Baxter Springs, Part I
by R.M. Peck
National Tribune, 22 September, 1904
pg. 8, cols. 1-4
In August, taking part of my teams and all available teams of the Indian regiments and the 6th Kansas Cavalry, I was ordered to go on a foraging raid over to Okmulgee, on the Council Ground of the Creek nation, on Deep Fork, about 35 miles west of Honey Springs.
Some fields of corn in that vicinity had been reported by our scouts as being about ripe, and for fear that the rebels, who were still at North Fork Town, would get ahead of us, we slipped over there (about 50 miles from Fort Gibson), gathered the corn, loading about 100 wagons, and got back before the rebels knew anything about it.
On this trip the whole outfit of trains was put under my charge, the escort consisting of about 75 Indians and one company of the 6th Kansas Cavalry, the whole under command of Captain Dobbins, of the 4th
If the rebs had only known that we were out stealing corn so near them they could have easily played a nice joke on us by cutting us off and taking in the whole outfit.
On our return from this foraging trip we got the news of Quantrill's raid on the city of
Lawrence, Kansas, which created quite an excitement among the
officers of the Indian Brigade and the soldiers and officers of the Kansas troops who were with us, and many of them were
Quantrill, the rebel guerrilla chief, whose real name was Charles Hart, had lived and taught school in
Lawrence previous to the war, and consequently
was well acquainted with the place and its people. He seems to have imbibed a
bitter hatred for many of the most prominent citizens of Lawrence.
While I was a soldier in the Regular Army in Utah, on the Mormon Expedition in 1858, under command of Brevet Brigadier-General Albert Sidney Johnston, I used frequently to see this young man, Charley Hart, as they called him, who was a hanger-on with the Army at that time, and he was there noted as being one of the most reckless gamblers in our camp. One of his big gambling exploits I saw myself, at
, as I have
related in “Rough Riding on the Plains.” Fort
I lived in
after the war, and have often heard the citizens there tell of the raid of Quantrill
and his murderous bushwhackers.
Taking advantage of a time when there were a few of our soldiers in Kansas to oppose him, with about 300 of his desperadoes, whom he had gathered in the borders of Missouri for the purpose, he made a dash for Lawrence, 50 miles away. Starting from the
line about sundown, making an all-night ride, they reached the suburbs of Lawrence at daylight on
August 21, 1863.
A citizen of
who lived in the outskirts of the town, told me afterwards that the rebels
halted that morning just in front of his house, and seemed to be hesitating and
arguing as to the prudence of advancing into the city, for it was then broad
daylight. Some of them seemed to be fearful that the Federal forces might have
got wind of their movements, and were probably prepared and waiting to give
them a warm reception.
At this juncture Quantrill decided the question by riding out in front of his men and proclaiming, “All cowards can turn back! I’m going into
Who’ll follow me?” And without waiting to see how many would go with him he put
spurs to his horse and went charging into the town with every one of his
miscreants at his heels.
But the citizens of
had had no warning of their danger, and were completely surprised, many of them
being shot down by the murderous rebels before they had time to realize the
situation. No resistance was made whatsoever, by the citizens, for they were so
astonished at the sudden attack they seemed bewildered; and with no opportunity
to get together and organized for defense, opposition was hopeless.
A detachment of the 5th
was camped on the north side of Kaw River,
just opposite the town, but was powerless to render any aid, as a squad of the
rebels had seized the ferryboat on first entering the place, and prevented
their crossing. There were no other soldiers nearer than Leavenworth 35 miles distant, and no railroad
communication. At this time I don’t think there was a foot of railroad in Kansas.
The enemy soon had complete possession of the city , and dividing up into squads overran the place, hunting out the most prominent citizens, robbing and murdering them without mercy; compelling the bankers and business men to open their safes, and, after taking their money, shooting them down in the most cruel manner; visiting private residences, shooting down the men if any were found, looting the buildings of all money and jewelry, in many instances outraging the women, and then setting the houses afire, and standing guard over them with pistols in hand till the flames were so far advanced as to make sure of the destruction of the property before leaving. Many of the bushwhackers were provided with a pair of saddlebags each to carry off the money and jewelry captured.
When the citizens began to realize the situation many of those who had not come in contact with he enemy escaped by running away or hiding. Among these was
Jim Lane. Quantrill sought anxiously for Jim, to
kill him, as he, Lane, seemed to be a special favorite of the guerrilla
chief’s, but Lane skipped out through a field
of corn back of his house, and escaped. I believe the Senator’s house
was burned with all its contents.
