Lawrence, Kansas Massacre

Border War between Missouri and Kansas.

Border War between Missouri and Kansas.

Honorable S. A. Riggs, District Attorney, was set upon by the vilest ruffian of the lot. His wife rushed to his side at once. After a short parley the man drew his revolver and took aim. Mr. Riggs pushed the revolver aside and ran. The man started after him, but Mrs. Riggs seized hold of the bridle rein and clung to it till she was dragged around a house, over a woodpile, and through the yard back on to the street again. Mr. Riggs was still in sight, and the man was taking aim at him again when Mrs. Riggs seized the other rein and turned his horse round, and Mr. Riggs was beyond reach. All this time the man was swearing and striking at her with his revolver, and threatening to shoot her.

Old Mr. Miner hid among the corn in the Park. Hearing the racket around Mr. Fisher’s house nearby, he ventured to the edge of the corn to gratify his curiosity. He was seen and immediately shot at. He ran back into the corn but had not preceded far before he heard them breaking down the fence. The corn was evidently to be searched. He ran, therefore, through the corn, and lay down among the weeds beyond. The weeds only partially covered him, but it was the best he could do. He had scarcely laid down when the rebels came dashing through the corn, and stationing a picket at each corner of the field to prevent escape, they searched the field through but found no one. They did not happen to look among the grass almost at their very feet.

Near the center of town was a sort of outdoor cellar with a very obscure entrance. A woman, whose name we have been unable to obtain, but who ought to be put on record as one of the heroines of that day, took her station at a convenient distance from that cellar. Every poor fugitive that came into that region, she directed into this hidden cellar. Thus eight or ten escaped from the murderers. Finally, the rebels noticing that their victims always disappeared when they came into this locality, suspected this woman of aiding in their escape. They demanded of her that she should show their hiding place. She refused. One of them drew his revolver, and pointing it at her said, “Tell us or I will shoot you.” “You may shoot me,” answered the brave woman, “but you will not find the men.” Finding they could not intimidate her, the left.

Mr. Bergen was wounded and then taken off with six or eight other prisoners. After taking them a short distance, their captors shot all of them dead but Mr. Bergen. He was lying down exhausted from loss of blood, and for some reason, they passed him by. There he lay among the dead, feigning death. After lying a short time, a rebel rode up, and discovering he was not dead, took aim at his head and fired. He felt the ball pass and instinctively dropped his head, and the rebel supposing he had completed his work, rode off. His head was now brought under the body of a young man who had been killed with the rest. There he lay, the living under the dead, till the rebels left town. At one time, the young man’s mother came to wash the blood from the face of her murdered son. Mr. Bergen begged her not to move her son’s body, as his only hope of life was in laying his head under the lifeless corpse.

Several saved themselves by their ready wit. An officer in the camp of recruits, when the attack was made, ran away at full speed. He was followed by several horsemen, who were firing at him continually. Finding escape impossible, he dashed into the house of a colored family, and in the twinkling of an eye, slipped on a dress and shaker bonnet, passed out the back door and walked deliberately away. The rebels surrounded the house, and then some of them entered and searched, but found no prey.

A son of John Speer hid for some time under the sidewalk. The fire soon drove him into the street, which was full of rebels. He went boldly up to them and offered his services in holding horses. They asked his name, and thinking that the name Speer would be his death warrant, he answered “John Smith, and he remained among them unharmed to the last.

One man was shot as he was running away and fell into the gutter. His wife thinking him, killed, began to wring her hands and scream. The rebel thinking from this her husband was dead, left. As soon as he was gone, the man said, “Don’t take on so, wife, I don’t know as I am hit at all.” And so it proved.

Mr. Winchell, being hard pressed, ran into the house of Rev. Charles Reynolds, Rector of the Episcopal Church. Mrs. Reynolds at once arrayed him in female attire, and shaved off his mustache with a knife, and set him in a rocking chair with a baby in his arms, and christened him “Aunt Betsie.” The rebels searched the house but did not disturb “Aunt Betsie.”

Mr. G. Grovenor had a narrow and almost providential escape. He lived where he now does corner of Berkely and New Hampshire streets. While standing on his porch a rebel rode up within ten feet of him and snapped his pistol at him, it missed fire. It failed the second time, but at that instant, another gang rode up and the leader said “don’t shoot that man,” and told Mr. Grovenor to go to the cellar or somewhere. The house was now in flames, but he secreted himself in the cellar under the back kitchen, until the danger had passed. One gang ordered Mrs. Grovenor to draw water for themselves and their horses. A young man, more human than the others alighted from his horse and told her he would draw the water. This young man said he had no idea that any such murderous work was contemplated. He was told, they were going to re-capture some horses that had been stolen. He had not killed anyone nor set fire to any houses and was not going to.

General Lane, who was of course among the first sought for, hearing them coming, jumped from his bed, seized an ax and chopped the door plate from his front door and then fled in his night clothes to the corn field west of his house, taking the door plate with him; passing through the field he obtained clothes from a house on the outskirts of town and commenced to gather a posse for resistance and pursuit.

John Speer had a son 17 years of age who was sleeping in the Republican office building, and not the slightest trace of him has ever been found. Another son was also brutally murdered.

Mr. Joseph Savage who lives two miles southwest of town had just arose and was out back making his morning toilet. When he heard the tramp of horses feet coming up the road, and presently heard a loud knocking at the door. He supposed the horsemen were Union troops and the caller, a soldier who wished to make some inquiry. After completing his toilet he opened the door, and the man who had evidently come to murder him was just going out the gate. Mr. Savage owes his life to the deliberate manner in which he performed his morning wash.

