Compiled by Arminta Smith
In 1854, Stephen A. Douglas introduced into Congress the Kansas-Nebraska bill. His bill’s panacea was simple. Quit discriminating against slaveholding Pioneers, open all territories to settlers, both from the North and the South, and let them decide by vote whether to exclude or continue slavery. But what he failed to see was that this squatter sovereignty could ignite a Civil War.
This doctrine of slavery was a real vote-getter in Missouri, as Senator Atchinson learned, but the Northern Democrats declared that the opening of any free territory to slavery was inexcusable. A group of liberals pledged a new party called "Republicans" if it passed. Along with this three thousand and fifty New England clergy signed a protest against the bill.
In the spring of 1854, while the bill was being debated, not hundreds-but thousands-were going west to Kansas. The Massachusetts Legislature had incorporated an immigrant aid society and helping those against slavery to make their move to the new territory.
On May 30, 1854 the bill was signed into law, and Senator Atchison, after his success in getting it passed, returned to his mansion in Missouri. (He was one who helped to expel the Mormons from the state)
The first squatters in Missouri staked out the land, still owned by the Indians, and were called Abolitionists. Among these were the Cody family, and the eight-year-old son, Bill, (who became the famous Bill Cody) and who from the door of their cabin saw his first wagon train, soldiers, buckskin-clad trappers and Indians.
Proslavery men were very vocal to the new settlers in Missouri, and squabbled with them and with their neighbors, the Kansans, who would not open their state to the slaveholders. Missouri produced raiders, robbers, and men who were trying to make everyone agree with their pro-slave ideas. They even put up blockades (cannons, no less) at their borders, to keep out those folks who did not agree with slavery.
Things went from bad to worse in Missouri and Governor Atchison was replaced, and he gave himself the title of "General" and with his band of "Kickapoo Rangers", he killed and riffled and pillaged in Kansas. As Lincoln took office there were raids taking place all along the Missouri-Kansas border. Kansas was a free-slave state and Missouri was proslavery, and by 1856 the people were oiling their guns in preparation for trouble.
In May of this same year the Republican Party was organized in Illinois and Abe Lincoln was nominated as candidate from the New Republican Party.
All eyes at this time were looking at Kansas and men and guns were getting ready to drive the Abolitionists from the territory and Kansas became ripe for open war. Partisans rode out to plunder settlers who opposed them and returned to make merry in town. Many new leaders sprang up and it was just a hotbed of trouble.
Spring and summer of 1860 opened with a financial depression in Kansas and Missouri. Many people sold out and returned to their homes in the east. Others more adventurous went west. (The pony express was in operation at this time)
St. Louis was the largest foreign city in the United States and was just booming with settlers on the way west. Anvils and hammers were pounding. Boston’s wealthy proslavery men were still financing the robbers and Missourians appealed to their neighbors in Arkansas to join them in the defense against these freebooters.
On December 10, 1860 a party of Kansans raided the plantation of wealthy Morgan Walker, seven miles from Independence. Walker owned 2,000 acres of land, 100 horses and mules, and 30 slaves. Shortly before the raid a stranger warned neighbors to be on guard, as the owner was absent, and Montgomery, a gang leader was coming. The informer said that he was a member of the gang, but was betraying Montgomery because he had killed his brother.
Walker’s neighbors stationed themselves with loaded shotguns in a harness room and behind a loom on Walker’s front porch. Soon after dark the robbers appeared. Three leaders, including the informer, walked across the porch and knocked at the door. Invited in, they warmed themselves at the fire, and then said they wanted the slaves, the horses, and cash. Walker had just returned from Independence and he started to lead two of them to get the slaves. The informer stayed in the house to guard the others. They came out of the door and walked across the porch and as they stepped off the porch shots rang out. One fell dead and the other was wounded. He called for help and a companion appeared from the dark and dragged him away. No one knew the number of raiders lurking in the darkness and no one dared to venture outside to find out.
The robbers were as frightened as the planters and fled with the wagons they had brought to transport the slaves. The wounded man and his lone companion hid in the woods a day or two, but a slave stumbled upon them and was promised his freedom if he would bring them food and water and horses. He agreed but went quickly and told his master. The planters came with shotguns and killed them both.
Newspapers cried to heaven about this outrage of Montgomery, but the true leader turned out to be the informer, dodging back and forth across the state line, stealing horses and all he could get. He posed as a free-state man in Kansas and a proslavery man in Missouri.
