Long before the guns at Ft. Sumter ignited the American Civil War in 1861, another war was waged on the distant border of Kansas and Missouri. There, in 1854, the fight between pro-slavery Missourians and antislavery Kansans began. The anger and hatred of the two parties soon escalated from a war of words to a war of violence in which Americans finally got down to the bloody business of killing one another over this question: “Will slavery continue in the United States or will it not?” By the time the entire nation, North and South, finally joined in the fratricidal blood-letting in 1861, Kansans and Missourians had already been engaged in the hate and slaughter for seven years.
Soon, and little noticed by the nation at large due to the bloody contest at its own doorstep, the war in the west quickly descended into one of savagery; of arson, theft, torture, mutilation, murder, and massacre as “Jayhawkers” from Kansas raided Missouri and “Bushwhackers” from Missouri raided Kansas.
By the summer of 1863, the hatred along the Kansas-Missouri border had reached a flash point. Convinced that the federal occupation authorities had declared war on their women when five were killed in a prison collapse in Kansas City, the Missouri guerrillas lead by William Quantrill decided the time had come for a bloody revenge.
Since the onset of the troubles in 1854, Lawrence, Kansas, had been the epicenter of anti-slavery agitation and violence on the western frontier. It was here, along the banks of the Kansas, or Kaw, River, that many Jayhawking forays into Missouri had originated and it was here where much of the stolen loot had returned with the Unionist guerrillas known as Red Legs. Unlike the devastated Missouri border, the area around Lawrence, beyond the reach of rebel raiders, had hardly been touched by war. Thus, although it seemed suicidal, the 450 Missouri irregulars who rode west with Quantrill were determined to strike a blow at what they viewed as the heart of the problem.
At dawn of August 21, 1863, after a grueling all-night ride of fifty miles in which he had “dodged and baffled” his Yankee pursuers, Quantrill finally halted his force on a ridge just east of Lawrence.
(To recognize the 153rd anniversary of this event, the following is from my first book, Bloody Dawn—The Story of the Lawrence Massacre)
The day came clear and calm on Friday, August 21, 1863. Not a cloud in the pale morning sky, nor was there a trace of wind. Looking down from Mount Oread a few threads of white smoke were visible, curling straight up as early risers began preparing their breakfasts. Reaching to the heights came the faraway low of milk cows and the tiny, strained efforts of dueling roosters. Black, impassive, the Kaw turned the bend and silently slid east.
Although the land was yet dark, from the summit several figures could nevertheless be seen stirring in the twilight. There were the local hounds trotting their morning circuit, scouting leftovers from the evening past. But there was also Sallie Young, the Eldridge House seamstress, taking her customary ride from town. Two beaux were with her, and at the moment the showoffs were racing their horses south down the Fort Scott Road. Directly below, on Massachusetts Street, the boy recruits were just beginning to rise and dress. Charles Pease was close by, coming down the street from his slaughterhouse with a carcass of beef in the back of the wagon. His dog tripped along beside. Arthur Spicer had begun sweeping out the first of the day’s dust from his beer hall, and in the streets George Sargent was making the rounds, tinkling his bell, delivering milk door to door.
At the Eldridge all was silent save for the kitchen sounds of colored help beginning breakfast. Across the misty river, parked in the cottonwood grove, two teams loaded with salt for R & B’s waited on the ferry to start service for the day. And winding his way up the face of Mount Oread was Charles Robinson. Leaving his wife at home by the riverside, the troubled former governor was taking advantage of the splendid new day. Above the slumbering town he approached the stone barn where his first house had stood. Here he would hitch a carriage and take a jaunt over the countryside while the air was yet cool and fresh and where one could remain undisturbed and lost in thought. By his watch, it was five o’clock.
Songbirds began their morning ritual, and gradually, as it grew lighter, several more people emerged to stretch upon porches or visit a back building. In all, it was a tranquil scene—the dawn of a typical summer day in Lawrence.
The more he watched, however, the more George Bell realized there would be nothing typical about this day. He was the first to see them. From his home on Mount Oread the county clerk’s attention had for some time been focused toward the Wakarusa where he spied a huge column of riders slowly materializing from the murky valley.
Bell had naturally assumed they were Union troops. But then there had been the alarms and the “great scare” of three weeks past, and the longer he watched and the more he thought, the greater his suspicion grew. As the horsemen neared, there were mysterious starts and stops and then, when they halted on the rise and two men rode into town and back and two more split off to Sam Snyder’s farm, Bell became certain that this was not the federal cavalry. They didn’t even have a flag.
Grabbing his musket and cartridge box, the clerk ran for the door. His wife and children tried to stop him; if it were true, they begged, there was little one person could do, for the town was asleep. The man brushed their pleading aside. “If they take Lawrence,” he announced, “they must do it over my dead body.” Rushing down the slope, George Bell headed for the armory.
Sallie Young was next. Someone with her said that the column to the east was a Kansas outfit. But no one had mentioned anything about their arrival yesterday. They watched for a bit, but their curiosity was up and soon the friends rode back toward town. As it grew lighter, a few people in the south also saw them and turned to watch.
Finally, Quantrill paused for the last time. The young guide was passed to the rear. A number of men quickly jumped down and loose saddle girths were hurriedly cinched. Blue jackets were stripped off, red sleeves rolled up. Revolvers were drawn, percussion caps checked. Some of the best stuck leather reins in their mouth and bit down hard, leaving both hands free. One final time Quantrill turned and reminded the Missourians why they had come. They knew. Then, at five past five, Quantrill’s horse broke away at a gallop. Behind, a wild, explosive shout went up and the entire command lunged forward at a run. A few shots rang out but most held their fire.
As the roar came nearer—an unearthly scream some thought, unlike anything ever heard in Lawrence—people in the south of town jumped startled from their beds and ran to windows, then to one another.
Those men . . . they have no flag!
There’s a regiment of them!
The rebels have come!
The bushwhackers are here!
Quantrill’s band as sure as you live!
Quantrill is here!
At his barn Governor Robinson turned sharply to the east. He saw a number of tiny flashes followed by as many puffs of gray smoke and these in turn followed by the faint rattle of small arms fire. Unfamiliar as he was with actual warfare, Robinson nevertheless under stood. As he inched his way back into the barn the governor saw below a long, dark mass moving rapidly through the south of town striking for the center.
In East Lawrence, blacks were already pouring from their huts and dashing for the river. “The secesh have come,” they screamed. “The secesh have come.”
Across the ravine in West Lawrence, those who were awakened by the gunfire thought first of Independence Day and firecrackers . . . then the marshal’s dog killers . . . then the recruits acting up. But the Fourth of July was long past and most of the stray dogs had been killed. As for the recruits, they had no weapons. US Senator, James Lane, rose on an elbow and cocked an ear to the south window.
In the quiet surrounding his farm one mile west of Lawrence, Levi Gates also heard the strange sound. Without a second thought he reached for his long-range hunting rifle, and like George Bell and a good many others, Gates rushed straight for town.
At the south edge of Lawrence, Sallie and her friends stopped by the yard of the Reverend Snyder. The group could just make out the distant rumble in town, and here was Mrs. Snyder leaning over her husband Sam, sobbing uncontrollably. A milk pail was turned over, the cow was gone, and the front of the reverend’s shirt was covered with blood. But the woman wouldn’t say what had happened. The noise drew the riders further into town.
Charging across open lots, the raiders soon began to separate. With waves and nods, scores of men, mostly farmers and young recruits, split off to picket Mount Oread and the roads leading from town. A little further on, the main body itself broke into three columns, with Quantrill leading the larger to Massachusetts Street while two smaller groups turned down New Hampshire and Vermont. The shooting became more regular.
Ahead, as the roar approached, the boys in the recruit camp came falling from tents, struggling to get into their clothes. Across the street the black camp was already deserted.
When the main column spotted the tents and blue uniforms a moment later, it never slowed, but with shouts–Osceola! Kansas City! Remember the girls!–it rode right on through. As it did, there came a deafening explosion as hundreds of shots were fired up and down the ranks. In a few seconds, when they had passed, all that remained was settling dust, blood-spattered canvas, and a pile of twisted bodies, hands still clutching jackets and trousers. Seeing this, Charles Pease leaped from his meat wagon and flattened himself on the ground. Hard beside him, his dog shivered from paw to haunch.
With the cry “On to the hotel,” the main column stormed into the business district. Thundering down broad Massachusetts Street five and six abreast, shots were fired randomly at storefronts while on the adjoining streets others fired into the back doors. At last, in a huge cloud of dust, the three columns converged and washed against the Eldridge House (left). Here they pulled up. A few shots rang out, but soon all became still, and as the shouts and swearing died away only the horses, rearing and plunging, were heard. With hundreds of guns moving from window to window the guerrillas watched and waited. A cannon was parked across the street at the courthouse, but no one was there to use it.
Inside the hotel, there was no panic. Most guests were still in bed, for it had been too sudden. After looking out, some men thought fast enough to slip their money to women. An employee quickly tossed his life savings of $100 in gold through a trap door onto the roof, and someone shouted that “half-wit” Jo, the hotel owner’s brother, had been shot while scaling the courtyard fence. But most were simply too groggy to be frightened. Eastern guests were outraged at being roused at such an hour.
One look and Alexander Banks knew it was hopeless. From his third-floor window the state provost marshal gazed down on a sea of upturned faces, fantastic faces—unshaven, deeply tanned, distorted faces, streaked with sweat, dust, and powder, burning with red-rimmed eyes, and framed in long, greasy hair. There were probably no more than a dozen weapons, including his own, in the entire hotel, so Banks made a quick decision. Yanking a sheet from his bed, he hung it out the window.
Below, there was a thunderous cheer at the symbol, and when all had quieted the provost marshal asked for the leader to come forward. As soon as Quantrill appeared, Banks wisely began bargaining for the safety of the occupants; the hotel would be surrendered without a fight, but first, he insisted, the well-being of the guests must be guaranteed. Quantrill was about to answer when a loud clanging echoed throughout the hotel. Startled, the mass of riders whirled and sprang back, ready to open fire. Quickly Banks yelled out, begging the rebels not to shoot; it was a mistake—only the excited night clerk raising the guests with the dinner gong. For a moment, everything was “breathlessly still.” Shortly, Quantrill again spoke with Banks and soon agreed to the terms, much relieved that the hotel had not become a fortress as feared.