Among the last brutal murders perpetrated, was the killing of Mr. Stone and two or three others at the City Hotel or Whitney House, where Quantrill had promised protection and as far as he knew evidently kept his word. But two drunken ruffians, came at the last and hearing the weeping and wailing of some women who had just heard that their husbands were lying in the street dead, demanded what all the fuss was about? On being told, they replied, “we’ll give you something to cry for,” and immediately commenced firing into the hotel which was full of people. The old man stone as he was called, was the first to fall, at least two others were killed and several wounded.

“As the scene at their entrance was one of the wildest, the scene after their departure was one of the saddest that ever met mortal gaze. Massachusetts street was one bed of embers. On this one street, seventy-five buildings, containing at least twice that number of places of business and offices, was destroyed. The dead lay all along the sidewalk, many of them so burned that they could not be recognized, and scarcely be taken up. Here and there among the embers could be seen the bones of those who had perished in the buildings and been consumed. On two sides of another block lay seventeen bodies. Almost the first sight that met our gaze, was a father, almost frantic, looking for the remains of his son among the embers of his office. The work of gathering and burying the dead soon began. From every quarter they were being brought in, until the floor of the Methodist Church, which was taken as a sort of hospital, was covered with dead and wounded. In almost every house could be heard the wail of the widow and orphan. The work of burial was sad and wearying. Coffins could not be procured. Many carpenters were killed, and most living had lost their tools. But they rallied nobly, and worked night and day, making pine and walnut boxed, fastening them together with the burnt nails gathered from the ruins of the stores. (It sounded rather harsh to the ears of friends, to have the lid nailed over the bodies of their loved ones; but it was the best that could be done.) Thus the work went on for three days, till one hundred and twenty-two were deposited in the Cemetery, and many others in their own yards. Fifty-three were buried in one long grave. Early on the morning after the massacre, our attention was attracted by loud wailings. We went in the direction of the sound, and among the ashes of a large building, sat a woman, holding in her hands the blackened skull of her husband, who was shot and burned in that place. Her cries could be heard over the whole desolated town, and added much to the feeling of sadness and horror which filled every heart.”

Custom Wanted Poster

Personalized Wanted Poster

The rebels were in the town from about five o’clock until nine. About that time a body of United States mounted troops, who had left Kansas City the night before, as soon as Quantrill’s movement were known, were seen approaching from the east about eight miles distant. The rebel pickets saw them first from the hill where the university now stands. The forces were at once called together and they left town by the road leading south, thus avoiding the troops. These latter struck across the prairie and overtook the rebels about ten miles south of Lawrence. For some reason, no attack was made, and the two bodies marched in sight of each other all day, and at night the rebels escaped to their hiding places in Missouri. The first ten miles of their route out of town was marked by burning farm buildings and haystacks — they continuing their murderous work.

The population of Lawrence was about 2,000, and there could not have been more than 400 men, a very large number being in the army. The proportion of killed among these was vastly greater than in the bloodiest battle of the war. There were left about eighty widows and 250 orphans. The whole number killed was about one hundred and fifty. One hundred and forty-three bodies were found and buried. Several were killed and burned in buildings and their bodies never found, 25 were wounded, two of whom died a few days after.

There were between 300 and 400 in the company. About one-half were rebel cavalry thoroughly drilled; the other half were the ruffians of the border. They were the same clans who had disturbed the country in the early days of Kansas — “the border ruffians.” They remembered their former defeat, and for all these years had been nursing their wrath to keep it warm. The former clan was the most effective, the latter, the most brutal.

Quantrill was once a school teacher in Ohio. He came to Kansas before the war and lived in Lawrence for six months. He went by the name of Charly Hart. He boarded at the City Hotel, where he kept his prisoners during the slaughter. He became implicated in a horse-stealing affair, which at that time was a fatal disease, and left for parts unknown. When the war broke out he found it convenient to take his place on the rebel side of the line. His fate has always been involved in mystery. He has been reported killed at a dozen different times and has been reported as living in half a dozen different places. There is little doubt, however, but he was killed or disabled in the spring following the raid. About June 1864 he very suddenly disappeared from the field of action and was never present again. There is a belief that he died of wounds and disease sometime after this in the hospital at Louisville, which is not unlikely.


Many other states including Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania had severe raids during the war, but none that approached the Quantrill Raid in the complete destruction of life and property. The Legislature of their states have assumed the losses and paid the sufferers, while the Legislature of Kansas has never done anything for the widows and orphans, whose husbands and fathers helped cut out from the “Great American Desert” the best and richest agricultural state that God’s bright sun ever shone upon.

Reverend Richard Cordley

Reverend Richard Cordley

Notwithstanding there is about money enough in the State Treasury to pay it, or the fact that it would be only a tax of one mill on the dollar each year for four years, if it was necessary to raise the funds that way, there is a moral certainty that the United States would assume the debt and payback to the state the just claim it has been reserved for the legislature of 1865 to immortalize themselves, by paying a bill for their relief, which injustice they should and we have no doubt but will do.

Killed 134, Wounded 22, Missing 3.

Based on information provided by Reverend Richard Cordley in 1863, published in 1865. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated October 2019

Also See:

Bleeding Kansas

Bleeding Kansas Timeline

The Civil War

Kansas in the Civil War



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