William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 25] [part 23] [Cutler's History]


It happened that a few days after, Rev. Pardee Butler, a minister of the Christian Church (Campbellite, perhaps) who had a claim on which he was living, some twelve miles out of the city, came into the town of Atchison. He was an uncompromising Anti-slavery man, and had neither the craft nor desire to hide his sentiments. He spread them broadcast with a tongue not to be bridled, and a spirit that brooked and received no denial. He did not seek a controversy, but he showed no desire to avoid one if forced upon him. Consequently he was well known before he came into Atchison on the morning of August 16, as a Free-state man, if not an abolitionist, who proposed to say what he had to say at all times and in all places. It did not take long to get him into a controversy, and to his credit, it is written, he condemned in strong terms the outrage upon Kelley and the resolutions passed by the meeting before mentioned. His conversation was with Robert S. Kelley, Postmaster of Atchison, and assistant editor of the Squatter Sovereign. On the following morning Kelley appeared at the hotel where Butler had spent the night, accompanied by a mob of accomplices, and demanded that he should sign the resolutions, to do which, after the conversation of the previous day, would have stamped him as a cowardly hypocrite, and a poltroon of the most despicable kind. As he was neither, he declined, whereupon he was seized by the mob under the command of Kelley, treated with every indignity that cowardly strength against a powerless individual could devise, - threatened, buffeted, insulted, for two hours, and, at last, with his face painted black, placed upon a raft and suffered to float down the Missouri River. He got ashore some six miles below Atchison and returned to his claim.

The above shows something of the sentiment prevailing in the Territory at the Pro-slavery centers of population along the border. There was little chance for free-state settlers to avoid trouble except by silence or dissimulation.

The Free-state men had also their secret organizations. The "Kansas Legion" was a military organization, purely defensive in its character. Its members were organized into companies, battalions and regiments. They were officered, and imperfectly armed with rifles and pistols sent from the East by individuals and societies, and not as was averred, by the Emigrant Aid Society. It was the resultant of the secret Pro-slavery organizations of Missouri, pledged to place slavery in Kansas at all hazards. It was organized long after they were known to exist; to protect the Free-state settlers against the insidious and merciless ravages of the "Blue Lodges," "Sons of the South," "Social Bands," and other like organizations scattered all along the Missouri border.

One Pat. Laughlin became a member, and did considerable work in organizing companies of the Legions at different points in the Territory. He subsequently divulged what he knew of the organization, and thereby became justly execrable in the eyes of his friends whom he had betrayed. A fierce altercation occurred between him and a member of the Legion, named Samuel Collins, near Doniphan. Friends of both parties to the dispute were present and nearly all armed. In the affray Laughlin shot Collins dead on the spot, and was himself slightly wounded. This occurred October 25.

No attempt was made by the appointed peace officers of the Territory to bring the guilty parties participating in the Atchison outrages, or in the murder of Collins, to justice. Laughlin, so soon as his wound would allow, obtained a situation in a store in Atchison and there lived unindicted, and apparently protected and respected for his red-handed crime.

With these and like outrages all over the Territory, no appeal was made by Free-state men to the Territorial courts for redress or protection.


The state of affairs above described could not long exist without an open rupture between the antagonistic elements thus daily brought in conflict, involving more widespread and serious troubles than the innumerable personal and local difficulties which were everywhere rife, similar in character to those above mentioned. It came at last out of a personal quarrel between Charles W. Dow and Franklin M. Coleman, which resulted in the shooting and death of Dow by Coleman. They had taken adjoining claims some ten miles south of Lawrence, at a place known as Hickory Point. Dow as a Free-state man, Coleman, a Pro-slavery Missourian. Much bad blood had been stirred up in the neighborhood among the settlers in establishing their boundaries, and other squatter rights to their several claims, the parties to the various disputes generally taking sides in accordance with their political affiliations. The particulars of the dispute which led to the death of Dow hold no important relation to the history which follows. On the 21st of November, the disputes were ended so far as Dow was concerned by his being shot dead in the road by Coleman, while walking away from Coleman's house. The murder was cold-blooded and deliberate, whatever might have been the previous provocation. It occurred at 1 o'clock P. M. The body was suffered to remain until after sunset, uncared for by Coleman or any of his friends, many of whom knew of the murder. It was removed by Jacob Branson, a friend of Dow, with whom he was living at the time his death occurred. Coleman fled during the night to Westport, Mo., and subsequently surrendered himself to Governor Shannon for trial.