With wild shouts and cheers for Quantrill, many guerrillas then left for the stables and other parts of town while another group dismounted and, with brass spurs jingling, tramped into the plush hotel. Upstairs, fine ladies and gentlemen, scantily clad, had their rooms burst into by dirty, cursing men who with a splash of tobacco juice and wave of a pistol ordered them out and down to the lobby. Trunks and carpet sacks were ripped open, and jewelry, currency, and ladies’ apparel were crammed into pockets. The looting went from room to room as the stupefied boarders—a travelling bishop and priests included—fled down the staircase. Banks and his assurance of safety did little to calm nerves as the celebration above grew in fury. Downstairs, the trembling night clerk was forced to open the safe while other rebels passed quietly about the crowded lobby, tapping men on the shoulder and asking, “your money, if you please!” much as a railroad conductor might pause for tickets, thought one man. With some remaining humor another captive asked if he might keep just fifty cents for a drink or two. The bushwhacker stared at him for a deadly moment or two, gave a slow smile, and then handed back eighty.
Down Massachusetts Street, store doors were kicked in and food and liquor were located. Miniature US flags were also discovered, then with a laugh fastened to the rumps of horses. The offices of the Republican and State Journal were quickly put to the torch. Near the river, the rope on the liberty pole was cut and, amid loud cheers, the huge red, white, and blue banner came fluttering down.
Among the twelve soldiers across the Kaw there was no longer any doubt. First came the mad flight of blacks furiously paddling boats and logs or simply swimming the swollen river. Then the flag fell. Then the cheers. Taking aim, the troops opened fire. On the opposite shore, several raiders trying to cut the ferry cable went spinning up the bank again. When a horseman was spotted, more slugs whizzed up Massachusetts Street and between homes near the river.
Sallie Young and her two companions came into Lawrence quite some distance before they realized their mistake. Warning her friends to stay calm, the three quietly turned and rode slowly from town. When the outskirts were reached and a rebel picket sighted them, the two boys set spurs and were off south. Sallie rode back into town.
Soon, Quantrill entered the hotel. Stepping into the packed lobby he met a number of old faces, whereupon he shook hands and spoke briefly. He assured them of their safety. The guerrilla chief then climbed a flight of stairs and strode to the landing where he looked over the crowd and watched while his men went about their work. Everyone below seemed stunned. Terrified, most expected the leader to be the essence of his men; wild, vulgar, and snarling. On this score, however, they were gratefully surprised. Although he gripped a big pistol, with another in his belt, there was a pleasant, calm, even benign look spread over his boyish face and clear blue eyes. His gray hunting shirt was open at the chest and he wore a low-crowned Spanish hat with gold neck cord and little tassels dangling around the brim.
“A fine-looking man,” mused a captive.
Some in the crowd attempted to humor and flatter, grinning sheepishly, reminding him of old times in the territory and congratulating him on his brilliant success in capturing Lawrence. Unmoved, Quantrill received the tribute with “marked complacency,” simply adding that yes, it was by far his greatest exploit. Another ventured to ask why he hadn’t come during the full moon as he had threatened.
“You were expecting me then,” he smiled.
Then, after once more vouching for their safety, Quantrill asked if Governor Carney was in town. He was not, someone answered.
Again, he queried if anyone knew where Senator Lane lived? Arthur Spicer “volunteered.” After ordering the captives across the street and assigning several men to guard them, Quantrill detailed a squad to follow Spicer to Lane’s house: if he misled them, the saloonkeeper was to be shot on the spot; otherwise Spicer was to be returned alive as there was an old score yet to settle.
As they were being herded across the street, a number of bushwhackers cast crude remarks and curses at the captives. Already some raiders were glutted with liquor. One angry guerrilla, clamoring to murder the hostages, rode up, called a man a Red Leg, then aimed and fired. Although the shot missed, a guard threatened to kill the drunk should he fire again. This was seconded by Quantrill (right), who came out after hearing the disturbance. Quickly, he ordered the prisoners to the City Hotel near the river where they would remain safe. At this, the terror-stricken men and women sprang headlong for the refuge, Quantrill escorting a short distance behind.
Reaching the hotel, the rebel warmly greeted Nathan Stone and his beautiful daughter, Lydia, and shouted to the raiders nearby that the Stones were his friends and that neither they, the hostages, nor the building was to be touched. He then turned to leave. Before he left, however, Quantrill once more reminded the captives that Stone’s hotel was their haven: “Stay in it. . . . Don’t attempt to go into the streets.”
Although no Red Legs were there this morning, the rebels didn’t know it, and thus the three-story Johnson House was quickly surrounded by a large band. Unlike the Eldridge, however, the score of people inside refused to come out. Consequently, the bushwhackers began sniping at the windows, mixing the gunfire with calls to surrender. “All we want is for the men to give themselves up,” they yelled, “and we will spare them and burn the house.”
Two doors down, in a home of screaming children, Getta Dix was doing everything in her power to get her husband to move. Earlier, while Ralph was still in bed, Getta had looked up the street and watched in disbelief while “half-wit” Jo was shot off the Eldridge fence; now with more shooting at the Johnson House the street was full of men. Again she pleaded—the raiders were too busy at the hotel—there was still a chance. But Ralph, his brother Steve, and several employees seemed frozen, uncertain, feebly reassuring one another that it was only a matter of time before help arrived.
Again the woman begged. But nothing. Putting her children in the arms of the men, she then ran down the flight of stairs to the side of the house and struggled a heavy ladder up to a window. As she was coming back, however, Getta looked over toward the Johnson House, and there to her horror she saw several men leaping from windows only to be shot upon landing. Running back into the home, the woman barred the doors and told her husband what she had seen, warning the rest to stay inside. This and the fear of fire jolted the men. Together, despite his wife’s pleas, Dix and the others decided that their only hope now rested behind the stone walls of the Johnson House. Thus after climbing out a window and crawling over the roof of the adjoining barber shop, every man did eventually reach the hotel.
After seeing Ralph safely on the other side, and after taking her children to a coal shed out back, Getta desperately searched for her black nurse. The woman was finally discovered locked in a closet, refusing to come out. Grabbing a meat cleaver from the kitchen, the frantic mother hacked open the door and ordered the frightened nurse toward the shed to mind the children while she herself went to the Johnson House.
No sooner had Getta left than she saw her brother-in-law tumble down the steps at the rear of the hotel. Running to his side, she settled his head into her lap and sought to comfort him. But Steve was dead, and when Getta tried to move, his brain fell into her hands.
Then, as the blood-smeared woman staggered to the front, she could see that the hotel had surrendered. And there, standing among the rest, Getta saw through a rush of pain and tears her husband.
“Oh my God, Ralph,” she screamed. “Why did you do it? I know they will kill you.”
Another prisoner nearby had just handed a pistol to his captor. As soon as the weapon was given up a gun exploded behind the man, blowing out his stomach. Horrified, Dix and the other seven captives screamed for mercy.
“I have killed seven Red Legs,” laughed the head of the gang, “and I’ll kill eight more.”
Wildly pleading that it was a mistake, that they weren’t Red Legs, the white-eyed, sobbing men knelt and crawled on the ground, reaching up to the guerrillas for life. Although she too was pleading for his life, Dix begged his wife to try even harder. At length, the prisoners were kicked and punched to their feet and driven by three guards across the street toward the Methodist Church. With Getta clinging to Ralph’s arm, she begged the men at every step not to harm him. Two of the rebels bent, then broke, making her a promise. But the leader was firm.
“No, I won’t let you take your husband away,” he said. “I’m going to kill every damn one of them.”
Hanging desperately to Ralph, striking at the raider’s horse as it tried to nudge her away, the woman walked sideways, never taking her eyes from the leader. Up from the church, in the alley, Getta stumbled over a pile of rocks, breaking her hold, and before she could rise again the guns went off. Somewhere in the swirling blue smoke she saw Ralph go down. As in a dream, she stood while all around her the others fell away. Racing down the alley, another group of riders spotted the pile of bodies; without slowing they trampled and mashed them into the ground.
Getta wandered along Massachusetts Street for some time—to a store where looting guerrillas chased her away, to a figure that was still breathing. But nothing, it seemed, could hold her attention. She continued to drift aimlessly until at last she found herself again in the alley. Noticing a straw hat laying nearby, Getta picked it up, quietly placed it over her husband’s face, then calmly walked back to her burning home.
Although a number of raiders roamed Massachusetts Street, exploring one store after the other, most broke into squads and covered the town. Many, like the guerrilla leaders, George Todd and Bill Anderson (left), rode over the bridges spanning the ravine and paid a visit to affluent West Lawrence. From out of shirt pockets came the lists with the long row of names, and the firing that opened the morning so terrifically now settled into short, methodical bursts from every corner of town. The Missourians had finally gotten among those they hated most, and no power on earth could stop them now.
Panic gripped Mayor George Collamore. Springing from window to window, he, his wife Julia, and their Irish servant saw on all sides only nightmarish guerrillas, angry and shouting. There was no way out. Suddenly the desperate man thought of his well and quickly ran for the rear. There, in a wing of the house the tiny mayor dove down the dark hole followed closely by his servant.
At the front door the gang entered, met by Julia and her frightened children. Cursing and yelling, they demanded her husband. Receiving no reply from the terror-stricken wife, the men crashed through the home, up and down, from one room to the next, madly hunting their prey. Failing in this, it was decided simply to smoke the victim out. Setting the house on fire, the raiders fell back into the street to watch and wait for the mayor’s appearance.
Refusing to leave, Julia slipped to the well, and as the flames spread throughout the home, she spoke down to her husband.
By the time George Bell reached the center of town, Lawrence was surrounded. There had been no resistance. Nowhere could Bell hear the distinct crack of a militia rifle, and as far as he could see he was the only citizen shouldering a weapon. His courage dissolved. Bell looked for a way to escape, returning to home and family his sole desire. At last he ducked into the ravine. There, to his surprise, he met many others, just as confused and frightened as he.
