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Archive for Sunday, August 21, 2005

Quantrill’s legacy differs on each side of border

A war that rages still …

August 21, 2005

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One hundred and forty-two years ago today, William C. Quantrill and his band of more than 300 Missouri ruffians rode into Lawrence, murdered most of the menfolk and set fire to all but a few homes and businesses.

In a span of three hours, 85 women were widowed, and 250 children lost their fathers.

For Lawrencians - then and now - Quantrill personified evil.

"In and around 1863, certainly, if you lived in Lawrence, you lived in fear of Quantrill. He was the devil incarnate," said Virgil Dean, editor of Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains and director for publications for the Kansas State Historical Society.

"A lot of people still feel that way," said Dean, who lives in Lawrence.

Not so in Missouri. Then or now.

"Quantrill was a savior to a lot of people," said Donald R. Hale, president of the William C. Quantrill Society. "He stood up for Missourians. He kept the Jayhawkers - people like Jim Lane and Charles Jennison - from riding roughshod in Missouri."

Hale, 74, said Kansans are quick to forget that on Sept. 25, 1861, Lane-led free staters wreaked Quantrill-like havoc on Osceola, Mo.

Tom Mendenhall, of Columbia, Mo., cheers on MU at a recent Kansas University basketball game. While William Quantrill is reviled in Lawrence, he is hailed as a folk hero in many parts of Missouri.

Tom Mendenhall, of Columbia, Mo., cheers on MU at a recent Kansas University basketball game. While William Quantrill is reviled in Lawrence, he is hailed as a folk hero in many parts of Missouri.

"They literally destroyed the town. They set fire to every building," said Richard Sunderwirth, an Osceola native. "They didn't kill everybody, but they had a mock trial, and they ended up executing nine men in the town square.

"When they left," Sunderwirth said, "Osceola was in ruins - and, really, it's never recovered. So around here, people tend to think there was some justification to Quantrill's going into Lawrence because what Lane did in Osceola was completely unjustified."

In 1863, Lane was living in Lawrence. He escaped Quantrill's early morning wrath by hiding in a cornfield that covered what are now the 700 and 800 blocks of Illinois and Alabama streets.

"I don't think Quantrill was as bad as he's been portrayed," said Rose Mary Lankford, author of the 400-page "Encyclopedia of Quantrill's Guerrillas."

"When I give speeches, I like to ask people to look at what (Union) Gen. (William Tecumseh) Sherman did. He burned towns, he killed people, and he's a hero," Lankford said. "So if the South had won the war, would Quantrill be the hero and Sherman be the villain?"

Kansans also tend to overlook that eight days before Quantrill's men rode into Lawrence, four women arrested in Leavenworth and jailed in Kansas City for being Southern sympathizers had died after the building they were in collapsed.

Among them were infamous bushwhacker "Bloody" Bill Anderson's sister and a cousin of future outlaw Cole Younger.

Younger and Anderson both took part in the raid on Lawrence.

"For a a lot of Quantrill's men," Lankford said, "revenge was a factor."

Hollow excuses

In Lawrence, the notion that Quantrill was a "savior" or that the gunning down of 200 men was somehow justified rings hollow.

"There were raids on both sides, that's true," said Lawrence historian Katie Armitage. "But nothing that went on in Missouri matched the slaughter of unarmed people in Lawrence."

Fred Six, a Lawrence historian and a former justice on the Kansas Supreme Court, compared the Missourians' rationalizations to "Civil War societies in the South" that continue to pledge blind allegiance to the Confederacy.

"I'm not surprised," Six said. "One tends to embellish military history in keeping with where one is from."

Six's view of Quantrill: "A petty thief who blossomed into a brigand - a brigand in the full sense of the word."

Guerrilla war

But Edward E. Leslie, author of "The Devil Knows How to Ride: The True Story of William Clarke Quantrill and His Confederate Raiders," said Quantrill's legacy is neither all-good nor all-bad.

The true villain, he said, was - and is - guerrilla warfare.

"Nothing justifies the (Lawrence) raid," he said, "and I think it's a mistake to try to justify anything that goes on in a guerrilla war, which, by its very nature, is unusually brutal and degenerative.

John Jewell, of the Watkins Community Museum, above, talks Saturday about William Quantrill's raid on Lawrence during a walking tour of sites involved in the raid. Jewell is in front of the Eldridge Hotel, which originally was the Free State Hotel and was burned down by Quantrill in the raid.

