Popular video game references Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence

photo by: Rockstar Games

A screenshot from the setting of the fictional state of Lemoyne in "Red Dead Redemption 2."

Once again, Lawrence’s most famous historic event makes an appearance in popular culture.

William Quantrill’s attack on Lawrence makes a brief appearance in the extremely popular video game “Red Dead Redemption 2,” a western-themed, open-world game set just before the turn of the 20th century. The game’s story follows a gang of bandits through a fictionalized version of the American west in the dying days of the outlaw era.

In the game, players can find a letter from a man named William Marcus Anderson, which mentions an attack on the “jayhawkers of Lawrence, Kansas.” The letter appears to be a reference to Quantrill’s Raid, also known as the Lawrence Massacre, on Aug. 21, 1863.

Quantrill, a Confederate guerrilla leader from Missouri, led the attack that burned much of the town and killed approximately 185 men and boys.

The game’s letter, which is listed as from the fictional gang consisting of former Confederate soldiers known as the Lemoyne Raiders, says:

“William, I am writing to let you know our raids against the jayhawkers in Lawrence, Kansas, have been successful. There are many times since we set out on this campaign that I doubted there was a God who loved us but today I have a glimmer of hope. That they call us Lemoyne Raiders ‘bushwhackers’ and ‘border ruffians’ does not diminish our fight for a free state, and to be free from the incursions of Northerners set on changing our way of life.

“I hope you will continue to work to recruit more young men to our cause here in Lemoyne. We will ride through their ranks and smite down the oppressors. History is not over and shall be rewritten. It is always darkest before dawn.

“Sincerely, William Marcus Anderson.”

photo by: Contributed photo

A letter found in the video game “Red Dead Redemption 2” appears to reference Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence in 1863.

Steve Nowak, executive director for the Watkins Museum of History in Lawrence, said the name William Marcus Anderson is likely a reference to William T. Anderson, who is often referred to as “Bloody Bill.” He was a notorious confederate guerilla and a central figure of the attack on Lawrence, according to the Kansas City Public Library. Bloody Bill’s brutal actions in the raid earned him his nickname.

“The letter seems to describe Bloody Bill’s activities in Missouri during the Civil War,” Nowak said. “Through Quantrill’s raid, he is connected to Lawrence.”

The state of Lemoyne is considered a fictional version of Louisiana because it is based in a bayou-like area and includes a large city with French connection called Saint Denis, presumably a fictional version of New Orleans.

But the real Bloody Bill had no connection to Louisiana, spending his life between Missouri and Texas before he was killed by Union soldiers in 1864. Additionally, the letter references “bushwackers” and “border ruffians,” which were terms most often used to describe the Missouri Confederate guerillas.

The game features many references to the American Civil War and the difficulties in the Southern U.S. during the reconstruction era. But why the game specifically mentioned the Lawrence massacre is not clear. Officials for Rockstar Games, which produced the game, did not respond to requests for comment.

The reference in “Red Dead Redemption 2” is not the first time Quantrill’s Raid has made an appearance in popular culture, Nowak said. He said that John Wayne’s character Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn in the 1969 film “True Grit” was a former member of Quantrill’s Confederate gang. Another John Wayne film, “Dark Command,” which was released in 1940, was loosely based on Quantrill’s Raid and is based in Lawrence.

Nowak said he does not know why the event is often referenced in popular culture, though. He guesses it’s likely because the event included a civilian population as the victims, which makes it easy to paint the picture of a villain.

“There are actually lots of pop culture references to Quantrill and his associates,” he said. “I find it fascinating how the raid still captures public imagination.”

Many people may be learning about the history of Lawrence and Quantrill’s Raid because of “Red Dead Redemption 2.” The game, which was released in late October, has been one of the most successful video games in history.

Rockstar Games said in a corporate earnings report that it had sold more than 17 million copies in less than two weeks after the release and earned about $750 million in its first weekend for sale.

Strauss Zelnick, chairman and CEO of Take-Two Interactive, Rockstar Games’ parent company, said first weekend sales revenue was “the biggest opening weekend in the history of entertainment.”


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