Baxter Springs Though the history of the Civil War is well-documented, some think the history of Kansas in the years leading up to the war is not as well-known. Some people in Baxter Springs, Lawrence and other parts of eastern Kansas are hoping to change that.
Their goal is a designation by Congress of a Bleeding Kansas National Heritage Area. Bleeding Kansas refers primarily to the years from 1854 to 1861, characterized by violence that erupted between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 provided that the decision of whether Kansas would be admitted as a free state or a slave state be made by a popular vote, so adherents of both sides moved to the territory for an opportunity to influence the vote.
Much of the violence occurred in the areas along the border of Kansas and Missouri, with both sides committing atrocities. Three months after Kansas was admitted into the union as a free state in 1861, the Civil War began.
Baxter Springs resident Larry O'Neal recently received a commitment for a letter of support for the proposal from the Cherokee County Commission.
"The guiding force behind this is the chambers of commerce in the northeast part of the state," O'Neal said. "They found that if they worked together, they would be more successful. They wanted to expand the area to include Southeast Kansas as well."
Baxter Springs sites
Baxter Springs was the site of a Civil War battle on Oct. 6, 1863. Confederate guerrilla leader William Quantrill led a raid on Fort Blair, a Union garrison. After an unsuccessful attack on the fort, Quantrill's men encountered a Union column led by Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt. Quantrill and his men killed 90 Union soldiers, and Blunt barely escaped with his life.
O'Neal said other, less well-known Civil War events occurred in or near Baxter Springs. He said the First Kansas Colored Infantry, composed of black Union soldiers, camped there as a staging point for missions against Confederate guerrillas in Missouri.
He said American Indians loyal to the Union were forced into exile by Confederate Indian forces.
"They came as far north as Baxter Springs and wintered in this area," O'Neal said. He said the exiles formed the Union Indian Brigade in 1862.
"More and more historians are beginning to realize the seeds of the Civil War were sown in Kansas before the first shots at Fort Sumter," he said.
Heritage Area effort
Phyllis Abbott, president of the Baxter Springs Historical Society, is heading up the National Heritage Area effort in Baxter Springs.
"It would be to our advantage to be involved in this," Abbott said. "That certainly would be a boon to tourism. The tourism dollars when you have the National Park Service involved will really be significant."
She said the Baxter Springs City Council also was writing a letter of support.
"We feel that Baxter Springs had a great deal going on that is significant" to the Civil War, she said.
National Heritage Areas are designated by Congress and are part of the National Park Service. National Park Service literature defines them as areas "where cultural, historic and recreational resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography."
There are 23 National Heritage Areas so far, including the National Coal Heritage Area in West Virginia, the MotorCities-Automobile National Heritage Area in Michigan and the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area.
Judy Billings, director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, contacted the Baxter Springs Historical Society to determine the level of interest in being part of the proposed National Heritage Area.
"Baxter Springs has a part of the Bleeding Kansas story," Billings said.
Lawrence, an abolitionist stronghold during the prewar years, played a key role in Bleeding Kansas. After pro-slavery forces sacked the town, abolitionist John Brown and seven followers took revenge on May 24, 1856, murdering five unarmed pro-slavery men in Franklin County.
In 1859, Brown led the raid on the armory at Harpers Ferry, W.Va., in an unsuccessful attempt to start a slave revolt. He was hanged after he and his fellow conspirators were captured.
Lawrence also had its own experience with Quantrill. Quantrill and his men raided Lawrence on Aug. 21, 1863, looted the town, burned buildings and killed nearly 150 men. Many of them were unarmed.
Billings said the boundaries of the proposed National Heritage Area have not been determined, but it likely would include Douglas, Pottawatomie, Wyandotte, Allen, Wilson, Johnson, Linn, Franklin, Miami, Bourbon and Cherokee counties.
"There may be others as we go along," Billings said.
Billings said the Lawrence tourism bureau had a contract to write a feasibility study for the proposed National Heritage Area. After that, the political effort will begin.
"The goal is to have this complete by the end of this year and to start the political process by the first of next year," Billings said.
Billings, O'Neal and Abbott all dismissed the idea that the effort to establish a Bleeding Kansas National Heritage Area could stir up long-buried feelings on the Missouri side of the border.
"I've never detected one bit of that here," Abbott said. "The Civil War is over," O'Neal said.
Yet, Abbott said, some visitors to the Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum complain that the museum portrays Quantrill as a villain.