The Trouble at Hickory Point, Part Five

George Douglas Brewerton

George Douglas Brewerton

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

As Franklin Coleman told George Douglas Brewerton, he came into Kansas from Missouri in November, 1854. There he jumped a claim held by an absentee Indianan, in keeping with the local custom that absentees could have their claims taken by those actually present and improving the land. This put him on the wrong side of Jacob Branson, who bought the same claim from that Indianan. The two men came near to firing shots over it, but agreed to an arbitrated settlement. That came out in Branson’s favor, but he refused to abide by it all the same and took to generously helping free soil men move into the Hickory Point neighborhood, presumably with an eye to their supporting him against Coleman. Then someone burned down William White’s home on a claim adjoining Coleman’s. The day after, Charles Dow squatted on that claim. William Phillips blamed Coleman for the fire. Coleman and others in the area strongly suspected Dow. Dow’s evasive answers to questioning on the matter did not help his case.

 

Despite the initial friction, Dow and Coleman appear to have managed a neighborly enough relationship through most of the winter. Coleman told the Howard Committee that

Dow took possession of the claim formerly belonging to a Mr. White. I moved my house five hundred yards or more from where it stood, in order to be more convenient to the timber, for fear that the lines, when they came to be run by the government, should be between me and the timber, and throw me entirely on the prairie.

Without a map, I can’t say how Coleman’s relocation would have interacted with the other line between his and Branson’s claim. Arbitration had put all the timber on Branson’s side. It sounds as though Coleman considered himself no longer obligated to follow the settlement. Given Branson also disregarded it, one can’t blame him. However, Coleman and Dow had an agreed-upon boundary:

There was a conditional line between me and Mr. Dow, which was mutually agreed upon; and it was agreed upon by the people of the neighborhood that such lines should stand until the government lines should be run. I cut timber on this claim of mine from May, 1855, until late in the fall, and had no difficulty with Mr. Dow, as regards our claims, until the Shawnee reserve line had been run.

The line, “some two and a half miles east” Coleman’s claim, had the sanction of the government. Dow and some other neighbors

run off their lines from the half-mile stones placed on the reserve line, supposing that the government survey would make those half-mile stones corners of sections. A majority of the neighbors protested against it. Jacob Branson and Mr. Dow, seeing that these new lines would be advantageous to them, surveyed their lands off so that they would run over on my claim and the claim of Mr. Hargous, which joined me on the north.

Thus passed whatever peace had tenuously existed in the area. It might never have amounted to much. John Banks testified to continued tension between Branson and Coleman:

I heard Branson say Coleman had better keep out of the window and away from about him, and that if he did not he would hurt him.

But it seems that they managed until the next fall without direct conflict.

Banks has a somewhat different story about the evolution of the claims than Coleman. The latter’s narrative describes a fairly orderly process where Dow just settled down next to Coleman and they agreed on a tentative border. Coleman moved house, but only within that claim. Banks testified:

Coleman and Dow’s claims joined, when they made their claims there first. When Dow first came there Coleman was living on a prairie claim, and after Dow had made his claim Coleman went over on an adjoining claim to Dow’s. The one that Coleman went on was marked out before Coleman went on it, and before Dow settled on his; and when Dow went on his claim he respected the lines of the claim that Coleman afterwards went on. I think it was in May 1855, that Coleman went on that claim

This sounds like when Coleman moved house and began timber harvest. Whether Coleman had the claim before Banks knew, or just imagined all the land his from the start, it seems things went well enough. Banks helped Coleman with his log cutting on the land and says no one contested his claim to it. But the official lines intervene in Banks’ story as much as Coleman’s. Per Banks, the new lines would move Dow’s claim

some two hundred and fifty yards on to Mr. Coleman’s claim. A majority of the neighbors protested against the line being altered so as to correspond with their corner-stones. Dow claimed in to the new lines on Coleman’s claim a strip of some two hundred and fifty yards wide of timber land.

Good news for Charles Dow and bad for Franklin Coleman.

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