The Hunt for Franklin Coleman, Part Six

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

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

John Banks caught up with Franklin Coleman, Josiah Hargis, Harrison Buckley, and Sheriff Samuel Jones near to Bull Creek. He told them that the crowd at Hickory Point would love to see Coleman again. They would love it so much that Coleman might not survive their ballistic affection. This likely unsettled Jones and his charges. They turned back with Banks for Shawnee Mission, met with Wilson Shannon, and got his advice to go to Lecompton. There they could swear affidavits and get a peace warrant against Jacob Branson, Kansas Legion officer and mob ringleader. So resolved, the five men set out for Lecompton.

The road to Lecompton took one past Lawrence and Banks decided to part company with his companions there. He doesn’t say why, but it seems likely that he felt his duty to Mrs. Coleman fulfilled at that point. A mob looking for Coleman would likely not search out west of Lawrence when everyone knew he went east from the area. A free state man himself, and no party to the Coleman-Dow affair, he probably felt quite safe despite the recent tumult.

In Lawrence, Banks met Carmie Babcock, the census-taker for the area back in March and subsequently postmaster.

Mr. Babcock and I were personally friendly, and he advised me not to go back home, as there were some 200 or 300 men in arms, who had had a meeting there that day to investigate the killing of Dow. I said I did not suppose there was any danger, but he said there might be a good deal. He said the men that had went over there said they were going to kill Coleman and all his friends.

Banks wouldn’t hear it. He set out for Hickory Point, meeting “twenty or thirty” men coming the other way on the road. They all came Banks’ way armed, but didn’t give him any trouble. When Banks reached his home, he soon had visitors:

some ten or twelve men came down by my house, and some of them told me they had been at a meeting at the Point. They were also armed, some with Sharpe’s rifles and some with other guns. These armed men were free-State men. One pro-slavery man by the name of Jones was with this party by my house, but he had no arms.

Banks asked his well-armed guests about the meeting. They told him that they went out to determine how Dow died and hunt down Franklin Coleman. Banks knew just where they could find Coleman: with Sheriff Jones in Lecompton. He also asked if they planned to do anything to the local proslavery men. One denied the rumor that they would burn the lot off their claims.

Coleman’s house was burned that night. I saw the remains of it the next morning. While I was looking at the remains of Coleman’s house, I saw smoke rise in the direction of Buckley’s house, and found out afterwards that Buckley’s house was burned.

Banks caught up with the Jones who had called on him when the mob visited, who confirmed the obvious: the mob had burned the houses down. It seems they then remained active. Banks doesn’t make it entirely clear, but it looks like they continued abroad through the next day. He identified them as free state men, except for Jones, and named Jacob Branson their leader.


The Hunt for Franklin Coleman, Part Five

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

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

We left Franklin Coleman, Josiah Hargis, and Harrison Buckley at Shawnee Mission in search of Wilson Shannon’s protection. They found Douglas County Sheriff Samuel Jones instead. Coleman promptly “delivered himself” to Jones. His murder of Charles Dow happened within Jones’ jurisdiction and he probably couldn’t have missed hearing of Jones proslavery bona fides in the months he’d lived in Kansas. The man who burst into the polling place at Bloomington with gun in hand and told the judges of the election they had five minutes to take anyone who offered to vote or take his bullets would surely not hand Coleman over easily to a free soil mob.

Coleman says little about what happened at Shawnee Mission, but Hargis, Buckley, and then the returned governor fill in some of the blanks. Shannon told Brewerton:

When I returned, Coleman had surrendered himself to the Sheriff of Douglas County (Jones), who happened to be at the mission. Buckley and Hargis stated their grievances to me, and informed me that a man named Branson, of the Free State party, and one of the residents at Hickory Point, with whom Dow (the person killed) had resided, was the leader of the band who had threatened and endeavored to extort false evidence from them.

Shannon told Buckley and Hargis they should swear out affidavits and get a peace bond against Branson. They returned to Douglas County for that, presumably to secure a magistrate with the proper jurisdiction. On the way there, Jones, Buckley, Coleman, and Hargis received

an express from Hickory Point, which had ridden all night, advising Coleman and his two friends not to return to that settlement, as they would certainly be killed by the Free State party.

