1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 28 Part 1

CHAPTER XXVIII

THE WAKARUSA WAR

THE MURDER OF DOW

Hickory Point was in the south part of Douglas County, on the old Santa Fe Trail. In that vicinity some of the roads locally known as California trails, California roads, Santa Fe roads, etc., came into the main trail. This led the pioneers to believe that important towns would grow up in that vicinity. Some of the first claims staked out in the Territory were along this trail at the junction of these minor roads with the mother trail. The towns of Palmyra, Louisiana, Brooklyn, Willow Springs, and others, were projected at an early date. The pioneer settlers had no idea of the locations of the future railroads that would be built in Kansas. Even at the time of the opening of the Territory, a large commerce was being carried over the old Santa Fe Trail. had been so for more than thirty years.

One of the first settlers about Hickory Point was Jacob Branson. He had come from Indiana to Wyandotte, now Kansas City, Kansas, in March, 1854. He remained there until August, 1854, when he moved to Hickory Point, sometimes locally known as Hickory Grove. The town of Louisiana was laid out to include it at a very early date, but did not survive.

Lewis Farley was also from Indiana. In March, 1855, he with his family was living on a claim near Hickory Point. In the first settlement of the Territory, the squatters made a regulation or law that each settler might hold two claims of 160 acres each; one a prairie claim; one a timber claim. Mr. Farley was holding claims for himself, his father, his brother and his brother-in-law. His father, brother and brother-in-law came out and lived for a time on the claims he was holding for them. He built a house on each of the claims, but before his relatives had finally settled, the claims were jumped, and Farley was left in possession of only his own claim. Later in the spring, a number of Missourians came into that neighborhood looking for claims. They told him he would have to leave his claim on which there was timber. He replied that he had abandoned his prairie claim and intended to live on and improve the timber claim. They persuaded him to go to Willow Springs to submit the matter to a referee. He did not return for some time, and one of the mob said, "they had run off Farley - the stinking scoundrel; and now they would starve out his wife and children." The Missourians had torn down his house, and it developed later that they had mobbed Farley. The reason the Missourians gave for destroying Farley's-house was that he was a Free-soiler, and that he was claiming more land than he deserved. Mr. Farley and his family were compelled to leave that neighborhood. Those engaged in the outrage perpetrated against Farley were James Morrison, who lived near Westport, and his son, John Morrison, F. M. Coleman, Thomas Hopkins, Joe Lager, and a man called Ripeto. That was the first outrage perpetrated in the vicinity of Hickory Point. Ripeto said of Farley, "the d__d abolition" (using a vile name); "he intended to kill him." Ripeto said to William McKinney, "We have torn down Farley's house. They have given Branson notice to leave there and the d__d old abolitionist is so badly scared that he dares not step out fifty yards from his house to cut a stick of timber for fire wood." There were not to exceed twenty families of Pro-Slavery people in the Hickory Point settlement, and three or four times as many Free-State families.

Charles W. Dow came from Ohio to Hickory Point in February, 1855. He selected a claim which was immediately south of that of Jacob Branson, which had formerly belonged to William White, of Westport, Mo. He was unmarried and went to live at the house of Branson, where he made his home until he was murdered. There were a number of Pro-Slavery men living about Branson, among them Franklin M. Coleman, Josiah Hargis, and H. H Buckley, who was from Johnson County, Missouri. Coleman was a Virginian who had moved to Louisa County, Iowa, in 1849. From Iowa he went to Kansas City, Missouri, in April, 1854, where he remained three months, coming then to Kansas Territory in 1854.1 While in Missouri he was the proprietor of the Union Hotel, at Kansas City. He came to Hickory Point in September, 1854. He jumped a claim held by a non-resident named Frasier, and which joined that of William White, and later jumped by Dow. Coleman had questioned Dow about the burning of the cabin on the White claim. They had a quarrel about it and Coleman said, "You deny doing it yourself, but will not say you do not know of its being done, and I think such men as those are dangerous in the country." Dow's claim was immediately east of that of Coleman. There was a conditional line between the claims of Dow and Coleman and this line had been mutually agreed upon and was satisfactory to both parties. When the Shawnee Reserve line was surveyed, the settlers believed it furnished a base from which they might determine very nearly where the lines of their claims would fall when the Government finally made the survey of the land. The Shawnee line was two and a half miles east of the claim of Coleman. Dow and others surveyed their claims using the Shawnee line as a base. This was not satisfactory to some of the squatters, especially the Missourians, who believed it best to allow their claims to stand as they had been staked out, until the Government survey was made. These new lines threw Dow's west line over on the east part of Coleman's claim about two hundred and fifty yards. The claim of Jacob Branson was thrown west the same distance, causing him to encroach on the land claimed by Hargis. Contention arose between Branson, Hargis, Dow and Coleman over this matter. Hargis and Coleman desired the old lines to stand, and they continued to cut timber east of the new lines surveyed from the Shawnee Reserve line. Dow protested to Coleman when he continued to cut timber. Coleman afterwards insisted that Dow was abusive in his interview and threatened to find a way to prevent his cutting timber on the disputed land. Coleman was engaged at that time in burning lime, and having a kiln on the strip of land in dispute, it was necessary for him to have wood.