In Lawrence, Kansas, he was known as Charles Hart, a loafer around the ferry, wrestling and drinking. At the ferry, where everyone stopped, an inconspicuous loafer could easily estimate the value of a traveler’s load and see how much money he could put in his pocket. Some unsolved holdups along the road may have been his work. As a gambler, he had followed wagon trains to Pikes Peak, playing cards around the campfire. His real name was not Hart, but Quantrill, and for this raid on Morgan Walker he had enlisted a party of earnest Quakers—natural Abolitionists.
William Clarke Quantrill was born in Dover, Ohio, in 1837, the eldest of eight children. In early childhood and teen years he displayed moodiness and strange habits. He once locked a female schoolmate in a high bell tower and left her overnight. When exposed he showed no remorse, other than the displeasure of getting caught. He taught school for a short time in Ohio but was disappointed in the low pay.
The trouble with Walker, was the first and beginning of the terrible things Quantrill would devise to do to people. On the eve of the Civil War, Quantrill was embroiled in abolitionist activities, but he enjoyed only the adventure and loot, not the cause. And this was the condition of the Kansas-Missouri border at the time Lincoln took office.
The North had already dissolved the Union by nullifying the Fugitive Slave Act—which bound the government to protect slavery as an institution, and this of course, was the cause of the Civil War.
On March 4, 1861 Lincoln took the oath of office and the same day a Confederate Flag was raised over St. Louis. In the meantime, in January, President Buchanan signed the bill admitting Kansas to the Union as a free state. Then in mid April, news of the firing on Ft. Sumpter set St. Louis trembling on the verge of madness. Too many people all together and with different points of view. Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers and Governor Jackson replied that Missouri would not furnish a single man "to subjugate her sister states of the South."
Many Missourians joined with the North, especially the many Dutch, and the "Butternuts" (soldiers who wore brown uniforms colored by the butternuts which were brown color) from Arkansas. Quantrill and his roughnecks fought with the South, but he deserted the army with his gang somewhere on one of their marches. A man of liquor and women and reckless when in command, he didn’t like the discipline of an army. The distant border offered more excitement—and as they left they whistled at the girls in county towns and shouted to those who waved from the windows. The border lapsed into chaos—deserters from the armies had returned home to pillage the countryside. The Indians also joined in the fight and the battle of Pea Ridge was a terrible slaughter of lives. Two confederate generals died and well over 1,000 men were killed (and this was just one battle of many that transpired).
Charles Quantrill was making a new name for himself—and "Bloody Bill" Anderson joined his forces. Then in July (1862) after a disturbing Seven Days Battle in Virginia, Lincoln called for 300,000 additional men. These freebooters cheered. Let the states send its quota and Confederate guerrillas would take over the borders
The recruiting had hardly commenced when Quantrill on August 11, 1862 captured Independence, Missouri. Several women were suspected of conspiring with him to betray the town. The fair sex was beginning to romanticize the slim bandit with a broad mustache and voluptuous smile. In this raid he captured a fine brown horse, which he gave the name of Charley, his own given name. He was a wanted man by the North, but almost immediately he was commissioned a captain in the Confederate army. He appointed George Todd and William Gregg as lieutenants. Todd had been an itinerant stone mason and ditch digger in Kansas City. Though worthless as a workman, he was a dogged fighter. Gregg, a more intelligent man, had served as deputy sheriff of Jackson County. After this battle Quantrill had all the blue uniforms of the North, guns and ammunition he needed.
At this time the James boys, Frank and fifteen-year-old Jesse rode in the ranks. These blue-clad Bushwackers swept down on the Fayetteville road and captured twenty-one commissary wagons. The men, baffled by an attack from men in blue, just turned tail and ran. The battle of Prairie Grove followed, and it was just awful! It was cold and some of the wounded men crawled into the burning straw stacks to keep warm, and the hogs attracted by the smell, came and devoured their bodies—hair, insides, and all. And the Bushwackers took everything they could find off the soldiers.
General Halleck, commander in Missouri declared if the Bushwackers were caught, they would not be treated as prisoners of war, but would be hung like robbers and murderers.
So Quantrill was declared an outlaw by the Federal authorities, but when the Bushwhackers found out about this order they started shooting every Yankee they could find.