“Where shall we meet?” he whispered. Aghast at such a notion, those nearby warned that it was pointless to think about a stand any longer; fighting would only get them all killed. A friend urged Bell to throw down his musket and perhaps draw less malice should he be taken. The sounds of gunfire and pounding hooves were more than enough to convince Bell of the wisdom in this. Dropping the rifle and cartridge box, the county clerk inched his way up the ravine toward home.
When Levi Gates reached West Lawrence from his farm he realized that it was too late. Across the ravine he could plainly see rebels in the center of town and more to the south, and it was obvious there was little he could do. All of Gates’ friends and neighbors who had come on the run had turned back home in dismay. He was about to do the same. But Levi Gates took pride in the fact that he was an excellent shot, and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to try his hand on a human target and bag a rebel proved irresistible.
Dismounting, the farmer steadied his hunting rifle on a fence, sighted his mark, then squeezed the trigger. Although it was a long shot, a guerrilla in the distance jumped in his saddle. Tempted further, Gates once more loaded and fired, then raced for the wooded ravine. He failed to notice the rider closing on his right, however, and after he was brought down and the rebel had finished with him, Levi Gates lay sprawled in the dust, his head flat and mashed “to a jelly.”
The first Jim Lane knew of anything was when a “flying Negro” passed his home and yelled that the bushwhackers were in town. Instantly the mansion became a bedlam, and while the wife and children flashed about in their night clothes trying to locate two guns stored somewhere, the senator peered out the window watching for the approach of the raiders. The guns could not be found. Grabbing a ceremonial sword as his only recourse, Lane quickly dropped it as the horsemen led by Arthur Spicer drew up at the front gate. Bolting through the house, the Jayhawker flew out the back window and ran for a small gully, bobbing and weaving, pausing just long enough to look for Rebel pickets. In a few moments Lane emerged from the gully and went streaking west through his cornfield, nightshirt flapping in the breeze.
Meeting them at the door, Mary Lane politely informed the guerrillas that the senator was not at home. Foiled at not coming face to face with the most famous Jayhawker in Kansas, the rebels settled for next best and proceeded to dismantle his home. Pianos, furniture, china—much of it ironically, stolen in Missouri—were broken up and strewn about, as were the senator’s private papers. The rings worn by Mary and her daughter were snatched from their fingers. Having finally located one of the shotguns, James, Ir., was warned to give it up. He refused. When a blast smashed into the wall nearby he at last did as he was told. The home was then set ablaze. But the mother and children hurried and put it out. Again a fire was lit in a different spot and again the family rushed and extinguished it. Finally the flames caught and spread in a third area and the frantic attempts to save the finest home in Lawrence at last ceased.
At that, the gang mounted and rode away. With them not only did they take Lane’s “magnificent banner” presented to his Indiana regiment for duty in the Mexican War, but the senator’s shining sword as well.
By now Lane himself was almost a mile away, crossing over the California Road, still running.
One block east of Lane’s, another group surrounded the stately home of Jerome Griswold. The swoop completely stunned the four families inside. With loud, ugly shouts the men were ordered to come out. Looking down from the second-floor bedrooms at the terrifying array below, Dr. Griswold, Jo Trask, Harlow Baker, Simeon Thorp, along with their wives turned and spoke excitedly about what they should do. Again the men were demanded; again there was no response. A moment or two passed and then, anxiously, someone in the house called out and asked why the men were wanted.
“The damned sons of bitches must come out of there,” yelled an impatient guerrilla. He was echoed by his companions. No one in the home moved at this awful demand.
Soon, another raider, wiser than the first, urged the Kansans to come out, that he would guarantee their safety once they did. No one would be harmed, he insisted, adding that they came only to rob Lawrence, and “if the citizens quietly surrender . . . it might save the town.” This last approach softened the four men in the home. And besides, there was nothing else they could do.
“If it will help to save the town,” Trask advised, “let us go.”
The men—balding State Senator Thorp, handsome newspaperman Trask, and dark-bearded, husky Griswold—filed down the staircase and reluctantly walked out the door. While Baker was getting into his clothes, the bushwhackers quickly encircled the others. The captives were asked their names and occupations, then robbed, and when Baker at last came down, the raiders formed the four men into a line. As the wives watched, the husbands were ordered to march toward town, and with Baker in the lead and a guerrilla riding at the side of each, they walked off.
Just as they cleared the yard one of the rebels cursed the men for going too slowly. This caused the prisoners to quickly pick up the pace. Something exploded behind him, ripping through his neck, and before Baker hit the ground another shot shattered his wrist. The rest of the guns went off. Thorp fell down near Baker while Trask managed to run only a short distance before he too went down. Wounded several times, big Jerome Griswold stayed on his feet. He made it all the way back to the yard and was on the verge of escape, but just as he was scrambling over some cordwood a well-aimed ball tore the life from him once and for all.
As the women stood shrieking in horror the Missourians paused to scan their work. One man was dead outright, whereas the other three were still breathing. Screaming hysterically, the wives raced down the stairs and through the door toward the dying men. Before they could reach them, however, the raiders, cussing and shouting, drove them back again. Jo Trask, rolling and kicking in terrible pain, pleaded with a rebel to let his wife come to him. The guerrilla listened for a moment, thought the matter over, then agreed. Cocking his pistol, he aimed down and sent a chunk of lead whizzing through Trask’s heart.
“He’s dead,” shouted the killer to the wife. “You can come now.”
It was decided to leave the two yet alive to lay and suffer as they were, and while the gang moved down the street a mounted guard was stationed a little beyond. After the others had left, the women again tried to reach their husbands but were once more frightened back when the rebel rode down on them at a charge. There was nothing they could do. The mayor’s house was burning and others were starting to smoke, and there were the men lying all alone.
In great agony from a stomach wound, Senator Thorp writhed in the blood and dust. His friend Baker lay a few paces off, bleeding from the neck and hand. Harlow Baker had come close to drowning once in a swirling black river of his native Maine, so he understood death a little better than most. Although they were painful, the grocer knew that his wounds were not mortal. He remained still nonetheless. Beyond, no sound or movement came from Griswold or Trask.
Around the burning home of George Collamore all the guerrillas had gone. They left fully satisfied that Collamore had either escaped earlier or burned to death in the fire. But to them the most certain thing in the world was that the mayor of Lawrence could not be in the house and still alive. Even Julia, who had remained by the well talking down to her husband until the very last, was forced out by the murderous heat.
Standing back, she watched. The fire engulfed the house and spread to the wing, and then the orange flames crackled and licked over the mouth of the well.
Old Joseph Savage wasn’t in that great of a rush to leave town–at least not until he had hitched his buggy and safely loaded everything of value into the back, including his brand-new silver baritone, which he was eager to show off at the next band concert. But finally, he and his wife and a German friend did pull away from their home just south of Lawrence and drove up Cemetery Road. “Mine pipe, mine pipe,” cried the German, who wanted to go back and get it. But Savage wasn’t turning around just for a pipe, and the German and his smoke would simply have to wait.
After a short ride the group came to the home of Otis Longley; here they stopped. To their surprise they saw Otis suddenly bolt out his back door and run to the front, “making a frightened noise, unlike any other sound I ever heard,” thought Savage. Close behind came two men cursing him to halt. Otis kept going, however, and just as he was about to reach the fence along the road, a shot rang out. Otis went down. As the stunned people watched on, the moaning man struggled to climb the fence. But another explosion sounded behind him and another bullet blew open his jaw, knocking him back to the ground. When the two rebels walked up—one greedily chomping slices of cantaloupe—Otis was on his hands and knees, coughing streams of blood. Again he tried to rise. A loud blast at close range dropped him for good. The men then crossed the fence.
Joseph Savage, “some times crawling, and some times running and rolling,” had already made a break for cover. But trembling and pale, the German sat beside Mrs. Savage stiff with fear. The woman’s pleading and the sight of the horrified German was just too much, however, and the wagon was allowed to pass.
The two guerrillas strolled back to the house, the one still eating melon and the other merrily tooting his new silver horn.
“Now is your time to make your escape,” whispered one of the raiders behind Lemuel Fillmore. Earlier, Fillmore had taken his valuable horse to the ravine for safekeeping. Instead of staying there, however, he returned to his house for a pistol. That’s when they caught and disarmed him, and that’s why he was now being marched toward Massachusetts Street.
“Now is your time to run,” the captor whispered as they neared the ravine. At this, Fillmore decided to make his move. He got only a few paces, however, before he was shot in the back and killed.
In West Lawrence an old man stood by a fence, idly spectating. A rebel rode up. Water was demanded. The old man ambled off and soon returned. Taking the cup with his left hand, the bushwhacker shot the man dead with his right.
Like these victims, most common people were at first impervious to the peril around them. Many were still under the impression that as with Olathe, Shawnee, and the others, this raid was for plunder alone, where only “marked” men would suffer. Otis Longley had seen rebels on Mount Oread earlier, but he went right on with his chores. When finished, Otis drew buckets of water and sat patiently waiting, just in case his home was set on fire. The attorney, Sam Riggs, despite the warnings of his wife, Kate, continued to help neighbors along his street by removing furniture and dousing flames. Many others reacted similarly.
Looking down from his stone barn, however, Charles Robinson harbored no such illusions about this raid. Below, he watched the drama unfold. He saw the home of Mayor Collamore ablaze, as well as that of Ralph Dix. He saw Lane’s house burning. As the sun rose, Robinson also saw through the smoke the machine movements of the guerrillas, their door-to-door calls, the citizens breaking from their homes at a run, the pursuit by men on horseback. The governor also heard the muted pistol fire, the shrieks of wives, the shouts and laughter of killers.
Charles Robinson had founded Lawrence barely nine years before, and a kind fate had allowed him to be absent during the first sack in 1856. Now, to his utter misery and grief, he had a front-row seat to the second, but this, unlike the other, was a much more thorough, much more tragic affair.
Larkin Skaggs was accustomed to having things just his way. He had already laid claim to one of the finest horses taken in the Lawrence stables, a magnificent white, and few were the men to contest it. Skaggs was big and burly and strong, and his long hair and beard were grizzled because he was quite a bit older than the rest. But Larkin Skaggs was also exceedingly cruel. When drunk, the bushwhacker was even crueler than usual, and thus when Lydia Stone’s sparkling diamond ring caught his eye, it was wrenched from her finger in the same brutal way Skaggs took whatever else he wanted in life.