On the Monday following the funeral of Dow; nearly a hundred indignant Free-state settlers held a meeting at the place of the murder. Among those who participated in the proceedings were S. F. Tappan and S. M. Wood, of Lawrence, and J. B. Abbott, of Wakarusa. Resolutions of condolence with the friends of the deceased were adopted, and a committee appointed to ferret out the murderer and his accomplices (it being generally believed that the murder had been preconcerted) and bring them to justice. Violent speeches were indulged in, and a proposition made by some to burn Coleman's house, which was voted down by the meeting. It was burned, nevertheless, during the following night, as was the house of Buckley, his intimate friend. It is quite certain that Coleman would have met the death penalty could he have been found while the excitement was at its height. Jacob Branson and others breathed dire threats against him and his accomplices. The blood of the Free-state men was fairly up, and gave just cause for apprehension on the part of some of Coleman's friends, who, perhaps, had their fears unnaturally excited from their own knowledge that they were not entirely guiltless, and were under the suspicion and surveillance of the vigilance committee appointed. Among those who had most cause for fear was one Harrison Buckley, an intimate friend of Coleman, who had, on the morning of the murder, threatened Dow's life to the extreme of aiming his loaded gun at him. He had fled with Coleman, but returned. His conscience told him that his life was not safe, with Dow dead and his friend Branson free to avenge his death. He accordingly swore out a warrant for a Justice of the Peace named Cameron, for the arrest of Branson, on the grounds that he believed his life in danger at his hands, he having made threats against him.*

* Phillips, in his "Conquest of Kansas," p. 155, gives the positive impression that Cameron was commissioned a Justice of the Peace by Sheriff Jones, in order to get a man in the county who would grant the warrant required. If true, it but adds to the infamy of Jones and Cameron; if false, it does not detract from the interest of the story.)


The Sheriff of Douglas County, appointed by the Territorial Legislature, was Samuel J. Jones, Postmaster of Westport, Mo. He had no interest in Kansas beyond that of other border ruffians who were attempting to force slavery into the Territory. He was a Democratic office holder of Missouri and a resident of that State. The reader will remember how he had already identified himself with Kansas affairs by leading the raid of Missourians on the ballot-box at the Bloomington precinct in the Second District, at the election of March 30. He was perhaps as well known and universally despised by the settlers of Douglas County as any man in the country. Had he been selected by the Legislature for the office to which he was appointed with special reference to his obnoxiousness to the inhabitants, and with the intent to humiliate and exasperate them to the utmost, a better selection could not have been made. It is passing strange that the historians of the times, in enumerating the numerous outrages perpetrated upon the Free-state inhabitants, have given so little prominence to the crowning insult of appointing Jones as Sheriff of Douglas County.

Among the lowest classes of Western Missouri, he was rated as an oracle of political wisdom, and a model of physical prowess and invincible courage. He was a most subservient tool of the Democratic party, which to him, was the champion and protector of slavery, and the source of his own income. He had been one of the foremost men in Missouri to intermeddle with Kansas affairs, and was the accepted bondsman of some of the worst men indicted for crime in the Territory. He was a courageous bully, and braved dangers for his reprehensible principles, from which many fled who now pronounce him a coward.

To this man, with hands red with the blood of the murdered Dow, Coleman fled. Jones took him into his custody and under his protection, and, after taking him to Shawnee Mission to consult with Gov. Shannon, started with his prisoner and friend for Lecompton, where he was to be examined for his confessed crime before a friendly court. On the way he was met by friends who warned him of danger, and he retreated to Shawnee, returning shortly after to Lecompton by a way to avoid the men who were said to be hunting for Coleman. He had his prisoner safely ensconced at Lecompton at the time of the Hickory Point indignation meeting of Monday, and was in the vicinity at that time ready to assist by all legal manes in shielding the murderers and annoying the free-state men, who, ignoring his authority, were bent on justice through more direct and efficient measures.


Armed with the warrant issued by Squire Cameron, and accompanied by Buckley and some twelve or fifteen other Pro-slavery men, Jones proceeded to Branson's house, and, late in the evening of November 26, there arrested him.

The friends of Branson were informed of the writ in the hands of Jones for his arrest before it had been served. They had well-grounded fears that Branson, once in the hands of his sworn enemies, whose lives he had threatened, and who had already murdered his friend, would never get away alive. They lost not time in giving the alarm, and planning his rescue. Maj. J. B. Abbott was a brave, cool and determined friend of Branson, and took the lead in planning and directing the rescuing party. He was seconded by Col. Samuel N. Wood, who remained in the vicinity to see the fight out, as he was a fighting man. Miner B. Hupp rode through the darkness to the houses of the Free-state men and rallied them to the rescue. The place of the meeting was Maj. Abbott's house, and the time "as quick as the men could get there." The men came in hot and angry haste. At 11 P. M., a dozen men were at Abbott's house. He was away "over to Estabrook's to see if he could see or hear anything of the party gone to arrest Branson," as it was about time for them to pass along the road on their return with their prisoner. Mrs. Abbott did duty as a cheerful hostess should. She took charge of the boys' guns, and otherwise showed the cooperation of a brave and determined wife of a brave and determined man. Abbott came in soon after with no tidings. While they were discussing the chances of their taking the prisoner to Lecompton by some other route, or hanging him summarily without the benefit of even a mock trial, Kennedy, one of the party, who had been out on the watch, came in with the announcement that "they were coming up the road toward Blanton's Bridge," Below is given Maj. J. R. Kennedy's account of the rescue from a letter read at the Old Settlers' meeting held at Bismarck Grove, near Lawrence, September 15 and 16, 1879, in commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the State.