John Jewell, of the Watkins Community Museum, above, talks Saturday about William Quantrill's raid on Lawrence during a walking tour of sites involved in the raid. Jewell is in front of the Eldridge Hotel, which originally was the Free State Hotel and was burned down by Quantrill in the raid.

"I'm not a fan of drawing historical parallels, but I just saw in the news that in Iraq, some Iraqi children were blown up for taking candy from Americans," he said. "So here we have Iraqis - guerrillas, essentially - killing Iraqi children. This is what happens in a guerrilla war: On both sides, the brutality becomes increasingly cruel, increasingly senseless."

In Quantrill's defense, Leslie said there's reason to believe the Lawrence raid's brutality was more than he intended.

"He took more than 400 into Lawrence," Leslie said, "but less than 100 belonged to his band. So along the way, he had collected this rag-tag force of guerrilla bands and civilians intent on revenge and plunder. Once the massacre began, he couldn't control them."

Many of the ruffians, he said, were soon drunk.

"There was a large quantity of liquor in Lawrence - a lot of saloons, a lot of beer and whiskey, and homemade wine made from berries," Leslie said.

According to eye-witness accounts, Quantrill apologized to several Lawrencians during the raid, admitting he had lost control of the situation.

"And no one said they saw Quantrill actually kill someone in Lawrence," Leslie said. "Of course, that doesn't mean he didn't. It just means, if he did, no one saw him."

Also true:

¢ Lawrence was an "auctioneering center," Leslie said, that openly sold "plunder taken in Missouri," a fact that angered many raiders whose families' farms had been looted by Lane's troops.

The Eldridge Hotel was originally the Free State Hotel, which was burned down by Quantrill in the raid.

The Eldridge Hotel was originally the Free State Hotel, which was burned down by Quantrill in the raid.

¢ In August 1863, Quantrill was 26 years old. His band, Leslie said, "was made up almost entirely of teenagers," adding, "We all know what happens when teenagers get together without adult supervision."

¢ Among the raiders, the Kansas City jail's collapse and women's deaths stirred a hornet's nest.

"It was a definitely a factor (in the raid's brutality)," Leslie said. "The guerrillas believed the collapse had been engineered to kill the women."

Some of the victims, he said, were young girls.

Still, Leslie said, Quantrill was hardly blameless.

"He led the raid. He thought of himself as a Confederate officer," he said. "So he has to be held responsible."

And there's plenty of evidence, he said, that Quantrill could be a cold-blooded opportunist who wasn't above using politics to cover his atrocities.

"I'll put it this way," Leslie said, "you wouldn't want him to marry your sister."

Charlie Harris, a Wichita lawyer who has studied Quantrill and whose great-great-great-aunt was one of the women killed in jail collapse, wasn't as kind in his assessment.

Richard Spacek, of Leavenworth, gets a forge ready for some blacksmithing demonstrations at the Civil War encampment Saturday at South Park. Re-enactors educated people about life during the Civil War as part of the Civil War on the Western Frontier events.

Richard Spacek, of Leavenworth, gets a forge ready for some blacksmithing demonstrations at the Civil War encampment Saturday at South Park. Re-enactors educated people about life during the Civil War as part of the Civil War on the Western Frontier events.

"Quantrill was a psychopath," Harris said. "He was a manipulator, he found a niche wherever he went. There are accounts of him, when he was living in Lawrence, stealing slaves and then taking them back to Missouri and selling them.

"And on one of these raids, he set up the four men he was with. All four were killed," Harris said.

Harris and Leslie agreed that even by guerrilla-war standards, the Lawrence raid was heinous.

"After Lawrence, the best of Quantrill's men left him. They were so appalled," Leslie said. "Cole Younger left for California. He'd had enough."

Living debate

For several years, Lawrence historian and history teacher Paul Stuewe has monitored the debate over Quantrill's legacy.

"It's hard to find too many redeeming qualities in Mr. Quantrill," he said.

But the debate, he said, clearly underscores the importance of history.

"It's like I tell my students, 'history matters,'" said Stuewe, who left Lawrence High School earlier this year for a teaching position at Blue Valley West High School.

"These are feelings that have been handed down from generation to generation. They define us, they tell us who we are," he said.

"Unfortunately, perception sometimes takes precedence over reality."

Hale, of The Quantrill Society, also has grown accustomed to the debate.

"The war is still going on," he said. "We may not be killing each other - Kansans and Missourians - but the war is still going on."

