks returned home to find a mob still hunting Coleman. They had come together where the latter show free state man Charles Dow, who then lived with Kansas Legion officer Jacob Branson. The mob drew up some resolutions, for which I have searched in vain. However, one can get a sense of free state feeling on the matter from the Herald of Freedom. George Washington Brown printed the same item reporting Dow’s murder in three consecutive issues, under the heading “Murder Most Foul.”

Our town was thrown into a high state of excitement on Thursday last by intelligence from near Hickory Point, in this Territory, that Chas. W. Dow, a young man about twenty-two years of age, was most barbarously murdered by a party of demons who rejoice in the appellation of “border ruffians.” Mr. Dow had been to a blacksmith shop where several of these demons incarnate were congregated. One of them drew a rifle on him, and threatened to shoot him on the spot, but finally set down his weapon without injuring any one. Mr. Dow started to leave, and got a few rods when his attention was directed towards the shop by the explosion of a percussion cap. Looking around he received a charge of buck shot in his bosom from a wretch named Colman, [sic] and fell dead upon the spot.

The business at the blacksmith shop seems to refer to a confrontation between Dow and Harrison Buckley, who many free state men initially thought had show Dow. Brown further pledged

The people will assemble on Monday, and execute summary punishment upon the entire party who were present, and accessories to the murder, if they can be found. We wait with anxiety for further developments.

By this point, however, Coleman, Buckley, and Hargis traveled Kansas with Sheriff Samuel Jones. They went in search of a magistrate, at Governor Wilson Shannon’s instructions, and found Hugh Cameron at Lecompton, the seat of Douglas County. I before speculated that the party saw Shannon twice, but can now confirm them. It slipped my mind that Coleman’s testimony to the Howard Committee mentions separate meetings.

At Lecompton, Buckley swore an affidavit to Cameron regarding the threats to his life that Branson had made. According to Jones’ later affidavit, reprinted in Brewerton:

on the 26th day of November, A.D. 1855, he received from the hands of Hugh Cameron, a legally appointed justice of the peace for said County of Douglass, a peace-warrant issued by said justice of the peace, and to him directed as sheriff, […] and immediately after receiving said warrant he summoned a posse of ten men and proceeded to the house of said Branson

Jones’ posse included Buckley and Hargis, but it appears that Coleman remained in Lecompton. The hunt for Franklin Coleman thus gave way to a hunt for Jacob Branson.

Two Books on Nullification

Gentle Readers, you may have guessed from the recent run of Modern Mondays that I’ve gone off on a bit of a nullification kick. Sectional strife did not just erupt full-formed over the annexation of Texas or the Wilmot Proviso, but rather had a pedigree extending considerably farther back. At a certain point, one arrives at crises resolved in ways that don’t seem to have pushed the nation closer to war, but which rather subsided into a more latent kind of sectionalism. For example, prior to 1854 southern radicals could complain about the Missouri Compromise but few expected it overturned. The serious controversy over Missouri’s admission to the Union with slavery intact had its lingering echoes. It did not help the white Americans of the two sections learn to love one another better. But neither did it inaugurate an era of continuing and intensifying tension over slavery. Somewhere between the last crisis where we see tensions largely subside and the first where we see them continue, we draw a line and declare the Civil War era commenced.

In doing so, we must remember that the past no more divided itself into discrete blocks than the present. Rather we see trends progress continuously, if not without some acceleration, some slowing down, and reverses. We use periodization to describe, not proscribe. The present trend in these things leans toward pushing the Civil War era further and further back, though not without controversy. Thus we can better tease out the deep roots of the conflict and trace the interdependent evolution of sectional identities that facilitated it. Since South Carolina began the secession movement, twice, the state’s defiance of two tariffs seems like a promising place to look for the war’s deeper roots.

Prelude to the Civil War

Prelude to the Civil War

I began with William W. Freehling’s 1966 book Prelude to the Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina 1816-1836. I knew Freehling’s work from The Road to Disunion, where he covers some of the same ground, and saw regular reference to him even in recent antebellum surveys. For an academic book to remain the standard text for a good fifty years speaks to its quality. I looked for other modern books, but found only Richard Ellis’ The Union At Risk: Jacksonian Democracy, States’ Rights, and the Nullification Crisis. Many other books discuss the controversy, but they generally do so in the course of studying something else. One finds footnotes referencing biographies of the principals, especially Jackson and Calhoun, but so far as relatively recent, dedicated works on the controversy itself Ellis and Freehling have the market cornered.