A Mr. Poole owned a blacksmith shop at Hickory Point. About twelve o'clock on the 21st of November, 1855, Dow went to that shop to have a wagon-skein and linch-pin repaired. Salem Gleason stopped at the shop, and as he was entering, he heard Poole remonstrate with Buckley, saying, "Mr. Buckley, if you cannot behave yourself, get out of the shop. I will not have such words in the shop." It seems that there had been a controversy between Buckley and Dow. The entrance of Gleason caused the conversation to be stopped. Dow paid for his work and left in the direction of his house. The trouble between Buckley and Dow involved Branson. Some time before that at the house of Thomas Breese, Buckley had said that he meant to shoot the paunch off old Branson and Dow because they were abolitionists and would steal his niggers. The controversy between Buckley and Dow was over something which Buckley affirmed Dow had said about him. Buckley had a double-barreled shotgun, with both barrels cocked. He said that he had cocked the gun to shoot Dow.

On the morning of the 21st of November, Branson and Dow went to Dow's claim. They put a log heap on fire to burn some lime. Later Dow started to the blacksmith shop with the wagon-skein. He soon returned and told Branson that Coleman and a man in his service, Harvey Moody, were on his claim cutting timber. He requested Branson to go with him to warn them off, as Coleman had refused to leave when ordered to do so. Branson took his gun but Dow refused to arm himself, although urged to do so. Before they arrived at the point where the wood was being cut, Coleman was seen to leave the premises. Moody remained and had some conversation with Branson and Dow. Branson again urged Dow to go back to the house and get his gun or a pistol. Dow refused to do so.

When Coleman left the claim at the approach of Branson and Dow, he went home and got his shotgun. As Dow was returning from the blacksmith shop, he passed the house of William McKinney. Coleman was at the house talking to Mr. McKinney. When Dow came opposite McKinney's house, Coleman went out toward the road where Dow was passing. McKinney was afraid trouble would arise and told Coleman to wait, that he wanted to see him. Coleman replied that he would see him that evening. From the McKinney house, Coleman and Dow went off down the road together. When they got opposite the house of Coleman, McKinney heard a gun fired in that direction, and looking up he saw the smoke of the gun, and saw Mr. Coleman with the gun at his shoulder. Coleman and Dow were at that time some three or four hundred yards from the house of McKinney. H. H. Buckley passed the McKinney house about the time Coleman had fired, passing on in the direction of Coleman and Dow. A Mr. Wagner was with Buckley. Dow was some thirty or forty yards from Coleman when fired upon and killed.

The first attempt of Coleman to shoot Dow failed. The cap exploded without discharging the gun. It seems that Dow was unaware of the intention of Coleman to shoot him. He had gone some twenty-five or fifty yards down the road from Coleman, and when he heard the cap explode, he turned about, raised his hand, and motioned with his finger to Coleman, as if he were talking earnestly to him. Coleman put another cap on his gun after Dow had turned around, then raised his gun, aimed at Dow and fired, when Dow immediately fell backward dead. The body of Dow was left lying in the road until near night, although viewed by a number of Pro-Slavery people. When Mr. Branson heard of his death he went to find the body.

Dow was lying on his back, north and south across the road, his head near the middle of the road. The wagon-skein was lying on the fingers of his right hand. Soon after Branson arrived at the body Mr. Hargis came by with a wagon having no box. The body of Dow was put on the running-gears of this wagon and taken to the house of Branson. Upon examination nine holes were found in Dow's body. It developed that the gun had been loaded with leaden slugs. Two of these had entered the neck, severing the jugular vein. The other shots were in his breast. Some of the slugs had passed entirely through the body and were found in the clothing.

