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1855 rescue of free stater Jacob Branson

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Branson Rescue.

On the 21st of November, Charles W. Dow, a member of our military company, was shot down in the road and instantly killed by one Franklin N. Coleman as Mr. Dow was walking past Coleman’s house on his way home from a blacksmith shop, owned by a man by the name of McKinney, situated about three and a half miles northwest of where Baldwin City now is, near Willow Springs.
Two days after the killing of Dow, there being no apparent effort on the part of the inhabitants of the vicinity where the murder had been committed, to bring the guilty perpetrator to justice, and as the air was full of extravagant rumors as to the cause of the killing, as well as to the threats, that it was claimed had been made by the pro-slavery party, providing any attempt should be made to punish the criminal, and after a full consideration of the matter by the officers and a number of the members of our company, it was decided that the proper thing to do was to have an investigation of the killing by our company and endeavor to obtain all the facts that had any bearing on the cause of, or provocation for the crime. Capt. Saunders accordingly issued orders that the members of the company should report to him the following day at noon on the ground where Comrade Dow had been killed.
Notice of our action was sent to Lawrence and as a result the three Sams, to-wit, Samuel F. Tappan, Samuel C. Smith, and Samuel N. Wood were on hand to represent the press as newspaper correspondents to certain eastern newspapers.


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The company were on hand at the time and all the witnesses that could be found were present without compulsion. S. N. Wood, being the only lawyer present was selected as the most suitable person to conduct the investigation and examine the witnesses. After a fair and as full an investigation as could be made under the circumstances, the conclusion seemed to be that Coleman was trying to follow the custom of his pro-slavery neighbors, by holding two claims of 160 acres each, of which one was occupied by Mr. Dow, and to which he, as many of his neighbors, believed he had a just and lawful right, and which he had determined not to surrender except by virtue of due process of law. When Coleman found he could not frighten Dow off of his claim, he followed another custom of the pro-slavery party and killed him.
It was nearly night when our meeting broke up, and Capt. Saunders marched his company back into the vicinity of the homes of its members and as each man came near his home, he left the ranks. When I arrived at my house, which was about a half mile south of Blanton’s Bridge across the Wakarusa, our party had dwindled to about five or six. Among them was S. N. Wood and a lad by the name of Howard Dixon. My wife informed us that a party of fifteen mounted men had passed the house, all heavily armed, going south, and that she suspected they were bent on mischief.
While we were eating our supper, news was brought us by Mr. Tappan and others that the party that had passed was a posse under command of Sheriff Jones on their way to arrest old Mr. Jacob Branson, under pretense that he had threatened to kill Coleman. It occurred to me that this arrest was merely for the purpose of keeping Mr. Branson

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from testifying against Coleman, as he was supposed to be the most important witness for the Territory. I then suggested that this might be the proper time to test the virtue of one of the resolutions drawn by ex-Governor Reeder and passed at the Big Springs Convention, “that the enactments of this spurious legislature have no validity or binding force upon the people of Kansas, and that every free man among us is at full liberty to resist them if he chose to do so.”
That convention was a general convention of the free-state men of the Territory held at Big Springs on the west line of Douglas county, September 25, 1855. At this convention the free-state party of Kansas effected an organization which was kept up during the entire struggle to combat slavery in the Territory.
I expressed the opinion that we ought not to permit Mr. Branson to be arrested if it could be prevented, but if he had been arrested, then we should rescue him at all hazards, in defiance of the bogus laws. This sentiment seemed to prevail in the minds of those present, and a plan was immediately adopted to carry out my suggestion. Being a Lieutenant and the only officer present, I sent the men in the direction of Branson’s to the house of a Mr. Eastabrooks, with instructions to wait there until they heard from me. On their way they were to notify all our men to rally with their arms at the place designated.
It was understood that I, with some other man, was to ride to Branson’s, and if we found him at home, we were to take him to some place of safety, but if he had been arrested, we were to ascertain if possible what had been done with him. I requested Mr. Wood to go with me, as he was acquainted with Mrs. Branson, and I was not. But