If you want to know more, which should you read? One generally does better to prefer the more recent publication, though not without exceptions. When it comes to Nullification, the exception proves the rule. If one wants to learn about the Nullification Controversy in detail and thoroughly, one should go first to Freehling. It wouldn’t hurt to read the important chapters once and then give them a thorough skim thereafter to help organize things in your mind. The Freehling of the 1960s has not yet discovered his love for especially convoluted turns of phrase and frequent nicknames, but he still writes careful, dense prose. None of that detracts from his probing inquiry, but it takes some getting used to. His biographical sketches probably tell fairly standard stories of South Carolina political careers often enough that he could have skipped several, but do a good job of fixing the diverse cast of characters in your mind. One comes away knowing who wanted what when, why they changed their minds, what tactics they chose, and informed of the critical whys and wherefores all along. To sum up Freehling’s argument in a sentence: South Carolina’s embrace of radical, novel nullification theories served a tactic to save slavery.

Ellis has almost none of that. He concerns himself almost exclusively with discussions of constitutional theory. He tells you right out that he takes theory seriously and views it as intensely important in its own right, whilst taking a few swipes at historians who inquire as to where the theories come from or why people would find them so compelling. Some of his criticism rings true, but I think overall he goes too far the other way. He deals in abstractions to the point that one wonders just why anybody cared so much. This runs a real risk of turning American history into a collection of white men politely discoursing on abstract matters with cultivated, disinterested manners. I don’t know that Ellis entirely avoided that pitfall.

Ellis’ book speaks far more about Jackson than South Carolina. He lists the Nullification Crisis third in his subtitle and in many ways it feels like an afterthought. He spills at least as much ink on the Bank of the United States and Indian Removal as the crisis. For my money, when Ellis writes about nullification he largely writes around it. He sees criticism of Jackson’s moves to suppress the nullifiers as the most interesting part of the story, rather than the thing itself. To the degree the book concerns nullification at all, Ellis argues that the nullifiers adopted a new and novel theory of states’ rights against older states’ rights theories, but their innovation had popularity elsewhere in the country. Jackson, as an exponent of old school states’ rights, overreached and overreacted in ways that generally undermined his position.

I hope the reader doesn’t take this as too damning of Ellis. His book really has a great deal going for it. He looks at the interplay between the Bank, Indian Removal, and Nullification in ways that Freehling does not. He plumbs distinctions between nullifier theories of states’ rights and more traditional varieties in a way that Freehling only references in passing. Ellis does a very good job of placing the crisis in the broader Jacksonian context. That he didn’t write quite the book I wanted, or that Freehling wrote, doesn’t constitute much of a criticism. Having multiple scholars attack a subject from different angles enriches the field. If you want to build a thoroughgoing understanding of the controversy, you should read his book after you read Freehling.

However, it now falls to me to damn Ellis. The Union at Risk has one critical shortcoming, already alluded to, that one needs to keep in mind. If you go to the index, you will find exactly one entry for slavery, referencing a single section of Ellis’ final chapter. The peculiar institution figures into several subheadings in other entries, but they almost invariably send you straight back to that short section. Most of this section downplays slavery’s significance. Ultimately, Ellis admits that slavery played the driving role in nullification. He quotes Calhoun’s admission of the fact to Virgil Maxcy. Buried in the endnotes, he confesses that he agrees with Freehling that slavery drove Nullification. He identifies the strong correlation between heavily enslaved areas and support for nullification, but then goes off the rails:

there seems to be no question but that the institution of slavery was becoming more widespread and that attitudes toward it began to harden after 1815. But the relationship of this to political developments between 1815 and 1854 is murky.

he Union At Risk

The Union At Risk

One might defend that statement for the early part of the time covered, or excuse it as the product of the 1980s lacuna in slavery historiography, but doing so would require us to neglect quite a bit of work on the later end of Ellis’ “murky” period available to him at the time of writing. I suspect that Ellis struggles here with the fact that through most of The Union at Risk, he remains critical of the nullifiers but broadly sympathetic to Jackson until Jackson declares firmly against them. This seems largely about rescuing Jackson’s traditionalist states’ rights ideas from association with nullification whilst simultaneously not delving into where those ideas also came from. The Old Republicans, especially the set around John Randolph in Virginia, had did not scruple to admit that they saw a too-powerful national government as wrong because it imperiled slavery. Daniel Howe Walker notes as much in What Hath God Wrought:

