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  • Jack Bowerman

The Day Baldwin City and Baker University Almost Burned

At dawn on August 21, 1863, William Quantrill and his band of guerillas unleashed an unprecedented level of murder and mayhem upon the city of Lawrence, Kansas. The story of what happened that day in Lawrence is well known. What is less well known is the path of destruction that took place after the raiders left Lawrence and the towns and villages that were threatened along the way. This is the rest of the story.

First, a little background. William Clarke Quantrill was born and raised in Ohio. He was a bright, but unruly child and he was punished often. His father was principal of a local school and at the age of 16 William was employed as a teacher there. After his father died, his mother encouraged him to go West to seek his fortune. He spent time in Illinois and Indiana sometimes working as a teacher and at other odd jobs, but he killed a man in Illinois and was freed after claiming self-defense. In 1857, at the age of twenty, he decided to move to the frontier in Kansas with some acquaintances from Ohio. He settled near Stanton, Kansas a small village roughly nine miles northwest of Osawatomie, Kansas. But life as a farmer did not suit him and he resorted to a life of petty thievery, cattle rustling and horse stealing. He and some friends from Ohio settled for a time in McCamish Township, Johnson County Kansas near Edgerton, but he was thrown out of the group for stealing supplies. Because of his unsavory reputation, he assumed the alias Charley Hart and joined an army provision train headed for Utah. He returned to Kansas via the goldfields near Pikes Peak where he unsuccessfully tried his hand at prospecting. Upon returning to Kansas, he lived near Lawrence for a year still using his alias and tried school teaching again. In 1860, he began to engage in the activities that would consume the rest of his life – raiding and looting communities on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri border, sometimes joining Jayhawker bands raiding in Missouri and sometimes being a part of Bushwacker groups raiding in Kansas. Finally, using his real name, he settled in Missouri and formed his own Bushwacker band. His band which seldom numbered more than 100 men sometimes fought alongside regular Confederate troops in some of the battles that took place in Missouri, but most often Quantrill broke the group up into smaller bands to ambush Federal troops or raid and loot towns in Missouri and Kansas.

At dawn on August 21, 1863, William Clarke Quantrill and 450 men from of his band of guerillas and other guerilla groups and regular Confederate Army troops raided Lawrence. Reportedly, Quantrill had a death list of men that were to be targeted based on their free state beliefs and leadership in the free state cause and the guerillas fanned out to track them down, but they indiscriminately killed any of the men and boys they encountered. At least 180 men and teen aged boys were killed, not including numerous others who were forced into service as guides for the guerillas on their way to Lawrence and then killed in the pre-dawn hours. Much of the city was looted and then destroyed by fire, including at least 150 buildings. Quantrill had posted spotters on Mount Oread and when one of them saw Federal troops approaching, Quantrill ordered that the guerillas leave Lawrence about 9:00 am, but their path of destruction was not over. They headed south on the Fort Scott Road burning houses and haystacks along the way.

Quantrill’s band reached the little town of Brooklyn which was located only a few miles northwest of Baldwin City at the intersection of the Santa Fe Trail and Fort Scott Road. The guerillas burned every building in the town except the saloon and it also seems that they were looking for some other people on their death list. In a research paper written in 2012, a Baker student, John Patchen, wrote that the raiders were looking for leaders of the religious sect the Brethren, Abraham Rothrock and Jacob Ulrich. Rothrock and Ulrich were thought to be involved in the Underground Railroad and it was believed that Ulrich had corresponded with the abolitionist fighter John Brown. Warned that the guerillas were on their way, Ulrich escaped and Rothrock was wounded but survived.

By the time Quantrill and his men had reached Brooklyn they were being pursued by a small ragtag group of men who had survived the Lawrence raid. This group was led by General James Lane who was high on Quantrill’s death list because of the raids into Missouri he had led with his band of Jayhawkers. Lane had survived the Lawrence raid by hiding in a cornfield and his group was too small to attack Quantrill’s band directly, but they did hide in the cornfields and snipe at the raiders. Undeterred, Quantrill led his men onto the Santa Fe Trail, no doubt with his sights set on Baldwin, Prairie City and Black Jack, all free state strongholds located on the Trail. However, when the raiders reached a high point on the Trail, they saw the Federal troops coming up the Trail and they turned south hoping to avoid the Union troops, intending to regain the trail at Baldwin. After going about a mile, however, the frustrated Quantrill realized that reaching Baldwin with his full force could not be done and he turned his main column back toward Brooklyn to intersect the Fort Scott Road. Before doing so however, he dispatched a group of scouts to the south and east to try to reach and destroy Baldwin.