When Quantrill entered the hotel the attractive young woman made a tearful appeal. Still in the building, Skaggs was located terrorizing the Eldridge captives; after a few words from the leader, he was “obliged” to return the ring. On his way out, Skaggs paused just long enough to glare down at Lydia Stone.
“Miss,” he growled, “I’ll make you rue this.”
Not long after she arrived back in town, Sallie Young (left) was taken prisoner and robbed of her pony. But shortly afterward she was put back in the saddle and ordered to go with a squad of rebels to identify men and point out which homes were which. But Sallie wasn’t very helpful. Every other house it seemed was that of a brother, a cousin, or an uncle, and with tears rolling down her pretty cheeks she begged the raiders to spare the home and occupants. They did and they did and they did, but after this the girl was allowed to leave whenever she chose. Although she might have left at any time, Sallie tagged along instead and followed the squad wherever it went. Some of the people who caught a glimpse of her were confused: how odd she looked in her natty riding habit, they thought, alongside the rough and ugly men.
Arthur Spicer was also with a group of rebels. Unlike Sallie, however, the saloonkeeper was religiously pointing out men, homes, and businesses. And unlike the girl, Spicer couldn’t just pick up and leave anytime he wanted; and to have had so many relatives would have been his end. It was coming soon enough, he thought, when he was handed back to Quantrill.
The man with the salty little grin wasn’t grinning today; he was praying. As he lay on his back in the dark cellar, squeezed up between a dirt ledge and the kitchen floor, he knew it was only a matter of time before they came.
Like his old boss Jim Lane, Hugh Fisher entertained no rosy notions about tomorrow should he fall into rebel hands today. That morning at Sibley had proven how important he was to George Todd and the Missouri bushwhackers. Nor was he as ill as previously thought. At the initial shout, the Jayhawker jumped from his sickbed and “bounded” out the door. First, he turned his horses loose from the barn, and then with his two young sons, Willie and Charlie, he ran for Mount Oread. The illness had sapped the preacher, however, and the sight of rebel pickets on the crest made him think twice. Sending the boys on alone, Fisher fled back to his South Park home. Elizabeth, with a baby in her arms and a tot by her side, thought her husband was insane to return and said as much, but as he slipped into the tiny cellar the woman made up her mind to do everything she could to save her man.
His wait was not long and Fisher soon heard the sounds—horses to the gate, spurs on the porch, knocks at the door, boots on the kitchen floor.
“Is your husband about the house?”
He was not, lied Elizabeth.
“I know a damned sight better,” snapped the guerrilla. “He’s in the cellar; where is it?”
Startled, yet composed, taking the four men to the door, the woman pointed with a straight face: “The cellar is open; if you think he is there, go look for yourselves.”
Staring down into the black, a light was demanded. While the mother went upstairs to fetch a lamp, still keeping a grip on herself, the baby was placed in a bushwhacker’s arms. Waiting, the man made faces and cooed to keep the infant from crying.
Below, Fisher could hear everything. When he heard his wife returning with the lamp and the cocking of revolvers, his left foot began to tremble uncontrollably. He placed his right foot over it to keep it still. Then as the light entered the cellar and boots came slowly down the steps, Hugh Fisher’s heart and lungs slowed, then stopped, and his whole life flashed across his mind in an instant.
And Elizabeth, holding her baby tight to one ear and pressing her hand hard to the other, went quickly into the front room.
As the rebels reached the bottom, they were forced to stoop under the low ceiling. The man holding the lamp came to where the reverend was laying and stopped. In the glow of the lamp Fisher squinted upon the guerrilla’s face, less than two feet from his own. Because of the low ceiling the lamp too was held low; thus the preacher’s face remained in the shadow cast by the ledge he lay on. The men looked a bit longer but soon walked back up the stairs.
“The woman told the truth. The rascal has escaped.”
There was no time to listen to the echo in her ears. Elizabeth Fisher reached deep down, drew up every ounce of self-control she possessed, then let the words roll.
“You will believe me now, I hope. I told you my husband had gone.”
The rebels lingered awhile, robbed the house, torched it, then left one of their men behind to see that the fire spread. But it wasn’t in him to stop the woman as she raced from the well to the blaze and back again, and so the reluctant guard just left. When the last of the flames were doused, Elizabeth came to the cellar door and spoke softly to her husband.
“Pa,” she said, “Pray and trust in the Lord, and I’ll do all I can.”
After leaving their father, the two Fisher boys became separated somewhere in the hazel and sumac up the hill, and twelve-year-old Willie fell in with Robert Martin, a lad a little older and bigger than himself. Young Martin wore a blue shirt made from his father’s old uniform, and he also carried a musket with a cartridge box slung from his shoulder. So when a picket spotted them, he gave chase.
The two boys raced over the hill, side by side, as in a game where home base and blue sky are always just ahead and everything somehow ends as it should. But a blast sounded behind them, and as Robert tripped, Willie felt something wet and warm spray his face. Robert didn’t get up to finish the race because half his head was gone. And when Willie wiped his face he found his hand dripping blood, bone, and bits of brain.
Little Charlie Fisher also joined with another boy and together they hid in the cemetery. But a child’s superstition forced them to a nearby cotton patch instead.
As he crept along the ravine toward home, George Bell soon came to realize the futility of it all. He was cut off. Peering between the weeds and limbs, he could see no hope of reaching his family on the hill. In the streets, in the alleys, around burning homes and barns, only guerrillas were about. To climb the barren slopes of Mount Oread would be suicide. But his nerves cracked. Bell panicked.
Convinced it was just a matter of time before the raiders swarmed in and murdered them all, the county clerk and another man ran into the street. Once in the open and alone, the two abruptly returned to reality. But then, as fortune would have it, they spied a familiar sight—a partially completed brick home. The men dashed in, climbed to the second story, then crawled up among the joists. They could only keep quiet, count the seconds, and pray they hadn’t been seen.
But they had.
When a gang came to the home on South New Hampshire Street looking for Louis Carpenter, they didn’t have far to look. He was right there.
Absorbed with the more important things in life, the good judge had never given much thought to fear; and so, being unfamiliar with it, he could not fully express it. Thus when hate and the big black guns stood around him he didn’t react as most men might. He certainly didn’t run because running never entered his head. His hands didn’t tremble. His bodily functions didn’t betray him. His voice didn’t waver, and when lethal questions were posed the New Yorker replied straightly and honestly in a clear upstate accent. There was also a strange, kindly quality about him. Some rebels could not resist the temptation and stole a few items from the house, but no one was in a mood any longer to burn it. And certainly no one could bring himself to harm the judge. When the guerrillas left the yard, Carpenter was still standing there while behind him, his bride, Mary, and her sister, Abigail, began to breathe once more.
It was no act—the judge was always like that. A little later, another mob came and, seeing the pretty home, decided to burn it. But once again and as calm as ever, Carpenter met the raiders and sent them away disarmed. The pressure on the women, however, was almost unbearable.
It was a miracle! The bushwhacker had just started shooting at the men clinging to the beams when George Bell yelled out. The firing stopped, and everything became still.
It was true. The rebel was actually Bell’s old friend. In happier times the two had often broken bread together at the Kansan’s table, and each had greatly enjoyed one another’s company. Bell and his companion were told to come down, for from that moment on both men were home free. The old friend would talk to the Missourians and straighten things out. The county clerk jumped down followed by the other man, and together the three walked outside. That’s where the miracle ended. The crowd of guerrillas standing around them, wild and bitter, didn’t care a dime about old acquaintances.
“Shoot him! Shoot him!” was their cry, and not a word was uttered by the old friend. A religious man, Bell asked for a moment to pray. Granted. Finished, the clerk said amen, and in a burst of fire his companion fell down and George Bell dropped dead.
From there the gang scaled Mount Oread to complete the job. At home, Mrs. Bell met the raiders and recognized the former guest.
“We have killed your husband,” he blandly informed her, “and we have come to burn his house.”
When a group of bushwhackers broke into the home of Edward Fitch and shouted for him to come from hiding, he did. While Sarah and the three terrified children watched, the Massachusetts native walked down the stairs and into the circle of waiting men. As soon as Fitch hit the foot of the stairs he was dead. But just to make certain, the rebel who shot him grabbed another revolver and continued to pump slugs into the corpse until that gun too was emptied. The guerrillas then moved on to rob and torch the home.
As the smoke began to drift about, Sarah pleaded and tried three separate times to remove her husband’s body. But three separate times the murderer forbade it. She then ran to retrieve a small painting of Edward, but once more was denied. Finally the woman ceased all efforts and just wandered from room to room watching as her home was destroyed. At last, when the place was engulfed in flames, and with sparks and debris showering about her, a guerrilla forced her to leave.
Sarah walked with her screaming children across the road, sat on the grass, and watched while the home and everything she owned crackled and roared over the body of her husband. Above, on an adjoining shed, a small Union flag hung limp. The children, playing soldier a day or two before, had planted it high so that everyone in town could see they were loyal and proud to be Yankees.
Escape was the thing, escape by any means. Politicians, doctors, and merchants bellied toward safety side by side with local lay-abouts and town drunks, crawling in underclothes through flowerbeds and cabbage rows, along weedy lots and ditches until they finally reached what to them seemed a God-sent sanctuary—a cottonwood chicken coop or a tiny, stinking outhouse. Others simply hurled headlong into wells or shimmied beneath wooden walkways. An outdoor cellar in the center of town with a hidden entrance was a haven where many fled. But more found refuge in the ravine, along the tangled banks of the river, or in Jim Lane’s vast cornfield. Often chasing a victim right to the edge of these places, guerrillas always slammed to a halt and galloped away as if expecting a volley of shots to ring out. In the cornfield, scores of thirsty citizens were hidden. Several times the raiders rode along the perimeter, some were for going in. Uncertainty, however, always held them back. A woman living on the hem of the field who had carried water to the fugitives was asked by a group of rebels, who themselves had stopped for water, what was in the corn.
“Go in and see,” she replied, in a tone that left no doubts.
