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Texas | Columns

Quantrill's Raiders in Texas

The outlaws who tormented Sherman

by Evault Boswell
The burning band wagon lay smoldering behind them, along with the bodies of the members of the band. The twelve-year-old drummer had crawled twelve feet from the fire before he died.

The attack on Fort Blair had been a failure but the unexpected return of General Blunt and his command gave the raiders the opportunity take revenge on the Yankees for the death of their women. They killed seventy-two of Brunt's soldiers along with band members.

Blunt was perhaps the Union general the raiders hated the most. Blunt had arrived in a buggy, along with a lady and a bottle of brandy and had mistaken Quantrill's men, who were wearing Federal uniforms and flying an American flag, for a welcoming party from the fort and called for a horse that he might ride to meet them.

But as he approached them he realized the line was ragged and the officers were moving in an unmilitary manner. He spurred his horse and escaped the carnage.

Bill Anderson wanted to attack the fort but Quantrill refused to do so, considering Blunt and his men out in the open a more desirable target. It was the beginning of a devision between Anderson and Quantrill that would result in the disbanding of the gang when they got to Texas.

Quantill and his band of killers had left behind them in Missouri the smoking buildings of Leavenworth, Kansas, along the bodies of boys and men they had killed. Quantrill had been able to stir the men into a fury because of the death and injury of their women in the jail in Kansas City. Anderson, not yet Bloody Bill, had lost one sister and another was injured.
The raid had been simply a revenge for Quantrill, who had been kicked out of the city before the war. But the Yankees would soon get their own revenge as Order no. 11 was put in place and the homes of the families and supporters along the Kansas/Missouri line were burned and the occupants expelled from the area.

With their support system destroyed as the landscape of southwestern Missouri turned to burnt homes with only the blackened stones of the chimneys still standing, Quantrill decided it was time to go south to Texas.

After the battle at Baxter springs the motley group made a brief stay at the camp of General Douglas H. Cooper, the only Indian General in the confederate army, the raiders crossed the Red River at Colbert's Ferry and settled into a camp on Mineral Creek, about fifteen miles from Sherman, Texas.

At first the citizens of Sherman accepted the un-kept Missourians and in some cases, uncivilized killers with open arms. They seemed to have a lot of money and they were spending it in the saloon although the stores soon began to complain about thefts and robberies.

They had their horse races down the main street of Sherman and Quantrill practiced his deftness with a pistol by shooting the bell in the steeple of the Methodist Church.

Quantrill's leaders had very little concern for the Southern cause, but had become bushwhackers. Some, such as Bill Anderson, had concocted a story about his father and uncle being hanged as Southern sympathizers to give credibility among the others in Quantrill's quasi army who had suffered genuine persecution by Union men.

Quantrill had also made up a story to make himself acceptable to the other outlaws. His claim was that on a trip to Utah, he and his brother were attacked by abolitionists who killed his brother and left him for dead. He claimed he had been nursed back to health by an old Indian. When his mother visited Kansas City after the war and was told the story, she revealed that Quantrill had no brother.

Anderson, unlike some of the raiders, fared well in Texas as he found a bride at the Iron Post Saloon and Grocery Store by the dubious name of Bush Smith. Before he left Texas he bought her a house at 314 Cherry Street in Sherman and when he was killed in Missouri at Centralia, he left behind not only Bush, but a baby girl named Jimmye that he never saw.

John McCorkle in his book, "Three Years with Quantrill" claimed to be Quantrill's colonel but in reality he was a scout. He was captured while fighting with the Missouri State Guard under the leadership of Sterling Price. He took the oath not to fight against the North but reneged and joined Quantrill as a bushwhacker.

Sophia Butts, the leader of society in northeast Texas welcomed Quantrill to the parties at Glen Eden, her spacious home, where he was known as a "son of a prominent Missouri family."

The charm wore thin as the drunken raiders proved they were something less than gentlemen even by General Henry McCulloch, commander of the Confederate forces in North Texas.

On February of 1864 he wrote his commanding officer, General J. B. Magruder:

Quantrill will not obey orders, and so much mischief if charged to his command here that I have determined to disarm, arrest, and sent his entire command to you or General Smith.

General Kirby Smith, stationed in Shreveport, Louisiana, considered Quantrill an asset to the Southern cause and ordered McCulloch to use his men to eliminate the whiskey stills in the thickets of northeast Texas.

His men got into a fight among themselves and ended up killing all the moonshiners except one, who they took back to Mineral Creek, along with his still. McCulloch tried to get Quantrill's men to bring in the many southerners who had escaped to the thickets to avoid conscription into the Southern Army but the raiders were not accustomed to taking prisoners and killed more than they brought back for potential service.

McCulloch's letter continued:

They regard the life of a man less than you would that of a sheep-killing dog.

The conflict between McCulloch and Quantrill's men came to a head when one of them, Fletcher Taylor, killed Sophia Butt's husband. He had gone into Sherman on business and did not return. His body and emaciated horse were found. Taylor was seen later wearing his watch.