The Union troops that Quantrill saw coming were under the command of Major Preston B. Plumb, Chief of Staff under General Thomas Ewing the commander of the District of the Border comprising eastern Kansas and western Missouri. Plumb (who would later become a U.S. Senator from Kansas) was stationed in Kansas City and when he received a dispatch from Captain Charles F. Coleman at Little Santa Fe around midnight that Quantrill and his band had entered into Kansas, Plumb gathered all the men he could muster in the middle of the night, roughly 50 men, and headed down the Santa Fe Trail. When they reached Olathe, Plumb saw columns of smoke rising from the direction of Lawrence and he realized for the first time that Quantrill had made it all the way there. Plumb’s command turned toward Lawrence and after they crossed the Wakarusa six miles southeast of Lawrence, they were joined by 180 men under the command of Captain Coleman who had been following the path of Quantrill. Looking to the west, they realized that there were clouds of dust and columns of smoke south of Lawrence indicating that Quantrill was retreating on the Fort Scott Road. Plumb turned his troops south and headed straight for the Santa Fe Trail at Baldwin to cut Quantrill off in case they were going to try to use the Trail as an escape route. They reached Baldwin before Quantrill, but by the time they got there their horses were exhausted, some of them having traveled 65 miles without rest and could barely manage more than a trot. As they headed up the trail in pursuit, Plumb’s group encountered the band under General Lane as well as the militia in the region that had been hastily assembled by their commander Colonel Sandy Lowe. At this point, Plumb decided to split his command. He sent Captain Coleman and 200 men west to get behind Quantrill’s band and attack them from the rear. Plumb and his men and the militia headed south to cutoff Quantrill at the Ottawa Creek ford to prevent them from turning east toward Missouri.

In the meantime, Quantrill and his men were heading south on the Fort Scott Road. The guerrilla’s horses were relatively fresh since they acquired new horses in Lawrence and were using their original horses to form a pack train with all of their loot stolen in Lawrence. They stopped to water their horses at the farm of Xavier Jardon. Fearing he would share the same fate as the citizens of Lawrence Xavier hid in the well while Mrs. Jardon and one of her sons (probably the oldest son, Augustus “Gus” Jardon, who was nine years old at the time) hauled buckets of water from the well to keep the guerillas from looking into the well. (Yes, Xavier Jardon was the great grandfather of Marvin Jardon, the owner of Marv’s, the popular hangout for Baldwin locals and Baker students during the Sixties, and later the postmaster of Baldwin) The Jardon farm still exists and is only 3 miles west of Baldwin. Continuing south, Quantrill could not have been too happy to see the return of his scouting party that he had sent to attack Baldwin who had been turned back by one of Major Plumb’s scouting parties. By this time, Quantrill’s guerillas were continually being attacked from the rear by Captain Coleman’s group which also included the group under General Lane. When they reached Fletcher’s farm about 4 miles southwest of Baldwin, Coleman’s command entered a cornfield, dismounted and began firing at Quantrill’s command that was only about 300 yards away. Seeing his pursuers dismounted, Quantrill counterattacked and drove Coleman’s group back. Quantrill then set up a rear guard under the command of Captain Gregg to slow down the pursuit giving the main column a chance to escape. Major Plumb, hearing the furious action going on to his west decided to abandon the idea of cutting off Quantrill at the Ottawa Creek ford (Ottawa Creek is now known as Middle Tauy Creek) and headed to reinforce Coleman. Quantrill then directed his main column to head to the Ottawa Creek ford and they made it across successfully well in advance of their pursuers who had remounted but were hampered by their exhausted horses. There is some disagreement about exactly where Quantrill’s men crossed the creek. Some sources suggest his group headed straight east from Fletcher’s farm and crossed the creek about two miles southwest of Baldwin just north of the Douglas County/Franklin County Line. Others suggest that they crossed at the point where the Fort Scott Road crosses Ottawa Creek in Franklin County which is about six miles southwest of Baldwin. Still others suggest that there were two columns of Quantrill’s men who crossed at different points.

Once Quantrill crossed Ottawa Creek still being pursued by Plumb and Coleman, the danger to Baldwin and neighboring towns had passed. Quantrill would encounter some more Federal troops on his way to Missouri, particularly as they neared Paola, but for the most part, they were able to sneak back to Missouri under the cover of darkness without significant resistance. Quantrill would go on to add to his reputation as a bloodthirsty leader in a number of other smaller engagements, but none matched the horrors of his raid on Lawrence. The numbers of his band steadily dwindled as the Civil War went on and in June of 1865, two months after Lee’s surrender, he was shot by a group of Union soldiers in Kentucky and was taken to a prison hospital where he died.


1. Connelley, William Elsey, Quantrill and the Border Wars, 1910

2. Connelley, William Elsey, The Life of Preston B. Plumb, 1913

3. Litteer, Loren K, William Clarke Quantrill, the Man Who Burned Lawrence

4. Markham, Virginia G., John Baldwin and Son Milton Come to Kansas: An Early History of Baldwin City, Baker University and Methodism in Kansas, 1982

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