The Hunt for Jacob Branson, Part Two

Hugh Cameron

Hugh Cameron

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

Assume for a moment that you don’t know all the details of Franklin Coleman’s claim disputes with Jacob Branson and Charles Dow. Few in Kansas did, unless they lived in the Hickory Point area. But by late November of 1855, everybody knows that the free state men have a secret military order. Everybody also knows that the slavery question has turned Kansas territory in increasingly violent directions. A proslavery man straight-out killed a free state man only a month ago, in a dispute arising directly from their difference on slavery. The authoritarian territorial government and frequent election stealing, coupled with threats against the governor who tried to curb the latter, had driven many Kansans previously moderate on slavery over into the free soil camp. With proslavery men apparently running wild with official sanction, paramilitary organization clearly sounded downright prudent to some Kansans. Then another proslavery man kills another antislavery man.

Jacob Branson might have done some work to raise the mob hunting for Franklin Coleman, but he probably didn’t need to rely entirely on personal ties or his position as an officer in the Kansas Legion to get men to come and mob with him. Things in the territory had clearly gone out of control and proslavery men seemed entirely out of control. For Coleman to kill Dow just made him the next installment in a growing series of horrors. When Coleman, Buckley, and Hargis ran, it served to both prove their guilt and offered a welcome outcome, even if they’d have preferred to seize the guilty parties and do horrible things to them.

But Coleman didn’t go away, never to return. Instead, he went to sheriff Samuel Jones. Buckley swore to justice of the peace Hugh Cameron that Branson had made mortal threats against him, so the judge gave Douglas County’s favorite proslavery zealot a warrant for Branson’s arrest. Somehow, the murder of a free soil Kansan by a proslavery Kansan had turned into an excuse to hunt down a local free soil leader. Jones wasted no time getting together a posse to come serve that warrant and collect Branson.

William Phillips

William Phillips

William Phillips claims that Jones engaged in some chicanery to get his warrant:

The manner in which they had to proceed about this showed the character of the whole affair. Jones had got a commission for a justice of the peace all filled but the name; and found a man named Cameron, a recreant free-state man, of low repute, who, vain man, for the title “justice of the peace” was willing to sell what little had had of principle.

So per Phillips, and here he probably speaks for many antislavery onlookers, Jones manufactured a justice of the peace. Presumably he would have gotten that commission from Wilson Shannon, with the name handily blank, and went off to find someone who would sign it. This makes for a nice story, but seems very far-fetched. It sounds much more like a rehearsal of standard Whig complaints about Democratic patronage practices. Furthermore, Phillips has demonstrated familiarity with more facts than he admits to in his account previously. He quoted part of Coleman’s statement, but went on to insist that Dow and Coleman had no prior difficulties without acknowledging the contradiction even to cast aspersions on Coleman’s character. This seems like the kind of thing where Phillips would uncritically believe and report popular rumors.

I looked into the date of Cameron’s commission today, but except for an aging webpage that fails to cite any sources I haven’t found any details. A commission dated to late November of 1855 would make Phillips’ supposition entirely credible. I did, however, find a picture of Cameron. However he came about the justice of the peace commission, he honestly earned the title of Most Impressive Beard in Kansas.

Phillips continues:

Before this patent justice Buckley came; and, swearing he was afraid of his life for threats made by Jacob Branson, this Esquire Cameron issued a peace-warrant for the arrest of said Branson, doing so at the same time he received his commission from Jones. The next thing was to secure a posse. Coleman, it was decided, should not go; but he was unloading the pistols and guns, and making other preparations for the expedition. Before long a party of fifteen men, including Jones, Hargus, and Buckley, were ready for the expedition.

Coleman doesn’t say he went with Jones and it would make sense for him to stay behind. The others set out to make the arrest.

 

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The Hunt for Jacob Branson, Part One

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

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

We left off at Hickory Point with John Banks returned home to find a mob still hunting Coleman. They had come together where the latter show free state man Charles Dow, who then lived with Kansas Legion officer Jacob Branson. The mob drew up some resolutions, for which I have searched in vain. However, one can get a sense of free state feeling on the matter from the Herald of Freedom. George Washington Brown printed the same item reporting Dow’s murder in three consecutive issues, under the heading “Murder Most Foul.”