The bogus Legislature had appointed as Sheriff of Douglas County, one Samuel J. Jones, then postmaster at Westport, Missouri. After he had murdered Dow, Coleman went to the Shawnee Mission and gave himself into the custody of Sheriff Jones. In his statement concerning the homicide, he says he did this for the reason that Jones was the Sheriff of the county in which he lived. Governor Shannon directed that Coleman be taken before a magistrate of Douglas County. On the road thither with Coleman, Jones met a messenger at the Bull Creek crossing, warning him that feeling was running high at Hickory Point, and that it was dangerous to go there with his prisoner. Jones took Coleman back to Shawnee Mission, when the Governor directed that he should be taken to Lecompton and arraigned before Judge Lecompte. Judge Lecompte was not then at Lecompton. After waiting eight days for him to appear. Coleman was carried before J. P. Saunders, Justice of the Peace, where he was released on bail, the amount of which was $500. His bond was signed by Mobillon McGee and Thomas Mockaby.

While Dow was not murdered because he was a Free-State man, but in a dispute over the lines of a claim, the political conditions of the Territory were primarily at the bottom of it. The community was sharply divided on the subject then uppermost in the public mind. Dow and his first friend, Branson, were Free-State men, and Branson seems to have been an active one, and a leader. His life, as well as that of Dow, had been threatened because they were "Abolitionists." The Pro-Slavery men of the settlement stood behind Coleman. There is little doubt that he was aided and abetted in his crime by these men. The Free-State men must have believed so. Dow was murdered on Wednesday, and his funeral was on Saturday. It was largely attended by the Free-State settlers. Gazing upon his death-stricken face - standing by his open grave - vengeance stirred their hearts. They might be standing on the brink of eternity themselves. Their wives and children might be left helpless and alone on this dangerous frontier. For what? That slavery might live and freedom die. That was at the bottom of it all. The immediate cause might be a dispute about a claim - or a horse, or any other minor matter - but those for slavery had acted together against Dow. Alive, he was an individual contending for his property-rights. Dead, he represented the spirit contending in Kansas for freedom. Living, his contest concerned himself. Dead at the hands of a Border-Ruffian, he represented the cause for which the Free-State men were then braving the consequences of insurrection. True, they were in the majority there, but yonder in Missouri! There was the reserve strength of the Pro-Slavery hordes who came over to impose bogus institutions on them.

Early on the morning after the murder, a number of Free-State men assembled and began a search for Coleman. There were some fifteen or sixteen of them. About a quarter of a mile from Coleman's house they were joined by a party of as many more, who came up from the timber in the direction of the residence of Branson. They stopped at Coleman's gate, sending three of their number in to search the house. Most of them were armed with Sharps' rifles, some with common rifles. Branson was with this party, the leader of it.2 Coleman was not found. They questioned a neighbor closely, but only learned that he had gone to the Shawnee Mission to give himself up to the Sheriff on the day of the funeral Mrs. Coleman sent John M. Banks to notify the Sheriif to remain at the Mission with her husband until the matter could be investigated. Banks went to Lawrence on Monday and was told by C. W. Babcock, the postmaster, that he had better not go back home as there had been a meeting that day to investigate the killing of Dow. Also that there were two hundred to three hundred men in arms. On his way home Banks met some twenty or thirty armed men returning to Lawrence.


1 In his statement to the Congressional Committee to investigate the troubles in Kansas Territory, Coleman said he had gone to California from Virginia, in 1850, and does not mention having moved to Iowa. In his statement to Brewerton he says he moved to Louisa County, Iowa, and said nothing of having moved to California.

2 In his statement to Brewerton, Coleman reviews the whole trouble between himself and Branson, as well as that with Dow. This statement is given:

I am a native of Brook County in Virginia. I left that State in 1849, and removed to Louisa County, Iowa, from whence I emigrated to Kansas City, Mo., in April, 1854. Here I kept the Union Hotel until September of last year. From this place I moved with my family, consisting of a wife and child (a boy of six years old,) to Hickory Point, on the Santa Fe trail, distant some ten miles from Lawrence. K. T.

