Today, August 21, 1863: Quantrill’s Raiders Murder 160 in Kansas

On October 11, 1837, William Clarke Quantrill was born in small rural town of Canal Dover (currently Dover) Ohio. Dover is about 20 miles south of Canton, 40 miles south of Akron and 70 miles south of Cleveland. At the time of Quantrill’s birth, Canal Dover had a burgeoning population of less than 500 people.

Quantrill worked as a teacher and other jobs in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

In 1856, at the age of 19, Quantrill moved to Missouri.

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In 1858, Quantrill went to Kansas where he took the name Charles Hart and tried to earn a living as a gambler. He then became a school teacher in Lawrence, Kansas.

In 1860, Quantrill became involved in the border war between Kansas and Missouri and seemed to be attracted to the violence of it, and forcing him to flee back to Missouri.

The issue between Kansas and Missouri centered around the issue of slavery. There are conflicting reports as to where Quantrill stood on the issue of slavery. He reportedly helped free some slaves and yet was reported to capture escaped slaves and turn them in. In one report, Quantrill infiltrated a band of Quaker abolitionists who planned to raid the farm of Morgan Walker and free his slaves. However, Quantrill had informed Walker of the raid and all five Quakers were killed in an ambush.

One report stated that Quantrill vowed to join the Union Army so as to seek revenge on the killing of his older brother by Kansas Jayhawkers. Yet another report claims that Confederate Colonel Jeff Thompson promoted Quantrill to captain after the August 11, 1862 Battle of Independence. A number of historians believe that Quantrill never held a true military commission and that he most likely assumed several military titles while actually being nothing more than a bandit who operated on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri border.

By 1862, Union forces had taken control of Missouri, a free state, yet Quantrill and his Raiders continued to fight a guerilla war against the Union forces an anyone who supported them and was against slavery.

On this day, August 21, 1863, Quantrill led his band of Raiders on an early morning raid on Lawrence, Kansas. Lawrence was a Free State town when Quantrill and nearly 400 Confederate Raiders, generally referred to as guerillas as they were involved in guerilla warfare, rode into Lawrence early in the morning when most of the town folk were sleeping.

Quantrill’s Raiders began busting into homes and stealing what they could and shooting any civilians who resisted. The Raiders also looted many of the town’s stores before setting them on fire. The Raiders were so ruthless that they shot one man, the Reverend Snyder as he sat milking his cow outside his house.

By the time Quantrill’s Raiders were done, somewhere between 160-190 men and boys of Lawrence had been killed. The Raiders lost only one man. The majority of the town had been looted and burned.

Since it was deemed as a Confederate Act, Quantrill was considered to be an outlaw by the Union. Quantrill’s reputation spread and it wasn’t hard to find new recruits. Two of the young recruits drawn to the infamous Quantrill were 20-year-old Frank James and his younger brother Jesse, both of whom helped take part in the raid and slaughter in Lawrence.

On May 10 1865, Quantrill was caught in an ambush by Union forces in Louisville, Kentucky. He was severely wounded during the battle.

On August June 6, 1865, the infamous Quantrill died from his wounds. Just like many of the legends and stories that were more mythical than real, Quantrill’s final resting place is another one. He is buried in Louisville, Kentucky; in Dover, Ohio and in Higginsville, Missouri.

In 1887, Caroline Clarke Quantrill, William Quantrill’s mother decided that she wanted to bring her son’s body back to Dover, Ohio. With the help of a friend who was researching a book on Quantrill, his unmarked grave in Louisville was located. When they dug him up, a rib bone disintegrated when it was picked up, so only the larger bones were recovered and taken to Dover where they were buried by his mother. However, the friend had not placed the skull with the rest of the large bones. Additionally, some of the bones were later proven not to be those of the infamous Confederate Raider as it wasn’t uncommon at the time to reuse graves. The friend who helped locate and dig up Quantrill’s body had kept several arm bones and upon his death, his widow sold them to a Kansas historian. After an unsuccessful attempt to trade Quantrill’s arm bones for Jesse James’ pistol, the bones were donated to the Kansas Historical Society. The Society also ended up with a lock of Quantrill’s hair. In the meantime, the skull had been given to the son of the man who owned the arm bones. The son then allowed a local fraternity to use the skull for some rituals. Somehow, the Dover Historical Society gained possession of the skull and placed it on display in 1972. In October 1992, the skull was placed in a small white child’s casket and buried in a cemetery in Dover. In the meantime, the bones that had been donated to the Kansas Historical Society were eventually, obtained and buried in the Confederate Memorial State Park in Higginsville, Missouri, hence the infamous Civil War bandit and mass murdered William Quantrill has three burial sites in three different states.


Sources for the above includes: Guerillas Massacre Residents of Lawrence, Kansas; William Quantrill Raids Lawrence, Kansas, 1863; Quantrill’s Raid The Lawrence Massacre; William Quantrill – Renegade Leader of the Missouri Border War; Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence; William Quantrill Killed by Union Soldiers; Quantrill, William Clarke



Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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