Quantrill’s Shawnee raids were ‘practice for the big one’
Shawnee William Clarke Quantrill was one bad dude.
Not even the spirit of a famous lawman could discourage the king of the bushwhackers from laying waste to much of eastern Kansas in the early 1860s, Johnson County included.
The 150-year anniversary of Quantrill’s infamous, bloody raid of Lawrence is a week from Wednesday. On Aug. 21, 1863, the Confederate guerilla and his group of 450 bushwhackers killed 183 men and boys, ages 14 to 90, and burned most of Lawrence to the ground.
“It was all strictly for revenge,” explains Terry Love, vice president of the Monticello Community Historical Society in Lenexa. “He had a list of everyone he wanted to kill, and he got most of them.”
But what many people don’t know, Love says, is that Quantrill and his men first raided Shawnee — twice.
“Bushwhacking around here was pretty big,” he says.
The first Shawnee raid took place Oct. 17, 1862. Quantrill and about 140 bushwhackers stormed the town and corralled residents in the town square, near the current location of City Hall.
“One of those stone buildings across from City Hall,” Love says, “still has a bullet hole from the raid.
“The raiders were after two things: clothes — all clothes were handmade in those days — and they were after horses.”
The bushwhackers murdered two Shawnee residents, then burned the entire town.
“Shawnee had just 15 or 20 buildings at that time,” Love explains. “It was devastating.”
Then, in the summer of 1863, Quantrill and his men came back to Shawnee for round two. One purpose of that raid was to scout for a possible escape route for the planned attack on Lawrence, Love says.
“We were practice for the big one.”
Bushwhackers were so-called because, well, they whacked you from the bushes, Love says. Though they ride roughshod over Civil War history, their lives were far from glamorous.
“If the Union found you, you were executed on the spot,” he explains.
Most of the bushwhackers who participated in the Shawnee raids were poor men from rural Missouri. They wore their hair long and carried several pistols at a time.
“They were all raised from 5 years old to hunt their own food,” Love explains, “so they were crack shots. When one pistol was empty, they’d pull out another.
“These were nasty guys. It was like the Wild West back then.”
Johnson County even played host to several infamous Wild West figures. In Quantrill’s gang were the Younger brothers, who later became prolific stage-coach robbers on the American frontier, and future outlaws Frank and Jesse James.
James Butler Hicock even made an appearance, though not at the right time to save Shawnee or Lawrence. In 1857, a 20-year-old Hicock claimed 160 acres in what is now northern Lenexa. A year later, he got his first job as a lawman — in Monticello Township.
But by the time Quantrill’s thugs raided Shawnee, Hicock had already moved on to join the Pony Express, killing nine outlaws in a single gunfight and earning the nickname Wild Bill. The rest, as Love says, is history.
The Monticello Community Historical Society in Lenexa is hosting two upcoming programs on bushwhackers in the Civil War:
• 7 p.m. Sept. 12: “A Bullwhacker’s Life — Freighting Supplies Over the Plains”
• 7 p.m. Oct. 10: “The Border War”
Both events are free and open to the public, and will be followed by a potluck dinner. Events take place at 23860 W. 83rd St.
For more info, visit monticelloks.org or call 913-667-3706.
OTHER HISTORICAL FIRSTS
Terry Love, vice president of the Monticello Community Historical Society, provided the following list of Shawnee historical firsts:
• Shawnee became the first settlement in present-day Johnson County when it was designated as the Indian headquarters for the Shawnee reservation in 1828.
• One of the first white settlers in the Shawnee area was Frederick Choteau, who established a trading post on Mill Creek in 1840. He also operated a ferry boat across the Kaw River. It was located near present day intersection of 43rd and Theden streets. The Choteau bridge in Kansas City is named after his family.
• Shawnee (then called Gum Springs) was the first town in Johnson County when it was founded on Aug. 10, 1856.
• Shawnee served as the first county seat in 1857.
• The first meeting of the First Federal District Court was held in a log cabin that served as Shawnee’s first Methodist Church in the fall of 1857.
• Elizabeth Simmerwell was born in 1836 at the Shawnee Mission to missionary parents. She was the first white girl born in Kansas.
150th ANNIVERSARY EVENTS
Quantrill’s Raid Graveyard Walk
8 to 9:30 p.m., Oak Hill Cemetery, Lawrence
Participants must be at least 8 years old. Pre-registration is required. Cost: $17 per person. The walk is currently booked, but there is a waiting list for interested parties. Register online atlawrenceks.org/lprd/webenroll.
Core Exhibit Public Opening
10 a.m. to 5 p.m., second floor of the Watkins Museum, 1047 Massachusetts St., Lawrence
The new permanent exhibit commemorates the 150th anniversary of Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence and explores its effect on the community, Douglas County’s role in the struggles of the Bleeding Kansas period and the 100-year struggle to achieve freedom for all people in this “free state stronghold.” The event is free and open to the public.
Quantrill’s Raid Walking Tours
8:30 to 10 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Watkins Museum, 1047 Massachusetts St.
Cost: $5 for Douglas County Historical Society members; for non-members, $10 in advance and $15 the day of the event. To sign up, call 785-841-4109.
Music of the Civil War Era, Kaw Valley Concert Band
4 p.m., Watkins Museum, 1047 Massachusetts St.
The Kaw Valley Cornet Band will play music that was popular during the Civil War. The concert is free and open to the public.
150th Anniversary of Quantrill’s Raid and City of Lawrence Commemoration
6:30 p.m., South Park Gazebo, Lawrence
There will be a presentation on the history and significance of Quantrill’s Raid, a special reading of the victims’ names, and the City Band will perform specially selected works that are representative of the music of the 1860s and have significance to the Lawrence community. The commemoration is free and open to the public, and the city will provide cold refreshments during the performance.
Bleeding Kansas Bleeding Missouri
7 p.m., Carnegie Building, 9th and Vermont Streets
The Lawrence Public Library will celebrate the launch of KU Professor Jonathan Earle’s book about the Civil War as experienced on the Kansas and Missouri Border. The event is free and open to the public.
Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence: Stories of Loss, Destruction and Survival
5:30 p.m., KU Spencer Research Library, 1405 Poplar Lane, Lawrence
An exhibition opening which features documents that help readers to understand Quantrill’s Raid and its impact on the community. The event is free and open to the public.