John Randolph pointed out that a protective tariff was in effect a tax on consumers. “On whom do your impost duties bear?” he demanded. The burden of these taxes on “the necessaries of life” would fall on two classes: “on poor men, and on slaveholders.” 66 Randolph had, as usual, cut to the heart of the matter. (page 83)


The strident John Randolph of Roanoke made this logic public: “If Congress possesses the power to do what is proposed in this bill,” he warned in 1824 while opposing the General Survey for internal improvements, “they may emancipate every slave in the United States.” (pages 221-222)

This points to an ideology rather less innocent of proslavery conviction than Ellis suggests and something much more in tune with John Ashcroft’s rendition of the Democracy as built, from Jefferson, on to at least implicitly shelter and preserve slavery.

Ellis’ distinction between traditionalist states’ rights and nullification theories deserves consideration apart from the connection to slavery, but even granting that we run into problems. He further denies Jackson’s and his supporters’ proslavery bona fides, casting them as latter-day Jeffersonians who viewed slavery as a necessary evil. Given both Jefferson’s own behavior and Jackson’s great enthusiasm for expanding slavery, this just doesn’t withstand scrutiny. More recent scholarship, as incisively explained by Howe, considers slavery and white supremacy a major priority of the Democracy:

One policy that the Democratic Party embraced consistently was white supremacy. The centrality of white supremacy in Democratic policymaking helps explain that party’s hostility toward Clay’s American System. Democratic suspicion of government aid to internal improvements reflected not a horror of the market revolution but a fear that such a program might threaten the institution of slavery. The danger, from the slaveholders’ point of view, was twofold. In the first place, national plans for internal improvements might be designed to wean areas in the Border States or Upper South away from slave-based agriculture toward a diversified economy in which slavery would become vulnerable to gradual emancipation. In the second place, national plans for internal improvements set a precedent for federal activity that might encourage interference with slavery— for example, by exercising the interstate commerce power over the interstate slave trade. Jacksonians welcomed transporting farm products to market, so long as it could be done without the centralized planning that raised the specter of emancipation. (pages 584-585)


This dovetails far better with that backlash against Jackson that Ellis describes than his account of constitutional abstractions isolated almost completely from the factors that drove people to adopt and defend them. More of Ellis’ work seems devoted to preserving “anything but slavery” as a motive than to the slavery he finally confesses to in his endnotes.

This all makes Ellis a contradictory, somewhat confounding read. What he does, he does well. He makes genuinely important points in the course of doing it. But when called upon the probe the reasons of historical actors, rather than just their reasoning, he leaves the history almost completely undone. You will gain from reading him, but reading him alone would leave one with a gravely incomplete understanding of the Nullification Controversy.

NB: My page numbers come from the Kindle edition of What Hath God Wrought, a book good enough to make an argument for ebooks even independent of the sufficient peril it threatens to wayward house pets, exposed toes, and small children. I’ll even forgive it the eyestrain headaches caused by reading hundreds of pages in at a time.

The Hunt for Franklin Coleman, Part Seven

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Trouble at Hickory Point: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

The Hunt for Franklin Coleman: part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

John Banks came home to Hickory Point and found the local free state men up in a mob, still looking for Franklin Coleman. They burned his house, as well as Harrison Buckley’s, not long after seeing him. The same day, the local free state men came together in a public meeting at the site of Charles Dow’s death to discuss matters. Nicholas McKinney attended that meeting:

I think there were about 100 persons there, and it was held at the place where the murder was committed; the men standing in a circle around the spot where Dow was found. I do not think any steps had been taken to arrest Coleman at the time of the meeting. I heard he was then down at Shawnee Mission, or in Missouri. He has never, that I have heard of, been arrested since then, and has been at large ever since. I do not recollect much about the resolutions passed at the meeting at Hickory Point; I cannot identify them.

I don’t know just how many people lived in and around Hickory Point at the time, but a hundred seems very high. Given Banks reports people coming back from there to Lawrence, it seems likely that the crowd came from more than just the immediate environs. Maybe Jacob Branson put out a call for his Kansas Legion associates. The organization existed to protect free soil men from proslavery men, so it would make perfect sense for him to do so given Coleman and Dow’s respective politics, as well as his personal friendship with Dow and enmity with Coleman.