Had they gone in they wouldn’t have found Jim Lane; nor would they have found him anywhere near the field. Instead he was among the bluffs far to the southwest of Lawrence, “on his belly under some bushes.”
Escape was the thing; there were other ways. After somehow avoiding the slaughter, the lieutenant of the recruits eluded his pursuers and ran naked into an abandoned shanty. There he found clothes and quickly dressed. In a moment or two he left the hut and walked into the street unnoticed . . . wearing a dress and bonnet.
Another man burst into a home occupied by three women and begged for help. Soon a noisy gang stomped through the door. Searching the rooms without success, the guerrillas loudly entered the parlor. At this the indignant ladies scolded the rebels to please be quiet and more considerate, since “poor Aunt Betsie” was neither well nor accustomed to such excitement. Sitting in an invalid’s chair, “Aunt Betsie” was eyed suspiciously–an old woman’s cap, a shawl across her lap, medicine bottles and cups nearby, a “niece” fanning her. Finally, the raiders left and the grateful “Aunt Betsie” and three resourceful women breathed easily once again.
Some men without recourse simply put on the dirtiest, most ragged set of clothes they had and mixed with the Missourians. One dentist went even further. Besides finding money for the guerrillas and guiding them to the best stock of liquor in town, he also joined in and set several homes on fire.
When raiders knocked on their doors, women too employed almost any device in an attempt to save their homes—and very often the men hiding just above or just below.
Where in hell is Fred Read?
Gone east for goods.
Gone east to buy goods.
What are your politics?
Sound on the goose.
Has your old man ever stolen any niggers in Missouri?
Never been in Missouri.
But as often as not, no amount of pleading or lying would suffice, and a home was put to the torch anyhow. And as soon as the bushwhackers had done their work and moved on, behind them women and children rushed with quilts and slopping buckets of water in an attempt to smother the flames. But as was commonly the case, after gamely battling and subduing a blaze, the soot-smeared ladies looked up only to find another squad approaching with the same intent.
“Put that out if you can!” said an exasperated guerrilla to a woman who had just stopped one fire. When he had gone, she did just that.
Those at the home of John Thornton were more persistent. When the straw bed they ignited was put out, the rebels returned and started it again, but this time Nancy Thornton was forced to leave. In a short while, when the husband too appeared and raced out the back, the guerrillas were ready and waiting. A chunk of hot lead burned into Thornton’s hip. He didn’t go down, however, but turned and fled back into the house. Again the heat became unbearable, and when he reappeared another shot was fired, this time blowing his knee apart. Once more, and followed by his horrified wife, Thornton limped back into his blazing home.
Blinded by smoke, the wounded man soon came out again, leaning on Nancy for support. One of the raiders rode up, took aim, but just before he could jerk the trigger the Kansan lunged for his leg. Thornton was unable to reach the weapon, however, and a slug at point-blank smashed into his eye and exploded out the cheek. Another gun went off and a ball entered his back, ripped down the spine, and tore into a buttock. But still Thornton clung to his attacker. Frustrated and out of ammunition, the bushwhacker tried again.
“I can kill you,” he growled as he used the heavy revolver like a hammer to bash the head of the struggling man. At last John Thornton lost his grip and released the leg. But he wasn’t dead.
“Stand back and let me try,” yelled an impatient guerrilla nearby. “He is the hardest man to kill I ever saw.” With that, the enraged attacker let fly every ball in his weapon, striking the target one, two, three times. Thornton stumbled a few steps, then collapsed in a heap. Still doubtful, one of the rebels reared his horse back to stomp the body, then leveled his pistol to fire again.
“For God’s sake,” shrieked the hysterical wife as she grabbed the horse’s bridle, “let him alone, he’s killed now.” Satisfied, though amazed at the time and energy needed to do it, the bushwhackers finally moved on.
To preserve it for burial, Nancy managed to drag the body away from the fire to an open space across the street. There, she saw that her dead husband had a wound for almost any given place and was literally soaked in blood from head to toe. Looking closer, however, the woman saw something else—John Thornton was still alive!
“Fred, one of them damned nigger-thieving abolitionists ain’t dead yet . . . go and kill him.” Neither Harlow Baker nor Simeon Thorp could be sure which of them had moved, but it was certain that one would soon find out.
Since being shot, the two had lain in the street feigning death as the guerrillas rode nearby. When it was clear, they had whispered back and forth to one another describing where they were hit. Baker still had the strength to get up, but dared not. Senator Thorp, hurt much the worse, could not.
The horse stopped beside them and they heard the rebel dismount. When he was kicked over onto his face, Baker knew he was the one. He heard the explosion, felt a sharp sting, and in a rush all the air left his right lung. He grew dizzy and almost fainted, but through the pain Baker was still around to hear “Fred” congratulate himself as he rode back to his pal.
This time George Todd (right) came in person. Only a twist of fate had kept him from meeting the preacher that morning near Sibley, and Todd today wanted no stone left unturned.
Despite this, Elizabeth Fisher, as unflappable as ever, insisted that her husband was not at home; that he had gone over the hill long ago and was by now probably well on his way to Topeka. And again the woman boldly invited the doubting rebels to search the house. To his great relief though, Hugh Fisher did not hear the cellar door open, nor did he hear the thud of boots down the steps. He did hear, however, the breaking of chairs and shutters for kindling and a guerrilla swearing to kill his wife if she tried to extinguish the fire.
Ignoring the threat, Elizabeth slammed the door in the raider’s face and raced to the well to fill buckets, pans, and tubs. This took time, however, and meanwhile more fires were being set. By the time she returned with the water, her two-story home was hopelessly ablaze. Running back to the front of the house, the desperate woman turned her energies toward saving the one-story kitchen and trying to keep her husband from being broiled alive. Climbing on the cook stove she doused the ceiling first. Then lugging two tables outside—setting one atop the other—Elizabeth scrambled up to the roof and threw more water on. But just as these flames were quenched much of the burning roof on the house crashed across the kitchen.
Dipping up more water the woman drenched her clothing, then once again waded into the flames. But it was hopeless. At length, as the rebels stood around the home watching her futile efforts, Elizabeth ran for more water and began flooding the kitchen floor under which her husband lay. A neighbor woman, as mystified as the bushwhackers, asked her why she was trying to save a piece of floor when her entire world was burning.
“A memento,” she yelled back above the roar.
But as the fire and debris fell into the kitchen even Elizabeth saw that it was only a matter of time. Slipping into the smoke-filled cellar, the frantic woman spoke to where her husband lay.
“You must come out of there or burn alive; I can’t keep the fire back any longer.”
“Almost roasted,” the preacher decided it was his last chance. As he crept out the cellar door Elizabeth quickly threw a dress over him. Then as she lifted a heavy carpet the husband ducked under and, crawling as low and as close to the woman as possible, the two went out of the burning home. While the guerrillas watched on, the carpet was slowly lugged across the yard until the weary wife at last dropped it down beside a small weeping willow. Running back to the house she grabbed chairs, bedding, and other items and stacked them over the rug. And finally, like candles on a cake, the mother sat her two children on top of the heap. After this, she could only wait and watch and pray the rebels didn’t suspect.
With guns in their grip, the bushwhackers glanced from the house to the pile and back again. They always looked from a distance, however, and much to the woman’s relief, none of them approached.
Sitting quietly by the baby, Elizabeth’s little boy was startled when he heard from far below a hoarse voice whisper for water.
“Pa is here somewhere; I heard him speak,” he said, looking up to his exhausted mother.
The child was quickly hushed and the father ordered from here on out to keep still.
Not every raider had the stomach for it. Caught up in the pathetic efforts of a crying woman struggling to remove a divan, desk, or piano from her burning home, some could not hold back and soon found themselves wrestling over a piece of furniture just as frantically as the woman. And after setting a fire, not a few who imagined their hearts stone beyond hope caved in to tearful appeals and joined to save what they had intended to destroy.
After fleeing her home one woman returned to find it ablaze, yet curiously, neatly laid under a tree was a box containing her family photographs. Other Missourians stared like children at the beautiful parlors they entered, and many simply could not bring themselves to destroy the pretty cups, saucers, and heirlooms. Had it been left to them, some would have spared even “marked” homes. But harder sorts were always just around the corner.
“No, God damn the abolitionists,” shouted an angry guerrilla. “Why should this house be saved?”
And most were not cold killers. Rummaging through homes, searching for plunder, many obvious hiding places were avoided, and often a raider either winked or turned his back while a man escaped. But others were quick to remind that these same Kansans were the ones who had been in Missouri “killing our people.” Most were not cold killers—but enough were.
You have killed my husband; let me keep his ring. . . .
The Germans fared the worst. Their antislavery views were well known and, unlike other men, they couldn’t escape by lying; their tongues were judge and jury.
“Nicht versteh,” said one when the rebels popped him a question.
“God damn you, we will make you versteh!” they shouted as they shot him dead.
For some time the town’s German blacksmith had remained hidden with his little child amid a patch of corn in the Central Park. Later the baby grew restless in the heat and began to cry, prompting several passing guerrillas to venture in. When they left, the father was dead with the child still crying in his once-powerful arms.
At a German home, the people were ordered out while the Missourians sacked the contents and torched the place. Among the occupants, a man on his sickbed had to be carried from the house and placed upon a mattress in the yard. When the gang finished indoors they walked over to the invalid and pulled out their pistols. With guns staring down, the German strained on weakened arms to rise but was instantly blasted back upon his cot.
Again a squad came to the home of Judge Carpenter bent on burning and killing. But just as the others did before, the men left quieter than they came.
When they had finished with him, Arthur Spicer was brought back to Quantrill at the City Hotel. Despite his earlier threat, however, the guerrilla leader now seemed totally unconcerned at Spicer’s return, and after entering the building the saloonkeeper passed discreetly to the rear.
Activity picked up on Massachusetts Street as many of the raiders drifted back. Stores gone over lightly before were now cleaned out. Some merchants and clerks were compelled to wait on bushwhackers as if they were regular customers while liquor and food was served and boots, shirts, and hats were tried on. In the apartments above terrified families were forced out, but not until they had filed past the rebels and been robbed.
I’ll take that watch!
Give me those earrings!
Fork over them greenbacks!
Shell out, God damn it . . . and be quick about it!