At this time, the greater part of the land near Hickory Point was held by three Indianians, who occupied, partly by their own claims, but mostly as the representatives of certain friends of theirs in Indiana, who, though non-residents, claimed title by them as their proxies. Time passed on, and the absentee claimants neglected to comply with the requisitions of the 'Squatter Laws,' thereby forfeiting their claims. Three of their claims were accordingly taken by Missourians, who learned that they were lying vacant, in November of 1854. Some few days after these claims had been entered upon, the absentee Indianian claimants arrived. This led to one of the 'jumped claims' being referred to arbitration - the arbitrators being twelve in number, a majority of whom belonged to the Free State party. It was settled by these in favor of the Missourians. On the strength of this decision, in partnership with John M. Banks, a Free State man, I 'jumped a claim' held by a man named Frasier, a non-resident of Kansas. We notified this person that we had 'jumped his claim,' and as we did not wish to take any undue advantage of him, would give it up if he could show any legal right to the land in question. We afterwards discovered that Frasier had sold this claim to one Jacob Branson, then residing in Missouri but formerly from Indiana. This we learned from Branson himself, who came out forthwith to Hickory Point (I had known Branson while in Kansas City); I remarked to Branson that I had taken the Frasier claim; he replied: 'I have bought that claim from Frasier, and paid him fifty dollars for it, and I intend to have it.' I then said to Branson that the claim in question was forfeited by Frasier's non-compliance with 'the Squatter Laws,' and that I was willing to submit it to arbitration. This he refused, stating that if the laws took a man's claim away he would defend himself and have his claim, or 'die right where he was.' I then closed our interview by telling him that it was not worth our while to talk about it. On the morning following this conversation, Branson came (during my absence) to my house with a wagon-load of household stuff. accompanied by Louis Farley, a Free-State man from Indiana - Mr. Banks and a young man named Graves - a Free-soiler - were the only men at my house on the occasion of Branson's visit. Branson and his companion tried to force his property into my dwelling. Banks requested them to let their goods stand until they could send for me; he did so, and I came immediately. Upon entering my house, Branson and Farley being within, I reminded Branson that he had said that 'he would have my claim or die upon it.' I then drew a single-barreled pistol from under the head of the bed and told him that I should defend myself, and if he was determined to settle the matter in that way, I was prepared to do so. Farley then attempted to mediate between us. During this conversation, Branson kept his hand upon an 'Allen's revolver' which he had with him in his pocket, but made no motion to draw the weapon, nor did I threaten him with my pistol, further than to exhibit it as a proof of my intention to protect myself. I cannot remember the precise date of this difficulty; I think it occurred in November, 1854. Branson and myself then agreed to compromise the matter by submitting our difficulties to an arbitration. This was accordingly done, and the arbitrators, twelve in number, and mostly Pro-Slavery men, decided against my partner and myself, insomuch that instead of allowing our claim to the whole Frasier tract, amounting to two hundred and forty acres, they awarded one hundred and sixty acres to Branson as his proportion. Branson then promised, in the presence of the arbitrators, to measure off his share. But this he subsequently refused to do. Banks and myself then reminded him of his agreement to submit to the decision of the arbitrators, adding that we desired peace. He said that he did not crave our friendship, and that we should never have a single foot of the lumber which grew upon the greater part of the claim. He then stated that he had measured the entire 'Frasier Claim' with one of his neighbors, and found it to contain but one hundred and twenty acres - called us a set of base thieves, who had swindled him out of his rights, and with whom he wished to have no intercourse, etc. We then parted for our several homes.

Banks, Graves and myself then measured off the claim, allotting to Branson his full proportion (all timber land) of 160 acres, and marking the boundary line which divided our claim. This division was never accepted by Branson. He still claimed the whole tract. Branson then turned his attention to strengthening the Free State party - to which he himself belonged - in the vicinity of Hickory Point. This he did by encouraging Free State men to settle about him, giving them timber from his land, and informing them of vacant claims. In pursuance of this object, he and his friends invited a man named Dow, an Ohioan and Abolitionist, to occupy a claim adjoining my own. This claim rightly belonged to one William White, of Westport, Mo., a Pro-Slavery man, who had made some improvements on it, and therefore held it under the 'Squatter Laws.' The 'improvement' was a log-cabin, which was burnt down by the Free-State party, on or about the day of Dow's arrival at Hickory Point. Dow then entered upon White's claim and commenced building. Upon this twelve men of the Pro-Slavery party at Hickory Point, I being one of their number, waited upon Dow, to inquire into the 'jumping' of White's claim, and the burning of his house. We accused Dow of being accessory to the act. He asserted his innocence as regarded the destruction of White's cabin. Upon being asked if he was not aware of the intention of the Free State people to destroy it, he answered that that was his business, and none of ours. I then observed to him that as my claim adjoined his I would be his nearest neighbor, and should be very sorry to suspect that the man who lived next to me could he guilty of such an act. but as he had affirmed his innocence, as regarded the burning of White's house, I would (if it proved to be true) be a kind neighbor to him, and added that he was welcome to visit at my house if he wished to come. He thanked me and we parted. These occurrences took place during the winter of 1854 and '55, and from this date up to the very day on which I killed Dow I met him on several occasions, and always in a friendly manner, although I had at various times heard of his threatening me.

