Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans


Quantrill in fact and fiction


No picture of Quantrill is 100% authenticated but he may have looked like this


A great deal has been written about William Clarke Quantrill (1837 – 1865). Though Quantrill himself left very few writings, Barry A Crouch, in an article in Kansas History (22#2 pp 142-156) describes the very many pro- and anti-Quantrill texts published over the years.


Hero or villain


They started early. Some men who rode with Quantrill wrote laudatory and self-exculpating accounts, such as Charles W. Quantrell, A True Report of his Guerrilla Warfare on the Missouri and Kansas Border During the Civil War of 1861 to 1865 by Captain Harrison Trow, “One who followed Quantrell through his whole course”, a memoir available free from Gutenberg. James-gang apologist John N Edwards published Noted Guerillas: The Warfare of the Border in 1877.


This defensive tradition continues. There is a William Clarke Quantrill Society, which says it is “dedicated to the study of the Border War and the War of Northern Aggression” and which quotes on its homepage President Harry S Truman: “Quantrill and his men were no more bandits than the men on the other side. I’ve been to reunions of Quantrill’s men two or three times. All they were trying to do was protect the property on the Missouri side of the line.”


Harry was a fan


It seems hardly tenable to argue that “all they were trying to do was protect property” but there we are. Certainly there have been equally many writings condemning Quantrill as a bloodthirsty renegade. William Elsey Connelley in Quantrill and the Border Wars (1910) demonized him. More recently James M McPherson, Pulitzer-winning professor emeritus of Princeton, calls Quantrill and one of his supporters William Anderson “pathological killers” who “murdered and burned out Missouri Unionists”. At the time, the sacking of Lawrence, Kansas drew out passionate denunciations, understandably, and there were even some in the official Confederate ranks who despised what Quantrill and his men were doing. Many subsequent articles and books have condemned the outrages, though to be fair they have sometimes disparaged equally the ravages of pro-Union guerrilla bands such as those of Jim Lane and Doc Jennison.


There are modern biographies which are still pro- or anti-Quantrill, to a greater or lesser degree, as well as some that try for a balanced approach. You might want to try Albert E Castel’s William Clarke Quantrill (University of Oklahoma Press, 1999), or Dante Schultz’s Quantrill’s War: The Life and Times of William Clarke Quantrill, 1837–1865 (Macmillan Publishing, 1997). Myself, though, I’m afraid I am rather more interested in how Quantrill has been portrayed on the screen (big and small).



Kansas University’s John C Tibbetts gave a talk, Quantrill in the Movies, looking at the cinematic heritage of the man, back in August 2013. “Through film clips, analysis, and anecdotes, Tibbetts examines Quantrill through films.” Wish I’d been there. But fortunately Prof Tibbetts published an article on the subject in the journal of the Kansas Historical Society, which you can access (external link) at


I am indebted to this essay – though opinions expressed here are my own.


Tibbetts says, “The story of guerrilla chieftain William Clarke Quantrill and the infamous raid he led against Lawrence, Kansas, in the summer of 1863 still lives on. Far from being a footnote to the history of the Civil War, consigned to dusty tomes, it continues to fascinate, even perplex historians, novelists, playwrights, and filmmakers alike—even if none of them seems to agree on the general outlines, much less the details of his life.”


As Harper’s saw it


He adds that both admirers and detractors have always detected a “whiff of brimstone” about Quantrill and his men, and indeed their most recent outing on the screen bore the title Ride with the Devil. Leslie wrote that beginning in late August 1863, shortly after the raid on Lawrence, “one finds startlingly frequent references in letters, diaries, and newspaper articles written by loyal civilians and even in cold Federal military reports to the bushwhackers as ‘demons,’ ‘devils from hell,’ and ‘fiends incarnate.’ In Kansas Raiders Quantrill is described, though semi-ironically, as a fiend with “two horns, two hoofs, and a long tail.”And in Dark Command his mother accuses him of “fighting for the hosts of Darkness [with] the Devil riding beside you.”


