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Quantrill's Raid on Lawrence: A Question of Complicity

by Burton J. Williams

Summer 1968 (Vol. 34, No. 2), pages 143 to 149
Transcribed by Tod Roberts; digitized with permission of
the Kansas Historical Society.
NOTE: The numbers in brackets refer to endnotes for this text.

A FRONTIER ballad emerged in mythological fashion from the smouldering ashes of Lawrence in which William Clarke Quantrill was portrayed as the Robin Hood of the Civil War:

Come all you bold robbers and open your ears,
Of Quantrell the Lion heart you quickly shall hear.
With his band of bold raiders in double quick time,
He came to lay Lawrence low, over the line.

Oh, Quantrell's a fighter, a bold-hearted boy,
A brave man or woman he'd never annoy.
He'd take from the wealthy and give to the poor
For brave men there's never a bolt to his door. [1]

Quantrill's famous or infamous raid upon the sleeping town of Lawrence in the predawn hours of August 21, 1863, has been the subject of endless discourse and debate. As the foregoing ballad suggests there were those who regarded Quantrill as a hero and the burning of Lawrence as a good thing. The fact remains, however, that by noon of that fateful day Lawrence resembled a smoking funeral pyre beside the muddy Kaw. Nearly 150 male inhabitants were dead or dying, a large portion of the town's business and residential districts were in ashes and the faces of those who survived the slaughter bore mute testimony to the tragic scene.

The Leavenworth Daily Conservative of August 23, 1863, headlined the account of the raid as follows: "Total Loss $2,000,000, Cash Lost $250,000." The story that followed described the scene along Massachusetts street, the business artery of Lawrence, as "... one mass of smouldering ruins and crumbling walls.... Only two business houses were left upon the street -- one known as the Armory, and the other the old Miller block.... About one hundred and twenty-five houses in all were burned, and only one or two escaped being ransacked, and everything of value carried away or destroyed." The article went on to point out that the offices of the three Lawrence newspapers, the Journal, Tribune, and Republican, were destroyed, and that every safe in the town but two had been robbed. There was also an account of the burning of the Eldridge House.

The first Lawrence newspaper to resume publication following the raid was the Kansas State Journal, which appeared on October 1, 1863. This edition claimed that every business house had been sacked and all but five burned. In addition the paper said that every residence in the town had been plundered. In substance, the Journal portrayed the raid as indiscriminate and brutal. The question of how such loss of life and destruction of property could come about is not the moot question it once was. There is increasing evidence to support the suspicion that the success of the Quantrill raid was assured by "insiders," who for personal, political, or economic reasons stood to gain from the destruction of Lawrence.

Throughout the period of Free State-Proslavery extremism, beginning in 1855-1856, Lawrence citizens had known that their town, as the headquarters of Free-State sympathizers, was a prime target. Later, and particularly after "General" James H. Lane had sacked and burned Osceola, Mo., in 1861, they were aware that Lawrence, as the home of Lane, could expect a retaliatory raid. On August 6, 1863, the Lawrence Kansas State Journal carried a long article calling attention to rumors of an impending raid and of the need to prepare the town's defenses. The Rev. Richard Cordley, minister of the Lawrence Congregational church, later wrote that intelligence had been communicated to the officials of Lawrence as early as the first of August that Quantrill proposed to raid the town about the full of the moon, which ironically coincided with the actual date of the raid. Cordley then proceeded to ask and answer a most important question, i. e., "It may be asked, why the people of Lawrence relaxed their vigilance so soon after receiving such authentic evidence of Quantrell's intentions? The city and military authorities made the fatal mistake of keeping the grounds of apprehension a profound secret." [2]

The Rev. Hugh D. Fisher (left), outspoken Methodist minister, who escaped the death-dealing Quantrill raiders when his wife spirited him out of the house, concealed under a rug. Fisher charged that the banker, William H. R. Lykins (right) and his home, in the devastated area, went unscathed because the Lykins family were friends of some of the raiders.

Sallie Young (left), the Lawrence young woman who did considerable riding about during the height of the raid. Was she a traitress or heroine? William C. Quantrill (right), leader of the villainous gang, was not wearing his Confederate uniform when he caught Lawrence napping that August morn.