Another narrow escape was that of the Reverend H.D. Fisher. He also, it seemed, had been marked for a sacrifice by the rebels. A squad of them, by Quantrill’s direction, surrounded Fisher’s house before he realized the danger, and cut off all chance of his escaping by running away. His wife succeeded in hiding him amongst some old rubbish in one of the closets. The rebels came into the house and searched it thoroughly for Fisher, but could not find him. They then announced to Mrs. Fisher their determination to burn the house. She asked them for permission to take out some of her carpets and furniture. They answered, “Yes, you may save what you can get out of the house while we are starting the fire, but we won’t wait on you.”
As soon as they had gone out of the room she tore up the carpet off the floor, had Fisher lay down on the carpet and be rolled up in the bundle, which she then dragged out into the yard; and to ward off the bushwhackers she left the roll of carpet lying near the door while she returned into the house and threw out some chairs and other light things onto the roll of carpet containing her husband.
By this time the fire and smoke drove her out of the house, when she dragged her precious roll of carpet off to a safe distance and stood and saw the house and contents consumed. While the house was burning the rebels walked around swearing that they “would have liked to get hold of that Abolition preacher, to throw him into the flames and roast him,: and several times stumbled over the roll of carpet, little dreaming that the much-wanted man was rolled up there nearly smothering.
When they were satisfied that the fire had got so far advanced that it could not be put out, they mounted their horses and rode off.
Among the many thrilling incidents that were told me afterward by the citizens of
Lawrence I have
singled out this one concerning Fisher’s escape, because he had formerly been
pastor of a congregation in Leavenworth,
one of which my wife was a member, and she was intimately acquainted with him
and his family. He had always been a fearless and outspoken advocate of
“Abolition” and “ Free State” doctrines, and
had thereby made himself a conspicuous mark for the vengeance of the Missouri “border
The rebels had undisputed possession of the town till about 10 o’clock a.m., murdering citizens, plundering and burning the best houses, both public and private, and having killed 140 helpless, unarmed men and burnt 185 buildings, Quantrill collected his men and withdrew, retreating in a southerly direction as far as the little village of Brooklyn, 12 miles south, where they robbed and burnt some more houses; then bearing off southeast for the Missouri line, escaped and returned to their old range by a different route from that they had followed to Lawrence.
Major Plumb, since a senator from
in command of the 5th Kansas detachment, and Jim Lane, with a
mob of citizens, followed them and skirmished a little with the enemy’s
rear-guard near Brooklyn; but the rebs
succeeded in getting away with the loss of but a few men.
Quantrill had remounted those of his men who se horses were fagged by seizing
the best horses to be found in the place, and on their retreat they were
well-mounted on good horses, while the pursuers had to follow on such old plugs
as the rebels had left.
In September, shortly after our foraging raid to deep Fork, captain Thomas, my quartermaster, concluded to send our contraband herd to
and turn them over to Captain
Insley, Quartermaster at that post. As I had been away from my family (wife and
yearling boy) for nearly a year, I took advantage of this opportunity to take
this herd to Fort Scott Fort Scott, and then go on to Leavenworth to see them.
Leaving my assistant, Simpson, and brother-in-law, Al. Collins, at Fort Gibson to finish up the hay hauling with the balance of the team; taking the lead team and driver of the outfit and a couple of black boys as herders- the rest of my herders to be detailed soldiers furnished by the commander of the escort- I started for Fort Scott with the contraband herd.
There were several empty trains going back to
and a number of refugee families; some with all sorts of teams of their own,
and some being transported in the Government wagons. Our escort, consisting of
Captain John E. Stewart’s (the “fighting preacher”) company of the 9th Kansas
Cavalry. Fort Scott
On this trip to
I found time to
sport with the wild mustang stallion before mentioned, and accordingly saddled
and rode him every day, and by the time I got through I had him reduced to a
sufficient degree of gentleness that enabled me to sell him. He was a natural “racker,” and made a good
riding animal when ridden constantly; but, like most of his breed, if given a
few days rest, would probably have to be broken again. This is a peculiarity of
the wild mustang that when allowed to reach maturity before breaking they are
never really trusty, and need to be kept in constant use to keep them in
Since my last trip over this route to
I found that a little garrison had been established at Baxter Springs,
consisting of one company of the 3d Wisconsin Cavalry and one of the 1st Kansas
Colored Infantry. This little post was commanded by one Lieutenant Pond, of the
3d Fort Scott Wisconsin.