Quantrill traveled to Richmond to speak to President Davis about his rank, and he returned as a Colonel, but others say he just called himself a Colonel and was not given an appointment.
When he returned the whole Confederate department had been reorganized and general
Ewing was now in command. Quantrill said, "Ewing may command the district, but I run the machine." And his Bushwackers raided right under Ewing’s nose, and George Todd even took a captive Union man along with him and then sent him to Ewing to be a witness.
All this happened as Robert E. Lee crossed into Pennsylvania, sweeping along the road toward Gettysburg.
During this winter 1862-3, Quantrill’s raiders acted as scouts for the Missouri Brigade, which was part of the Calvary Unit under the command of General John S. Marmaduke. (Marmaduke was a West Point graduate and son of wealthy parents. His father served as governor of Virginia). But he was a man that could not be trusted; he served in Johnston’s Army in the Utah expedition, and then resigned his position to follow Johnston into Confederate service.
Those Bushwackers were as reckless and picturesque riders as ever cinched a saddle. Most of them grew long hair, had beards, goatees, or mustaches and long sideburns. They favored round-brimmed hats and tucked their baggy pants into high-topped cavalry boots. When not wearing a regular shirt of gray or brown, he sported a "guerilla shirt" knitted by his wife, or sweetheart, decoratively embroidered and had many pockets for bullets.
Two or four revolvers were stuck into his holster and wider leather belts, often with another 4 guns on his horse.
These men benefited from the support of the citizens. Many of the Missourians looked upon them as saviors and protectors, but not for long. The majority was scared to death of them and lived in constant fear of their appearance.
Quantrill fell in love with Sarah (Kate) Kings, who embroidered his shirts. Old timers who knew her said she was pretty beyond question. He surely kept her in diamonds by all his looting.
Quantrill called his captains for a conference and outlined plans for the greatest raid of the war. Lawrence, Kansas epitomized everything the south despised in the North. Its New England reformers, its widely circulating newspapers had roused the nation with abolition propaganda for seven years.
Quantrill’s captains listened sullenly, and they rode away without agreeing on any plans. Then an accident happened and the situation changed; they felt they needed to get some revenge. In the campaign to stamp out bushwhacking, many women had been arrested on their homesteads for sheltering guerillas. The prisoners included three sisters of Bloody Bill Anderson’s, the Munday girls, Martha and Sue, and Jesse James’s mother and sister had also been
taken from their home by the Union soldiers. Most of the disloyal women were incarcerated at Kansas City in an old brick building. The first floor contained stores. The second floor, where the girls were imprisoned, was reached by an outside stairway at the rear. The country girls noticed that some of their fellow prisoners were women of bad character—Quantrill spies, too—and refused to speak to them. When Ewing assumed command, he made it a point to treat them all with consideration, so the prostitutes roomed by themselves. All were allowed playing cards and musical instruments. The Munday and Anderson girls all sent home for their own bedding. Those who would pledge their word not to escape were permitted to go downstairs, under guard, and visit the store.
Gossips whispered that a tunnel was being dug to free the prisoners. Others said loose hogs had rooted dangerously close to the foundation. The old brick walls bulged noticeably. Then one day after dinner a guard felt the floors quiver. "Get out of here," he shouted, running down the wooden steps, "This building is going to fall."
Some of the girls, but not all, raced down the steps behind him, long skirts ballooning above white stockings. Behind them the walls teetered, swayed, then collapsed under a cloud of reddish-yellow dust. The body of one Anderson girl, and several others were carried out.
Back in the bushy hills of Johnson County, Quantrill called another meeting of his captains. This time they all voted to join in a raid and wreak vengeance. It is said "Bloody Bill" Anderson rode into this next battle sobbing his sister’s names. And after his death a silken cord was found on his body with 53 knots tied in it—one for each man he had killed for his sister’s sake.
Captain Pardee’s farm in Jackson County, only a short day’s ride from Ewing’s headquarters, was selected for the rendezvous. On August 18, 1863, each Captain jogged in with his followers. Todd came with a group, and so did Bloody Bill and Frank James and the Youngers, and William Gregg, commanding the cream of the Border Ruffians. He reported 194 men.
