If you stand in Lawrence, Kansas, William Quantrill’s name is mud.
He’s the merciless killer who led a gang of 300 to 400 vicious Missouri Bushwhackers into that city Aug. 21, 1863. Quantrill’s Raiders killed nearly 200 boys and men in Lawrence.
Strollers around the older part of the city are often startled to see bronze plaques buried in well-manicured lawns announcing that “on this spot #### was murdered by Quantrill’s Raiders on August 21, 1863.” To emphasize the point, the city seal of Lawrence features a phoenix, the mythical bird that rises out of its own ashes.
If you stand in Harrisonville, Mo., nearly 80 miles away, Kansas U.S. Senator Jim Lane’s name is mud.
He’s the merciless killer who led a gang of 1,200 vicious Kansas Redlegs and Jayhawkers into Osceola, Mo., Sept. 23, 1861. They executed at least nine men in cold blood and stripped the town bare and sent wagon-loads of stolen loot west to Kansas. It’s been said that some of the Redlegs and Jayhawkers were so drunk they had to be piled into the wagons as well. Before Lane reached Osceola, he stopped long enough to burn down Harrisonville.
In Harrisonville, there’s a solitary chimney, left there for nearly 150 years as a stark – and deliberate – reminder of Lane and of General Order 11, a direct result of the Lawrence Raid. Often after vengeful Kansans came through many parts of western Missouri, the only things left after they burned houses and anything else were chimneys. Missourians called them “Jennison’s Monuments,” after one particularly enthusiastic Union commander, Charles “Doc” Jennison, who hailed from Kansas.
For Lane, the raids on Harrisonville and Osceola were justified by Confederate Gen. Sterling Price’s attacks on Kansas towns.
For Quantrill, the raid on Lawrence was justified by Lane’s attacks on Missouri and for the deaths of five Missouri women that had been imprisoned in a fleabag warehouse because of General Order 10. The warehouse had collapsed.
General Order 11, in which thousands of Missourians in four western Missouri counties were ordered to grab what they could and leave, and everything was burned, was justified by Quantrill’s raid.
And so on.
It one of the most bitter, most intractable, nastiest chapters of the Civil War.
You get the idea.
And idea now is the Freedom’s Frontier National Historical Heritage Area. It covers 41 counties in eastern Kansas and western Missouri and includes Kansas City.
“It’s unique,” said Deb Barker, executive director of the Franklin County, Kan., Historical Society and one of the charter members of the group that helped form Freedom Frontier. Franklin Countout for radical abolitionist John Brown and the county was the site of Brown’s infamous Pottawatomie Creek Massacre in which five pro-slavery Kansas settlers were shot or hacked to death.
“Other heritage areas are based on a particular geographic site,” said Barker. “This is based on an idea. This is based on an idea that there are many stories here to tell.”
And the interesting thing about some of those stories might work from the facts but have entirely different conclusions and that’s one of the things that makes Freedom’s Frontier so appealing, she said.
“Here, you hear about Bloody Quantrill and how Jim Lane was a hero,” she said. Indeed, there’s a city and a county in Kansas named for Lane and he’s honored in other ways.
“But step across the state line, Quantrill is a hero and Lane is the villain,” she said.
“William Quantrill commanded a militarily legitimate force against a militarily legimate target,” said John Dillingham, vice president of the Freedom’s Frontier board of directors and who grew up in rural Missouri. “They had a list of military targets, which included Jim Lane. They didn’t harm women and children.”
Missourians regard Lane as a murderous bandit who used the Civil War as a cover for theft and political opportunism, Dillingham said.
“There is more to the ‘Border War’ than football and basketball,” he said.
The heritage area was established by an act of Congress. A management plan has been written for the heritage area and is now being reviewed by the National Park Service, Barker said. She said she expects the Park Service to approve the management plan.
Once the plan is approved, federal money and advice would be available to the museums, sites and groups in the 41 counties, she said. That means more tourism and visitors to the area.
And there will be more tourism and interest in the area because of the approaching 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War and Kansas and Missouri’s part in igniting it.
However, Barker and Dillingham say there’s more to Freedom’s Frontier than the Civil War and that the area serves as several different types of frontiers for American freedoms.
The Kansas City area is the eastern terminus of some of the most historically-significant trails in the history of the U.S. frontier – the Santa Fe, California and Oregon trails. There’s the National Frontier Trails museum in Independence, Mo., commemorating them.
Indians were removed from the eastern U.S. and moved – often at great cost of life – to missions and reservations in the area. Some were moved to Oklahoma but many kept reservations or stayed in the region.
Many of the early-day women involved in the women’s rights movement came from the area.
And the heritage area will be administered from National Park offices in Monroe Elementary School, a National Historical Heritage Site in Topeka that commemorates the landmark integration case of Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education.
“It’s all about story-telling,” Barker said. “And there are a lot of stories to tell and they can be told in a lot of different ways.”
Dillingham said he’s struck by the irony that the now-tranquil area is where Fort Leavenworth’s Command and General Staff College teaches American and foreign military officers how to deal military and political problems of the sort that wracked eastern Kansas and western Missouri.
“There’s things that happened 150 years ago that they’re talking about now,” he said. “… We’ve learned how to get along with each other.
“Perhaps we can help show them that things evolve and we learn to get along. It might take 50 years, it might take 75 years.
“We’re just 150 years ahead of them.”