Quantrill as devil


“Quantrill himself is just the kind of historical phenomenon storytellers dearly love,” says Tibbets. “He gives the tale-teller room to stretch, so to speak. Confusions and myths began swarming around Quantrill even in his own lifetime. Then, as now, he was an elusive character. We are not even sure what he looked like. We know he was almost five feet ten inches in height, of slender build (about160 pounds), with sandy — or reddish-blonde, or light brown — hair. But the authenticity of some surviving portraits has been questioned.”


“Soon after his death in June 1865, Quantrill, like Jesse James and Allan Pinkerton, entered the mythical regions of dime novels and movies, becoming a popular paradigm of the ‘good bad man’, the prototype of western heroes to come.”


“Some of the guerrilla-hero’s gifts became hallmarks of the movie-cowboy and gunfighter,” wrote historian Richard Slotkin in his classic Gunfighter Nation, “his superb horsemanship and love for a favored animal, and his almost fetishistic preference for the pistol as a weapon and his ‘preternatural’ skill with it. Like Jesse James … Quantrill gradually was transformed in the popular consciousness from a local hero into a figure of western and frontier mythology, the hero of a national myth of resistance.”


On the screen


Even there, passions were aroused. Think of Rooster and LaBoeuf arguing about Quantrill (with whom Rooster rode) in True Grit. Let us say that they found it hard to agree.


And many other characters in Westerns were said to have ridden with Quantrill, so many, in fact, that I think the guerrilla leader must have had ten battalions under his command. Several ex-Quantrill men appear in Best of the Badmen (1951). Brothers Clark Gable and Cameron Mitchell in The Tall Men (1955) were Quantrill riders who went north at the end of the war but found the skills they had learned to be quite useful. In Hell’s Crossroads (1957) Stephen McNally is Vic Rodell, a member of the James Gang who was a boyhood friend of Jesse and also fought with Quantrill’s Raiders in the late unpleasantness. In Waco (1966) everyone appears to have a guilty secret and the pastor (Wendell Corey, who in other movies was also Frank James and then Jesse) rode with Quantrill. In Bandolero! (1968) Dean Martin plays Dee Bishop, a former Quantrill Raider who admits to participating in the attack on Lawrence. According to the TV series even Hondo Lane was a captain with Quantrill. In Goin’ South (1978) Jack Nicholson is a ne’er-do-well who says he rode with Quantrill’s Raiders (actually he was their cook). And so on. By associating these characters with Quantrill Hollywood established their tough-guy bona fides, without the inconvenience of actually showing any brutalities or war crimes or anything.


Quantrill himself appeared many times on the screen, played by John Ales, Bruce Bennett, Ray Corrigan, Ted de Corsia, Broderick Crawford, Brian Donlevy (twice), Leo Gordon, Fred Graham, James Griffith, Reed Hadley, Harry Hall, John Ireland, Emile Meyer, James Millican, Otto Lederer, Walter Pidgeon and Forrest Tucker, that I know of, and very possibly others too. So you see he was a popular character for Westerns, usually shown as a bad guy, though not committing any real atrocities so as not to frighten the horses (or put off too many Southern viewers).


He didn’t, however, appear as many times as Jesse James. Most James gang movies concentrate on the cinematic post-war banditry, preferring to eschew any hint of awkward war crimes. So Quantrill was often written out. Actually Jesse James may never have ridden with Quantrill at all: he joined guerrillas late in the war, riding with his brother Frank, but by then Quantrill’s ‘glory’ had been eclipsed and Bill Anderson was more the boss. Jesse certainly wasn’t at Lawrence, as is often shown in movies. He was only 15 then.


