PioneerDays In Kansas

chapter 11

The Lawrence Raid

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We felt a wonderful relief on getting home, and having forty miles instead of ten between us and the marauders. We had one quiet day at home and thoroughly enjoyed it. Rev. Louis Bodwell, who had been supplying my church during my absence, was with us. We sat up late Thursday night talking over the things that had happened during our absence. I arose quite early Friday morning. It was a beautiful morning; there was not a speck of a cloud in the sky, and the air was so still that it seemed as if the very elements were holding their breath. A few moments afterward I heard a strange noise in the south part of the town. It suggested to me the breaking up of school in the olden time, when at the word "dismissed " every boy jumped and yelled. I went to the door and saw my neighbors everywhere peeping around their houses. Some one said "There's a regiment of them." I could hear rapid firing at a little distance. Then


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there came in sight the head of a column of horsemen, rushing forward at a furious speed, the reins over the horses' necks, and the men sitting freely in their saddles with revolvers in hand, and firing continuously. On the still air came the command, "On to the hotel." At this they wheeled obliquely to the left toward the main street. They passed about three hundred yards from my door in plain sight and wheeled to the left just in front of my house. They rode five or six abreast, and were splendid horsemen. They were desperate-looking men, clad in the traditional butternut, and belted about with revolvers, some carrying as many as six. Most of them also carried carbines.

Rapidly as they rushed forward the column seemed a long time in passing. At last the rear came in view, and the whole body soon disappeared on the main street. For a time we could neither hear nor see what was going on, and could only await developments. How long we were in suspense I do not know. It was probably half an hour. We then saw a column of black smoke shoot up from the Lawrence Republican printing office. We now knew that they had the town in their possession. Our


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thought was that they would do here as they had done elsewhere, carry off what they wanted, burn the business part of the town, kill a few persons who were obnoxious to them, and then depart. This had been the usual course, and this was what we all were expecting in case a raid should occur. As our house was at some distance from the center of the town, we thought the chances were good that we should not be reached. We could not see very much. One column of black smoke after another shot into the air, and we could follow their work all along the business street by the fires they kindled. The air was so still that the smoke of each building shot straight up into the sky, and these columns stood like great black pillars all along the street. Bits of charred paper and burnt cloth hung in the air and floated slowly over us: Now and then an explosion told us that the fire had reached the powder in some cellar. Squads of six or eight horsemen were dashing here and there all over the town. Then a squad came by, right in front of our house, two blocks away, and after a little disappeared to the south. Another squad came, a little nearer, and went off again, and all was quiet. I was watching at


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the west window looking toward the town. Mr. Bodwell was watching at the north window looking down our street. He called me to come and look. I went to the north window, and at the house just below us, on the opposite side of the street, there was a squad of six talking with the lady at the door. It was evident that we were not to be overlooked. It was our turn next. Turning to me Mr. Bodwell said, "You are well known here, Cordley, and I am not; you must go at once." There was no time for argument, and no disposition for any. The chance of getting by them safely was not very promising, but it was the only chance there was of escape. If we remained in the house they would surely be upon us in a few minutes. I simply replied that I should "not go and leave any one in the house. We must all go." Taking our little Maggie in my arms, we all passed out by the back door, and the back gate, and straggled along toward the river. The squad we had seen from the window was still at the house across the street. Some of them had dismounted, and some were still in their saddles. They were not more than three hundred feet from us, but they were so busily engaged talking with the


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woman who stood in the doorway, that they did not notice us as we passed by them. We knew our only hope of escape lay in not attracting attention, so we sauntered along slowly as if we were out for a morning walk. We were in plain sight of them for an eighth of a mile or more, expecting every moment to be fired upon, or called back. At last we came to the woods on the river-bank not very far from where the gas works now stand. Here Bodwell remained, and climbed a tree to watch operations. We kept on down the river for half a mile or more. There we hailed a friend who lived on the opposite side, and he came over for us in his rowboat. In a few minutes we were "safe beyond the river."

I left my family at my friend's house, and started back on the north side of the river. When I reached the ferry opposite the town, I could still hear firing toward the south, but it was growing fainter, and the raiders were evidently leaving. There were a number of us at the ferry, all eager to cross. After a little while the ferryman pushed out into the stream, but we had hardly gone out fifteen feet when we heard several sharp shots on the hill just above us. the ferry-


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man pushed his boat back a good deal quicker than he had pushed it out, and none of us felt like objecting. The shots we had heard, as we afterward learned, were those fired into the company of prisoners at the Whitney House, after Quantrill and the main body of rebels had left the town. As soon as the firing ceased, the ferryman pushed out again, and in a few moments we were landed on the Lawrence side. I hurried up the hill, anxious to know how great the disaster was. The first man I met was John Speer, editor of the Lawrence Republican. He was covered with ashes and soot as if he had been through the fire. He grasped my hand eagerly, and said, "I want you to help find my boy. They have killed one, and the other I cannot find. He slept in the printing-office, and I expect he was burned with the building." So we went where he said the bed stood, and raked about among the embers in the cellar with poles, bat could find no signs of his boy, and no signs of him were ever found. I next saw Bodwell, from whom I had parted a short time before, scarcely expecting to meet again. He was hurrying about, caring for the wounded. About this time I met Capt. J. A. Lowe, an old citizen.