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Wood had been suffering with a severe chill and thought he could not stand the trip. I however persuaded him to undertake the ride, by letting him have my horse and saddle, while I rode a bareback colt. Our ride to Branson’s place was about six miles, and although we made quick time, we found that the pro-slavery posse had done its work. Mr. Branson had been carried away, and his wife was in deep distress, not knowing what would be the fate of her husband. After assuring her that every effort would be made to save him, we got our horses and tried to follow the posse by the horse tracks, but the road was so new, and the dried grass to heavy and strong, that we found it impossible to do so. Knowing that there was a rendezvous of the border ruffians at Franklin, we came to the conclusion that it was more than probable they had gone there with their prisoner. So we decided to return to my house, and if we got no news of the posse we would send a messenger to Franklin. On our way back we rode by the way of Eastabrooks and notified Mr. Tappan and Smith and two or three others to return to my house. Mr. Wood and myself hurried back to my house where we found eight or ten of the neighbors, most of whom were members of the rifle company and had their arms with them. It was a very clear and bright moonlight night. Mr. Wood had suffered considerable on account of his chill, but now the fever was on he was still suffering while sitting by the stove.
Our house was a small frame building, the longest north and south, with the outside door on the east and the road running north and south on the west side. While we were arrangeing to send messengers to Franklin, Mrs. Abbott, who was standing on the door step, called out,

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“The posse is coming from the south!” I immediately ordered the men to form on the north end of the house. As soon as the posse had advanced to within six feet of the south end of the house, out little squad of ten men formed quickly across the road, every one bringing his piece to his face. I called a halt. Sheriff Jones, who seemed to be greatly surprised called out, “What is up?” I told him that we had been informed that he had Mr. Branson under arrest. Jones replied that he had arrested Branson under a warrant issued by Hugh Cameron, Esq., of Lawrence. I told him that we did not recognize that Hugh Cameron had any legal authority to cause the arrest of anybody. I then told Branson to come over to our side. Jones said, “if Branson attempts to go, he will be shot.” I replied that a shot from any one of their party should be a signal for every one of them to die. I told Branson to come over. He replied, “ I will come if they kill me,” and he came. But he was a man 65 years old, weighed over 190 pounds and had sat upon an old sharp backed mule for nearly three hours, dressed in a thin summer suit. He had become so cold and stiff that he could not get off the mule without help. As we had no men to spare from our little rank, Mrs. Abbott came and helped the poor man off and got him into the house. Jones tried everything in the way of threats or compromises to induce us to give back his prisoner. But our men said to him if he wanted Branson they must take him, but he would never be given up. After fifteen or twenty minutes of parley in which Mr. Wood and some others had expressed their opinions of the posse in somewhat impressive language, Jones started off with a threat that every one of us should be arrested and punished if it took a

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posse of five hundred men to capture us. During this parley our number had been increased to about twenty-six, and it was almost daylight. We decided to march over to Lawrence, which was about four and a half miles. About the time we were ready to start Fred Lock, a stage driver, a very warm friend of Mr. Branson, came to the house, and after listening to a recital of the rescue, he caught hold of my hand saying, “God bless you, Abbott. What are you going to run for? You shall have any office you want.” Mr. Wood said, “ I nominate Mr. Abbott for representative under the Topeka constitution,” which nomination was carried, with a promise that I should be elected, which promise was faithfully kept.
When we were ready to start for Lawrence, I went into the house and brought out a drum and my sword, and when I called for some one who could beat the drum, there was no response. As Mr. Wood was standing near I told him to take my sword and I would beat the drum myself. In this way we marched to Lawrence, and called on Dr. Charles Robinson and after a consultation it was decided to call a meeting of citizens, which was done. Statements of the rescue were made to the meeting by different persons, members of the rescuing party, but the meeting passed no resolutions and took no responsibility in regard to the matter, but left the future management of the case with those who had made the rescue. But there were satisfactory indications that the meeting was almost unanimously in favor of the action of our party. Yet there were a few free-state men, who complained of our act and charged that the result would be, a large force of border ruffians would be brought into the Territory and property would be stolen or

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The number of men present, when the Sheriff’s Posse was halted, did not exceed 10 or 11, but before the rescue was completed, and the posse had left, our number had increased to over 20 consisting of the following named persons Phillip Hutchinson, Phillip Hupp, Miner Hupp, Howard Dixon, S. N. Wood, Julius Elliott, Jonathan Kennedy, Carlos Holloway, Edward Curlass, Jas. B. Abbott, Mm. Mears, Paul Jones, John Smith, A. Rowley, Elmore Allen, S. F. Tappan, S. C. Smith, A. McCaw, John E. Stewart, L. I. Eastabrook Lewis Farley, C. Kizer, Mr. Jamison, Fred Lock, and Isaac Shappet. All good men and true and all but four or five were members of Capt. Saunder’s Co.