O.N. Merrill has an account of the meeting in his True History of the Kansas Wars and had the resolutions passed at the meeting available to him, but declined to include the lot. He does, however, see fit to include the customary statement of causes:

Charles D. Dow, a citizen of this place, was murdered on Wednesday afternoon last; and whereas, evidence by admission and otherwise, fastens the guilt of said murder on one F.M. Coleman; and whereas, facts further indicate that other parties, namely; Buckley, Hargis, Wagoner, Reynolds, Moody and others, were implicated in said murder; and whereas, facts further indicate that said individuals and parties are combining for the purpose of harassing, and even murdering unoffending citizens; and whereas, we are now destitute of law, even for the punishment of crime, in this territory, and whereas said individuals have fled to Missouri

I don’t recall reference to any Reynolds before. Wagoner and Moody did no more than see what happened, but it sounds like they fled the area. One can’t blame them with a mob out hunting for Coleman any more than one can blame Hargis and Buckley for getting clear while they could. But it had to make them look guilty to the mob. Why flee unless they had reason to? Few mobs will admit to their own role in deciding such things, though that doesn’t render their concern entirely insincere. Given how things have gone in Kansas to date, and the fact that proslavery men had organized against them often enough, the leap from frightened people seeking safety to guilty co-conspirators withdrawing to fight another day seems small enough. Had they known that Coleman now traveled in the company of Samuel Jones, that would probably have silenced any doubts that remained.


The Hunt for Franklin Coleman, Part Six

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Trouble at Hickory Point: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

The Hunt for Franklin Coleman: part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

John Banks caught up with Franklin Coleman, Josiah Hargis, Harrison Buckley, and Sheriff Samuel Jones near to Bull Creek. He told them that the crowd at Hickory Point would love to see Coleman again. They would love it so much that Coleman might not survive their ballistic affection. This likely unsettled Jones and his charges. They turned back with Banks for Shawnee Mission, met with Wilson Shannon, and got his advice to go to Lecompton. There they could swear affidavits and get a peace warrant against Jacob Branson, Kansas Legion officer and mob ringleader. So resolved, the five men set out for Lecompton.

The road to Lecompton took one past Lawrence and Banks decided to part company with his companions there. He doesn’t say why, but it seems likely that he felt his duty to Mrs. Coleman fulfilled at that point. A mob looking for Coleman would likely not search out west of Lawrence when everyone knew he went east from the area. A free state man himself, and no party to the Coleman-Dow affair, he probably felt quite safe despite the recent tumult.

In Lawrence, Banks met Carmie Babcock, the census-taker for the area back in March and subsequently postmaster.

Mr. Babcock and I were personally friendly, and he advised me not to go back home, as there were some 200 or 300 men in arms, who had had a meeting there that day to investigate the killing of Dow. I said I did not suppose there was any danger, but he said there might be a good deal. He said the men that had went over there said they were going to kill Coleman and all his friends.

Banks wouldn’t hear it. He set out for Hickory Point, meeting “twenty or thirty” men coming the other way on the road. They all came Banks’ way armed, but didn’t give him any trouble. When Banks reached his home, he soon had visitors:

some ten or twelve men came down by my house, and some of them told me they had been at a meeting at the Point. They were also armed, some with Sharpe’s rifles and some with other guns. These armed men were free-State men. One pro-slavery man by the name of Jones was with this party by my house, but he had no arms.

Banks asked his well-armed guests about the meeting. They told him that they went out to determine how Dow died and hunt down Franklin Coleman. Banks knew just where they could find Coleman: with Sheriff Jones in Lecompton. He also asked if they planned to do anything to the local proslavery men. One denied the rumor that they would burn the lot off their claims.

Coleman’s house was burned that night. I saw the remains of it the next morning. While I was looking at the remains of Coleman’s house, I saw smoke rise in the direction of Buckley’s house, and found out afterwards that Buckley’s house was burned.

Banks caught up with the Jones who had called on him when the mob visited, who confirmed the obvious: the mob had burned the houses down. It seems they then remained active. Banks doesn’t make it entirely clear, but it looks like they continued abroad through the next day. He identified them as free state men, except for Jones, and named Jacob Branson their leader.