Comments

BrianR 9 years, 5 months ago

I never heard the Jim Lane and Charles Jennison story before. Are there any raids prior to the Sept. 25, 1861 raid on Osceola, Mo? Sounds like MO had some justification for taking a pound of flesh. Revenge is not senseless, it's human nature.

HighScore 9 years, 5 months ago

I thought that this article might mention that there was a movie made that illustrated the climate in Missouri during that time. "Ride with the Devil" featured Tody McQuire and Jewel. Near the end of the movie the characters, who are from Missouri, hook up with Quantril for his raid on Lawrence. If you ever have a chance you should check it out.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0134154/

Of course this is a fictional movie, but it incorporates historical fact. Does anyone know how historically acurate this movie was?

Virginia 9 years, 5 months ago

A very well balanced article. I would, however, object to labeling Quantrill as a "psychopath". That honor would belong to the BTK killer. Quantrill wouldn't have survived as long as he did without gaining the support of the local population in Missouri. But I believe the label opportunist is right on the money. He even appears to have been cut out of the same cloth as Jim Lane, who joined the anti-slavery bandwagon to promote his own career.

The Lawrence raid was brillantly executed (very few raiders lost their life) but while sating the Missourians' appetite for revenge, the raid invited massive retaliation which wiped out Quantrill's supporters in western Missouri. And so I find it curious why Quantrill would be regarded today as a hero in Missouri.

sball33 9 years, 5 months ago

Quantrill was borned and raised in Dover, OH (the same home town as me). I found the article interesting, somewhat different from what I've learned about him from historians from Dover and in my high school history class. I don't think he's as bad as everyone in Lawrence says he is.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 9 years, 5 months ago

sball33:

Not as bad? He killed 200 unarmed people, but you think he's not so bad. There are "war battles" and there are simple massacres. This was not a battle, since one side consisted of unarmed citizens, not soldiers in uniform. It was a massacre. How it can be so easy to dismiss is beyond me. The article says he lost control of the group he was leading. If my neighbor's dog is out of control and bites me, it's still the fault of my neighbor.

Janis Pool 9 years, 5 months ago

Having grown up in KCMO, and having raised my family in Lawrence, has posed interesting dinner table conversations concerning the raid. We were definitely educated differently. And I was surprised how biased history classes had become in both states. Thank you for this article which cleared up some off the bias.

Gary_Ayres 9 years, 5 months ago

After reading your article I finally felt I should respond. Any student of the "American Civil War" will find this war actually started on the border of the Kansas Territory and the State of Missouri. It just took another six years to make it to the deep South. Missouri was invaded by the Federal government at St. Louis, MO by then Captain Nathaniel Lyon, who killed men, women and children. This was in May of 1861. Capt. Lyon vowed to see all men, women and children in Missouri dead before she was to join with the Confederacy. I remind you, he was in Missouri under Federal orders. In a letter from US President Abraham Lincoln to Secretary Cameron, I quote the following; EXECUTIVE MANSION, June 20, 1861. My dear Sir: Since you spoke to me yesterday about General J. H. Lane, of Kansas, I have been reflecting upon the subject, and have concluded that we need the service of such a man out there at once; that we hd better appoint him a brigadier-general of volunteers to-day, and send him off with such authority to raise a force (I think two regiments better than three, but as to this I am not particular) as you think will get him into actual work quickest. Tell him, when he starts, to put it through--not to be writing or telegraphing back here, but put it through. Yours truly, A. Lincoln End quote. Now to me this is somewhat like a don't ask don't tell type of thing. President Lincoln new what actions were going to be taken by Gen. Lane but didn't want to know the details because of thier wickedness. Shortly after this Gen. Lane did just the very thing Lincoln had wanted...the destruction of a majoy city in Missouri. At this time it was Osceola, MO. Osceola was a major city of about 3-4 thousand inhabitants. The town has never recovered. This is just one of the atrocities committed by the Federal Government and the Kansas troops. Captain Quantrill was an avenger to many folks of Missouri. He stood between being killed or burned out by Kansans via the Federal Government. Yes their were atrocites in this "unholy war" but this was brought to Missouri without provocation. I have recorded family members farms being burned by the Union, and, in one case the old man of the family shot dead in his yard while his wife and small daughter looked on. The wife and daughter were sent to Gratiot Prison in St. Louis. This was at the time when the Union depopulated western Missouri and it later became know as the "burnt district". Yes Quantrill was an avenger to the Missouri citizens. Missouri did the right thing when it seceeded from the Union on 31 October 1861. Gary Ayres

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