As fewer rebels moved through the lesser streets some people came out and made their escape. With his wife, little daughter, and a friend, the Reverend Richard Cordley left his home and splendid library and quietly threaded his way through the streets. After some “exciting moments” the four entered the brush and walked to the riverbank. There, in a marvelous stroke of luck, an alert friend on the opposite shore recognized the Cordleys and, risking his own life, rowed a boat across and ferried the group to safety. One man and his wife stuffed a change of clothes into a pillow slip, sat their children in a play wagon, and simply walked away.
If one could muster the courage, getting through the streets and beyond the first line of pickets was to escape, for those patrolling further out—farmers and boys mostly—showed little inclination to stop or harm the refugees. Most citizens, though, remained fast in the same places they had throughout the morning–whether indoors or out.
One man holding an umbrella sat in the open undisturbed, shading his wife and child. Another, after being chased and shot at, fell and was immediately covered by his wife. Long after the assailants had left the woman continued to wail and shriek. Afraid she would draw even more attention his way, the husband at last whispered, “For God’s sake, wife, don’t take on so. I don’t know if I’m even hit.”
After helping the bushwhackers load pack horses, the two young clerks at R & B’s, still barefoot and half-clad, eased off to the bushes and raced to the river. The frightened New Yorker saw no point in stopping there, however, and after swimming the Kaw he sprinted up the Leavenworth Road.
At last, the Eldridge House, thus far spared though picked clean from “cellar to garret,” was put to the torch. As some raiders were busy spreading the fire on the ground floor, a woman ran up screaming that a black baby, left by its mother and forgotten in the excitement, still remained inside. After listening for a moment, the men went on with their work.
“Burn the God damn little brat,” was the grim reply.
The fires caught, then climbed rapidly to the fourth floor. In a very short time “the finest building in Kansas”—plush carpets, chandeliers, music, dancing, laughter, all—was enveloped in flames.
On the adjacent corner the courthouse went up. Across the street from that, Danver’s Ice Cream Saloon burned, and so on down the street until both sides were completely ablaze. And while the fires were set the rebels celebrated; walking or riding through the street in fancy new clothes and shiny black boots, wearing rings on their fingers and gold chains and crosses from their necks; gulping down canned lobster, oysters, and figs; smoking black cigars; guzzling beer, brandy, and French champagne; waving hats in the air as the huge liberty flag was dragged past them in the dust. From time to time there were small explosions as stocks of powder and sealed canisters heated, and the acrid smell of tar and oil mingled with the sweet scent of burning tea and molasses.
At the end of the business district, a large gang of drunks spotted Dan Palmer and a friend standing in the door of Palmer’s gun shop. Before they could duck back in both were shot and wounded.
While some of the bushwhackers set the building on fire, others stood the two men up and bound them together with rope. Then, when the flames caught and began to roar, the startled captives were pitched inside. Wild with fright, Palmer and his friend regained their footing and struggled out the door, pleading with the rebels for mercy. But amid hellish laughter and waving pistols the men were again hurled into the furnace. At last the rope broke, but there was nowhere to run. By this time only Palmer was able to rise. Standing in the flames, arms reaching for heaven, he screamed above the roar, “O God, save us!” This brought a new round of applause and laughter. Soon, the cries inside ceased and the drunken gang moved on.
Except for a number of pickets, by 9 AM most of the raiders had drifted back to the South Park and much of the residential area was left deserted. That’s when Mary, Abigail, and Louis Carpenter “began to breathe again.” But then there was another violent pound on the door. As they had done all morning, the family kept its composure, and while Mary went to the door the judge came down the stairs to deal with these rebels as he had the rest.
The door was opened. Stepping partway in, a stone-faced guerrilla stared at the judge, then asked him where he was from.
“New York,” came the even reply.
“It is you New York fellows that are doing the mischief in Missouri,” was the cold comment. The rebel raised his pistol and fired.
Breaking from the door, the wounded man bounded up the stairs and into a bedroom. Pushing Mary aside, the guerrilla gave chase. As his pursuer was searching the rooms above Carpenter slipped by and ran to the basement. But a rebel below saw this, and when his friend came down, the two found windows leading into the basement and opened fire. The judge was hit immediately. And because the room was unfinished there was nowhere to hide. Helplessly, Carpenter could only flatten himself against the walls and try to dodge the bullets. As the raiders paused to reload, the blood gathered in pools at the victim’s feet. Finally, with no other hope, Carpenter broke for the stairs leading outside. Once in the yard, however, he stumbled and fell and was unable to rise.
As the guerrillas approached, Mary ran screaming to her husband’s side and covered his head with her arms. Walking around them several paces, a bushwhacker at last bent down, jerked up one of Mary’s arms, jammed in his pistol, then fired. Within inches of her own, the judge’s head shuddered for an instant, then splashed apart.
A lone rebel walked to where Harlow Baker was lying and stopped. Partially turned on its side, he looked down at the dusty body for a moment, at the blood, black and caked on the hand, neck, and back.
“Poor devil,” he muttered.
Pulling out a sharp knife the bushwhacker knelt down and ripped open a pocket. Finding nothing he rolled the body over and slashed the other. Again nothing. Spotting Baker’s hat, the man mumbled that at least here was something, and a good one at that. Taking his prize, the man walked back into town.
At last the pickets rode in and the entire force of guerrillas converged on the South Park and began forming. Pack horses high with plunder were brought up, as was an ambulance. A large, fat ox was selected, killed, skinned, quartered, then quickly stored for travel. Amid the movement and general excitement, Quantrill found the young guide, and handing him a new suit of clothes and the reins to a fresh pony, the boy was pointed toward home. The rebel leader then said goodbye to his friend Nathan Stone, his wife and son and daughter Lydia, and hoped that someday, some place they might meet during happier times.
“The ladies of Lawrence were brave and plucky,” he confided to someone before he left, “but the men . . . were a pack of cowards.”
Quantrill then joined his command. And, at a little past nine, with the smoke from Massachusetts Street rolling up like the walls of some towering black canyon, the raiders moved south and the long, uncertain retreat to Missouri began.
Several minutes passed. Only the sounds of the inferno were heard in the deserted streets. Across the river, the squad of soldiers watched intently. Finally, with a few citizens they boarded the ferry and inched toward the town.
But one man was not quite finished. Although he had bragged about the streets that eleven Kansans had been sent to hell by his gun, for Larkin Skaggs this was still not enough. Skulking around until Quantrill left, Skaggs galloped back and pulled up beside the City Hotel.
“All you God damned sons of bitches come in front!” he shouted. “Come right out here!”
Foolishly, many did step out the door. But others, including Lydia Stone, either remained inside or, like her brother, dove out the back. As they filed down the steps, men and women were ordered into separate lines, and while waiting for the rest to appear, Skaggs, terribly drunk and teetering in his saddle, asked one of the captives where he was from.
“Central Ohio,” answered the man. He was instantly shot.
“That is worse than Kansas,” growled the bushwhacker.
Another round was fired into the hotel itself which brought an immediate plea from the owner, Nathan Stone. Without a word Skaggs turned and fired again, striking the innkeeper flush in the abdomen. While the screaming people fled the front of the hotel, more jumped out the back. Spying a boat, two men quickly pushed off from shore. In their haste, however, they failed to attach one oar properly and the two furiously paddled around and around in circles as the current carried them down the river.
Hearing the gunfire and seeing the renewed exodus, the men crossing on the ferry quickly returned to the north shore.
Growing impatient, Skaggs finally wheeled and rode back through town. After killing a man along the way and chasing another, the burly bushwhacker trotted leisurely from Lawrence down the California Road, confident that Quantrill had left the way he had come. He soon realized the mistake, however, when he saw farmers coming in his direction. Spurring cross-country toward Eudora, the drunken man weaved and wobbled in the saddle as the big white horse raced through fields leaping fences and ditches. But more men were riding from that way, and cornered, Skaggs was finally captured and taken toward Lawrence.
When the party reached the outskirts and learned what had taken place, the prisoner without further ado was slain on the spot.
Slowly, slowly the people began to come out—peering cautiously from the brushy ravine, parting carefully the stalks in the cornfield. The ferry started inching over again. Governor Robinson stepped out of his stone barn. The county sheriff crept up from under his floor. A man who had feigned death even though he lay near a building on fire rose with the clothes burned from his back. And Harlow Baker, too, on painfully weak legs pulled himself up and staggered to the house. Others emerged from the hidden cellar in the center of town, popped up from tomato patches, or, dripping wet, gazed over the mouth of a well. What they saw when they came out was overwhelming.
Everywhere one turned, the enormity of the raid attacked the senses. Those cut off, those who thought their experience an isolated case, were numbed to learn that similar acts had been going on all around the city. Like a twister it had come so swiftly, so tremendously, so utterly—yet like a twister it too had gone so quietly and completely that many were confused and still had no conception of time. And the bodies . . . no one had expected this.
“One saw the dead everywhere,” said the Reverend Cordley as he moved through the town, “on the sidewalks, in the streets, among the weeds in the gardens.”
And the day was actually darker than it had begun. Burning homes and barns sent spires of smoke upward until they converged to form a huge pall over the city, blotting out the sun and sky. Massachusetts Street was a raging wall of flame and churning black clouds. Crunching timber and toppling bricks fed the roar, and the heat was so intense that none dared enter the street. Even the sidewalks were burning. And everywhere was the suffocating dark fog. Women, some carrying babies in their arms, ran through the streets shielding their faces from the fire, crying and screaming for husbands and sons. Some, like Charles and Sara Robinson, found one another.
Then, down a side street, flaying the hide of a plow horse and shouting at the top of his lungs came Jim Lane trailed by several farmers. “Follow them boys,” cried the senator as he passed, “let us follow them.” Some did respond, and together they galloped south. But even had more felt the inclination, there simply were no horses left in town.
By noon a goodly number of citizens had straggled back to town as had curiosity-seekers from the countryside. And by this time even Hugh Fisher, sweltering all morning under the rug and furniture, felt safe enough to crawl from his torrid hiding place to get a drink of water.
