Archive for Thursday, March 20, 2008

Successful lecture series to continue with look at Quantrill

March 20, 2008

Craig Crease promises to present lots of history in his coming lecture on William Clark Quantrill, but he doesn't promise answers to key questions involving the pro-slavery guerrilla leader.

"What drove a mild-mannered, kind of diminutive man to become this fierce partisan guerrilla leader?" Crease said. "That's kind of the thing I'll explore."

Crease will present the lecture "Quantrill and the Border Wars: The 1863 Raid on Lawrence" at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the council room of De Soto City Hall as a guest of the De Soto Historical Committee.

Quantrill was infamous for his Aug. 21, 1863, raid on Lawrence that left from 185 to 200 residents of the anti-slavery stronghold dead.

Definitive answers regarding Quantrill remain speculative because he left no writings explaining his politics or actions, Crease said. What we do know about Quantrill only deepens the mystery of his actions.

"He doesn't strike you as a man who would be leading 450 guerrilla fighters on a raid on Lawrence," Crease said. "He had a mild-mannered schoolteacher look to him."

And that is exactly how Quantrill made his living when he relocated to Miami County in Ohio, a state of origin that also seems at odds with association with the pro-slavery cause.

Quantrill later took a turn at homesteading in Johnson County near Edgerton before moving on to Lawrence in 1858 and 1859, where he spent the years under the alias of "Charlie Hart." Again, it is not known why Quantrill took the assumed name, Crease said.

Quantrill moved to Missouri and in 1861 with the start of the Civil War made his unexplained switch of allegiance to the Southern cause, Crease said.

Although he left no personal accounts, there were plenty of others willing to tell Quantrill's story after his death, Crease said. But those have to be viewed with suspicion because they were written by those with strong partisan loyalties, he said.

There are aspects of Quantrill that can be guessed from his career, Crease said.

"Obviously, he must have been somewhat charismatic to have led a band of 450 guerrillas," he said. "You just don't talk people into some of the things he did without being a pretty good leader."

Whatever Quantrill's motivation, there is no doubt he and his men accomplished exactly what they wanted in the Lawrence raid, Crease said.

The lives of Quantrill and early De Soto town father Jack Abbott intersected at the Lawrence raid. Abbott, who had moved to De Soto at the time of the raid, was a leader in the Free State militia in Lawrence in the 1850s. He was in Lawrence to at the Eldridge Hotel the night of raid and left an account of his escape and the horrors he witnessed.

"I will address some of Mr. Abbott's comments in my talk," Crease said. "There is definitely a De Soto tie through Abbott to the Quantrill raid."

An authority of early Kansas trails, Crease will also relate the route Quantrill took that August day to Lawrence.

The raiders crossed into Kansas about 4 miles south of Aubry and passed southwest of De Soto, crossing Captain Creek, to ride the California Trail into Lawrence.

For those who want to learn more about the raid, Crease and the Oregon/California Trail Association is offering a April 19 bus tour of the guerrillas' route to Lawrence and pertinent sites in that town. The $45 cost of the tour covers the cost of a meal at the Eldridge Hotel, he said.

The tour will start at 8:30 a.m. in the Sears parking lot at 8703 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Merriam. For more information, call Crease at (913)868-8880

Crease was in De Soto last year as one of the speakers in the sesquicentennial lecture series. His visit Wednesday is the first of a continuing series of lectures the De Soto Historical Committee hopes to present, said Kathy Ross, a member of the committee.

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