The Hunt for Franklin Coleman, Part Five

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Trouble at Hickory Point: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

The Hunt for Franklin Coleman: part 1, 2, 3, 4

We left Franklin Coleman, Josiah Hargis, and Harrison Buckley at Shawnee Mission in search of Wilson Shannon’s protection. They found Douglas County Sheriff Samuel Jones instead. Coleman promptly “delivered himself” to Jones. His murder of Charles Dow happened within Jones’ jurisdiction and he probably couldn’t have missed hearing of Jones proslavery bona fides in the months he’d lived in Kansas. The man who burst into the polling place at Bloomington with gun in hand and told the judges of the election they had five minutes to take anyone who offered to vote or take his bullets would surely not hand Coleman over easily to a free soil mob.

Coleman says little about what happened at Shawnee Mission, but Hargis, Buckley, and then the returned governor fill in some of the blanks. Shannon told Brewerton:

When I returned, Coleman had surrendered himself to the Sheriff of Douglas County (Jones), who happened to be at the mission. Buckley and Hargis stated their grievances to me, and informed me that a man named Branson, of the Free State party, and one of the residents at Hickory Point, with whom Dow (the person killed) had resided, was the leader of the band who had threatened and endeavored to extort false evidence from them.

Shannon told Buckley and Hargis they should swear out affidavits and get a peace bond against Branson. They returned to Douglas County for that, presumably to secure a magistrate with the proper jurisdiction. On the way there, Jones, Buckley, Coleman, and Hargis received

an express from Hickory Point, which had ridden all night, advising Coleman and his two friends not to return to that settlement, as they would certainly be killed by the Free State party.

The governor doesn’t name the express rider, but they must have met John Banks. The latter went out specifically to find and warn Coleman against return and narrates their encounter in his testimony:

I started down, and I started early the next morning, Saturday, down to see Coleman. I met Mr. Coleman about seventeen miles from Hickory Point, returning with Mr. Jones, the sheriff, who had him in custody, as the governor had told them had better go back before a justice of the peace, and have the matter investigated. I told them I thought they had better not go up there then, as there was considerable excitement, and many men were there under arms. Mr. Jones said he did not know what to do, but he thought he could go up there in safety. I told them again, I thought the better plan was not to go there at present, as I had seen some thirty or forty armed men hunting for Coleman.

Jones apparently didn’t like his odds against thirty to forty men under arms, so everyone went back to Shawnee Mission to consult with Governor Shannon again.

Or possibly they had no instructions to go to a justice of the peace before, and intended to go straight to Hickory Point for an investigation. Banks makes it clear that Coleman’s party went twice to Shawnee Mission, but the other testimony seems ambiguous to me. It seems to makes more sense if Coleman went, Hargis and Buckley followed, and the three of them met with Jones. They together agreed to go back to Hickory Point, Shannon probably not then present. On meeting Banks they learned they had a larger problem than Charles Dow dead, houses burned, and Jacob Branson making threats. Then they returned to Shawnee Mission, where Shannon had himself returned, and got instructions from him to go to Lecompton to swear their affidavits and get the peace warrant.

I think it happened that way, but one could probably read the accounts differently and come to other conclusions.

The Hunt for Franklin Coleman, Part Four

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Trouble at Hickory Point: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

The Hunt for Franklin Coleman: part 1, 2, 3

Franklin Coleman, fresh off his murder of Charles Dow over the boundaries between their claims, made his way to Shawnee Mission. There he aimed to turn himself in to Kansas’ governor, Wilson Shannon, for protection. He arrived to find Shannon abroad. Some time subsequently, his friends Josiah Hargis and Harrison Buckley also arrived at the mission.

John Banks’ testimony indicates that the mob questioned Hargis fairly pointedly. What did they plan to say when questioned about Dow’s death? According to Brewerton, the free state mob didn’t like what they heard:

these Free State men, who were all armed with Sharpe’s rifles, replied (at the same time cocking their guns and pointing them at the breasts of Buckley and Hargis), “What you say is false; the circumstances are not so. We give you until Monday to make a correct statement of the facts. If you refuse we will kill you.”

Banks doesn’t have such a threat issued in his account, but he does have the armed mob stop Hargis and accuse him of lying. Banks didn’t hear the entire exchange and might have missed the mortal threat, but he did overhear Hargis reacting to what sounded like one. If he saw the guns cocked and aimed, he didn’t mention it. Brewerton cites Shannon as his source, but Shannon could not have seen the confrontation himself. The brandished arms might come down to pure invention, however given the same mob did threaten the life of Hargis per the one at least somewhat disinterested witness we have it seems more likely that it took place. Hargis might have told Shannon himself.