Our town was thrown into a high state of excitement on Thursday last by intelligence from near Hickory Point, in this Territory, that Chas. W. Dow, a young man about twenty-two years of age, was most barbarously murdered by a party of demons who rejoice in the appellation of “border ruffians.” Mr. Dow had been to a blacksmith shop where several of these demons incarnate were congregated. One of them drew a rifle on him, and threatened to shoot him on the spot, but finally set down his weapon without injuring any one. Mr. Dow started to leave, and got a few rods when his attention was directed towards the shop by the explosion of a percussion cap. Looking around he received a charge of buck shot in his bosom from a wretch named Colman, [sic] and fell dead upon the spot.

The business at the blacksmith shop seems to refer to a confrontation between Dow and Harrison Buckley, who many free state men initially thought had show Dow. Brown further pledged

The people will assemble on Monday, and execute summary punishment upon the entire party who were present, and accessories to the murder, if they can be found. We wait with anxiety for further developments.

By this point, however, Coleman, Buckley, and Hargis traveled Kansas with Sheriff Samuel Jones. They went in search of a magistrate, at Governor Wilson Shannon’s instructions, and found Hugh Cameron at Lecompton, the seat of Douglas County. I before speculated that the party saw Shannon twice, but can now confirm them. It slipped my mind that Coleman’s testimony to the Howard Committee mentions separate meetings.

At Lecompton, Buckley swore an affidavit to Cameron regarding the threats to his life that Branson had made. According to Jones’ later affidavit, reprinted in Brewerton:

on the 26th day of November, A.D. 1855, he received from the hands of Hugh Cameron, a legally appointed justice of the peace for said County of Douglass, a peace-warrant issued by said justice of the peace, and to him directed as sheriff, […] and immediately after receiving said warrant he summoned a posse of ten men and proceeded to the house of said Branson

Jones’ posse included Buckley and Hargis, but it appears that Coleman remained in Lecompton. The hunt for Franklin Coleman thus gave way to a hunt for Jacob Branson.

The Hunt for Franklin Coleman, Part Seven

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, 6

John Banks came home to Hickory Point and found the local free state men up in a mob, still looking for Franklin Coleman. They burned his house, as well as Harrison Buckley’s, not long after seeing him. The same day, the local free state men came together in a public meeting at the site of Charles Dow’s death to discuss matters. Nicholas McKinney attended that meeting:

I think there were about 100 persons there, and it was held at the place where the murder was committed; the men standing in a circle around the spot where Dow was found. I do not think any steps had been taken to arrest Coleman at the time of the meeting. I heard he was then down at Shawnee Mission, or in Missouri. He has never, that I have heard of, been arrested since then, and has been at large ever since. I do not recollect much about the resolutions passed at the meeting at Hickory Point; I cannot identify them.

I don’t know just how many people lived in and around Hickory Point at the time, but a hundred seems very high. Given Banks reports people coming back from there to Lawrence, it seems likely that the crowd came from more than just the immediate environs. Maybe Jacob Branson put out a call for his Kansas Legion associates. The organization existed to protect free soil men from proslavery men, so it would make perfect sense for him to do so given Coleman and Dow’s respective politics, as well as his personal friendship with Dow and enmity with Coleman.

O.N. Merrill has an account of the meeting in his True History of the Kansas Wars and had the resolutions passed at the meeting available to him, but declined to include the lot. He does, however, see fit to include the customary statement of causes:

Charles D. Dow, a citizen of this place, was murdered on Wednesday afternoon last; and whereas, evidence by admission and otherwise, fastens the guilt of said murder on one F.M. Coleman; and whereas, facts further indicate that other parties, namely; Buckley, Hargis, Wagoner, Reynolds, Moody and others, were implicated in said murder; and whereas, facts further indicate that said individuals and parties are combining for the purpose of harassing, and even murdering unoffending citizens; and whereas, we are now destitute of law, even for the punishment of crime, in this territory, and whereas said individuals have fled to Missouri

I don’t recall reference to any Reynolds before. Wagoner and Moody did no more than see what happened, but it sounds like they fled the area. One can’t blame them with a mob out hunting for Coleman any more than one can blame Hargis and Buckley for getting clear while they could. But it had to make them look guilty to the mob. Why flee unless they had reason to? Few mobs will admit to their own role in deciding such things, though that doesn’t render their concern entirely insincere. Given how things have gone in Kansas to date, and the fact that proslavery men had organized against them often enough, the leap from frightened people seeking safety to guilty co-conspirators withdrawing to fight another day seems small enough. Had they known that Coleman now traveled in the company of Samuel Jones, that would probably have silenced any doubts that remained.

 

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.