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.


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