William Clarke Quantrill
William Clarke Quantrill has been described as being the "Bloodiest man in the annals of America." He was the leader of the Missouri Partisan Rangers and guerilla gang during the Civil War. He became notorious for his leadership skills, his excellent horsemanship and his warfare tactics. He is most remembered for his organization of the raid on Lawrence, Kansas in August of 1863 where over 150 citizens were massacred. William was described as being about 5’9" tall with a roman nose and sandy or yellowish brown hair. He usually wore a drab slouch hat, woolen shirts and high heeled boots. He was looked upon as a monster by Unionists and as a hero by southern sympathizers and confederates.
William Clarke Quantrill was born July 3, 1837 in Dover, Ohio to Thomas Henry and Caroline Cornelia (Clarke) Quantrill. He was the oldest of 8 children, 4 of those children dying in infancy. William’s father was a tin smith and was involved in several scandals that included theft and fraud. His father often beat him but his mother doted on him. Thomas Henry Quantrill died of tuberculosis on Dec 7, 1854, but William would tell a different story of his father’s death after moving to Kansas in 1857.
After William’s father died, he tried to supplement the income of his family by becoming a schoolteacher. He taught in Dover, Illinois and Indiana. He was never satisfied with the amount of money he made teaching and even tried his hand at gambling for awhile in Utah. Finding no success he returned home to Dover where his mother made arrangements for two neighboring men to buy a claim for him in Kansas and hold it until he reached the age of 21. He was to work off his debt by working on their farms. On Feb. 26, 1857, William left for Kansas with Harmon Beeson and Henry Torrey. They settled in Franklin Co. After living with these men for about a year, William became restless and wanted to sell his claim. A dispute arose over the claim and had to be settled in court. He was paid only ˝ of what the court awarded him and then moved into a communal cabin called Tuscarora Lake.
During Quantrill’s early years in Kansas, he had northern views and often talked against slavery. His viewpoint began to change once he was hired as a teamster in Fort Leavenworth where he enlisted under the name of Charley Hart. It was there that he met up and befriended some southern sympathizers.
By 1860, William was ready to settle down and start farming. He lived with an Indian family near Lawrence but began to associate with some border ruffians. He quickly learned that capturing runaway slaves for the reward money turned a nice profit. He devised a scheme to help free black men by assisting the jayhawkers in rescuing them and then helped the border ruffians capture them and collect the reward money. He was soon caught in this charade when he took 4 free-state men to liberate the slaves at the Morgan Walker farm in Missouri. Quantrill warned the farmer before the raid occurred and 3 of the Kansas men were killed.
After the war started, Quantrill went to Texas and then to the Cherokee Nation where he made friends with a ˝ breed and confederate sympathizer named Joel Mayes. He rode with Joel and his men for awhile, learning many tactics of war. Quantrill joined Price’s Confederate Army shortly after the confederate victory in Springfield on August 12, 1861. By the end of September, he left Price’s army and returned to Jackson County. Here he decided to form his own army and gathered about 15 men who were willing to follow him. He would not accept any man into his band unless they were seeking revenge for themselves or for their families for injuries that had been inflicted on them by the Union Army or the jayhawkers. This was in contrast to William’s own personal history and therefore he made up a story to gain the confidence of his men. William told his men that he and an older brother had left for California on the Santa Fe Trail and were ambushed by Jayhawkers while camped beside the Little Cottonwood River deep in Kansas territory. The jayhawkers opened fire on Quantrill and his brother and his brother was killed instantly. William claimed to have been shot in the right breast and left leg. After the attack the murderers rifled their pockets and left them for dead. William said that for 2 days he guarded his brother’s body from buzzards and prairie wolves and then on the 3rd day was found by an old Shawnee Indian who nursed him back to health and buried his brother. His story also included the tale that he vowed vengeance and enlisted as a private in the Union army, quickly rising to the rank of lieutenant. Using his position, he killed all but 2 of the murderers with a single shot to the forehead between the eyes while on patrol. This story was not true as William did not have an older brother and this lie was told for the sole purpose of gaining the loyalty of his men.
