Two rods separated Samuel Newitt Wood and his twenty or so free state men from Samuel Jones and his about a dozen proslavery men. That meant not that someone left rounded sticks in the road but rather a unit of distance now obscure. A rod runs five and a half yards long, so two rods make for eleven yards or thirty-three feet. That sounds awfully close for two large parties of armed men, but presumably neither party proceeded at a gallop to be heard from afar nor rode with torches or lanterns to aid in their spotting.
Whatever the distance, Jones’ men did not eagerly ride up into a hastily-gathered band of armed men in their way. Branson described their appearance:
When we were within about half a mile of Blanton’s bridge, I saw some men who appeared to come from behind a house; and as we were going on at a pretty smart canter they stretched out across the road where we were, I should suppose about fifty yards from the house. Those men were on foot. Those men who were with me then spurred on, presenting their guns, leaving me a little behind, until they got within twenty or thirty feet of those men, and as they did not give way, they halted.
After a moment of tense silence, Jones called out in the traditional greeting of cartoon rabbits: “What’s up?”
I heard someone from the other party say, “That’s what we want to know; what’s up?” I then spoke, and said; “They have got me here a prisoner.” One from the other party said: “Is that you, Branson?” I said it was, and he told me to come over to the other side.
Wood reports a slightly different version of the exchange, but the words align closely enough that I don’t think either man saw fit embellish things. Jones’ posse, having taken such trouble to arrest Branson and demolish some alcohol along the way back, didn’t just shrug that off:
Two men were by me then, and one said: “Don’t you go, or we will shoot you.” I told them to shoot if they wanted to, as I was going. I then rode forward, and got to the other company, and got off my mule, and asked what I should do with it. Some one said, “let it go to hell;” and I let go of it, and some one gave it a kick, and it went back towards Jones’s party.
Wood adds some encouragement from himself and his companions for Branson to come over:
Said S.N. Wood, ‘If you want to be among your friends, come over here.’ […] Said Huffs (a Hoosier), ‘Shoot and be d—-d.’ Said Wood to Branson, “Come, let them shoot if they want to,’ and, turning to them, said ‘Gentlemen, shoot, and not a man of you shall leave alive.’
He also takes credit for kicking the mule.
It appears from both accounts that the posse stood and took all of this, though not happily. Wood recounts that
Guns were aimed and cocked upon both sides, but just as Branson left one of the opposite party lowered his gun with the remark, ‘I ain’t going to shoot.’ Jones then advanced upon horseback, said his name was Jones, that he was Sheriff of Douglas County, Kansas, that he had a warrant to arrest the old man Branson, and he must serve it.
That Jones would wait until he’d lost charge of his prisoner to identify himself seems strange, but he waited quite a while to identify himself to Branson too. One gets the sense that he didn’t feel he had to answer to any antislavery Kansan.