George Douglas Brewerton

George Douglas Brewerton

However it played out, Buckley and Hargis followed Coleman’s example and set out for the Shawnee Mission for their own safety. The mob made its threat on Saturday, giving them until Monday to recant. They must have judged the deadline too forgiving, or realized that no recanting would occur, as

Before the time given had expired, the Free State men burned down the houses of Buckley, Hargis and Coleman. In so doing they turned the family of Buckley out of doors. This family saved nothing of their wardrobe or furniture but the clothes in which they fled.

Losing one’s home always makes for a devastating loss, but consider additionally that these men built the structures themselves and in a time before modern banking and far from the limited financial infrastructure available even at the time, they likely lose all their worldly possessions. Furthermore, with their most obvious improvements on their claims gone they could count on squatter convention to deem those claims vacant and so up for grabs. Coleman and Dow both occupied claims on similar claims of vacancy, complete in the latter’s case with a “mysteriously” burned house. They could walk away from losing their homes, it cost them upwards of a year’s labor and set them back to almost nothing for a second try. They certainly couldn’t expect to go back to Hickory Point. Nor could they expect with confidence that if they tried somewhere else in a free state neighborhood that the antislavery men would content themselves with simply burning homes.


King, Stone Mountain, and the Pablum Past

Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain

If you go down to Georgia you can see the kind of landmark that traditionally gets Americans excited. We have the biggest bas-relief in the world carved into the north face of Stone Mountain. I haven’t seen it myself, but I have seen some of the artist’s other work. From the park viewing platform, Mt. Rushmore makes an impression. I imagine that the carving on Stone Mountain does as well, what with Stonewall Jackson, Robert Lee, and Jefferson Davis all on horseback with hats over their hearts. Both carvings depict small pantheons, great men worthy of having their memory literally etched in stone. A reasonable person looking at both would understand that the monuments communicate just that: the creators found them so important that they went people for centuries hence to know and admire them. To look upon their works, take them as your example, and live according to their values, would ennoble and elevate you and your society. To forget them would lesson us immeasurably. One does not, after all, carve people one considers unimportant or unpleasant into the side of a mountain.

Stone Mountain has not avoided the criticism that other such monuments have faced in the months since the Charleston shooting. Nor should it, given both its prominence and the fact that the second Ku Klux Klan first met there. Its massive size, however, renders some of the reasonable remedies impractical. We cannot relocate the carving to a museum. Nor does it seem likely that we shall manage some kind of contextualizing display of similar prominence. Sandblasting it away sounds reasonable, but unlikely to happen. What could the state of Georgia do, blast out the other side of the mountain and carve a giant bust of Frederick Douglass? Not exactly. Douglass had very little to do with Georgia, just like the three Confederates, but the state does have a worthy equivalent in Martin Luther King, Jr. The state thus proposes

On the summit of Stone Mountain, yards away from where Ku Klux Klansmen once burned giant crosses, just above and beyond the behemoth carving of three Confederate heroes, state authorities have agreed to erect a monument to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Specifically, an elevated tower — featuring a replica of the Liberty Bell — would celebrate the single line in the civil rights martyr’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech that makes reference to the 825-foot-tall hunk of granite: “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.”

When I first heard this, I thought it a step in the right direction. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, of license plate fame, came out with an unintentional endorsement:

This decision by the Stone Mountain Memorial Association is wholly inappropriate in that it is an intentional act of disrespect toward the stated purpose of the Stone Mountain memorial from its inception as well as a possible violation of the law which established the Stone Mountain Memorial Association and charged it with promoting the mountain as a Confederate memorial.

An intentional act of disrespect towards celebration of the Confederacy sounds pretty good to me. The SCV continues:

The erection of monuments to anyone other than Confederate heroes in Stone Mountain Park is in contradistinction to the purpose for which the park exists and would make it a memorial to something different.  The park was never intended to be a memorial to multiple causes but solely to the Confederacy.  Therefore, monuments to either Michael King or soldiers of any color who fought against the Confederacy would be a violation of the purpose for which the park was created and exists. The opinions of the park’s current neighbors and opponents are of no bearing in the discussion.