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destroyed and the free-state settlers would be driven out, etc. But as a rule those who manifested the most intense fear for the results of the act were men who had, on all public and private occasions, been the most zealous in advocating a resistence to the bogus laws, even to the bloody end. We had given them a dose of their own medicine.
Mr. Wood immediately left for Ohio. On his way he stopped at St. Louis, and furnished a statement of the rescue for publication in the St. Louis Democrat. In that statement he assumed to have been the leader and commander of the rescuing party. While this assumption was rather severely criticized by members of our company at first, when it was suggested he might have made this assumption in order to draw the sheriff’s fire from the rescuers who remained within his jurisdiction, they were all too patriotic to quarrel over the honors. But if Mr. Wood, while at St Louis, assumed to have commanded the rescuers in order to draw the attention of the sheriff from the members of the rescuing party who remained at home, there was no excuse for reiterating the statement to A. Wattles in his letter of August 29th, 1857, in which he said, “An hour at least was spent in parleying, when Jones and company bid our party good night and left. *Our party immediately organized. S. N. Wood was chosen captain, S. C. Smith, lieutenant.”
Further along he says, “Just after the rescue took place S. C. Smith, S. F. Tappan, and L. I. Eastabrook and A. McCaw joined our party, which shows conclusively that Mr. Smith was not present at the
*Foot-note. See the Kansas Conflict by C. Robinson, p. 186.

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rescue, and as Mr. Wood asserts that he and Smith were elected at least one hour after Branson had been rescued. But the fact is, there was no election of that kind. The only act done at that time, or anything that could be construed into an election, was the fact that I handed Wood my sword because I could not easily carry a sword and beat the drum. That might have done for a pro-slavery election at that time, but if it had been popular with free-state men, that rescuing party had never been. But perhaps the great student of human nature, Prof. O. S. Fowler, may furnish the key which suggested this assumption of leadership. *In the phrenological description of S.N. Wood, the professor says:
“Ambition, sir, a desire to eclipse all competitors, and be number one in your line, is your strongest characteristic, and very strong, and you will work with might and main, strain every nerve, making any and every sacrifice in order to be first. You never would play second fiddle. Where you cannot lead, you will not follow.”
The facts are that not a man of us had ever been engaged in resisting an officer (whether he was genuine or bogus) and we were all wonderfully interested in the results of our first efforts in that direction. And every man and boy on our side seemed to naturally drop into position where he could do the most good, so like old veterans, it must have been, and apparently was, very discourageing to the sheriff and his party. Although Mr. Wood says, “guns were aimed and cocked upon both sides,” yet I did not see a gun raised by one of
*Foot-note. See Memoirs of S. N. Wood, P. 96.

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the sheriff’s posse, and I am sure if there had been, it would have sent a volley from our side, and instead of a bloodless victory, we would have had a bloody carnage. But from the time our little line was formed, and a halt to the posse was called, it would have been extremely dangerous for any demonstrations to have been made by the Sheriff’s Posse having the appearance of an attack, as we had the dead wood on them and it would have been impossible to restrain our men from firing.

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Sheriff Jones, true to his threat succeeded in obtaining his posse, variously estimated from 700 to 1000 men, mostly from Missouri The Territorial Secretary, Daniel Woodson, requested Gen. Easton to call out the Platt Rifle Co. and stating that Jackson Co. would furnish 400 men, and St. Joseph and Weston were requested to furnish each the same number. These men were all in Missouri.
While the Proslavery men claimed that the object of calling out this posse was for the purpose of enforcing the laws, and arresting the Branson rescuers, yet it was perfectly apparent that the sole motive was to frighten and drive out the free state settlers from the Territory, and deter others from coming here to settle, to the end that Kansas might become a slave state.
Some of the members of the rescueing party were harassed and annoyed by the efforts of Sheriff Jones, and some of his petty deputies, by their attempts to make arrests, yet none of the party were ever brought to trial for resisting an officer in the discharge of his duty. And the Branson and Wakarusa war was by the shrewd management of Dr. Robinson and Gen. Lane brought to a close, and an almost bloodless victory perched upon the banners of the Free State army. While the great Missouri posse was stragling home in disgrace, authority was issued to Dr. Robinson and Gen. Lane by Gov. Shannon, giving almost unlimited power and discression, couched in the following language:
“To Charles Robinson and J. H. Lane.
You are hereby authorized and directed, to take such measures, and use the enrolled forces under your command, in such

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manner, for the preservation of the peace and the protection of the persons and property of the people of Lawrence and vicinity, as in your judgment, shall best secure that end.”
(signed) Wilson Shannon.
Lawrence Dec. 9. 1855.”
Thus most successfully and satisfactorily passed the first great crisis in the effort of the free state people of Kansas to protect themselves against a bogus and fraudulent legislature, elected by the fraudulent citizens of a foreign state.

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