Former Governor Charles Robinson, in a letter to A. A. Lawrence, claimed that be did not know of any collusion between guerrillas and Lawrence citizens. He added, however, "... I have no doubt men in our state knew all about it.... I believe Genl. Lane and his element were in collusion through third persons with Quantrel. I have no proof of it and no one out of Kansas would believe such a thing possible and hence I am not disposed to say anything about it publicly.... The world never will know nor believe the insanity, or deep depravity of some of our politicians, especially of one [James H. Lane]." [3]

On August 30, 1863, the Leavenworth Daily Conservative quoted an article which appeared in the St. Louis (Mo.) Republican. The article claimed that Quantrill was on friendly terms with the quasi-military bandits known as the "Kansas Red Legs," whose base of operations was Lawrence. The Republican embellished its charges by stating that Quantrill's " ... relations with ... the Red Legs of Kansas, were of the most friendly character -- so much so that they never did each other any harm in battle or otherwise -- and Quantrile's plunder of horses, mules, cattle and valuables has frequently been found in the market in Kansas." [4] Such reports, public and private, lend credence to the growing conviction that Lawrence was no paragon of virtue, Quantrill was no worse than the Red Legs of Kansas and that the sack of Lawrence, in the final analysis, was merely the "devil getting his due." Lawrence, however, regarded itself as the innocent victim in the whole affair and as such felt that responsibility for the "heinous" deed must be fixed and the guilty punished. On August 27, 1863, the Leavenworth Daily Conservative carried a story entitled, "Spy Hung in Lawrence." The "spy" was a man named John Calloo who, it was claimed, confessed that he moved his family out of Lawrence the night prior to the raid and then rode in with Quantrill the next morning. After his "confession" the newspaper reported, "He was then hung." Lawrence had quickly assessed its wounds and zealously began to balance the scales of "justice."

One incriminating charge concerning the sack of Lawrence has only recently come to light. This was made by the Rev. Hugh D. Fisher, a Methodist minister who migrated from Ohio to Kansas in 1858. [5] Upon his arrival in Kansas, Fisher took up the nebulous cause of "free-statism" in opportunistic fashion and eventually received the dubious distinction of being appointed chaplain of James H. Lane's Fifth Kansas cavalry. As Lane's chaplain, the Reverend Fisher soon became as efficient at "liberating" enemy property as his commanding officer. L. D. Bailey, in his booklet entitled Quantrell's Raid on Lawrence, claimed that Fisher "... had brought hundreds of the fugitives [Negro slaves] from the war stricken borders of Missouri to the free soil of Kansas.... In many cases he had advised the negroes [sic] to help themselves to the abandoned property of their rebel masters ... of course this made Mr. Fisher a marked man among the rebels and his life was not worth a moments purchase if they could lay hands on him." [6]

Fisher was apparently the kind of man that many men would have liked to lay hands on, regardless of political sentiment. He was frequently in difficulty with fellow clergymen, was a user of tobacco, which was in violation of the Methodist Episcopal Church Conference rules, was accused of mishandling or stealing church funds, and was not infrequently cited as a fraud and a liar. [7] The Reverend Fisher was certainly anything but humble. In a manuscript he wrote, "The Gun and the Gospel," later published in book form, he related his real or fancied "emancipation" of a band of Missouri Negro slaves as follows: "When we reached Kansas, I halted the command, drew them up in a line, and raising myself to my full hight [sic] on my noble war horse I commanded silence, and there, under the open heavens, on the sacred soil of Freedom, I proclaimed in the name of the Constitution of the United States, the Declaration of Independence and by authority of Genl. Jas. H. Lane, that they were 'Forever Free.' Their heads flew open and such a shout went up as the reader never heard." Fisher quickly added, "This was more than a year before the 'Immortal Lincoln' issued his proclamation." [8]

In the light of the information available on Fisher, his claims concerning the Quantrill raid on Lawrence must be viewed with considerable reservation. Nevertheless, in checking out his insinuation of collusion a web of circumstantial evidence can be woven which lends at least modest verification to his statements. In Fisher's manuscript, previously cited, he stated that

Spies were in town all night ... indeed it is placed beyond peradventure that the mother of a certain Banker of Lawrence, who secured all his valuables the night before the raid, spent weeks with his family in Lawrence, and made a map of the town giving the names, residences and location of those who were to be killed and their homes burned, marking them thus -- "Kill and Burn," or "Burn," as if the property belonged to a sympathizer only "Kill." This map was taken by this heinous woman to Kansas City, and Quantrall and his lieutenants entertained day and night m the greatest possible seclusion in her parlor, where they had the maps explained preparatory to the sacking of Lawrence. [9]