The governor doesn’t name the express rider, but they must have met John Banks. The latter went out specifically to find and warn Coleman against return and narrates their encounter in his testimony:

I started down, and I started early the next morning, Saturday, down to see Coleman. I met Mr. Coleman about seventeen miles from Hickory Point, returning with Mr. Jones, the sheriff, who had him in custody, as the governor had told them had better go back before a justice of the peace, and have the matter investigated. I told them I thought they had better not go up there then, as there was considerable excitement, and many men were there under arms. Mr. Jones said he did not know what to do, but he thought he could go up there in safety. I told them again, I thought the better plan was not to go there at present, as I had seen some thirty or forty armed men hunting for Coleman.

Jones apparently didn’t like his odds against thirty to forty men under arms, so everyone went back to Shawnee Mission to consult with Governor Shannon again.

Or possibly they had no instructions to go to a justice of the peace before, and intended to go straight to Hickory Point for an investigation. Banks makes it clear that Coleman’s party went twice to Shawnee Mission, but the other testimony seems ambiguous to me. It seems to makes more sense if Coleman went, Hargis and Buckley followed, and the three of them met with Jones. They together agreed to go back to Hickory Point, Shannon probably not then present. On meeting Banks they learned they had a larger problem than Charles Dow dead, houses burned, and Jacob Branson making threats. Then they returned to Shawnee Mission, where Shannon had himself returned, and got instructions from him to go to Lecompton to swear their affidavits and get the peace warrant.

I think it happened that way, but one could probably read the accounts differently and come to other conclusions.

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.


The Hunt for Franklin Coleman, Part Three

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

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

The Hunt for Franklin Coleman: part 1, 2

We left Franklin Coleman headed for the Shawnee Mission to turn himself in to Governor Wilson Shannon for the killing of Charles Dow. His friend and claim partner, free state man John Banks, went out to find him at Mrs. Coleman’s request. She suspected that the mob which had gone around Hickory Point looking for Coleman would find him on the return trip and hang him. This all transpired in the second half of the week of November 21, 1855, though sorting out precisely what happened when presents some difficulties given the witnesses couldn’t agree on the dates or days of the week.


Before pressing on, I have one more thing to say about the delay. I have relied heavily on proslavery sources for the first part of Coleman’s story as the antislavery sources purposefully neglect it. In doing so, I missed that, William Phillips does address the issue of the delay in official action against Coleman for Dow’s murder as a factor in motivating antislavery men. Past concerns about the timeline apply all the same, and we should read Phillips with some caution here, but in the interests of fairness:

By the 26th of the month no action had been taken by the authorities, and, as the inference was that the murderers would go unpunished, a meeting of the settlers was called at Hickory Point, and assembled on the day in question. The action of the meeting was marked by no violence; they merely passed resolutions deploring and condemning the murder, and appointed a committee, whose duty it should be to take steps to bring the murderers to justice. As some of of the more indignant of the settlers were in favor of burning the houses of the murderers, a resolution was passed, condemning and deprecating such an act, even against these men.

That meeting and its resolutions will come back in a later post.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Phillips adds the story that Coleman took his family off with him the night of the killing, setting out for Missouri and only later coming back to Kansas. Banks has things otherwise, with Coleman leaving his family with his neighbors. Phillips might simply have things confused. Wilson Shannon told told George Douglas Brewerton that other proslavery families from Hickory Point fled to Missouri at about the same time. However, Shannon testifies

In the meantime, Buckley, Hargis, and Coleman -who had fled so soon as they could to escape from the band who were threatening their execution-made their way to the Executive office at Shawnee Mission, K.T., to have an interview with myself. I was absent at the time.

The last word I had of Buckley and Hargis, unless I’ve missed something, put them both still at Hickory Point. Coleman left for the governor’s protection by himself. While he might have omitted his companions to make himself sound less frightened, John Banks testified to seeing Hargis the day after the shooting. By that point he should have gone if he went with Coleman. However, subsequent testimony makes it clear that Buckley and Hargis arrived at Shawnee Mission some time prior to Coleman and Sheriff Jones setting out for Hickory Point. They must have gone there. Shannon, not present for their arrival, might just have conflated them without realizing.