Otto Lederer probably had the ‘honor’ of being the first cinematic Quantrill, in the 1914 short Quantrell’s Son, written and directed by and also starring in the title role Robert Thornby. As far as we know Quantrill never had a son. He did meet the 13-year-old Sarah Katherine King at her parents’ farm in Blue Springs, Missouri during the war but they probably never married (though Sarah claimed later they did). Sarah adopted the name Kate Clarke, and visited sometimes and lived in camp with Quantrill and his men. At the time of his death she was 17. She opened a boarding house with money he had given her, and married twice later, dying in 1930.


Sarah Katherine King aka Kate Clarke


In the 1921 silent movie Jesse James under the Black Flag, which starred Jesse’s son Jesse Jr. as his father, Harry Hall was “Charles William Quantrell” (the same form of the name as used by Capt. Trow). One wonders if Kate/Sarah ever saw it. Actually, Quantrill probably never carried a black flag, or any flag, though a small one, seven by thirteen inches, was recovered when a raider dropped it during the raid on Olathe in September 1862 and is now in the Kansas Museum of History.


Harry Hall as Charles Quantrell, 1921



Quantrill flag


By the way, Quantrell was a common alternative spelling at the time, and since. In fact the redoubtable Zerelda Samuel, mother of Frank and Jesse James, christened a later daughter Fanny Quantrell, “just to have a Quantrell in the family”.


Tibbetts says that Quantrill also appeared in Paramount’s big Jesse James silent of 1927, with Fred Thomson in the title role, but this movie has been lost and Quantrill does not appear in the surviving cast list. If he was a character in that movie I don’t know who played him.


The first talkie Quantrill that I know of came in 1940 when he had become “Cantrell”, played by major star Walter Pidgeon on loan from MGM in Republic’s big-budget John Wayne picture Dark Command. This was the usual historical hooey, this time with Quantrill as the main megalomaniacal villain for the first time.


Walter was ‘Cantrell’ in Dark Command


In 1946 Ray Corrigan did the honors, this time as William Quantrill, in the low-budget Lippert production Renegade Girl. The heroine’s brother rode with Quantrill and the famed guerrilla leader makes a brief appearance. But most of the story is set after the war, when Quantrill (they all pronounce it Quantrell) was no more.


And in 1949, in a bigger picture, Fox’s color oater Fighting Man of the Plains with Randolph Scott, James Griffith played the guerrilla leader, this time Quantrell again. This too was only a cameo but still, by the end of the 40s Quantrill had established quite a screen persona.


The 1950s were the most Quantrilly years as far as celluloid goes. Brian Donlevy was the first, second-billed in Kansas Raiders (1950) as “Col. William Clarke Quantrill”, with Audie Murphy as Jesse James and Richard Long as Frank. Donlevy reprised the role, again billed second, in 1953 in Woman They Almost Lynched, in which his wife Kate (Audrey Totter) plays a leading part. Though Donlevy has little more than a cameo reprise in Woman, he had a big part in Kansas Raiders, as a cruel power-mad would-be empire builder. Goody Jesse (Audie) can’t take the wanton slaughter meted out by the band and shoots Bloody Bill Anderson dead during the sack of Lawrence when Anderson wants to hang a Union captive. He remains loyal to Quantrill when things go badly, and Quantrill dies gloriously sacrificing himself to save Jesse and his minions. More hooey, obviously, but you know, we don’t expect accurate history from Western movies.


Donlevy was Quantrill twice


There were actually three celluloid Quantrills that year because in addition to Donlevy we got Reed Hadley in Kansas Pacific and James Millican in another Randolph Scott picture, The Stranger Wore a Gun. But before then (1951) John Ireland had assumed the mantle in the Alan Ladd picture Red Mountain.


Red Mountain has quite a complex plot: at the heart of it, Alan Ladd plays a rebel captain who joins up with Quantrill (Ireland is very good, as usual) but becomes disillusioned, sees Quantrill for the psychopath he is and determines to thwart him. But the plot is complicated by Lizabeth Scott, Quantrill having wiped out Lizabeth’s family back in Kansas. Quantrill has a devilish plan to take over the whole West for the Confederacy with the aid of renegade Indians.