The published version of this claim appeared in different form and here Fisher stated, "An old Mrs. L-----, of Kansas City, was the spy who furnished the necessary information and map of Lawrence ... the torch was applied to every house that had been marked on the traitoress' map." [10] In support of such a story of collusion is a letter to "Dear Bro." and signed by C. E. Lewis. This letter states in part that "Names and houses were marked prior to their coming in...." [11]

Fisher's part in the raid was made to appear spectacular as a result of his "miraculous" escape from the raiders. His house, where he had concealed himself, was set on fire; however, his wife managed to drape a carpet over him and was permitted to drag it out of the house with Fisher crawling beneath it. He was left undisturbed beneath the crumpled carpet which his wife heaped into nearby bushes. [12] Not all the houses suffered the fate of Fisher's. An interesting exception is to be found in the fact that the home of William H. R. Lykins was spared. [13] The point of primary interest in Lykins' case results from the facts that he was a Lawrence banker and his last name began with the letter L. Taking the published and unpublished accounts of Fisher's remarks on the Quantrill raid, it becomes immediately obvious that Lykins fits the description as the son of the "old Mrs. V whose alleged son was a Lawrence banker. Questions that present themselves almost at once are: was there really an "old Mrs. L," was there such a map as several claimed existed, was Lykins the son of the woman whom [sic] Fisher claims was the primary figure in collusion with Quantrill, and can Fisher's testimony be trusted?

Lykins was born in Kentucky, moved to Missouri, and migrated to Kansas when the territory was organized in 1854. He had served as a marshal of a "Squatter Court" in Kansas in 1854. The court itself was composed of a voluntary band of citizens of the Lawrence area who sought to arbitrate and judge questions of fact regarding claim disputes. Lykins, as marshal, was to serve summonses, subpoenas and other papers and to enforce the decisions of the court. In 1855 Lykins listed himself in the territorial census as a farmer, but by 1859 he bad entered into the more lucrative fields of land speculation and banking. [14] Lykins' place of business was destroyed during the Quantrill raid as a result of the flames spreading from the adjoining Eldridge House. Whether his bank building would have been intentionally burned remains a question unanswered. Lykins' home was apparently intentionally spared and he remained unharmed inside along with his family, in spite of the fact that most of the houses in his neighborhood were pillaged and/or burned and the adult male occupants shot if found.

Some attribute Lykins' safe passage through the raid to the efforts of a young lady of Lawrence named Sallie Young. Miss Young remains another of the controversial figures of the raid. She has been hailed as a saviour and damned as a traitor. One account of her activities on the morning of the raid is contained in a pamphlet entitled, Did Sallie Young Pilot Quantrill Into Lawrence at the Time of His Famous Raid on the Town in 1863? The author was Alex E. Case of Marion, who published the story in 1915. Case pointed out that Sallie was a resident of Lawrence, that her brothers were proslavery Democrats and that she knew some of the raiders. He concluded, however, that Sallie was not in collusion with Quantrill and that she in fact labored valiantly to save the lives and property of her friends.

Another account of Sallie Young's part in the raid reads in part as follows: "... she submitted to capture, and by her dashing fearlessness won over her captors and drew upon their gallantry for the protection of a list of assumed 'brothers,' 'brothers-in-law,' 'cousins,' and kinsfolk,' embracing all the families of her acquaintance whose names she could recall -- among them Governor Shannon, W. H. R. Lykins and 'Jimmy' Christian." [15] One source purports to quote Lykins as follows: "It was said by W. H. R. Lykins, who was personally acquainted with a number of the men [the raiders], and protected both in his family and his property, that it was Todd's band of bushwhackers from Clay county, Missouri, that took possession of the west side of town. It was here that the largest percentage of the inhabitants were massacred." [16] It is interesting to note that Lykins apparently conceded the fact that he and his property had remained unharmed even though he resided in that part of the town where most of the killing and property destruction had taken place. The question is raised as to whether or not this was because Lykins and/or his mother, the "old Mrs. L" as Fisher called her, were in collusion with Quantrill. The evidence, if it can be called such, is circumstantial, or perhaps these events were merely the product of coincidence. Lykins was a banker in Lawrence. He was a Southerner. He had come to Kansas by way of Missouri. He knew a number of Quantrill's men. His life was spared in the midst of the worst of the killing. His house was left unharmed, all of which proves nothing. It does, however, add to the mystery and intrigue surrounding the circumstances of the raid.

By 1869 Lykins had moved to Kansas City, Mo., where his mother supposedly resided in 1863. [17] Some years later he filed a claim for losses he said he sustained in the Quantrill raid amounting to $4,500. In 1887 he was allowed $1,500 on the principal and $425 on the interest of his original claim. [18] Did Lykins receive restitution for the destruction of property brought on by his own complicity or that of his mother?