The Hunt for Franklin Coleman, Part Two

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

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

The Hunt for Franklin Coleman: part 1

A small note before we dig in today, Gentle Readers. I previously said I had no testimony from Josiah Hargis or Harrison Buckley regarding Coleman’s murder of Dow. I have since found a pair of affidavits elsewhere in Brewerton, but neither sheds much light on the shooting itself.

We left John Banks in the somewhat unwelcome company of Jacob Branson’s group of fifteen or so men hunting after Franklin Coleman. They had gone up to the home of Coleman’s neighbor Hargis/Hargous, where Mrs. Coleman then stayed, after searching the Coleman residence itself. Hargis, Banks, and a fellow called King went up to meet them and, one presumes, see they didn’t harm the building or Mrs. Coleman. Branson stopped Hargis for questioning, insisting that he had to know where Coleman ran off to and not believing his story about a trip to surrender himself to Governor Wilson Shannon.

Banks didn’t hear the full argument. One can’t blame him for wanting to press on clear of the mob, but he told the Howard Committee that he saw no officer of the law among them. By this point, Dow’s body had lain out on a relatively busy road for probably the whole afternoon. Coleman seems to have expected the law to reach him before a mob would. I can’t speak to just what happened to delay an official response from sheriff Samuel Jones. It puzzled Alice Nichols too. In Bleeding Kansas, she writes:

No move was made by Samuel J. Jones, Sheriff of Douglas County, K.T., to arrest the murderer. This may have been a deliberate prod to free-soil emotions; it may have been in simple keeping of territorial custom, since there had been numerous killings and few arrests; or perhaps the strongly proslavery Mr. Jones was just too busy with his duties as postmaster of Westport, Missouri, at the time, to attend to his territorial police duties. Whatever the cause, his ignoring of the murder angered free-soilers.

Nichols generally reads proslavery men with some charity, so that she finds it unusual and potentially damning suggests fairly strongly to me that malice played its part. Jones’ record back at the Assembly elections in March, where he and a band of proslavery men stormed the polls and demanded the judges of election resign at gunpoint or be killed on the spot, does not suggest the sort of impartiality one would hope for in such a case.

This delay becomes more conspicuous with a closer look at the timeline. My sources, who testified months after the fact, don’t all agree on what happened when. Nichols dates the shooting to November 21, a Wednesday. This date, I’ve come to realize, appears more consistently in the records than Coleman’s recollection of the 27th. Coleman dates his departure to the night of the shooting, right after he got warning about the Kansas Legion. Banks heard of the shooting the same evening, but did not go up to see the Colemans until the morning. This places his encounter with the mob on Thursday morning. However, Banks testifies that he started after Coleman the next morning after that. This should put him on Friday, but he testifies that he began out on Saturday. If Banks remembered the day of the shooting wrong, then Branson’s mob could have stewed for a few days. If he has the date of his encounter with them and the dates thereafter wrong, then they waited less before trying to take matters into their own hands. Banks and Coleman can’t both have it right. I suspect that Coleman might have chosen to wait until morning rather than go off alone into the night when he knew men might want his head, which would help reconcile things, but I can’t fairly call that more than speculation.

Does all of this matter? Maybe not, but the Dow killing marks a significant escalation over past violence. While it arose out of a land dispute, the principals appear not to have deeply invested themselves on the slavery question beforehand. Coleman worked, apparently easily, with free soil men. They in turn don’t seem to have found him obnoxious. While Branson and Jones had clear affiliations, Dow doesn’t appear to have joined up with the Kansas Legion. Coleman, who knew of Branson’s affiliation, pass on any suspicions to that effect. If he had them, one would expect him to do so. Here we find a pair of at least relative civilians, very much unlike Patrick Laughlin and Samuel Collins, in the somewhat unwitting process of joining in the brewing Kansas conflict. If the delay factored in, then it helped escalate matters in the previously relatively peaceful Hickory Point area. That escalation would soon have larger consequences.

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.

The Trouble at Hickory Point, Part Ten

George Douglas Brewerton

George Douglas Brewerton

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9


After a year of on-again, off-again tension over competing land claims, Franklin Coleman killed Charles Dow. He claimed self-defense. Dow had a piece of iron for a wagon and came at him with it at the culmination of their troubles. We have only Coleman’s word on it. Where other accounts delve into their prior tensions, Coleman’s account seems fairly accurate. However, Coleman told George Brewerton that he came on Dow by surprise on the road on the occasion of their fatal meeting. William McKinney, speaking to Coleman just before the event, told the Howard Committee that he saw Dow on the road passing by. McKinney added that he tried to keep Coleman back from the road, which suggests he suspected what would come. Maybe he feared drastic action from experience with Coleman’s temper. Maybe he could see it on the man’s face.