This requires a small bit of unpacking. I understand that the environs of the park have undergone a demographic shift since the carving. Maybe once upon a time they could boast of the kind of whiteness you would expect of the local Klavern. Given regular Klan rallies took place on the mountain into the 1950s, that could make for less a metaphor than literal truth. Now the neighborhoods that Jackson, Lee, and Davis oversee have a black majority. If that makes pilgrimages to the site by the SCV a bit uncomfortable, they could console themselves with the fact that the mountain preserved in its own way a vision of white control that they appear to value greatly. Black opinions don’t count.

The reference to Michael King comes from an old smear. The story goes that King answered to Michael from birth. Somewhere along the way he decided that he needed a more impressive name and cynically chose Martin Luther. He never changed his name legally, just one way in which everyone “knew” him for a fraud. King’s father, Martin Luther King, Sr., held that both he and his son got Michael put on their birth certificates out of confusion. They always went by Martin. If this sounds a bit wild to us, we should keep in mind that there remains no obligation to use one’s legal name in all things so long as one doesn’t intend fraud by it. Consistent use of Martin hardly sounds like the act of a mountebank. Next the SCV will tell us that King had an obsession with white prostitutes and worked as a trained operative for the Communist Party to incite servile insurrection.

The SCV goes on:

Furthermore, the erection of a monument to anything other than the Confederate Cause being placed on top of Stone Mountain because of the objections of opponents of Georgia’s Confederate heritage would be akin to the state flying a Confederate battle flag atop the King Center in Atlanta against the wishes of King supporters.  Both would be altogether inappropriate and disrespectful acts, repugnant to Christian people.

No one would want to put an unwelcome flag atop the King Center, as everyone would understand it as an expression of dominance over the memory of King by those who oppose all he stood for. Likewise, those who want to put a King monument atop Stone Mountain want to repudiate its Confederate legacies and replace them with something better. If the SCV sees these positions as equivalent, then it has told us more than it probably intended about itself.

The local NAACP and Southern Christian Leadership Conference weighed in on the King monument as well. Doubtless some in the SCV will take their opposition as proof that no racial animus plays into the SCV’s own. They would only need to neglect the reason for the opposition and the SCV has told us that black opinions don’t matter to it, so the maneuver must come naturally. Just as we would not follow Jefferson Davis’ example, so we do not need to take our cues from the SCV. Therefore, I present the reasons:

“The proposal to include Dr. King [on Stone Mountain] is simply to confuse black folk about the issues,” said John Evans, president of the DeKalb County branch of the NAACP. “It’s an attempt to gain support from blacks to keep these racist and demeaning symbols.


“Why are governments spending tax dollars to preserve monuments of hate?” asked [SCLC president Charles] Steele. “And more so, why put any reference of Dr. King, one of Georgia’s most favorite sons, anywhere near these three traitors?”

They have a very strong point, which has moved me from considering the King monument at least promising to a poor idea indeed. Having King celebrated in close company with the Confederate pantheon would prove very good for their resumes, but not so much for King’s. To put King in their company implies that they deserve it and that King would welcome them. The SCV perceives the same dynamic, but the other way around. To them, associating King with the Confederates would sully the brave white supremacists in gray and elevate him.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

I see no way out of that dilemma. Putting the two symbols together in the same context asserts a sympathetic connection between them. We should admire both similarly. It looks and feels fair on first examination, but doesn’t actually work that way. Fairness toward symbols necessitates fairness toward what they represent, which one cannot adopt without accepting the cruel, violent, rapacious works of white supremacy done under their banner or reduction of one or both symbols to utter meaninglessness. We have enough secular saints that we refuse to learn from even as we pretend to celebrate them. We have already done too much to wipe away King’s cause and the resistance to it in favor of a pablum past.

Deprived of its controversies, that “history” has nothing to teach us. It asks us to confront nothing and question ourselves not at all. If we lived in a perfectly just society, and always had, then that might not make for much of a problem. But no civilization has managed that yet. Without such an unparalleled achievement, clinging to the pablum past makes us not neutral but rather partisans for both past evils and their present day continuations. We should remember Martin Luther King, Jr., faults and all, but we should also remember him as a man white Americans feared and hated just as much as they celebrated him. White Americans jailed him and his supporters. They beat and killed civil rights activists. The Federal Bureau of Investigation tried to drive King to suicide. These facts do not go away because we pretend otherwise.