The facts remain, however, that the "hated" James H. Lane escaped unharmed, William H. R. Lykins escaped unharmed, and the debatable Rev. Hugh D. Fisher was "miraculously" spared. Lane and Fisher emerged as heroes and Lykins, unnoticed, faded from the scene. In the place of fact one finds fiction, for in Kansas history has often been distorted by fancy. Kansans have historically "bled" for nebulous "causes" and have fought for vague ideologies; consequently her heroes and heroines often appear more like villains. As for Quantrill, who, in the last analysis, can determine if he is a hero or a villain in the mythology of Kansas? Such problems will continue to plague those who seek to unravel the perplexing riddles of the Quantrill raid.


Prof. Burton J. Williams, who received his Ph. D. in history at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, is chairman of the social science division, Chadron State College, Chadron, Neb.

1. Charles J. Finger, Frontier Ballads (Carden City, N. Y.; Doubleday, Page and Co., 1927), pp. 64-67.
2. Lawrence City Directory, 1866, p. 10.
3. Charles Robinson to A. A. Lawrence, Lawrence October 6, 1863. -- "Robinson papers," manuscripts division of the Kansas Historical Society.<
4. A letter written by John G. Beeson to W. W. Scott, Paola (no date), claimed the following about Quantrill: "He returned to Lawrence in 1859 and associated himself with the Free State Red Legs at that place and was engaged with them in making forays upon the Missourians, stealing Negroes and stock." -- Kansas room of the Library of the University of Kansas, Lawrence.
5. For a chronological listing of Fisher's activities see the Methodist Episcopal Church, Kansas Conference Minutes, 1905, pp. 84, 85. Among Fisher's appointments he became a regent of the University of Kansas and served for a number of years as a trustee of Baker University at Baldwin.
6. L. D. Bailey, Quantrell's Raid on Lawrence (Lyndon, C. R. Green, 1899), p. 23.
7. Letters dealing with such charges were written in the 1870's and 1880's, e.g., Roberts circulated a public notice dated March 13, 1879; letter from Hugh D. Fisher to A. B. Leonard, Marysville, October 24, 1888; letter to Hugh D. Fisher from W. H. Makleney, Mortimer, April 3, 1885; et al. A. B. Leonard, however, actually defended Fisher against the charges which were made against him. All of the letters cited are in the Kansas Methodist Historical Library, Baker University. Baldwin.
8. Fisher's holograph manuscript. "The Gun and the Gospel," pp. 113ff., Kansas Methodist Historical Library, Baker University Baldwin.
9. Fisher's manuscript, "The Lawrence Massacre," Kansas room of the Library of the University of Kansas, Lawrence.
10. Hugh Dunn Fisher, The Gun and the Gospel (Chicago; The Kenwood Press, 1896), pp. 175, 178.
11. C. E. Lewis to "Dear Bro.," Franklin, August 27, 1864. -- Methodist Historical Library, Baker University.
12. An account of Fisher's escape is contained in the Weekly Kansas Tribune of October 3, 1863. Fisher himself described it in dramatic fashion in his book, The Gun and the Gospel and again in a manuscript he entitled. "The Athens of the West Destroyed," which is in the manuscript division of the Kansas Historical Society.
13. Publications of the Kansas Historical Society (Topeka, State Printing Office, 1920). v. 2, p. 180. Also a letter from H. M. Simpson to Fried Hill, dated at Lawrence, September 7, 1863, spoke of the homes destroyed by Quantrill. However, he mentioned that among the homes that were spared was the residence of William H. R. Lykins. The letter is in the "Simpson papers," manuscript division, Kansas Historical Society.
14. The biographical data for Lykins is taken from the Kansas Historical Collections, vols. 5, 16. Also information on his birth, migrations, etc., was obtained from the Kansas census of 1855, 1860, and 1885.
15. Publications of the Kansas Historical Society, v. 2, p. 187.
16. Ibid., p. 180.
17. First Annual Report of Board of Commissioners of Public Institutions, 1873, p. 15. Kansas City Directory, 1869-1870 p. 282. No Kansas City directories are known to be extant prior to 1869 and it is not known if Lykins' mother actually resided in Kansas City in 1863, the year of the raid.
18. "Record of Claims Allowed for Losses by Guerrillas and Marauders During 1861-2-3-4-5," p. 70, No. 222. -- Manuscript division of the Kansas Historical Society.