Some of the mystique and glamour of the story of Quantrill's Raid on Lawrence was replaced Friday night by sympathy for the survivors and an understanding of the political climate that drove men to murder.
Steve Jansen, director of the Elizabeth M. Watkins Community Museum, described the 1863 massacre by William Quantrill and his band of pro-slavery raiders before almost 200 people packed into the museum's first floor on the 129th anniversary of the raid.
Before his account of the raid itself, Jansen explained the tense atmosphere of eastern Kansas and western Missouri in years leading to the Civil War. The emotional issue of slavery had split Kansas Lecompton was the pro-slavery territorial capital, and Lawrence, only 10 miles to the southeast, had become the unofficial free state capital by 1857.
The Massachusetts Immigrant Aid Society was attempting to forge links between Kansas and the North, while "Westerners" tried equally as hard to establish a pro-slavery presence, Jansen said.
"The basic bedrock for creating free democratic elections were not in place," he said.
MEANWHILE, Kansas raiders had initiated battles in Missouri. Jayhawkers a violent band of anti-slavery marauders were liberating slaves and bringing them to Lawrence.
"People ask why would anyone do this to us," Jansen said. "Quantrill didn't have to mesmerize people. He didn't have to hypnotize them. They willingly rode with him and they thought they had their reasons to do so."
Lawrence residents had braced for attack for many years, but when the fateful day arrived, people were defenseless, Jansen said. The New Englanders in Lawrence had succeeded in keeping guns out of homes and set up a central armory, where hundreds of weapons were stored.
Those who attempted to reach Lawrence with the warning of Quantrill's approach arrived too late, and the armory was inaccessible. The estimated 400 raiders killed more than 150 men and burned most of the downtown business district.
Jansen read excerpts from "Bloody Dawn" by Thomas Goodrich, showed slides of old photographs and drawings of Lawrence, and provided tidbits of information about people involved in the raid.
"IRONICALLY, the raid ensured the growth of Lawrence," he said, noting the symbol of Lawrence is a phoenix rising from the ashes. The downtown area was reconstructed, the population flourished and plans for a section of transcontinental railroad line were redrawn closer to Lawrence.
Jansen said he wanted the audience to understand the enormity of the loss Lawrence experienced in the raid.
"There weren't any battle lines," he said. "It was pretty much just a series of violent acts against unarmed men. That's why it's called a massacre. No women were killed, but they were forced to watch their brothers, husbands, fathers and sons shot down before their eyes."
To illustrate his point, he read from a letter written by Sarah Fitch, whose husband, Edward, was killed by Quantrill's men. She wrote of hearing gunfire early in the morning, when 20 or 30 raiders surrounded her home. Two of the ruffians entered the house prepared to set it on fire.
JANSEN READ, "He that witch turned and saw my Edward oh Mother so calm so self-possessed and without a word the deadly aim was taken, shot after shot in rapid succession, emptying his own revolver, then taking the weapon from the hand of his companion, and using all its load to make sure work of death. Oh can you picture that moment? I begged, I implored. I looked around on that circle of hard cruel faces and I knew there was no help no help. Oh had God forgotten us? The match was applied to our house. . . ."