Quantrill’s infamous 1863 raid on Lawrence is nothing to celebrate, but it certainly shouldn’t be forgotten.
We agree with City Manager David Corliss that Lawrence should start now to think of an appropriate way to commemorate the 150th anniversary of this pivotal event in Lawrence’s history.
As part of his budget recommendations for the coming year, Corliss suggested that city commissioners appoint a group of Lawrence residents to come up with suggestions for how the city could recognize the anniversary of the raid. Possibilities could include dedicating a new work of art or new historical markers in the community. It might involve an exhibit, an event or a series of events.
Finding the right tribute is a decision that deserves some careful consideration. Bringing together a group of local residents and historians as well as leaders from Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area and the Douglas County Historical Society would be a good place to start.
Quantrill’s raid is the most widely known event in Lawrence’s history. The pro-Confederate band rode into town early in the morning of Aug. 21, 1863. When they left, 180 men were dead and much of Lawrence was burned to the ground.
The story of the massacre is well known, but, as Paul Harvey might have said, it’s “the rest of the story” that is truly worth celebrating. That’s the story of how survivors of Quantrill’s raid buried their dead and rebuilt their lives. In the process, they also rebuilt Lawrence like the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes. The spirit of those survivors is a lasting legacy for Lawrence.
Some kind of physical monument to the 150th anniversary might be nice, but the greatest tribute might be to give local residents an opportunity to reflect not only on the raid itself or the destruction that resulted, but on the spirit that allowed Lawrence to pick itself up and move into the future after it largely had been burned to the ground.
What gave local residents the courage to look to the future rather than pack their bags and leave? What kind of vision guided them as they worked to make Lawrence a better and more prosperous community? What can current Lawrence residents learn from those survivors?
We may not think about it often, but events as significant as Quantrill’s raid have a lasting impact on a community and its personality. Marking the 150th anniversary of that raid will be an opportunity for modern Lawrence residents to honor both those who lost their lives and those who survived and thrived.