Later, as the fires subsided, several men began the grisly task of trying to retrieve the dead and wounded. One of those thus engaged was George Deitzler. At first glance the victims nearest the fires were thought to be blacks. Coming closer, however, the old general was shocked to discover that the corpses were not Negroes, but white men “completely roasted. The bodies . . . crisped and nearly black.” Reluctantly, Deitzler bent down to pull a man up, but to his horror as he yanked he merely came away with two chunks of steaming dark flesh. Reeling backward, the general retched and had to leave. Most others, try as they may, could fare no better and turned away “crying like children.”
One corpse lay on a sidewalk near a fire. The body was normal in every respect except that the skin of the head had been burned away, leaving only a grinning skull. Another man was half body, half skeleton. Others had rendered down into a “shapeless mass.” And without a trace of wind the stench of cooked flesh weighed like a blanket in the hot fog. Relegated to stronger sorts, recovery did go on.
After the pews were moved out, many of the dead and wounded were taken to the Methodist Church. While two physicians probed an ugly hole in a man’s face, searching for a lodged ball, another, lacking both medicine and instruments, performed delicate surgery using only a sharp penknife. Lying in a corner, “half-wit” Jo Eldridge, also shot in the face, raved deliriously. Crying women, themselves on the verge of collapse, tried to help those waiting by bringing water, cleaning wounds, and fighting off the swarms of blowflies. The mangled bodies of Ralph and Steve Dix were brought in and laid out; Ben Johnson, some Germans, and others not recognizable were also carried up the steps. In his rush to get the wounded indoors, one minister keeled over from exhaustion. Elsewhere it was much the same as people waited for the few available doctors.
A young woman, just as confused and frightened as she had been all morning long, ran into the Griswold home for comfort. In the back parlor she first saw Mrs. Baker fanning her husband who lay on the bed, his clothes bathed in blood. Fleeing into the dining room, the girl suddenly froze at the sight of Doctor Griswold and Josiah Trask stiff, white, and stretched side by side on the dinner table. In the front parlor she glanced in to see Senator Thorp, twisted and rolling in terrible agony, his clothes black with blood and dust. He was struggling to speak to his wife but couldn’t. Bearing no more, the sickened young woman fled the house entirely.
Just up the street, surrounded by the smoldering ruins of her home, Julia Collamore could get no response from either her husband or the servant as she shouted into the well. When a close friend arrived, he volunteered to go down. Tying a cord around himself, and with the aid of two men to lower him, the friend entered the hole. About halfway down those above felt a sharp yank and frantically began to pull the man up. The strain was too great, however, and the cord snapped. But to the surprise of everyone above, there was no cry for help from below.
Despite everything, some paused a moment to behold the phenomenon. Flocks of killdeer, attracted for some reason, flew about carefree from yard to yard, calling their sprightly refrain.
Throughout the afternoon and into the evening the people continued to trickle back. Some returned wearing the same nightshirt they had awakened in, while not a few husbands came back in the dresses that had enabled their escape. Strong men, finding a dear friend whom they had presumed dead, fell into one another’s arms and wept. The devout knelt in circles and prayed.
Those who had fled Shantytown that morning also began appearing, coming across the river or out of the woods. One black, atop a white horse, rode bareback down Massachusetts Street singing with all his might “John Brown’s Body.” Behind, with a rope around its neck, he dragged the naked corpse of Larkin Skaggs. With other former slaves, the rider hauled the body to the Central Park and tried to burn it.
As the fires cooled and gardens and weedy lots were combed, more dead were discovered. The floor of the Methodist Church filled until there was no room. Forty identification tags had already been provided, but for others only a number distinguished each from the next disfigured form. Robert Martin, killed by the side of young Willie Fisher, was found and carried down from Mount Oread in the arms of his crying father. Charlie and Willie Fisher also returned, and the grateful parents sped to heaven their thanks and bowed to pray. But both Elizabeth and Hugh couldn’t help noticing that there was something different about Willie; he was not the same Willie who had left that morning.
It wasn’t so easy for editor John Speer. Of his three sons, the youngest was alive and with his mother. Another son, Junior, was dead. Someone said he was murdered while running along a street, shot by a mounted rebel dragging the Union flag. But the other son, seventeen-year-old Robbie, was still missing. Speer refused to believe that Robbie too was gone. And so, covered with soot and ash, the father kept up his search, calling out as the night descended.
I want you to help me find my boy. They have killed one, and the other I cannot find.
“The fires were still glowing in the cellars,” noted the Reverend Cordley as he moved through the darkened streets. “The brick and stone walls were . . . standing bare and blackened. The cellars between looked like great caverns with furnaces glowing in the depths. . . . Here and there among the embers could be seen the bones of those who had perished.”
John Speer and others seeking a son, a brother, a husband were praying that the bones they saw down among the cinder and fire were not those of the loved ones they sought.
That night the dogs howled without ceasing, and for miles around a vast angry glow was seen throbbing in the skies over Lawrence.
Saturday, August 22, 1863. Hardly had glint of dawn reached Lawrence when the weary people, straining to gain a few minutes of sleep, were jolted by a long, piercing scream heard throughout the town. Followed to its source, a woman was discovered in a gutted building sitting among the rubble. Her husband, she feared, had been shot and burned there the day before, and after searching the wife had found his remains at last—a blackened skull that she hugged to her breast.
This chilling scene “added much to the . . . sadness and horror which filled every heart,” said a viewer, and stamped an accent on what was already becoming known as “Black Friday.”
There was no awakening from the nightmare. Massachusetts Street, normally a hive of activity on Saturday, was black and idle now, only a jagged gash through piles of ash and debris. Red coals still glowed in the basements. At the south end of the street, two stores remained standing, to the north, by the river, several more stood, including the armory with weapons intact. In between, all else was ruin. Vermont and New Hampshire streets were much the same—a barn, the ice house, the City Hotel, a home in which George Todd had taken breakfast and left his voucher of safety.
In the residential area the condition was somewhat better. Although close to one hundred homes were destroyed, many of these the beautiful structures of West Lawrence, anyone could see how much worse it might have been. Dozens of houses were torched and torched again only to be saved by the women. And for those not doused, the absence of wind prevented the flames from leaping to a neighboring home. Most brick and stone dwellings stood untouched, and because of the soldiers, all the houses along the river, including the Robinson mansion, went unscathed. Except for a Negro church, every other still stood. The county land records were somehow preserved. But all this in itself, as the citizens viewed things, was small cause for thanksgiving. The bushwhackers had been meticulous. The town was devastated.
“Lawrence,” wrote one, “is as much destroyed as though an earth quake had buried it in ruins.”
And even had there been anything left to buy, there simply was nothing left to buy it with, for very little money remained. Of the three banks in town, two were robbed of every cent and the third spared only because a stubborn vault could not be blown. Practically all the cash and merchandise in the stores and offices was stolen or burned, and among the citizenry as a whole, the gold, silver, jewels, notes, and watches that were not stolen outright were generally lost or destroyed in the confusion. Much of the furniture, clothing, shoes, and linen were also gone. Most people, young and old, wore the same grimy apparel in which they had come away twenty-four hours before. In addition, there was virtually no food in the town.
Although the suffering and privation were extreme, the material loss paled beside that of the human. At first glance even the most sanguinary estimate placed the toll of dead at no more than sixty, a staggering number considering that nearly all were unarmed civilians. But even this grim figure was soon surpassed as more victims were discovered hourly.
When workers finally entered the Collamore well they brought up three dripping bodies–the mayor, his servant, and the would-be rescuer, all dead. After filling the Griswold home with hideous screams and groans, Simeon Thorp, in terrible agony, at last succumbed. As for the photographer, William Laurie, his flight was ended. Kansas City . . . Shawnee . . . the war had overtaken him once and for all in faraway Lawrence. The charred bones of other victims were raked in from the embers or found sprawled among the weeds and gardens. The dead seemed to crowd the living as the toll grew to one hundred and climbed.
The human loss was as unfathomable as the material loss was seemingly irreparable. There was little talk of rebuilding. Fear of a similar occurrence ran so high that it seemed foolish to do so, and some raiders had even warned that Lawrence must be entirely abandoned or they would return. The herculean task of trying to reconstruct their world also caused many to despair. But perhaps most disappointing and unbearable of all was the lack of anything tangible to strike at; the inability to reach out and smash the authors of so much misery and woe. For some, at least, this simple, savage act could not but help ease the pain and frustration.
Throughout the morning, travelers, emigrants, teamsters, and curiosity-seekers, jammed on the main roads for twenty-four hours, began to stream into town. One unsuspecting arrival quickly found himself surrounded by an angry mob. Identified as a proslavery man and active during the territorial struggle, he was led away to the barn by the river. There, despite pleas to the contrary, he was accused of being a spy for Quantrill, and being thus charged he was promptly convicted. A noose was thrown around his neck, and in a few moments the stunned man was drawn up and left kicking in the air. There was no hard evidence, as most admitted, but the victim was a Missourian, and that was close enough.
The body was then cut down and given to a black on horseback, who galloped through the streets followed by a snarling crowd. As the corpse was dragged along, the clothes tore away and the mob pelted it with rocks, sticks, and anything else available, each person dealing their share on the lonely trophy. Four other men blundered into town and were collared under the same pretext. Fortunately for them—and for consciences later on—they were only held, not hanged.
Sallie Young was next. Hooted and jeered viciously wherever she went, the young woman was arrested, accused of collaborating with the raiders, then confined to await transfer to Fort Leavenworth. The fury temporarily vented, Lawrence turned to more pressing matters.
As the morning wore on and the temperature rose, the stench from the corpses became insufferable. Already, many bodies had swollen so great that the clothing had burst, revealing grotesque wounds “full of flies & worms.” Frantically, the work began to identify the victims and get them under ground as rapidly as possible. There was little wood left and certainly no coffins. Many of the carpenters were either dead or wounded and nearly all the tools of the trade destroyed. Nevertheless, the citizens began. Oak and walnut logs were sawn and fashioned into rough boards. Most nails had melted in the kegs, but enough good ones were found and the planks were soon joined to form crude boxes. The dead were quickly deposited and the covers hammered down. For many, “it sounded rather harsh . . . to have the lid nailed over the bodies of their loved ones.” But there simply was no time for anything more elaborate, especially since the threat of epidemic increased with every hour.