At Rock Creek, seven miles before reaching Baxter Springs, I took a few soldiers and herders, and crossing the Spring River paid a flying visit to an old apple orchard that I knew of at the old Sam Vallier place, about two miles off the road, where each of us obtained a sack of nice apples, overtaking the train and herd in camp at Baxter Springs.
In foraging this way, away from the train, of course, we had to take the risk of getting bushwhacked, and I think that on this trip we probably missed running into a gang of rebel guerrillas; for on reaching the orchard, near the Vallier house, knowing the place to have been abandoned by the owner’s family some time previous, I was surprised to see and smell smoke in the vicinity of the house. Leaving my sack with one of the herders to fill with apples for me, I called one of the soldiers to go with me, and drawing our pistols we rode up to the house to reconnoiter. We found a fresh fire burning in the fireplace in the house, and also one in the yard outside, and signs of a very recent cooking and eating; and along the fence we counted where twelve horses had been tied up and fed green corn in the fence corners.
From the freshness of the fires and other signs, the bushwhackers (for it was evidently a party of that persuasion) must have just left before our arrival. Probably they had heard us crossing the river, and thinking that there was a large number of us (there were only five of six of my party), had been scared off at our approach; but if they had stood their ground they could have easily turned our little picnic into a stampede, and probably have killed or captured our entire party.
I have always felt confident that this was a gang of Quantrill’s men , for it was afterward shown that about that time he was collecting his command, consisting of about 300 cut-throats, in the neighborhood of Baxter Springs, with the intention of making an attack on Lieutenant Pond’s camp.
The third day after passing Baxter Springs we arrived in Fort Scott, on the evening of Sunday, October 4, 1863, and met General Blunt and party, just starting out for Fort Gibson. The General had but a small command, consisting of his staff, a couple of companies, one of the 3d Wisconsin cavalry and one of the 14th Kansas Cavalry as bodyguard and escort, Bill Tuft’s “Buckskin Scouts” (eight or 10 men), and a few civilians, such as clerks and other headquarters attaches. His baggage and supply train numbered about 15 six-mule teams.
The General’s Band Wagon
I took particular notice of a fine, elaborately gotten-up six-mule band wagon, which the General had recently had built, painted and furnished in grand style for his delectation, from which the musicians, in brilliant uniforms, were rendering delightful strains of soul-stirring martial music as Blunt and his gay party marched out of Fort Scott.
Someone pointed out to me a fine-looking young man riding a fine bay pacing horse and told me that was Major Curtis, Blunt’s Adjutant-General, and a son of Major General Curtis. I was particularly attracted by the fine-looking pacer that Major Curtis rode. Blunt had also brought along a fine two-horse carriage in which to lounge at his ease when he got tired of riding his horse. I noticed one other carriage in the outfit, which I afterward learned was owned and occupied by Mrs. Thomas, the wife of my boss, Captain Chester Thomas, who was on her way to
to pay the Captain a visit. I
remember of thinking and remarking as I
watched this brilliant and stylish party of Blunt’s leaving Fort Gibson ,
“Blunt is putting on a whole lot of airs for a common fourth rate
major-general.” Fort Scott
“Pride cometh before a fall.” Three days later, at Baxter Springs, Quantrill, with his 300 murdering miscreants, was charging through the gay cavalcade, slaughtering all they overtook.
On my arrival at Fort Scott, after transferring the contraband herd to Hugh Kirkendall, Captain Insley’s Master of Transportation, I gave my teamster directions as to the road to Leavenworth, and leaving him and the two negro boys to follow on with the team at their leisure, I mounted on my best riding mule and struck out for home, which I reached in two days (120 miles), but it took the team five days.
At this time I was 24 years old, my wife 18 1/2. We had been married nearly two years and had one child, a boy one year old. I had been away from home a great deal of the time since we were married , and as the prospect was that my employment would probably keep me in the vicinity of Fort Gibson for some time to come , my wife decided to go back with men and endure the hardships and dangers of camp life with the army rather than continue to live so far apart, where even mail communication was very irregular and uncertain. I approved of the plan, and we accordingly packed such of our belongings as we could take with us in the six-mule wagon and started back to
in a few days after my arrival at Leavenworth,
to be ready to join the next train and escort going to . Fort Gibson
A Rash Venture
As I think of it now it seems very foolish of me to have taken my little family into that country, where the vicissitudes of war would be likely to overwhelm us with misfortune at any time; for although I knew that after we got to Fort Gibson I could provide them a comfortable place to live, and would be with or near them most of the time, still, they would necessarily suffer many discomforts and privations, and would be in almost constant danger from rebel raids.
