When you drive by the shopping center at 19th and Haskell in the future, maybe something other than happy feet will cross your mind.
Surely you are like me and always notice the sign for Happy Feet Spa at the relatively un-spa-like shopping center. Or maybe you remember the Laughing Dog Saloon, a place where if you didn’t mind your p’s and q’s, you would end up in a pickle that was no laughing matter.
This new memory that I’m suggesting isn’t real warm and fuzzy either, but perhaps it is one that will stick around for as long as the shopping center’s miracle has — the eclectic Miracle Video that is. The memory is this: Somewhere near this shopping center, the first Lawrence blood was spilled in Quantrill’s Raid.
Longtime local historian Katie Armitage hopes that thought crosses your mind as you drive by the eastern Lawrence hangout in the future. In fact, she hopes that there are dozens of new places around town that end up reminding you of Lawrence’s darkest day: Aug. 21, 1863, when Missouri ruffian William Quantrill led a raid on the town that left about 180 Lawrence residents dead.
Armitage is leading an effort at the Watkins Community Museum of History to document dozens upon dozens of fatalities or great escapes that occurred during the raid, then put those incidents into the geographic context of today’s city. The work will be part of an interactive display included in the new permanent exhibit that will open at Watkins in August.
Some of the stories may be well known. Others, undoubtedly, will not be. Either way, Armitage hopes the act of being able to say “this happened here,” will be powerful.
“Many times,” Armitage says, “we’re not aware that we’re living with what has come before us.”
In 1863, there was a cow pasture with a good well near the site that now houses the shopping center. The Rev. S.S. Snyder of the abolitionist-leaning United Brethren Church kept a few cows at the site. Early that August morning, somewhere between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m., a band of Quantrill’s men rode to the pasture, got within pistol’s range of Snyder milking a cow, and shot him dead.
That’s where the blood-letting began in modern-day Lawrence. (Others were killed on Quantrill’s ride from Missouri, but none were in the area you would consider Lawrence, Armitage says.) To be fair, Armitage can’t pinpoint exactly where Snyder’s killing happened: Did it happen at the convenience store gas pumps, or maybe in the storefront that used to house the Kansas parole office? It may be that the crime scene is on the other side of Haskell Avenue altogether.
But the multiple written accounts that Armitage has found make it clear that the killing happened in the general area. Regardless of the exact location, the point Armitage hopes to make is the same: When you drive through the 19th and Haskell intersection, you’re driving through a lot more history than you likely thought.
In some cases, the location will be much more pinpointed. Take 1004 Rhode Island Street, for example. Today, it is a small, stone-cut house with vines growing on its side and a front porch made for sitting. In 1863, it was the site of the home of well-to-do furniture salesman Henry S. Clarke. (It is unclear whether the house is the original.)
When the shooting began, Clarke gathered his considerable sum of $479 in cash and gave $400 to his wife to take with her into hiding. When a pair of 18-year old ruffian boys pounded on his door, he gave them $79 in cash and told them they were holding all that he had.
The boys told him they soon would be back to burn the house, but they never returned. Instead, Confederate Col. John Holt, sort of a tag-along on the raid, came to the door, spared the house from the torch, and commandeered the nice home for his headquarters during the raid, Armitage says.
Some of the stories will bring more detail to events already known. For example, Armitage tells a story about how “five bodies burnt to a crisp” still lay at the base of The Eldridge Hotel at the evening of the raid. In fact, they would lay there for days more. Imagine it: A whole town begins the process of coping while corpses cool to the touch.
“It was not only the heat from the fire, but you have to realize that about a fifth of the male population of Lawrence was wiped out in four hours,” Armitage says. “There was a pretty limited workforce.”
Almost anyone with a passing knowledge of Quantrill’s Raid can tell you The Eldridge Hotel was burned. But it is one thing to walk by The Eldridge and know that it was burned. It's something different to walk by it and think about those smoldering corpses.
Armitage really isn’t trying to scar your brain with all of this. She just wants the raid to be more than words in a history book.
For her, the raid often times is words in hand-written letters. Armitage, who wrote a 2010 book titled Images of America: Lawrence Survivors of Quantrill’s Raid, goes to many sources to gather information about the raid. There are newspaper accounts of the time, there are memoirs from survivors written years later, and there are probate records from the county’s court system.
But some of the most valuable information comes from old-fashioned, highly-personal letters. After all, it often was through letters that parents, friends and family members back east learned of their loved ones' deaths in the raid.
“There was an incredible cache of these letters written in the days, weeks and months following the raid,” Armitage says. “And people kept them because they realized they were living through something terrible, horrific and historic.”
The letters drive home a point for Armitage. She hopes that by sharing the stories of the raid in more personal terms, other people will see it too.
“These were very human people,” Armitage says. “They had all the same hopes, dreams, fears and sorrows that are very much a part of the human condition today.”
But this effort goes beyond just making the raid more personal. Here is where some proud Lawrence residents may shudder a bit: History may not forever remember Quantrill’s Raid, Armitage says. The history books are more likely to remember the Bleeding Kansas period that preceded the raid and put the country on a path to Civil War.
The raid itself did little to alter the course of history. It was not Gettysburg. The tide of the war did not change, and the most important two-minute speech ever uttered wasn’t delivered here.
If the raid is to stay alive in the memory of history, it likely will be Lawrence’s job to make it so. It is a job worth doing, Armitage says.
“It seems like it strengthens our character when we face our own challenges and problems to know that people have been through a great deal here in the past,” Armitage says. “It is very important for us, as the inheritors of this story, to keep them and respect them.”
In other words, it is our duty to remember. It will make our souls happy and, who knows, maybe our feet too.