In Kansas Pacific, Sterling Hayden is a US Army captain undercover as railroad engineer, determined to build the Kansas Pacific line out to the West to provision forts for the coming Civil War, and ‘Bill Quantrill’ (Hadley solid) is determined to stop him, even bringing artillery to bear against the trains. Very plausible, I don’t think.


The Stranger Wore a Gun was one of Randolph Scott’s André De Toth Westerns, not the best one, though. The story opens in Lawrence. Quantrill (Millican always good) is a bloodthirsty crook who disgusts Randy, who abandons the guerrillas and enlists in the official Confederate army instead. The rest of the story is post-war, though, so Quantrill only gets a brief appearance.


In 1954, on the small screen this time, Bruce Bennett was the guerrilla leader in a Stories of the Century episode, S1 E5, Quantrill and His Raiders. It’s available on YouTube if you want it. Quantrell (as they all pronounce it) is a very bad guy, “the mad dog of the border” who “led his reckless hordes in five years of bloody pillage.” We are told “he is using the war to write his personal history in blood, a little Napoleon.” In the opening scene he callously murders two Union prisoners. Matt Clark and Frankie Adams are serving as Union spies in the war, and with her feminine wiles Frankie learns about the raid on Lawrence from Quantrill. Matt and Frankie ride there to warn the townsfolk, but are too late to avoid the disaster. Matt is put in charge of tracking the renegade down and it is he who finds Quantrill holed up at Wakefield Farm in Kentucky, and he who shoots Quantrill and Bloody Bill (with his 1870s .45). All of this, by the way, happens before Lee’s surrender. All of this nonsense would be perfectly acceptable in a Western if only they didn’t claim historical accuracy.


In 1958 it was back to the big screen when that great Western heavy Leo Gordon took the role in Allied Artists’ Quantrill’s Raiders. It was the by now tried and tested plotline of a vicious guerrilla leader sacking Lawrence and a hero who is disgusted at the violence and looting and turns against the warlord – this time not such a big star but Steve Cochran.


Leo was a tough-guy Quantrill in ’58


In February 1959 too the less than sylphlike Broderick Crawford played Quantrill in a February episode of ABC’s The Rough Riders. Capt. Flagg, Lt Kirby and Sgt Sinclair discover that Quantrill is at the head of a dastardly plot to assassinate Abe Lincoln’s successor, President Johnson.


That year too, in October, Jeff Chandler as “Luke Darcy” was a Quantrill by any other name in The Jayhawkers! He was again a megalomaniac Quantrill with Napoleonic ambitions to create a new empire for himself.


We had two Quantrills at the start of the 60s, Ted de Corsia in Noose for a Gunman in 1960 and Emile Meyer in Young Jesse James the same year. In 1965 Fred Graham, then 57, was the oldest actor to play Quantrill, billed as Quantrell, in Columbia’s Audie Murphy/Buster Crabbe oater Arizona Raiders.


Emile with Jesse and Frank


In 1967 Forrest Tucker assumed the mantle when he played ‘Col. William Quantrill’ in an episode of Hondo with the title Hondo and the Judas. Quantrill is not dead but in 1869 reassembles his men (including “Lt Jesse James” played by Ricky Nelson) in a ghost town. We are told that ex-Capt Hondo Lane (Ralph Taeger) was captured at Lawrence and was to be hanged but Quantrill led a rescue mission and saved him. Quantrill wants revenge on whoever shot him in Kentucky (Jim Davis, presumably). Because he was already dead the show was at liberty to have him shot down in a gunfight. The gang members bury him in an unmarked grave, Hondo saying “Folks think he died a hero in the war. Let it stay that way.” You can watch this one too on YouTube.


At the end of the decade, in 1969, according to the article on Quantrill in The BFI Companion to the Western, Bill Ferrill played Quantrill in a TV show, Ride a Wild Stud, but I can find no mention of this on IMDB or elsewhere.