The next morning scouts disguised as farmers ambled along the roads watching for Federal troops. When they reported the way was clear, Quantrill, in hunting shirt—the Bushwacker uniform—embroidered by the fair hand of a gal named Kate, mounted his fine sorrel horse, called his men and formed them on the dirt road, and then rode leisurely forward. Quantrill’s longhorn mustache paralleled the brim of a low-crowned black hat garnished with gold band and tassels. Four pistol butts raised their ugly heads above his belt. His short-cropped hair emphasized the smallness of his head—a pervert among unkempt and bearded followers.
After riding ten miles along the hot summer road, the column halted to feed horses and eat a snack. Quantrill addressed the wild assembly, telling the men for the first time their destination, the rich booty in prospect, and the opportunity for revenge. "Kill every male and burn every house in Lawrence."
They re-saddled in the cool of the evening and rode toward Lawrence. During the night over a hundred additional riders joined them. Next morning, August 10, a sultry sun began to heat the air; the Bushwackers watered their horses on upper Grand River four miles from the Kansas border. Here another contingent of horsemen rode in, making four or five hundred in all. Time had come to slip through Ewing’s patrol into Kansas—then dash fifty miles to Lawrence.
The Bushwackers, in solid formation, crossed the state line, where a hundred Federal soldiers were garrisoned. United States Captain, J.A. Pike saw the invaders and mustered his men, but, being outnumbered, dared not attack. Instead, he sent a courier up to Little Santa Fe to spread the alarm.
Quantrill counted the miles against the midnight hours and watched the stars. The crisis of his lifetime had come. Many of the men strapped themselves in their saddles, hobbling their stirrups, in order to sleep on the march and be ready for tomorrow’s butchery. At homesteads he impressed sleepy farmers to guide the column. When the country became strange to them, a bullet ended his usefulness—and thus, 10 men were shot in eight miles.
West of them at the foot of Mount Oread, lay the village asleep in the dawn twilight. Or was it? Perhaps the townsmen had been alarmed and were waiting to ambush the guerillas!
Quantrill ordered two scouts to ride ahead. They were to signal if the inhabitants were on guard. His veterans eyed the village critically. It was larger than they expected, some men protested. To rush a town the size of Lawrence seemed folly. Besides, Federal soldiers must be coming from many directions. Best to gallop away while they could. Quantrill, sneeringly, said he would take the town if he had to ride in alone! Remember, "Kill every man and burn every house."
Quantrill touched his good-luck horse with his spur and moved forward under his black silk flag. The column followed at a fast trot to the edge of the town, then roared in with a yell.
Mayor George Collamore had been warned that Quantrill might come some time. He had even collected guns for defense, but the citizens scoffed at this precaution, to them the war seemed far away.
In one of the outlying homes, the Reverend Hugh Fisher, chaplain for Lane’s expedition to Springfield, had risen early this morning. He felt ill and stood at the window looking up the street. His neighbor, the Reverend Snyder, pastor of the United Brethren Church, came out of his house with a pail and sat beside his cow. Fisher watched him absent-mindedly until aroused by the rabble of racing horsemen—a motley, bearded crew in broad hats and dirty shirts. He saw puffs of white smoke from their pistols. Reverend Snyder slumped from his stool, bucket upset, cow, limping away. Next moment the yipping riders were gone. It was like a dream—hard to believe. But before Mr. Fisher had time to arouse his wife and draw on his trousers, squads of riders were patrolling every street, shooting at anyone who appeared. The whole town lay helpless in the Bushwackers’ hands.
Quantrill had proved his competence. Guests in the hotel heard pistols popping like firecrackers below their windows and peered down at the surging riders. Someone with a dinner gong; marched up and down the halls admonishing the guests to be calm. The manager waved a sheet from the window.
Quantrill agreed to spare the guests if they would dress quickly and come out. He ordered them searched for weapons, then sent them under guard to the city Hotel, or Whitney House, where he established his headquarters and demanded luncheon.
The street patrols robbed all houses systematically. At the gate to each residence two or three men waited on their horses. Others dismounted, strode up the walk, spurs jingling, and knocked. If, the door was opened by a man he was shot down, if by a woman, she was ordered to deliver all money, watches, and jewelry in the house. Then the dwelling was set on fire. Any man who appeared from the smoke was killed. The women stood with their children, helpless and horror-struck. An occasional heroine ran recklessly to her spouse only to feel him killed in her arms. Through it all no woman was harmed—for the bushwackers adhered to a code. As the houses burned, women were allowed to salvage rugs, curtains, prized furniture and keepsakes. Occasionally a man escaped from his house by hiding under a carpet as it was carried out. Others saved themselves by crouching under their wives’ hoop skirts.