Quantrill and his band assisted the Confederate Army by distracting the Union troops from the Confederate movements. They did this by constantly raiding Unionists homes and businesses and ambushing the Union troops. In 1862, Quantrill was commissioned as a captain as a Missouri Partisan Ranger by Colonel Thompson and was declared an outlaw by the Union Army. This occurred after Quantrill and his men assisted the Confederate Army in their capture of Independence. The Union then declaring him an outlaw and an order was passed stating that all guerilla’s and partisans were to be treated as criminals and shot on sight. Quantrill had been in the habit of releasing his Union prisoners. After the order was issued, he felt that if he and his men were not going to be granted the same courtesy as Confederate prisoners of war, that he would apply the shot on sight order to Unionist as well. By this time, Quantrill’s army band contained well over 300 men. They often rode as separate bands, but would come together for the larger raids when Quantrill summoned them. It was clearly understood among the guerilla’s and partisans that Quantrill was in charge.
In 1863, William met Sarah "Katie" King, daughter of Robert King. Her father disapproved of the courtship so they met in secret. When her father found out, they eloped and were secretly married on August 21, 1863 by a country preacher. Sarah took the name of Kate Clarke to hide her true relationship with her husband from his enemies.
Sarah was only about 15 years old at the time of the marriage.
Shortly after his marriage, Quantrill led a raid on Lawrence, Kansas. This was just after the collapse of a make-shift prison that killed 4 women. These women were family members of some of Quantrill’s band. During this raid, over 450 men rode to Lawrence with Quantrill. Some were members of his gang but many were Missouri farmers who were greatly angered over the killing of the women. Over 150 citizens were killed during the Lawrence raid. Quantrill lost control over his men during this raid and there was much murder and mayhem. Many of Quantrill’s men were sickened by the slaughter.
After the raid on Lawrence, General Ewing issued Order #11 in an attempt to rid the border of all guerilla bands and partisans. The homes of Missourians living in Bates, Cass, Vernon and Jackson counties were burned and looted. Many of the male citizens were shot on sight and their women and children were left to flee the area with only the clothes on their backs. Quantrill and his band of men fled for Texas.
While wintering in Texas, there was a breakdown in discipline and many of the men left to form bands of their own. Morals became an issue. Even the Confederate authorities became disgusted with their behavior and asked them to leave. A warrant was issued for the arrest of Quantrill and he fled back to Missouri in an attempt to escape. Very little is known about Quantrill after his return to Missouri.
Quantrill again organized his band of guerillas and partisans to fight in the battle of Westport in 1864. The Confederate Army suffered their biggest defeat in Missouri during this battle and again, Quantrill and his men disbanded and fled for safety. William headed east and went to Kentucky where he met up with some Kentucky guerillas, but he soon found out the Union forces were better organized than those in Missouri.
Edwin Terrell, a Union guerilla, was hired by John M Palmer to hunt down Quantrill. Terrell was no more than a thief and murderer himself but was put on the "secret service" payroll and paid on a monthly basis. Terrell caught up with Quantrill on the Wakefield farm, located 5 miles south of Taylorsville, Kentucky on May 10, 1865. Quantrill and about 21 of his men were camped inside the Wakefield barn when Terrell launched his surprise attack. Quantrill was shot while trying to escape. The bullet struck him in the left shoulder blade, angled down and lodged against his spine. He was instantly paralyzed. When questioned by Terrell and his men, Quantrill gave his name as Captain Clarke of the 4th MO Confederate Calvary and asked to be allowed to stay on the farm and die. His wish was granted and Terrell and his men trotted off in pursuit of Quantrill. Wakefield sent for a doctor who announced that Quantrill’s wound was fatal.