In a 1979 TV movie The Legend of the Golden Gun, a Columbia Pictures television production screened on NBC, Robert Davi played Quantrill. It was a revenge tale of a farmer who wanted revenge on Quantrill for killing his family.


In 1999 Ang Lee’s movie Ride with the Devil was released, with John Ales as Quantrill, for once about the right age (Ales was 28), and looking quite like. The screenplay and Mr. Ales capture well the mixture of charisma, passion, ruthlessness and scurrilous demagoguery of Quantrill. In fact the script (James Schamus) is intelligent and subtle. The war is a local affair, people are fighting for complex and even uncertain personal motives, and nothing is black and white – there’s even an African-American fighting with Quantrill. The action is realistic, with confused movement, noise and bullets whipping past. But the tone of most of the film is cool and observant.


Ales as Quantrill


Ales’s age of 28 was unusual. The average age of all these Quantrill actors (except Henry Hall, whose age I do not know) was 42. Given that Quantrill was only 27 at his death that seems a bit anno domini, but I suppose Hollywood wanted a ‘weighty’ character, and was ready to go with the likes of Brian Donlevy and Emile Meyer, in their 50s, or even Fred Graham, 57. The actors were usually on the portly side, too, especially Broderick Crawford, which Quantrill was not.


In fact the whole band was young. Duncan E Hansen in A Reunion in Death (Two Trails Publishing Press, 2002) says, “Most of Quantrill’s men were quite young. The average age was around 20 years old.”


Quantrill on the page


Quantrill has also appeared in novels and short stories, for example pulp novelist and screenplay writer Frank Gruber’s Quantrell’s Flag, for Adventure Magazine, March through May 1940, which was then published as a book titled Quantrell’s Raiders (Ace Original). This is actually a rattling good yarn. He followed it up later the same year with a sort of sequel, Rebel Road, about a Jesse James-like ex-Quantrill man who turns to train- and bank-robbery and is pursued by the Pinkertons. Actually, both novels are available together in a great Ace double edition.



In the 1970s novels Gone to Texas and The Vengeance Trail of Josey Wales by Forrest Carter, used by Clint Eastwood as the basis for his 1976 movie The Outlaw Josey Wales, lead characters, including Josey, are Quantrill men, though as with most, they seem to have broken with Quantrill to follow Anderson.


The Ang Lee movie Ride with the Devil was based on the novel Woe to Live On (1987) by Daniel Woodrell.


In Bradley Denton’s ‘alternative history’ story The Territory (1992), Samuel Clemens rather improbably joins Quantrill’s Raiders and is with them when they attack Lawrence.


Quantrill featured as a key character in James Carlos Blake’s fictional biography of Bloody Bill Anderson Wildwood Boys (Harper Collins, 2000; paperback Perennial, 2001). In that he comes across as educated, given to using Latin tags and quoting “Sir Bacon”, presumably Francis of that ilk, he is credited with insisting that no woman be harmed at Lawrence, and he comes across as something of a Southern gentleman, which of course he wasn’t.


In the novel Lincoln’s Sword (2010) by Debra Doyle and James D Macdonald, the raid on Lawrence is told from the point of view of Cole Younger, and Quantrill obviously features.


Doubtless there are other appearances.


The real Quantrill


As always with semi-mythological characters of this kind, especially ones who left no body of writings behind them (the letters and even occasional autobiography of the likes of Bill Longley, John Wesley Hardin, Bat Masterson, Calamity Jane & Co may have been partial and one-sided, but they are something) all sorts of legends are presented as truth, so it’s not always easy to disentangle fact from fiction.


