The Hunt for Franklin Coleman, Part One

George Douglas Brewerton

George Douglas Brewerton

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

 

Franklin Coleman killed Charles Dow. He claimed self-defense. He names three of witnesses to the fatal event, his friends Moody and Hargis and his “enemy” Wagoner, but neither of them gave an account that I’ve yet found. Branson’s testimony also names all three as witnesses. What does one do after killing a person on the Kansas frontier? Coleman went home and told his wife. He informed her, and later George Brewerton, that he aimed to give himself over to the law for trial from the start.

Coleman left Dow’s body in the road, where anyone could see. Eventually, Jacob Branson took charge of the body and funeral. Had things ended there, the affair would warrant little more than a footnote or two in most histories. Instead, in the evening after the killing, and likely shortly after the removal of Dow’s body

several persons came to my house, and advised me, for fear of the Free State secret military organization-of which, as I have before mentioned, Branson, Dow’s friend was one of the commanders-to leave the neighborhood. I at first declined to go, stating, as a reason for so doing, that such an act might be construed into a desire on my part to elude the officers of justice. they then suggested that I should deliver myself up to Governor Shannon, or some other fit person, at a distance from the scene of difficulty, where they believed that I would not only be in great personal danger but have no chance to obtain an impartial hearing.

Coleman left that night, setting out for Shawnee Mission. It seems before the visit he expected the sheriff to come out for him. Before departing, Coleman left his wife and child with in the care of Buckley and Hargis.

The same evening as Coleman received his visitors, his partner John Banks heard of the killing. Illness prevented his going at once, but he called the next day.

Just as I was starting I stopped in a neighbor’s house, and there were some fifteen or sixteen men came in from around, and asked me if I knew where Coleman was; I said I did not, but had heard that he had gone down to the governor to give himself up. They then started off and went in the direction of Coleman’s house, saying they were going to hunt Coleman, though they did not say what they were going to do with him. They did not say anything about having any legal authority to arrest Coleman.

Banks went on with the group, which joined another of similar size who came up from around Branson’s house. They searched the claim while Banks pressed on to Hargis’, where Coleman’s wife had gone.

I was there some half an hour, and on looking up towards Coleman’s, I saw these men there yet. They were all armed, principally with Sharpe’s rifles, some with common rifles. Mr. Branson was among them. Mr. Hargous and I walked over to a grocery, about a quarter of a mile off, and were there a little while, and I looked up towards Coleman’s house again, and saw these men about half-way between Coleman’s and Hargous’s, going towards Hargous’s. Some ten or fifteen stopped between the two houses, and the rest went on to Hargous’s house.

A potential lynch mob marching toward the home of a friend of their intended victim, which then sheltered the victim’s wife, suggests only dire outcomes. They must have thought Coleman inside and might elect to punish Hargous for sheltering him, or failing that take his wife as a hostage or worse. Hargous, Banks, and a man named King went back to the house. The mob turned to meet them, passing King and Banks through.

Hargous was detained a good while by these men, about four or five rods from the house. I heard them talking to him as I stood in the door. I heard Branson ask him if he knew were Coleman was. Hargous said he did not know where he was then, but he knew he had started to the Shawnee Mission to give himself up to the governor.

Branson didn’t buy it. He and Hargis argued. Banks missed most of it, but caught Hargous saying

Gentlemen, you have got me in your power, and you can kill me, but you cannot make me tell a lie.

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