Archive for Saturday, August 21, 1993


August 21, 1993


The 130th anniversary of Quantrill's Raid on Lawrence isn't reason for celebration, but it is cause for commemoration.

On Aug. 21, 1863, William Clarke Quantrill and 400 raiders descended on Lawrence. When they left, 143 men and boys were dead and the town had been largely burned to the ground.

For many years Lawrence residents were -- and perhaps still are -- hesitant to dredge up the memory of Quantrill. But the raid is such an important part of Lawrence's history that to erase the event would deny one of the major forces shaping the city.

Lawrence was founded to further the anti-slavery cause in Kansas. Its standing as a free state enclave drew Quantrill's raiders to the city and the aftermath of the tragedy undoubtedly drew the community together in a special way.

It is fashionable, these days, for adults to look back on their childhoods and blame their current shortcomings on some mistreatment or tragedy of the past. What they often overlook is that every experience of their lives has shaped the person they are now. Tragedy may have given them a special ability to cope; adversity may have helped them develop determination that has aided in their success.

The same may be true of Lawrence. Quantrill's Raid was a terrible tragedy, but the town would not have been the same without it. The debate over whether Kansas would enter the Union as a free or slave state had been settled long before Quantrill rode into town. Yet the delayed punishment for Lawrence's free-state leanings probably solidified the resolve of many citizens for the righteousness of their cause.

The imagery of the phoenix rising from the ashes is still a popular one in Lawrence. As awful as Quantrill's Raid was, it probably gave the city a determination and resilence that have helped it flourish.

A number of tours and lectures were planned this weekend to note the 130th anniversary of the infamous raid. As we commemorate the historical significance of Quantrill's ride and honor the memory of those he and his raiders killed, it might also be worth considering how that pivotal event in the city's history helped mold Lawrence into the community it is today.

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