When William Clarke Quantrill and his band of pro-slavery raiders launched an attack on Lawrence in August 1863, they shot and killed virtually every man in sight. However, Quantrill showed favor to residents in the Eldridge Hotel and accompanied them to safety.
Until recently, historians knew that Quantrill led the guests to the Whitney House, also known as the City Hotel, located at what is now the intersection of Sixth and Massachusetts. However, nobody understood why.
But now a New York man working on a biography of his great-grandfather has presented a letter that cleared up the mystery.
Robert C. Stevens, a family historian from Attica, N.Y., visited Lawrence this week to continue research on his great-grandfather, Robert S. Stevens, an attorney who was staying in Lawrence at the time of Quantrill's raid. He has piles of letters and documents from the 1800s and is attempting to piece them all together chronologically.
IN ONE LETTER to "folks at home" dated Aug. 23, 1863, Mr. Stevens described the aftermath of the Lawrence massacre and explained how he had escaped. He told of signaling to a guard in the Eldridge Hotel and asking him to send for Quantrill, who soon arrived.
"I took him by the hand, led him aside and finally got from him a promise of protection for the whole crowd," he wrote. "We then moved out, and as we went down stairs, the chemicals in the drug store began to explode; marched down east to an open space on the grass, when drunken soldiers came up and began shooting at us. Again I sent for Quantrill, who took us to the Whitney House, and stayed with us all the time."
Stevens said his research has led him to believe that his great-grandfather and Quantrill had met prior to the Eldridge Hotel incident. "I have good reason to believe that my great-grandfather had defended Quantrill in a lawsuit for petty theft," he said. "This was how he knew Quantrill, and Quantrill was returning a favor."
STEVE JANSEN, director of the Elizabeth M. Watkins Community Museum, said the letter helps clarify the chaotic events that occurred during the raid.
"We knew that Quantrill first came to the Eldridge and surrounded it, but we also knew that some of the people were escorted out to safety," he said. "His letter clarifies how that occurred. It shows that there was a prior relationship with Quantrill and Stevens. He was able to use his good influence to intervene on behalf of the guests."
Stevens isn't sure why his great-grandfather moved to Kansas from New York, but guesses that he was looking to make his fortune.
In a letter dated November 1856 to his wife, Mary, Stevens wrote that he had rented space in "the best building in the territory," which his namesake later discovered was Constitution Hall in Lecompton.
WHILE conducting research in this area, Stevens visited the historic building currently under renovation and stood in the same room, on the same floorboards, where his great-grandfather practiced law.
"I told my kids I'd be walking in the footsteps of my great-grandfather," he said. "I didn't think I'd be literally walking on them."