Anniversary: Quantrill’s legacy differs on each side of border

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One hundred and forty-two years ago today, William C. Quantrill and his band of more than 300 Missouri ruffians rode into Lawrence, murdered most of the menfolk and set fire to all but a few homes and businesses. In a span of three hours, 85 women were widowed, and 250 children lost their fathers. For Lawrencians — then and now — Quantrill personified evil.

“In and around 1863, certainly, if you lived in Lawrence, you lived in fear of Quantrill. He was the devil incarnate,” said Virgil Dean, editor of Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains and director for publications for the Kansas State Historical Society.

“A lot of people still feel that way,” said Dean, who lives in Lawrence.

Not so in Missouri. Then or now.

“Quantrill was a savior to a lot of people,” said Donald R. Hale, president of the William C. Quantrill Society. “He stood up for Missourians. He kept the Jayhawkers — people like Jim Lane and Charles Jennison — from riding roughshod in Missouri.”

Hale, 74, said Kansans are quick to forget that on Sept. 25, 1861, Lane-led free staters wreaked Quantrill-like havoc on Osceola, Mo.

“They literally destroyed the town. They set fire to every building,” said Richard Sunderwirth, an Osceola native. “They didn’t kill everybody, but they had a mock trial, and they ended up executing nine men in the town square.

“When they left,” Sunderwirth said, “Osceola was in ruins — and, really, it’s never recovered. So around here, people tend to think there was some justification to Quantrill’s going into Lawrence because what Lane did in Osceola was completely unjustified.”

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