Mrs. Abbott handed the boys their guns, and they did go out with a rush; Abbott going first, followed by Philip Hupp; then came Capt. Hutchinson, Paul Jones and others. We turned to the left around the corner of the house into the road, a few rods in front of the horsemen. Phil. Hupp was the first man to cross the road. He said afterward he was watching the man with the gray horse, Sheriff Jones, and he did watch him sure enough. Next to Hupp was Paul Jones, and both armed with squirrel rifles. Next came Capt. Hutchinson, armed with two large stones; next were Holloway and myself, I thinking Capt., H. a good man to stay with, as he had been three years in the Mexican war. The rest of the boys ranged along the side of the road near the house. This was about the order we occupied when the party approached close to those in the road and very close to those by the side of the road. Mr. Hupp being in front, and seeing the boys scattered along from where he was to the house, called out, "What the h--l are you doing there? Here is the place for you?" They then all crowded up rapidly in front of the other party, when one of them said, "What's up?" Maj. Abbott replied, "That is what we want to know," which remark was followed by a shot from our side. The Major had a self-cocking revolver, and he had, in the excitement, pulled it a little to hard, causing it to go off. Then the question was asked him again by the other side, "What's up?" Thinking of what Mr. Hupp had said in the house ("that they might hang Branson at once before returning"), I remarked to Maj. Abbott: "Ask them if Branson is there." He did so, and the answer was, "Yes, I am here, a prisoner." Three or four of our men spoke at once, Maj. Abbott, Col. Wood and others whom I do not remember, saying, "Come out of that," or "Come over to your friends," or perhaps both were said. Branson replied,"They say they will shoot me, too." Branson then said, "I will come, if they do shoot, " starting his mule. The man who was leading it let the halter strap slip through his hands very quietly. The rest of the Pro-slavery party raised their shot-guns and cocked them. Our little crowd raised their guns, and were ready in as good time as the others. Sam. Wood and two or three others helped Branson. Wood asked Branson, "Is this your mule?" "No." was the reply; whereupon Wood kicked the mule and said, "Go back to your masters, d---n you." In the meantime, Branson had disappeared and was seen no more by these brave shot-gun men.

About this time, some one of them said, "Why, Sam. Wood, you are very brave tonight; you must want to fight." Col. Wood replied that he was "always ready for a fight." Just at this moment, Sheriff Jones interposed, saying, "There is no use to shed blood in this affair, but it will be settled soon in a way that will not be pleasant to Abolitionists," and started to ride through those standing in the road. He did not then know old Philip Hupp, but soon made his acquaintance, and I do not think he will be stopped by death any quicker than Philip Hupp stopped him that night. Just as soon as he started, old Philip set the trigger and cocked his old squirrel rifle quicker than he or any other person ever did it before, and said to Sheriff Jones, "Halt, or I will blow your d---d brains out in a moment." He stopped and stayed right there, saying quietly to Mr. Hupp, "Don't shot." There was then a general talk among all hands, and we were told about "The Kansas militia, 3,000 strong, that in three days time would wipe the d---d Abolition town of Lawrence out and corral all the Abolitionist and make pets of them" However, Col. Sam. Wood and others out-talked them so bad they were glad to get away on any terms.

Miner Hupp, who wanted to square accounts with his two men, was prevented by his father form doing so. It was not his fault, as he had a "bead" on them several times, but his father was watching him all the time after he got Sheriff Jones in shape. * * * * * *

According to my recollection, the names of the men who took part in the rescue were Maj. J. B. Abbott, Capt. Philip Hutchinson, Paul Jones, Philip Hupp, Miner B. Hupp, Collins Holloway, Edmund Curless, Lafayette Curless, Isaac Shappet, Jones Smith, William Hughes, Elmore Allen, Col. S. M. Wood, ---- Smith* and the writer, J. R. Kennedy.

* Samuel C. Smith, of Lawrence. Other authorities name, in addition to those given by Mr. Kennedy as members of the party, T. Nichols, Rev. Julius Eliot, William Ears and A. Rowley.

