Community prepares to mark 150th anniversary of Quantrill’s raid

From an explosion of tweets to a solemn reading of the names of those violently slain, area residents will spend the next several days remembering the watershed event in Lawrence’s history.

William Quantrill and a band of Missouri ruffians killed more than 180 men and boys and left much of Lawrence burned to the ground in a massacre that took place 150 years ago this Wednesday.

“I hope everybody comes away from these next few days with a real pride for the Lawrence community,” said Fred Conboy, leader of the organization that oversees the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area. “The greatest significance of Quantrill’s raid is the spirit of resiliency that came after it. Folks wasted no time in rebuilding.”

Figuring out how to mark the event — which put Lawrence on the front pages of newspapers across the country — has been difficult, however. Jonathan Earle, a Kansas University history professor involved in some of the planning, said commemorating the event has been a fine line to walk.

“A lot of time when you remember old events, there is a celebratory aspect to it,” said Earle. “But this is a terrible, terrible thing that happened here. The hard part is that you want to remember the people who needlessly died, but you also want to convey that it is from this event that our town got its character, its grit.”

Events Planned

A list of events planned as part of 1863 commemoration:


• Public opening Watkins Museum of History exhibit. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 1047 Massachusetts Street

• Quantrill’s raid Walking Tour. 8:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m., Watkins Museum, 1047 Massachusetts Street

• Cemetery Tour of Civil War Veterans. 10 a.. and 2 p.m., Oak Hill Cemetery, 1605 Oak Hill Avenue.

• Presentation: The Quantrill Men Reunions. A look at the annual gatherings of men who rode with William Quantrill. 10:15 a.m. Watkins Museum, 1047 Massachusetts Street.

• Presentation: Fire and Fall Back. A look at Quantrill’s escape from Kansas. 2 p.m. Watkins Museum, 1047 Massachusetts Street.

• Music of the Civil War Era by the Kaw Valley Concert Band. 4 p.m., Watkins Museum, 1047 Massachusetts Street


• Kansas to the Stars. A hands on art and history event. 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. KU Spencer Museum of Art, 1301 Mississippi

• Birthplace of the Civil War: Where Slavery Began to Die. 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Territorial Capital Museum, 640 E. Woodson, Lecompton.

• City of Lawrence Quantrill’s Raid 150th Anniversary Commemoration. 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. South Park, Downtown Lawrence

August 20

• Bleeding Kansas Bleeding Missouri. A reading and book signing for the new book by KU History Professor Jonathan Earle. 7 p.m. Carnegie Building, Ninth and Vermont streets.

August 21

• #QR1863 Community Twitter Project. A reenactment on Twitter of Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence. All day.

• Quantrill’s Raid and the Fate of The Eldridge Hotel Guests. A presentation by local historian Katie Armitage and the Lawrence Central Rotary Club. Noon. The Eldridge Hotel, 701 Massachusetts Street.

August 22

• Judge Louis Carpenter, A Rising Star Annihilated by Hate. A story of one of the victims of Quantrill’s raid. 7 p.m. Watkins Museum, 1047 Massachusetts Street.

• Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence: Stories of Loss, Destruction and Survival. 5:30 p.m. KU Spencer Research Library, 1405 Poplar Lane

August 24

• Black Jack Joins in the Pursuit of Quantrill. A presentation on Black Jack’s response to Quantrill’s raid. 1 p.m. Black Jack Battlefield, 163 E. 2000 Road

August 25

Rev. Cordley at Plymouth Congregational Church. A reenactment of Rev. Richard Cordley speech. 9:30 a.m. Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vermont Street

August 30

Exhibit Opening: Modern Views of Quantrill’s Raid. 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Watkins Museum, 1047 Massachusetts Street and Lawrence Percolator, 913 Rhode Island Street.

Sept. 12

The Ballad of Quantrill’s Raiders. 10 a.m. Spencer Museum of Art, 1301 Mississippi Street.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been corrected to list the correct dates for the Judge Louis Carpenter event and the Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence: Stories of Loss, Destruction and Survival event.

Perhaps surprisingly, Twitter may be able to help. On the actual anniversary of the raid, Wednesday, several dozen area residents will rise before dawn to “re-enact” the event via posting on Twitter. Individuals will take on the roles of both Lawrence residents and raiders, and tweet their actions as if they are happening in real time.

“We’re hoping that when you see the event through their eyes, it makes it a lot more personal, and brings a little more humanity to it,” said Christine Metz Howard, communications manager for the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, and an organizer for the event.

Organizers also are hoping the unique Twitter aspect creates a lot of attention for the community. People can follow the reenactment at the hashtag #QR1863.

“As far as we know, nobody has done anything quite like this,” Howard said of the project. “The pipe dream is for this to trend worldwide on Twitter, but even if it just trends regionally, that would be great.

“Even if nobody follows us on the day of the event, though, I think it has already been a great project. People who are playing the characters are getting so much more interested in it. They’re reading old letters and diaries and newspaper articles to prepare for this.”

There will be more traditional events to mark the occasion as well. Howard said the “keystone” event of the commemoration will be be a special Lawrence City Band concert and reading of the names of the victims from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Sunday at South Park in Downtown Lawrence.

The Lawrence City Band played a concert the night before Quantrill raided the city, and Sunday’s concert will feature music from that time period. Earle, who has recently written a book about the Bleeding Kansas period before the Civil War, will give a speech about the significance of the raid and Lawence’s role in the fight to abolish slavery. The evening will be capped by a re-enactor portraying abolitionist and newspaper publisher John Speer, who will read the names of the victims of the raid.

“There will be parts of the event that are fun,” Earle said. “But there will be parts that are very moving and very poignant.”

City leaders are hopeful the 150th anniversary causes people from outside the city to take notice of the area’s history. CVB officials said they have been fielding media inquiries from as far away as Chicago. Quantrill’s Raid and Lawrence’s role in the days leading up to the Civil War are featured in the August editions of Wild West and True West magazines, Howard said. The television program Diggers, which airs on the National Geographic channel, earlier this week aired an episode in which the show’s hosts uncovered some ammunition and other artifacts at the Black Jack Battlefield site near Baldwin City.

Earle said he thinks it is time for eastern Kansas and western Missouri’s role in the Civil War to be better understood at the national level.

“A lot of the activities, the guerilla warfare that would happen in the Civil War, first happened here,” said Earle. “I’m not sure our friends on the coasts understand that. We were a pacesetter.”

But the attention on the events of 1863 also are good reminder for area residents who think they already know the story, Howard said.

“We should all celebrate that Lawrence did come back stronger and better than ever,” Howard said. “A lot of what Lawrence was fighting for and stood for still lingers here today. We’re very proud of our community’s free-thinking spirit, and that this is still a place where all people can come and live. A lot of the philosophy of 1863 is still in Lawrence today.”