After learning the true identity of the man who was injured at the Wakefield farm, Terrell and his men returned with a wagon on Friday, May 12. They loaded Quantrill and took him to Louisville, arriving there on the 13th of May. Terrell was paid and dismissed from service after turning over Quantrill.
Newspapers announced the capture of Quantrill but on the same day recanted, saying that they had the wrong man. This led to stories that claimed that Quantrill was not the one who was killed that day. Quantrill died on June 6, 1865 at the age of 27 years. Before his death, he visited with a priest and asked him to contact a woman who was holding money for him. The priest was to purchase a cemetery plot and headstone and then give the rest of the money to Kate Clarke.
Quantrill was buried under a tree in the cottage yard of St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery but his grave was not marked. The priest feared that his grave would be vandalized by his enemies and also ordered that no mound be left over the burial site.
In 1887, a boyhood friend of Quantrill’s, William Walter Scott, accompanied Mrs.. Quantrill to Kentucky to inquire about William’s remains. They were shown the burial site and asked to have the grave dug up so Mrs.. Quantrill could take the remains back to Dover for reburial. Fearing the legality of removing the bones, they were denied this request, however, it was agreed that the grave would be dug up the following afternoon so that the contents could be viewed.
The following afternoon, brought bad weather so Mrs.. Quantrill stayed in her hotel room while Mr. Scott went alone to the cemetery. When the gravedigger finished digging up the grave, Mr. Scott examined the grave. He removed the head and wrapped it in newspaper. The rest of the remains were placed in a box and reburied near the surface. Mr. Scott took the skull to Mrs.. Quantrill who examined it and identified as the head of her son. She was able to make the identity based upon a chipped molar in the lower right jaw. Mrs. Quantrill refused to allow the skull to be returned and devised a scheme to get the rest of the bones and take them back to Dover. She sent Mr. Scott back to retrieve the rest of the bones.
Mrs. Quantrill, curious about her son’s endeavors, toured Kentucky and Missouri and visited with some of William’s former comrades, trying to learn all she could about her son’s death and wartime activities. She returned to Dover in the Spring of 1889 and requested the her son’s remains be buried in the family lot. The town fathers resisted the idea of the infamous Quantrill being buried in their cemetery but agreed so long as the ceremony remained private and the grave was not marked. Mr. Scott brought the box but had removed the skull, 2 shinbones, 3 arm bones and some hair. What was actually buried in the box is unknown. Is is known that Mr. Scott attempted to sell the skull of Quantrill to the Kansas State Historical Society and eventually all 5 bones ended up in their possession. The skull, however, was later sold by Mr. Scott’s son and used in fraternity initiations. It was then donated to the Dover museum where it remained on display until 1992. Quantrill’s grave in Dover was marked with a military marker in 1882. His 5 bones and a hair remnant were reentered in the Old Confederate Veterans Home and Cemetery in Higginsville, Missouri on October 24, 1992 with full Confederate honors. On October 30, 1992, the skull of William Quantrill was buried in an infants coffin in the Dover 4th St. Cemetery.
William Quantrill was very young when he left Ohio in 1857. He jumped from job to job and state to state trying to find a place for himself. William was somewhat of a con-artist and used this trait to his advantage. Unlike the other guerillas and partisans that rode with his band, he did not have any personal injuries done to him or his family before he became an active participant in the Border War. By becoming the guerilla leader, he found his niche in the world, one that was profitable and one that made him feel important. Some considered him to be a ruthless killer while other’s looked upon him as a hero. One thing for certain is that he possessed great leadership and motivational skills. Rather he be remember fondly and with disdain, his involvement in Missouri and Kansas had a great impact upon their histories.
Missouri & The Civil War
General Order #11
The Border War (Charles Jennison, Jim Lane, James Montgomery)
William T "Bloody Bill" Anderson(Guerilla leader)
The Younger Family (Cole, Jim, Bob & John: Guerillas & Outlaws)
The James Family (Frank and Jesse: Guerillas & Outlaws)