Reverend Fisher’s wife saved her husband by crafty procrastination. He had run to the cellar and when the raiders demanded candles to light them on a search for him, Mrs. Fisher replied that she had only kerosene lamps—inventions more elaborate than the bushwackers had yet seen. Ordered, at pistol point, to light one, she artfully turned the wick down into the coal oil, the delay, while curious countrymen gaped at the novel lamp, permitted her husband to crawl under the house and hide between a dirt bank and the foundation.
Many other things happened—and a few men remained alive. By nine o’clock in the morning, Quantrill decided to leave. The prairie air was already heating under the August sun, and sentries reported a cloud of dust—soldiers no doubt—visible in the east. Piano covers and damask curtains served as new saddle blankets. Most men acquired at least one horse and a watch or two. Almost everyone had a packhorse--loaded with bolts of cloth, or other dry goods.
Quantrill’s column crossed the path of a small Federal staff column led by Major General James G. Blunt. He only had about 100 troopers. After the skirmish with Quantrill, he lost 90 of his men. Once they reached the Missouri woodland, Quantrill ordered, "Each man for himself." His raiders knew all the cow paths and where helpful women would feed them grits and cracklings. By a hundred trails his little army vanished.
As the war dragged on Ewing took an extreme measure, called Order No. 10, and expelled all people, loyal or disloyal from Jackson, Cass, Bates and Vernon counties, excepting only certain areas near the large towns. Thus the Bushwackers haven to which Quantrill’s men had fled was to be depopulated—not a cabin left to hand out carbine, pone, a chunk of hog meat, or information about the Feds.
People left by the thousands, women and children walking with no one to take them—suffering greatly—some lost their children on the way—some no place to go, but most of the homesteaders packed their wagons, drove into Kansas City or Independence to live miserably on government bounty as the Indians had been doing since the winter of 1861.
All homes, hay and grain fields were burned—looting and burning everywhere—with only chimneys standing as sentinels of this grim act in a silent countryside.
Quantrill was given the title of Colonel by some Confederate military authority, and he was admonished to round up the deserters, but they remained free and were never arrested.
Nothing seemed to stop these gorillas, trains were even stopped and looted, and banks and everywhere none were safe. Kansas had their "Red Legs" termed such because of the red leggings they wore tucked into their boots. The sufferings of the pro Southern Missourians were equaled, if not surpassed by the Union supporters. Union men had to
Stay in the forts to keep from being killed.
Quantrill continued on to Texas and began his work of raiding down there, but he was a hunted man. His last idea was to assassinate Lincoln. Quantrill had thirty followers, disguised in blue uniforms as the Fourth Cavalry, and with forged papers of identification in his pocket they rode east. They entertained at Farmhouses and were enjoying the thrill of it, when they received word that Lincoln had already been assassinated. They celebrated with a drunken spree. Shortly thereafter, Quantrill’s horse Charley was injured while being shod, and Quantrill said it was a bad omen, and indeed it was. They had a skirmish with Federals in Spencer County, and Quantrill was fatally wounded—shot in the back and became paralyzed from his neck down.
After Quantrill died and was buried, his mother was determined to know if it was really her son and had hired a man to dig him up and cut off his head so she could take it home and bury it. Anyway, the man tried to sell it, and someone sold his bones to a museum but I don’t know what finally happened to his head, it was in a refrigerator for a long time; and that is the end of one bad Bushwacker!
Through Civil War records we know that many of the Federal soldiers were terrible men too, General Marmaduke was disliked by both sides, and many others were connected with cold-blooded murders and just as bad as the Bushwackers. Despite the harsh measures taken, there were atrocities—terrible things---committed by both sides. Often each side branded the guerillas forces of the other as Bushwackers and many times they plundered right along the side of them.
The Bushwackers who rode with Quantrill rode to Lexington, Kentucky and were given a formal parole after 800 men took the oath of allegiance. They settled down to normal life and each year had a reunion to remember Quantrill and the rides with him. What a blight on American history!.
References: White River Valley Historical Quarterly
William Clarke Quantrill: His Life and Times by Albert Castel
The Devil Knows How to Ride by Edward E. Leslie
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