In July or August of 1855 a branch of the Kansas Free State secret military organization was established among the Free State settlers around Hickory Point. Branson being their commander. Not long after this, I learned that he had not only threatened to use this force to put down and set at defiance the Territorial laws, but had stated, on several occasions, that he had an old grudge to settle with me - that he would like to meet me - that I should not live in the Territory, but that he would have his revenge before I quitted it, etc. It was also reported to me, some four days previous to my recounter with Dow, that he (Dow) had declared that 'he would beat my d__d brains out if I went into the grove' - on my own claim - 'to cut timber.' I was also warned by a Free State man, a friend of mine named Spar, 'that my life was in danger from the ill will harbored against me by Branson and Dow.'

On or about the 27th of November, 1855, between 11 and 12 o'clock A. M., I was at work making a lime-kiln, on my claim, in company with a young man named Harvey Moody. - Moody is a Free State man. I had been busy there since early in the morning, as I had been for several days previous. Dow came to the place where we were working; he was alone, and apparently unarmed. He quarrelled with me about my claim - said he intended to stop our working there, and after making several threats left. I continued on with my work. In a short time after this visit from Dow, Moody called out to me, 'Here comes Branson and Dow.' On looking up I saw them approaching, armed with Sharpe's rifles. Both Moody and myself were entirely unarmed. 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 coming upon me with arms in their hands for that purpose. Moody. being a Free State man, remained a Pro-Slavery man, whose claim bordered upon my own, informed him 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 were I was, to which he replied that 'I had gone home.' Upon hearing this, Dow took his gun and followed me. Moody states it as his belief that they would have killed me if I had stayed for their coming. From my claim I went immediately to the house of Mr. Hargis, 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 buck-shot, intending upon going back to my work, to defend myself if again interfered with, and returned to Hargis's house, who had promised to accompany me, as stated above, that afternoon, with Buckley, a Pro-Slavery man, and one or two others, to assist in establishing the lines between Hargis and myself. Upon reaching Hargis's house, Buckley said that he was going to a whiskey-store which stands opposite a blacksmith's shop on the Santa Fe trail, and which was half a mile distant from Hargis's. Buckley desired us not to wait for him, as he would meet us at my house, and left accordingly. Finding that my friends were detained longer than I had anticipated, I concluded to go out and see if I could discover anything of Buckley. In doing so I passed by the house of William McKinney; here I found McKinney engaged in building a chimney, and stopped to talk with him for a short time. Not seeing anything of Buckley, I started for home, and had continued on for a hundred and fifty yards, or thereabout, 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. On approaching him, he turned his head, and waited for me to come up. He 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. - 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 have any trouble with neighbors. When we got opposite to my dwelling, I moved off the road to go towards home. Dow walked on his way for a few paces, and then turned round and re-commenced quarrelling, high words passed, and Dow advanced 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 down upon the ground, which Dow had no sooner perceived than he faced towards me, and again advanced upon me with the skein, 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 I have since ascertained) in the neck and breast, and he fell - dead.

I did not go up to the body, but went immediately to my house and told my wife that I had killed Dow; that I had been forced into it, having no other alternative to save my own life. I told her not to be uneasy about me; that I was going to surrender myself up to be tried, and had no fears for the consequences, as my conscience acquitted me of any blame, I having acted only in self defence.

Though I was not at the time aware of it, this transaction was seen by my friends Hargis and Moody, and also by a man named Wagoner, a Missourian, who happened to be in their company at the time. Wagoner is an enemy of mine. They were then on their way to 'kill a beef ' in the timber not very far from my house, at which Hargis and Moody intended (as before stated) to stop, as they passed, and assist Buckley and myself in running the lines between my claim and that of Hargis in accordance with my request.

In the evening 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. I finally yielded to their entreaties, and left that night for Shawnee Mission, Governor Shannon's residence. which I reached upon the ensuing day, and immediately - in the temporary absence of the governor - delivered myself up to S. J. Jones, the sheriff of Douglas County (in which the killing took place), who happened to be in the vicinity of the Mission at the time of my arrival. Upon the return of Governor Shannon, His Excellency directed Sheriff Jones to convey me in custody to Lecompton, the county seat of Douglas, which he did. On my arrival there I was discharged upon giving bail to the amount of five hundred dollars, and am now only awaiting the assembling of a court to stand my trial.

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A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans , written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 1998.

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