During a wide drunken Christmas celebration, one of Quantill's men shot the tassel from Sophia's hat as she sat in the lobby of Ben Christian's hotel in Sherman.

By spring, the split between Anderson and Quantrill which had begun at Baxter Springs had grown to a hatred that led to the dethroning of Quantrill as the leader. His command began falling apart with the departure of Cole Younger, perhaps because of his differences with Quantrill, or his concern that he might be the father of Myra Mabelle (aka) Belle Starr's baby.

Anderson and Taylor went to Bonham and told General McCulloch that Taylor had, indeed, shot Major Butts, but he had done so on the orders of Quantill.

General McCulloch sent word for Quantrill to report to his headquarters in Bonham and when the bandit arrived at the general's hotel room, he was placed under arrest and ordered to put his pistols on the bed.

After Quantrill cursed the general, McCulloch invited him to have dinner with him in the hotel restaurant. Quantrill cursed him again and McCulloch left the room, leaving two soldiers to guard the prisoner.

Quantrill, on the pretense of getting a drink of water, grabbed his pistols that were still laying on the bed. He disarmed the guards and escaped. Two more guards at the bottom of the stairs was disarmed and Quantrill mounted his horse and yelled at the sixty men still faithful to him who were across the street that it was a trap. They rode out of Bonham in the direction of the Red River.

When McCulloch got word of the escape, which had interrupted his dinner, he sent Colonel J. Martin's regiment in pursuit. Martin's command was the Fifth Texas Partisan Rangers. The crack in the guerrilla's unity now became a chasm as Bill Anderson and his men joined Martin in the chase.

A brief but heated battle took place at a little creek near Bonham and Sherman.

Leslie, in "The Devil Knows How to Ride" reports that the fight occurred at Bodark Creek, but there are two problems with that assumption. First, the name of the creek and the tree in Texas is spelled bois d'arc, a reminder that some of the early explorers of the territory had been French.

The word, Bodark, appears in the letters of W. L. Potter, one of Quantrill's men. The only problem is, no matter how you spell it, the creek is on the east and south sides of Bonham and from there it runs in a western direction. It hardly seems possible that Quantrill crossed the creek when his only means of escape was to reach the Red River and Indian Territory.

In Connelly's "Quantrill and the Border Wars, Potter is quoted as saying: "I think it was Bodark Creek, if not, it was Caney Creek." Caney Creek is on the west side of Bonham.

Bill Anderson led the guerrillas in pursuit of their formal leader, joining colonel Martin. It had to be the most unusual battle of the war with regular troops and guerrillas chasing Quantrill and his men. It became even more strange as George Todd came from Mineral Creek and joined in the combat with his old friend, Bill Anderson.

The battle at Caney Creek was brief and only one man wounded among the raiders but the outcome was the end of Quantrill's command, which now split into those faithful to Anderson, and those who decided to ride with Todd.

Quantrill reached the Red River and crossed over, taking a position of defense on the north bank. Colonel Martin arrived and under a flag of truce, met Quantrill in the middle of the river, who refused to surrender.

Martin took one look at the guns bristling from the north side of the river and decided that his jurisdiction ended on the south side of the river. The guerrillas chasing their old leader also halted at the river except two of them crossed the river after dark and tried to steal Quantrill's horse, old Charley. But Quantrill was the only one who could ride the horse and they abandoned the attempt.

Quantrill rode north to join his child bride, Kate, in the Sni Hills and except was idle except for an ill-fated trip to Kentucky. Some say he was on his way to Washington to kill Abraham Lincoln but news was received that Edwin Booth has already assassinated the president.

Hounded by Federal and southern guerrillas, Quantrill was shot at Payne' farm south of Louisville, Kentucky and paralyzed by the bullet that entered his spine. He died in a Catholic Monastery after embracing the faith.

Bloody Bill Anderson was gunned down at Centralia, Missouri when Federal Troops used a bushwhacker trick themselves. The Federal troops found Anderson camp and sent riders close enough to be seen. When the raiders mounted their horses to chase them, they led them into an ambush. Anderson rode through the line of Federals but was shot in the back.

George Todd was killed in an action near Independence, Missouri when he rode over a rise in the land and was hit by a bullet in the neck and he suffocated in his own blood.

Click on image to enlarge
And so it was that the outlaws who had tormented the citizens of Sherman came to a violent ends.

But if you go to Sherman, Texas today and stand on the square who might still hear an echo of the bold bandits laughter as they get drunk at the Iron Post Grocery or you might hear a faint rumbling of Old Charley's hooves and they pound down the street. You might even think you hear the bell on the Methodist Church ringing as another bullet hits it.

But listen carefully and you will hear the Rebel yell, faint and distance now, coming from the throats of the raiders as they ride through, their reins in their mouths and two Navy Colts firing wildly in the air.

8-23-17 Guest Column
Evault Boswell
See Sherman, Texas

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