Worth remembering

Modern Lawrence residents probably can learn something from those who survived Quantrill’s raid.

July 15, 2011


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.


cato_the_elder 6 years, 8 months ago

Quantrill's Raid was a brutal, barbaric act of cruelty that is the one most significant event that has caused the ever-present, under-the-table hostility between Kansans and Missourians to remain throughout the years. Some of my forebears survived it.

I'd be interested in knowing whether the 50th or 100th anniversaries of this cruel massacre were commemorated in Lawrence. I remember very well when statehood was commemorated here in 1961, but I don't recall any specific commemoration of Quantrill's raid in 1963.

From family accounts, and especially from reading Connelley's history, I've long believed that Lawrencians of his time (early 20th century) continued to view the raid just as many would come to view the Holocaust 40 years later. In other words, if this is commemorated it needs to be done in a very somber manner - not as just another vehicle for the usual local pundits and cheerleaders to enhance their reputations by speaking as experts on something they know very little about, and certainly not as a matter of celebration.

Lawrence_Pilot 6 years, 8 months ago

They could start with returning the plaque removed a few years ag from the900 block of NH thst read, "Near here, a score of unarmed recruits was shot, August 23, 1863."

William McCauley 6 years, 8 months ago

It's still there, right by the parking garage near the crosswalk to the arts center.

Centerville 6 years, 8 months ago

Why is it that no one mentions that Lawrence, in 1863, enacted an ordinance that prohibited private citizens from keeping firearms? And that in the worst of the Civil War, the city demanded that Union troops be stationed in Lawrence for protection? And that the city then required the troops to keep their firearms locked up?
So, most of the union troops survived because they were camped near a corn field and could run and hide. And, when the people of Lawrence had allowed Quantrill to raid every home, in some cases as many as three times, the only posse they could gather had about three antique guns, including a blunderbuss.

mom_of_three 6 years, 8 months ago

Not sure weapons would have helped. Men were told to surrender and when they did, they were shot.

Matt Kuhlman 6 years, 8 months ago

The plaque is still there. It used to be inconspicuously placed on the ground next to the entrance of the old parking lot that was there, and when they built the parking garage they put it in the wall next to the main entrance.

KU_cynic 6 years, 8 months ago

Suppose some "tourists" were planning an I-70 drive by Lawrence on their way to someplace else (Kansas City, Denver). Being history buffs they have heard about Lawrence and Quantrill's raid, perhaps seen Ang Lee's 1999 film Ride with the Devil, and want to stop in Lawrence for a look-see at how the town remembers unarguably its most (in)famous occasion. Perhaps they'll also drop some bucks for a meal, some local specialty shopping, and gas up.

What would they do? What could they see? Is there a visitors' center with a short film or slide show? Does a visitors' center provide instructions for a guided or audio tour? Is there a smart phone app? Could they infer that a stop in Lawrence would be worthwhile by perusing the vistors' center web site in advance?

As a resident, why don't I know the answers to these questions?

Commenting has been disabled for this item.