The Hunt for Jacob Branson, Part Five

Samuel Newitt Wood

Samuel Newitt Wood

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

The Hunt for Franklin Coleman: part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

The Hunt for Jacob Branson: parts 1, 2, 3, 4

We left Jacob Branson, Kansas Legion officer and landlord to the murdered Charles Dow, on the night of November 27, 1855 and in the custody of a posse led by Sheriff Samuel Jones. Some time after taking Branson, and escorting him over to where they could lubricate themselves, Jones explained his business to Branson at last. Only then did his charge learn the identity of his captor and reason for his seizure in the middle of the night.

Another group of armed, displeased men rode around Hickory Point that November night. Franklin Coleman’s murder of Dow caused much excitement and men had come down the day before from Lawrence to attend a public meeting on the subject. This meeting convened on Friday, the twenty-third. As Kansas meetings tend to, this one called for a sequel on the coming Monday, the 26th. Samuel Newitt Wood, of the Fourth of July festivities fame, attended both meetings and recounted his experiences in a 1857 letter to A. Wattles, reprinted in Charles Robinson’s The Kansas Conflict. The meetings set up a vigilance committee and appointed Wood to question witnesses, in the course of which he discovered or “discovered” that Dow died not as a result of a long-running land dispute but rather on account of his antislavery politics.

The meeting on the twenty-sixth lasted to dusk and

Much feeling was manifested against Coleman, and a strong disposition exhibited to burn his house, which stood near. Three or four men broke down the door, rushed in, emptied a straw bed upon the floor, and fired it. S.C. Smith, S.N. Wood, and others rushed into the house, smothered the flames, clearing the house, and amid the greatest excitement, some crying, ‘Burn the house,’ and others interceding to save property. S.N. Wood jumped upon the fence and said murder, pillage, and arson were the peculiar avocations of our enemies, that houses were too scarce to be burned, and that this meeting must not be disgraced in this way. Wood moved as the sense of the meeting that the house not be burned, which was carried unanimously, and the meeting quietly separated.

Branson also agreed that the men at the meeting wanted to burn Coleman out. He, like Wood, opposed the measure. The house still burned. That Wood stresses the bad press that the arson might bring on the cause, and the meeting’s attendees personally, might come down to good politics in persuading the more radical members of the crowd. It also might have come out of his genuine sentiment that the free state movement could not afford a reputation as arsonists. Or it might have served as cover for the members who quietly went off and burned Coleman’s and Buckley’s homes thereafter. Someone committed those arsons, and with a meeting of around a hundred free state men nearby so soon beforehand it seems likely that the guilty parties stood with the rest around the site of Charles Dow’s death that afternoon.

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Wood turned back for Lawrence after the meeting, in the company of J.B. Abbott. They got lost in the dark, but found themselves at Blanton “about ten or eleven o’clock”

where we were met and told that a large party of armed men had just passed towards Hickory Point. I immediately urged the necessity of following the party to ascertain if possible their business to Hickory Point. We finally adjourned to Abbott’s for supper. After supper fresh horses were procured. One was sent up and down the Wakarusa to notify the settlers, two started upon foot to raise what Free-State settlers they could on the route and rendezvous near old man Branson’s, while Abbott and myself went to Hickory Point.

Wood doesn’t name the party as such, but he must have heard of Jones’ posse. From his reaction, he has to have understood them as at least likely a proslavery mob bent on some kind of violence. On that count, he and Sheriff Jones apparently agreed.

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