The numerical strength of the parties of this bloodless encounter was about equal - some fifteen on each side.

Sheriff Jones and his party, after a long parley, rode off in the bright moonlight toward Franklin, breathing threats of quick and terrible retribution on the "Abolitionists" of Lawrence.

The rescuing party, with Branson, held a jubilant consultation, as to future proceedings, at Abbott's house, and decided to enter Lawrence with their rescue prisoner in the true military style of conquering heroes. Abbott had a drum, a sword, and perhaps, some other military paraphernalia. None of the party but himself could beat a drum as it should be beaten on such an occasion, so he gave the sword, the insignia of authority to Col. Wood, and assigned to himself, with becoming modesty, and more humble and laborious duty of beating the drum, as the noisy herald of their victory. Thus officered and accoutered, the exultant party set out for Lawrence, and early on the summer morning aroused the sleepy and harmless denizens of the abolition city by their shouts and din as they marched up the main street.

The murder, the indignation meeting, the arrest of Branson and his rescue, had all occurred miles from Lawrence, and, excepting Wood and Smith, no persons living within miles of the town had taken any part in the affair. Wood was known to be a man who fought on his own hook, and assumed the personal responsibility of his own acts.

The party reached the residence of Charles Robinson about daybreak, and stopped for a few moments to consult with him. He told them that it was a matter of their own, and that they should not expect him or the citizens of Lawrence to have anything to do with it. From there they marched down into the village, and were not long in gathering an excited crowd of eager listeners, to whom they narrated the events of the night and the parting threats against Lawrence which Jones had made when he left, bereft of his prisoner.

A meeting of citizens was called, for the consideration of the situation, at which Col. S. M. Wood presided. He told the story of the rescue, the threats which Jones had made, and enlisted the fully sympathy of his audience. He was followed by old Jacob Branson, the rescued prisoner, who, in broken and ungrammatical phrase, and with tears coursing down his wrinkled and bronzed face, told the story of his friend's taking off, his own arrest and rescue, alluding to his anxious wife, now alone in his cabin, not knowing whether he was dead or alive. He offered to leave the town if the citizens desired, rather than compromise and bring upon them the vengeance of Jones and his army for his and his neighbors misfortunes and quarrels, in which they had taken no part, and for which they were in no way responsible. Nobody in that assembly suggested that Branson should go. The meeting organized for defense, by, on the motion of G. P. Lowery, Esq., appointing a committee of safety, consisting of ten of the leading citizens. The committee reported, as the sense of the meeting, the following:

We, the citizens of Kansas Territory, find ourselves in a condition of confusion and defencelessness (sic) so great, that open outrage and mid-day murders are becoming the rule, and quiet and security the exception. And, whereas, the law, the only authoritative engine to correct and regulate the excesses and wrongs of society, has never yet been extended to our Territory - thus leaving us with no fixed or definite rules of action, or source of redress - we are reduced to the necessity of organizing ourselves together on the basis of first principles, and providing for the common defense and general security. And here we pledge ourselves to the resistance of lawlessness and outrage at all times, when required by the officers who may from time to time be chosen to superintend the movements of the organization.

The report was adopted, and the meeting adjourned to await further developments. Thus far, Lawrence had not been identified with the affair. At the meeting above reported, a resolution approving the rescue of Branson was rejected.

On the loss of his prisoner, whom he had suffered to walk away from him without firing a gun. Sheriff Jones went to Franklin. There he wrote and dispatched by special messenger a letter to Col. Boone, of Westport, Mo., calling for help. The contents of the letter are not known. As his messenger drove off with it, he himself divulged its character in the following emphatic remarks: "That man is taking my dispatch to Missouri and by ------ I will have revenge before I see Missouri!" Some of his Pro-slavery friends protested, in Jones' presence, against the irregularity of calling on Missouri instead of the Governor of the Territory, whereupon he wrote and sent by another messenger the following message to Gov. Shannon:

DOUGLAS COUNTY, K. T., November 27, 1855.
SIR - Last night I, with a posse of ten men, arrested one Jacob Branson, by virtue of a peace warrant, regularly issued, who, on our return, was rescued by a party of forty armed men, who rushed upon us suddenly from behind a house by the roadside, all armed to the teeth with Sharpe's rifles.

You may consider an open rebellion as having already commenced; and I call upon you for THREE THOUSAND men to carry out the laws. Mr. Hargus (the bearer of this letter) will give you more particularly the circumstances.

Most respectfully,

SAMUEL J. JONES, Sheriff of Douglas County.

To His Excellency, WILSON SHANNON,
Governor of Kansas Territory.

[TOC] [part 25] [part 23] [Cutler's History]