The Trouble at Hickory Point, Part Seven

George Douglas Brewerton

George Douglas Brewerton

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

We left Franklin Coleman down at Hickory Point with things starting to heat up. His free state neighbors, Jacob Branson and Charles Dow, had redrawn their claim lines. The latter did so very much to Coleman’s disadvantage, putting him out of his timber land. Coleman had worked that land since the spring and built a lime kiln on it. He thus had an investment in it twice over. Coleman had also heard increasingly dire rumors that Branson and Dow had designs on his life. Then, on the morning of November 27, 1855, Coleman and a free stater named Moody spotted Branson and Dow coming up to them at the kiln. Both men had rifles.

Coleman didn’t wait to see what Branson and Dow meant to do with the guns, as he told Brewerton:

I immediately left my claim without waiting for them to come up, for it was my belief that they intended to kill me, and were then coming upon me with arms in their hands for that purpose. Moody, being a Free State man, remained at his work. Moody has since informed me that on coming up they ordered him from the claim, stating that they would not hurt him ‘this time,’ but if they caught him there again, they would do him an injury; they furthermore said, that they ‘just wanted to see me, and asked Moody where I was?’

They would like to see Coleman with their bullets, of course. I don’t have any testimony from Moody and so must take Coleman’s word for it, but this sounds in keeping with Branson and Dow’s behavior to date. Branson’s own account begins this morning, a bit before he and Dow went up to Coleman, denying all prior difficulties with Coleman:

there was no previous difficulty between Dow and Coleman, before the one that took place the morning Dow was killed. Coleman and Dow used to speak together when they met. On the morning of the 21st of November last, Dow and I went down on his claim to set a log heap on fire, to burn some lime, which we did; and after remaining a while with him, I returned home, and Dow went towards the blacksmith shop to get a wagon-skane mended.

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Branson or Coleman has the date wrong, I suspect the former given the date reports appear in the Herald of Freedom. I chalk that one up to the foibles of memory. However, considering Branson’s outright denial of past trouble between him, Dow, and Coleman in the face of outside testimony to the fact from others, we should treat his testimony with care. Branson continues:

About half an hour after I left him, he [Dow] came back to my house, and complained that Coleman and Moody were on his claim cutting timber. He asked me to go down with him, as Coleman refused to leave when he had told him to go. I did so, and took my gun along; but Dow refused to take his with him, although I endeavored to get him to do so. He went back with me with nothing but this skane in his hand.

Branson describes the skane as a piece of iron between twelve and fourteen inches long, “very thin and very much work […] not much more than an eighth of an inch thick.” Coleman may have mistaken it for a gun in the distance, especially seeing Branson with his own weapon. Branson could also have lied about it.  If Moody ever gave his own testimony, I haven’t found it. Dow might have had something to say, but he didn’t make it through that day alive.


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