When the Methodist Church was full, bodies were taken to other churches. Not all victims remained in town. After identification, three corpses, including that of the Irishman, Jim O’Neill, were loaded onto a wagon and returned to Lecompton for burial. Coming from the opposite direction, farmers brought fruit and vegetables and gave freely. And from Leavenworth the first real relief came when several wagons loaded with food, clothing, medical supplies, and caskets arrived.
Throughout the day and into the night the tempo increased and the sounds of the terrible work continued. At the cemetery atop Mount Oread, a ghostlike gathering moved in an arc of lamplight, and some of the boxes were at last lowered down. Slowly the recovery began.
When he wasn’t helping out around town, Peter Ridenour (left) was at the bedside of his friend. “Well, Mr. Ridenour, I am gone up,” Harlow Baker had whispered when his partner rushed into the room on Friday. But though he wasn’t given much hope by others and could barely breathe, Baker surprised everyone, including himself, by continuing to hang on.
And so the old friend stayed by his side, waiting for the end-fetching ice, tending the wounds, chatting. Jokingly, Ridenour admitted that the only reason he was sitting around this moment was because of a few potato plants and a garden bed he’d hugged so dearly that a leaf might have covered him. His home was gone, he added, even though he had naively taken the precaution of locking the door. But the two young clerks had made it. After running so long and hard that his feet bled, the athletic New Yorker hadn’t stopped until he had reached Leavenworth. There, he went straight to a family friend, Governor Tom Carney, and borrowed money enough for clothes and a one-way ticket east. But after some rest and reflection he had hesitated. The boy had come back today on the Leavenworth stage. Although admittedly he had never been so scared in his life, not even at Gettysburg, the youth discovered that indeed he had survived the battlefield and now, although his feet were very tired and sore, he had survived Black Friday as well.
Ridenour didn’t mention to his partner that the business was wiped out. Five years of savings had vanished in a blink when the banks were looted. The store’s huge inventory was also gone and although their insurance covered most everything, including fire, a clause excluded “invading enemies.” There were also many outstanding debts and no way to meet them. Although he didn’t burden his friend with business matters, Peter Ridenour had already taken the first faint look down the long road back. He was yet young and strong and energetic and his name was respected by all. And if he lived long enough, every creditor would get his due. The store’s safe with the books and a modest sum of cash had somehow weathered the storm, and if one put stock in such things, there was a benign omen of sorts—the salt wagons from Leavenworth had arrived and were now parked outside the gutted store.
But while he sat and waited and watched his old friend suffer, the thought uppermost on Mr. Ridenour’s mind was not salt or creditors or even the store, but whether the partnership, the friendship would continue as always or if the “B” would yet be stricken from R & B.
Early Sunday morning at the usual time, work was set aside while a few citizens gathered to worship. They were women and children mostly at the Reverend Cordley’s church, dirty and disheveled and dressed in men’s work clothes. No one said much. For some, the press of the past two days had been a sore test of faith, and a moment’s respite to collect their thoughts and drift in meditation was a welcome balm. There were whispers and silent prayers and then a passage from Psalms, verse 79:
O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance. They have laid Jerusalem in heaps. The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven and the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of earth. Their blood have shed they like water round about Jerusalem, and there was none to bury them.
After a moment more of silence, work was resumed.
Again, as the heat of the day approached, workers were made aware of their dilemma. The coffin building was not keeping pace with the decay of the bodies. The caskets that came from Leavenworth helped, but there simply weren’t enough coffins there, nor in all Kansas to meet the needs. And more victims were being found. At last, in desperation, it was decided to dispense with formalities altogether and inter the more advanced cases with as much haste as possible. Into a long, deep trench gouged from the cemetery ground, forty-seven black and bloating bodies were finally lowered down. Similar burials, like that of Judge Carpenter and Edward Fitch, took place in backyards. With this, some of the terrible trauma and urgency began mercifully to wear off.
More help came from the countryside and another large wagon train of food, clothing, and supplies arrived from Leavenworth. Visitors continued to enter the city, some to aid and some simply to gawk and assess the destruction. Early estimates placed the damage in the millions of dollars, with over $250,000 stolen in currency alone. Almost every businessman and merchant was totally cleaned out. Still, there were increasing murmurs of rebuilding and renewed investments. Flagging spirits began to revive somewhat as a few took heart.
Included among the strangers in town were a number of correspondents and illustrators from large Eastern newspapers who began sketching scenes and taking down eyewitness accounts. A few unabashed individuals came forward with their stories. One black related that when the raiders had entered Lawrence on Friday morning, he had dashed over the meadows south of town and hid in a tree above the Wakarusa, out-legging his imagined pursuers and establishing some kind of record for the three-mile course. When asked about the feat, his simple reply: “The prairie just came to me.” Another man, a dentist, described his escape and return to Lawrence and his utter amazement to find that, though everything else was gone, the rebels had entirely overlooked his inventory of gold and silver plate.
Others had similar tales to tell, though not always so jocose. They told of a morning replete with hairbreadth escapes and terror, of miracles, irony, and death. But as the journalists scribbled away, always from each new tale there surfaced the same consistent theme—the steely defiance and grit of the women. Almost all their acts, although carried out under fantastic duress, were marked by an uncanny degree of calmness and courage. Instances of their heroism, their “sand,” ran on. There was Lydia Stone: When the Eldridge prisoners became frightened of retaliation, the young woman, risking her own life, raced down the riverbank in the teeth of the soldiers’ bullets waving a hanky for them to stop. There was Kate Riggs: By grabbing the horse’s bridle and hanging on until she had been dragged around the house and over a woodpile, the tenacious woman succeeded in saving her husband Sam from the monster Skaggs. There were Elizabeth Fisher, Eliza Turner, and a score of other equally doughty heroines.
And never had female ingenuity been better displayed, from the “nieces” of “Aunt Betsie” to the woman who saved not only a feather bed to sleep on but a neighbor man as well whom she rolled up inside and carried to safety. Another woman fooled the rebels by burning oily rags in kettles, thereby making it appear that her home was engulfed in flames.
And even after their bravery and resourcefulness saved many a man and home, the women’s work had but begun. When the initial shock had passed, many, like the “ministering angel” Lydia Stone, carried on, moving with quiet grace among the crowds of victims, “attending to their wants and speaking words of comfort and cheer.”
As Sunday wore on, the women, arms scorched, hair singed, continued their labors with an air of increasing confidence. Some optimistically saw in their great trial a hidden treasure. Although they left little else in Lawrence, the guerrillas overlooked something very precious nonetheless, something that could not be burned with a torch or strapped on a pack horse: Courage . . . the only thing in life that really mattered. When all else was taken, this at least remained and gleamed more brilliantly than ever before. Then others took note and drew inspiration from a familiar sight at the river’s edge. Amid the ruin and devastation the old liberty pole stood straight and tall, defiantly holding its ground. Even the tortuous hot spell was at an end. Late in the day a refreshing north wind kicked up, clearing and cooling the air. If the truth be known, for many of these women, as well as the surviving men, there was within them the dawning of that warm and golden glow that shines only in the hearts of those who have faced off with the worst in life and come away victorious. For Lawrence, the worst had come. The trial had passed. There was nothing more from life to fear.
As the work progressed into the evening, a lookout on Mount Oread, watching the activity below, happened to glance south toward the Wakarusa. There to his horror he saw rising from the valley floor an all-too-familiar sight—smoke and flame. Without a second thought the rider flew down the hill and galloped into town, screaming with all the power in his lungs, “They are coming again, they are coming again! Run for your lives, run for your lives!”
With these startling words reserves cracked, then crumbled, and suddenly there was nothing left. In a moment, as if from one mind, panic seized all, and like a cannon shot the race from Lawrence instantly became a mad stampede. Someone rang the armory bell but no one was fool enough to rally. Men who had naively held to their homes at the onset of the first raid and who thus experienced the most terrifying hours of their lives didn’t wait around for the second, but broke from town at a run, hair streaming in the wind. Women, whose courage hadn’t wavered during the Friday attack and whose poise had been a comfort to all, now caved in completely and became “utterly unstrung.” Men, women, children—all raced blindly, filling the streets with a bedlam of sobs, shrieks, and shouts, expecting the slaughter to overtake them with every bound.
Run for your life . . . Quantrill is coming back and will kill all of us!
Run to the country, Quantrill is coming!
Take your children and run . . . Quantrill is coming!
After a few short minutes the dust finally settled. The town was deserted. Except for a few wounded, not a soul, black or white, resident or visitor, was left in Lawrence. As time passed, men on the opposite shore anxiously watched for the attack to begin. But mysteriously, there was only silence. Shortly, one hundred citizens recovered sufficiently to cross back and pass out weapons from the armory. Their plans for a stand were for naught, however, for they soon learned the cause of the lookout’s alarm—imprudently, a farmer had chosen this moment to burn off a field of straw.
Knowledge of the error came too late to reach the majority of people, however. Some were far away and still running while others were even further along and had no intention of ever stopping, like the clerk at R & B’s, who this time would not pull up until he reached New York and absolute safety. But for the rest, many carrying footsore children, there was no run left, and they simply alit in fields and thickets fringing the town.
That night proved to be one of the coldest, cruelest summer nights in border memory. The temperature plunged, the rain and hail came in sheets, the lightning cracked, the thunder roared, and the wind blew with all the fury of a cyclone. But still—soaked, frozen, and huddled as they were—few ventured back, for the wind and cold and rain were far preferable to Lawrence, where it was firmly believed Quantrill was adding the final touches to the bloody work begun on Friday.
One of these miserable refugees, seeking an answer to it all, later questioned his aged father. “Why have we been so terribly punished? Why so infinitely worse than any other place in all the history of this war? Why beyond comparison and precedent?” After brief reflection on the territorial days of the fifties, the war on the border and the sagging fortunes of the South in the sixties, of the bloody days of rampage when Lane, Jennison, and their Jayhawkers had turned western Missouri inside out, the son found the answer to his own question.
“lt has come,” he finally admitted, “and they have had their revenge.”
But another, angrier than the first, and speaking for a great many more than the first, considered the scales once more uneven.
“Oh! God!” he implored heaven, “Who shall avenge?”