McKinney didn’t see the shot fired:

They both went off down the road together towards Coleman’s house. When they got opposite his house, I heard a gun fired down there, and I looked and saw the smoke of the gun, and Mr. Coleman throwing the gun on his shoulder. I observed to my son, “I wonder what Coleman is shooting at.”

It seems that McKinney could have seen things had he looked the right way at the right time. He could spot Coleman in the distance, some three to four hundred yards, and understand his motions after the gun’s report. However, McKinney gave his testimony to a secret session and that suggests he felt some fear for himself that might have prompted him to hold back. McKinney’s son Nicholas gave testimony, also in secret session, and confirmed his account. He goes a step further than his father and says outright that Coleman went after Dow on the road.

I have found one other eyewitness, but she can’t tell us much we don’t already know. Almina Jones saw the shot fired and Dow fall. She put the men at twenty to twenty-five yards apart when Coleman fired, which would fit with Coleman’s story that he and Dow argued, then parted, and then Dow started back for him with the wagon skein. But she neither saw Coleman go off to see Dow nor came close enough to get the gist of their confrontation before the shot. She names Mr. Hargous, Coleman’s neighbor, as a fellow witness but he doesn’t seem to have left an account for posterity.

If this all counts very murky, it should. One might not prove it in a court of law, but it seems that Coleman deliberately sought out Dow. He might have aimed to kill the man from the moment he set out from McKinney’s or the two might have mutually worked one another up to blows. Contrary to his own account, where Coleman comes off so consistently in favor of compromise and negotiation that it raises eyebrows, he might have said something that provoked Dow to wheel on him. In the politically charged Kansas environment, with both sides feeling increasingly embattled, even a far clearer situation might give ample ammunition to both sides. With one so ambiguous as Coleman’s killing of Dow, partisanship seems inevitable.

The Trouble at Hickory Point, Part Nine

George Douglas Brewerton

George Douglas Brewerton

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

When Franklin Coleman saw Charles Dow and Jacob Branson coming up, Dow for the second time, on the morning of November 27, 1855, he noticed the gun in Branson’s hand and possibly mistook a wagon skane in Dow’s for another. Coleman didn’t need more of a sign than that to suspect they meant him harm, given past difficulties. Coleman told George Brewerton that he made at once for the home of Mr. Hargis. (Hargous in the Howard Report.) There Coleman

informed him of my being ordered off, and begged him, as I did not wish to trespass upon my neighbors, to come to my house that afternoon and assist me in establishing the dividing lines between his (Hargis) and my claim; this he promised to do. I then armed myself with a double-barrelled fowling-piece, loaded with buckshot, intending upon going back to my work, to defend myself if again interfered with

Coleman then returned to Hargis’ house, where he hoped to join up with a proslavery man called Buckley and a few others. Coleman told Brewerton that he aimed to resolve the line between his claim and Hargis’. He gives the strong impression that if he had a few dependable proslavery men on hand should Dow and Branson appear, Coleman would be glad of it. On his return to the Hargis house, Coleman got word from Buckley that Hargis had gone off “to a whisky-store” half a mile away.

Buckley suggested that he and Coleman not wait, since Hargis would know to come up to Coleman’s house. Buckley then took his own advice, leaving Coleman on his own. Coleman doesn’t phrase things as clearly as one might hope here, but it seems he let Buckley go off out of sight and then realized that left him alone with people who might mean him harm in the area. So he took off after Buckley. His path took him past the home of William McKinney. They had a chat about how McKinney’s would soon have his house finished. With Buckley not in evidence, Coleman turned around for home. He

continued on for about a hundred and fifty yards, or thereabouts, when I entered the Santa Fe trail; as I did so, I came most unexpectedly upon Dow, who was walking along the road, in the same direction as that in which I was going.

Italics in the original. I don’t know if we should believe them. McKinney has Dow clearly visible on the trail when Coleman left him:

As Mr. Dow got opposite the house, Mr. Coleman was standing at the corner of the house. He left and went out towards the road where Dow was passing. I called to Mr. Coleman to hold on a little, that I wanted to see him. He observed, I will see you again this evening. They both went off down the road together towards Coleman’s house.