Early life


Quantrill was not of the South, but Ohio-born, in 1837, the oldest of eight surviving children. By the time he was sixteen he was already teaching school. In 1854 his abusive father died of TB leaving the family in serious debt. Quantrill took up a job in the lumberyards, unloading timber from rail cars, where some accounts say he killed a man but was freed for lack of evidence. He continued as a teacher, including for a time in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In 1858 he signed on as a teamster with the US Army expedition heading to Salt Lake City, Utah. He is said to have won then lost a lot of money at poker when at Fort Bridger. According to Leslie he next appears as a teacher in Lawrence, Kansas in 1859 (though Tibbets says he was never a teacher there). He then seems to have taken up with brigands and turned to cattle rustling and anything else that could earn him money.


At this time Quantrill appeared to oppose slavery. For instance, he wrote to his friend WW Scott in January 1858 that the Lecompton Constitution was a “swindle” and that Jim Lane was “as good a man as we have here”. He also called the Democrats “the worst men we have for they are all rascals, for no one can be a democrat here without being one”. But in February 1860 he wrote to his mother expressing his support for slavery, his disgust at Lane and saying “the devil has got unlimited sway over this territory, and will hold it until we have a better set of man and society generally.”


The image most commonly accepted as Quantrill


Leslie says that in Lawrence under the name of Charley Hart, Quantrill “had been playing to both sides in the great struggle, to the Free-Soilers and the pro-slavery crowd, riding with Jayhawkers and with Border Ruffians and telling each side he was spying on the other.”


The war


In 1861 he seems to have fallen under the influence of Joel B Mayes, an avid Southern sympathizer enlisted in the First Cherokee Regiment of the Confederate army. Mayes taught Quantrill guerrilla warfare tactics. Quantrill and Mayes joined with General Sterling Price and fought as privates at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and Lexington in August and September 1861. But Quantrill seems to have deserted in September ’61 and moved to Missouri to form his own band of guerrilla fighters, starting with fifteen, at this point not even a footnote in the history of the conflict.


In early 1862 he was joined by more men, including Cole Younger, William T Anderson and, later, Frank James (Jesse was too young and remained at home). He gained a reputation, revered or reviled, quickly. As early as February 3, 1862 a Union captain, WS Oliver, wrote of him as “the notorious Quantrill”. Oliver added that the “infamous scoundrel” was robbing mails. Quantrill was certainly audacious. On February 22 he rode boldly right into Independence, Missouri, though was quickly chased out.


Also possibly Quantrill


According to one source, in March 1862 the Confederate government decided to secure the loyalty of Quantrill by issuing him a commission with the rank of captain. Later he would award himself the rank of colonel but this was not an official commission. In his memoir Cole Younger, by Himself (1902) Younger said in Chapter 12, Quantrell on War, that the guerrilla captain sought a colonel’s commission in the regular CSA army from Secretary of War Samuel Cooper. Actually, Cole was not present at the interview but gave his version: Cooper disparaged Quantrill, calling his form of warfare “barbarism”. Quantrill retorted, “Barbarism, Mr. Secretary, means war and war means barbarism”. Cooper asked him what he would do if he had the power and opportunity. “Do, Mr. Secretary? I would wage such a war as to make surrender impossible. I would break up foreign enlistments with indiscriminate massacre.” “What of our prisoners?” “There would be no prisoners.” Quantrell did not get his commission.


In the fall of 1862 Quantrill led or participated in the attacks on Olathe, Kansas, Shawneetown, Kansas and Lamar, Missouri.




However, the most significant event in Quantrill’s guerrilla career took place on August 21, 1863 when he and about 440 men attacked Lawrence, Kansas, the state’s second-largest city, plundering and burning it and killing an estimated two hundred men and boys. Why Lawrence? Tibbets says, “Beyond any personal grudges that Quantrill may have harbored against the town, it is sufficient here to note that Lawrence represented everything the pro-Southern forces despised: it was a free-state bastion, a center of jayhawker activity, an important new home for contrabands fleeing their Missouri masters, a recruiting center for Union troops, and, not least, the home of the hated Senator James H. Lane.”


