The Trouble at Hickory Point, Part Six

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Franklin Coleman told the Howard Committee that the official survey lines a few miles away gave reason for some of his neighbors to redraw their claim borders. Jacob Branson and Charles Dow both revised their boundaries, to the detriment of Coleman and a neighbor of his named Hargous. Branson’s campaign to have friendly free state men settle about had brought in Dow, possibly at the low cost of burning out William White’s claim, and it seems likely that some of those friends joined Branson in the local chapter of the Kansas Legion:

In July or August of 1855, a branch of the Kansas Free State secret military organization was established among the Free State settlers around Hickory Point. Branson being their commander. Not long after this, I learned that he had not only threatened to use this force to put down and set at defiance the Territorial laws, but had stated, on several occasions, that he had an old grudge to settle with me-that he would like to meet me-that I should not live in the territory, but that he would have his revenge before I quitted it, &c. It was also reported to me, some four days previous to my rencounter with Dow, that he (Dow), had declared that ‘he would beat my d—-d brains out, if I went into the grove’ -on my own claim- ‘to cut timber.’ I was also warned by a Free State man, a friend of mine named Spar, ‘that my life was in danger from the ill will harbored against me by Branson and Dow.’

Branson had friends who shared at least a rhetorical commitment to violence with him. He and Dow had a beef with Coleman. Furthermore, Coleman’s claim adjoined Hargous’ on the north and he too had fallen prey to the border revisions Branson insisted upon. The Kansas Legion officer went out to settle up with Hargous before things degenerated further with Coleman. According to the latter’s Howard Committee testimony:

Branson went to Hargous, where he was at work on his claim with some five or six men, Dow being one of them. They threatened him and prevented him from cutting timber on his claim, so far as they claimed.

Coleman didn’t state it as clearly as he could, but from his use of the plural in referring to Branson and those threatening Hargous, it seems that Branson went out with five or six friends, Dow included. They came on Hargous alone and laid down the law. He had to imagine they would soon come for him, especially with the rumors he heard of Branson and Dow’s designs on his life.

George Douglas Brewerton

George Douglas Brewerton

The revision of Dow’s claim moved the line two hundred fifty yards into what Coleman considered his own. He operated a lime kiln on the disputed land and had used it and cut timber there for some time previous without controversy, but if Dow and Branson required a new casus belli then they had one.

Coleman told Brewerton

“On, or about the 27th of November, 1855, between 11 and 12 o’clock, A.M., I was at work making a lime-kiln, on my claim, in company with a young man named Harvey Moody.-Moody is a Free State man-I had been busy there since early in the morning, as I had been for several days previous. Dow came to the place where we were working; he was alone, and apparently unarmed. He quarrelled with me about my claim-said he intended to stop our working there, and after making several threats left. I continued on with my work. In a short time after this visit from Dow, Moody called out to me, ‘Here comes Branson and Dow.’ On looking up I saw them approaching, armed with Sharpe’s rifles. Both Moody and myself were entirely unarmed.

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