It sounds more like Coleman went out to meet Dow than came on him by surprise. Either way, it seems Dow saw Coleman and waited for him to watch up. Coleman says Dow

was unarmed, with the exception of a wagon-skien-a piece of iron some two feet in length, and a most dangerous weapon in the hands of so powerful and determined a man as Dow is represented to have been.

Coleman would not require accounts of Dow’s build, since he knew the guy. Brewerton must have added that on his own. A two foot length of iron, however thin, could do considerable damage even if wielded by a person of modest build.

Dow then entered into conversation with me about the claim difficulty, and continued to use hard language upon this subject until we had walked together as far as my house, which stands off the Santa Fe road about 75 yards. We must have gone side by side for some 400 or 500 yards. During this conversation I urged him to compromise the matter, as I did not wish to hav eany trouble with my neighbors. When we got opposite my dwelling, I moved off the road to go towards home. Dow walked on his way for a few paces, and then turned around and re-commenced quarrelling, high words passed, and Dow advanded upon me with the wagon-skien, which he was carrying in his hand, raising it as he did so, in an attitude to strike. I levelled my gun as he came on, brought it to bear upon him, and pulled the trigger; the cap exploded but not the charge. Dow then paused, and turned as if to go away. Seeing this, I put my gun upon the ground, which Dow had no sooner perceived than he faced towards me, and again advanced upon me with the skien, at the same time crying out, with an oath ‘You’ve bursted one cap at me, and you’ll never live to burst another;’ hearing this, and believing that my life was in danger, I again levelled my gun and fired upon him, as he came rushing on; the shot struck him (as far as I have since ascertained) in the neck and breast, and he fell-dead.

The Trouble at Hickory Point, Part Eight

George Douglas Brewerton

George Douglas Brewerton

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

We left Franklin Coleman, a Mr. Moody, Charles Dow, and Jacob Branson on the portion of Coleman’s claim that Dow disputed. According to Branson, Dow had gone up and told Coleman that he and Moody stood on land that did not belong to either of them and received a rebuff that prompted him to collect Branson for a second confrontation. In his testimony to George Brewerton, Coleman leaves out the first meeting with Dow on November 27, 1855. He did recount it in his testimony to the Howard Committee:

Mr. Dow came up to me one day about ten o’clock, and said he wanted me to stop cutting timber. I told him I was inside of our conditional lines, and was not interfering with his claim. I showed him I was one hundred and fifty yards inside of my claim, according to the conditional lines. He said he had never made any lines himself, and that, according to the Shawnee reserve line, he would be thrown over on my claim some two hundred and fifty yards further than by the conditional line. I told him I had been conversing with the surveyor who had run the reserve line, and was well satisfied that it would have nothing to do with the government survey, and that the laws of my country protected me in holding that portion of my claim.

We have heard that story before in every detail except Coleman having the surveyor affirm that the reserve line would not impact local claims. According to Coleman, Dow took this all remarkably well:

He swore he did not care a God damn for the laws of the country, and that I should quit cutting timber on that part of the claim. He said “God damn you, you think you will get all the timber off the claim and let me pre-empt the bare rocky land.”

Unless you grew up in a fairly orthodox religious environment, the potency of Dow’s curse probably doesn’t come across. At the time it probably sounded much more like one of our premium four letter words than a mid-range imprecation.

Coleman tried for compromise. If Dow had the line he wanted, Coleman would have no timber at all. He had a wife and child to support and required the wood for that. Dow, moved as before by the spirit of charity,

said he did not care a God damn; that I had made myself very meddlesome at the time he had taken possession of the claim he then occupied.

Dow referred to Coleman’s looking into just who turned the house on William White’s claim the day before Dow jumped it. When asked, Dow denied knowledge of the arson but then refused say if he knew who had burned the place. I think we can all understand why Dow found this irritating. An arsonist, or an accomplice to arson, hardly wants someone to find him out no matter how obvious he makes it.

Dow and Coleman parted the first time that morning without bloodshed, but an hour later Dow returned with his wagon skane and an armed Jacob Branson to, according to Coleman and Branson alike, continue the dispute.


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.