RG Elliott, a Lawrence newspaper editor and survivor of the attack, wrote, “At 5 o’clock in the morning we were attacked by Quantrill and his gang, some 300 or 400 in number. We had not a moment’s warning. The people were awakened from their slumber by the crackling of pistols and the tramping of horses, and as they ran out to form companies or to find a place of security, they were shot down in cold blood.”


Lawrence today


The raid shocked and enraged most, certainly in the North. The New York Times said of the massacre: “It is a calamity of the most heartrending kind – an atrocity of unspeakable character.” The reaction of Southern newspapers was mixed, however. Some supported the raid; others were outraged because it was an attack on civilians. Quantrill was certainly not universally admired in the Confederacy.


On August 25, in retaliation for the raid, General Ewing authorized General Order No. 11 (not to be confused with General Ulysses S Grant’s order of the same name). The edict ordered the depopulation of three-and-a-half Missouri counties along the Kansas border with the exception of a few designated towns, which forced tens of thousands of civilians to abandon their homes. Union troops marched through behind them and burned buildings, torched planted fields, and shot down livestock to deprive the guerrillas of food, fodder and support. The area was so thoroughly devastated that it became known thereafter as the “Burnt District”. Quantrill and his men decamped to Texas.


There, Quantrill’s band mutinied, or quarreled anyway, breaking up into several smaller guerrilla companies. Quantrill’s reign seemed to be over. It was Anderson, not Quantrill, who led the guerrillas, including Frank and Jesse James, at the massacre of Centralia in September 1864 when 24 unarmed Union soldier prisoners were shot and scalped.




In the spring of 1865, now leading only a couple of dozen men, Quantrill staged a series of raids in western Kentucky. On May 10, the band was caught in an ambush by Union men under Edwin W Terrell at Wakefield Farm. Apparently unable to escape on account of a skittish horse, Quantrill was shot in the back and paralyzed from the chest down. He was taken by wagon to Louisville and put in the military prison hospital where he died from his wounds on June 6, 1865, at the age of 27.


Also said to be Quantrill


Of course all sorts of stories are told about how Quantrill was not in fact killed then, just as Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy and others were not shot dead but survived in hiding or with aliases. Wikipedia tells us (so it must be true) that


In August, 1907, news articles appeared in Canada and the United States claiming that J.E. Duffy, a member of a Michigan cavalry troop that dealt with Quantrill’s raiders during the Civil War, had met Quantrill at Quatsino Sound, on northern Vancouver Island while investigating timber rights in the area. Duffy claimed to recognize the man, living under the name of John Sharp, as Quantrill. Duffy said that Sharp admitted he was Quantrill and discussed in detail raids in Kansas and elsewhere. Sharp claimed that he had survived the ambush in Kentucky, though receiving a bayonet and bullet wound, making his way to South America where he lived some years in Chile. He returned to the United States, working as a cattleman in Fort Worth, Texas. He then moved to Oregon, acting as a cowpuncher and drover, before reaching British Columbia in the 1890s, where he worked in logging, trapping and finally as a mine caretaker at Coal Harbour at Quatsino.


Quantrill’s Navy (apparently)


The fertile imaginations of novelists and the writers of TV shows and movies joined in. I have already mentioned how he survived in the episode of ABC’s Hondo. In the story Hewn in Pieces for the Lord by John J Miller, Quantrill also managed to escape after the fall of the Confederacy, got to the slave-holding Draka society in Africa where he tangled with the rebellious Madhi in the Sudan.


Columbia’s Arizona Raiders (1965), mentioned above, has the Governor setting up the Arizona Rangers to combat the depredations of Quantrell’s band well after the war, so he seems to have escaped that ambush and got some more men to maraud in AZ.


Well, sorry guys but the overwhelming probability is that William Clarke Quantrill died of wounds after an ambush in Kentucky in June 1865, aged 27, just short of two months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.


But he certainly lives still on the page and on the screen.




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