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Twenty minutes later his wife hailed me from a window, and asked if Mr. Lowe was dead. I told her, "No, I had just left him." I had scarcely turned the corner from where she had hailed me, when some one said that Mr. Lowe, in trying to rescue Mayor Collamore from the well he was concealed in, had fallen and perished. I went from one stricken group to another, helping as I could. Every one had a tale of horror or of marvelous escapes, - and to tell all I heard and saw that day would fill a volume, and would equal the story of any Indian massacre ever written. About three o'clock I felt strangely faint, and came near falling on the sidewalk. It then occurred to me that I had eaten neither breakfast nor dinner. So I went into the house opposite and asked for something to eat, which they gave me, and I passed on.

Sometime in the afternoon Mrs. Cordley and I found time to visit the ruins of our home. On our way we came across Mr. Bodwell, and we were all together by the ruins, as we had been a few hours before in the house. All that remained was a bed of embers and ashes. Not a book or sermon, not a letter or paper, not a relic of childhood or memento of friend was saved. As


page 185 we stood silently looking at the desolate scene, Mrs. Cordley quietly wept. Bodwell turned to her and said in his gentlest tones: "Don't cry, Mary. You have got all you asked for. We are all here." No more tears were shed for the ruined house. So many all about us were carrying heavier sorrows, that we could but be thankful at our own escape. Bodwell's part in all this is told in a sketch he wrote at the time, from which I make a short extract:

"After Cordley and his family had crossed to the north side of the river I turned back to the burning town. As I drew near the firing ceased. Climbing a bank not a soul was in sight, save one horseman galloping at full speed southward. Cordley's house was standing, and seemed unharmed. But a puff of smoke from the south window gave warning. The first door opened showed the house full of smoke. Two steps took me to the library shelves, to grasp an armful of books, and run and throw them on the grass. The smoke and growing heat drove me from my next attempt empty-handed. To take off the outside blinds, to bring out the movables from the lean-to kitchen, was all that could be done ere the fire seemed to cover the whole."


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It will be necessary to go back a little to give a connected story of the whole affair. Quantrill assembled his gang about noon the day before the raid, August 20, and started toward Kansas about two o'clock. They crossed the Kansas border between five and six o'clock and struck directly across the prairie toward Lawrence, passing through Gardner, on the Sante Fe trail, about eleven o'clock at night, and through Hesper, ten miles southeast of Lawrence, between two and three. The moon was now set, and the night was dark and the road doubtful. A little boy was taken from a house on Captain's Creek and compelled to guide them into Lawrence. They entered Franklin, four miles east of Lawrence, at the first glimmer of day, and passed quietly through the village, lying upon their horses, so as to attract as little attention as possible. The command, however, was distinctly heard: "Rush on, boys, it will be daylight before we are there. We ought to have been there an hour ago." From here it began to grow light and they traveled faster. When they first came in sight of the town they stopped. Many were inclined to waver. Quantrill finally declared that he was going in, and they might


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follow who would. Two horsemen were sent in ahead to see that all was quiet. They rode through the town and back without attracting attention. They were seen going through the main street, but the appearance of horsemen at that hour was nothing unusual.

Their progress was now quite rapid, but cautious. They were seen approaching by several persons in the outskirts, but in the dimness of the morning and the distance, they were supposed to be Union troops. They passed on in a body till they came to the high ground facing the main street, when the command was given: "Rush on to the town." Instantly they rushed forward with a yell. They first came upon a camp of new recruits for the Kansas Fourteenth. These men had not yet been armed, and were waiting for orders. On these the bushwhackers fired as they passed, killing seventeen out of twenty-two. The attack did not check the general advance. A few turned aside to run down and shoot fugitive soldiers, but the main body rushed on with unslackened speed. In all the bloody scenes which followed, nothing surpassed, in wildness and terror, that which now presented itself. The guerillas rode with the ease


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and abandon acquired by a life spent in the saddle, and amid desperate scenes. Their horses scarcely seemed to touch the ground, and the riders sat with bodies and arms perfectly free, shooting at every house and man they passed, and yelling at every bound. On each side of this stream of fire, as it poured along, were men falling dead and wounded, and women and children, half dressed, running and screaming - some trying to escape from danger and some rushing to the side of their murdered friends.

The ruffians dashed along the main street, shooting at every straggler on the sidewalk, and into almost every window. They halted in front of the Eldridge House. The firing ceased and all was quiet for a few minutes. They evidently expected resistance there, and sat gazing at the rows of windows above them, apparently in fearful suspense. In a few moments Captain Banks, provost marshal of the state, opened a window and displayed a white flag, and called for Quantrill. Quantrill rode forward, and Banks, as provost marshal, surrendered the house, stipulating for the safety of the inmates. At this moment the big gong of the hotel began to sound through the halls to awaken the sleepers


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The whole column fell back, evidently thinking this the signal for an attack. In a few moments they pressed forward again, and commenced the work of plunder and destruction. They ransacked the hotel, robbing the rooms and their inmates. These inmates they gathered together at the head of the stairs, and when the plundering was done, marched them across the street on to Winthrop Street under a guard. Soon Quantrill rode up and told them to go to the City Hotel, on the river-bank, and they would be protected, because he had boarded there some years ago and had been well treated. He ordered the prisoners to go in and stay in, and they would be safe. The captives were as obedient to orders as any of Quantrill's own men, and lost no time in gaining the house of refuge. This treatment of the prisoners of the Eldridge House shows that they expected resistance from that point, and were relieved by the offer of surrender. They not only promised protection, but were as good as their word. Other hotels received no such favors, and had no such experience of rebel honor.