I wonder now that I could have been so thoughtless as to expose my wife and child to such a hazardous life; but I was young and reckless, and incapable of realizing the risks I ran. Fortunately no serious evil resulted to my family from this foolhardiness of mine, but it was good luck and not good management that carried us through, and I would not take the same chances again for a mint of money. My wife, in her implicit faith in me, was willing and anxious to go anywhere with me. If she had only known it she was pinning her faith to a mighty shaky dependence, for I can see now that I was then sadly lacking in discretion and foresight.
The Massacre of Baxter Springs
Shortly after my arrival in
Leavenworth we had received the distressing
intelligence of Quantrill’s attack and slaughter of General Blunt’s party at
Baxter Springs. On my return to I got full
particulars of the affair from some of those soldiers and citizens who had
escaped the massacre and returned to that place, and will relate the incidents
here as narrated to me. It was one of those lamentable affairs- entirely too
frequent in war- wherein the lives of good men are recklessly sacrificed by the
blunders of reckless or incompetent officers. Fort
For some days previous to Quantrill’s attack on Blunt’s party, the guerrilla chief had been collecting his murderous bushwhackers, unknown to the Federal authorities, in the vicinity of Baxter Springs, for the purpose of attacking Lieutenant Pond’s little garrison at that place. It is estimated that the guerrillas numbered about 300 men. Lieutenant Pond’s force consisted of a company each of the 3d Wisconsin Cavalry and 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry. Blunt’s escort was one company of the 3d Wisconsin Cavalry and one company of the 14th Kansas Cavalry, probably about 100 men.
On the day of the catastrophe Quantrill had made his attack on Pond’s camp, surprising and killing several men who were caught outside their rifle pits, but found the little garrison better prepared for defense than the rebels had expected, and Pond’s men were successfully standing them off. Just at this time (about noon) Quantrill’s men, who were in the timber, near Pond’s camp, spied Blunt’s little command approaching. Seeing that there was only a small party with Blunt, and as they evidently were not aware of the presence of the enemy, Quantrill quickly decided to change his plan and make a sudden dash on Blunt’s command, as promising a better prospect of success than fighting Pond’s men in their entrenchment’s.
Withdrawing his men from the vicinity of Pond’s camp, he fell back into the timber, and keeping out of sight of Blunt’s men, he moved along northward in the edge of the woods till directly opposite the approaching party, which was moving along the road all unsuspicious of danger, in the open prairie between Willow Creek and Baxter Springs, about a quarter of a mile from the line of timber- an old abandoned field with a knocked-down fence intervening between the woods where Quantrill had formed his line and road that Blunt was traveling on.
Up to this time Pond’s command was not aware of Blunt’s approach, and although Blunt’s men had heard some firing in the direction of Pond’s camp, about a half mile ahead of them, they did not seem to suspect that a skirmish with the enemy had been going on there.
Blunt was riding in his fine two-horse carriage, his saddled horse being led by a servant just in the rear. He had ordered his band to the front in the fine, gaudily-painted six-mule band wagon, and was preparing to surprise Pond’s garrison with a sudden burst of martial music as he neared the Springs.
Just at this juncture Blunt’s attention was called to the line of mounted rebels riding out of the timber and moving briskly across the old field toward him. At first it was thought to be Pond’s company of cavalry our on drill; but it was quickly seen that there were too many of them for one company, and they did not have the regulation appearance of drilled soldiers.
Beginning to suspect that they were rebels, Blunt mounted his horse and made an effort to form his two companies to meet the charge, but too late- the yelling devils, with Quantrill himself in the lead, were onto and among the surprised soldiers, shooting down and riding over all they came to. Taken so completely by surprise, and at such a disadvantage, it is no discredit to Blunt’s soldiers that they broke and fled- every fellow for himself- trying to save their lives as best they could. What else could they do under the circumstances?
Few of them escaped the murderous fiends, however, for they killed all they overtook- even those who surrendered being shot down as soon as disarmed. Blunt, with about a dozen officers and men, outran the guerrillas and escaped to the top of a neighboring hill just westward of the field, where, as the rebels returned from following them, they halted and watched the destruction of their outfit.
Mrs. Thomas was riding in her carriage somewhere in the rear, and when the attack on the escort was made a Mr. Bridges (a newspaper man connected with the Fort Scott “Monitor”), who was riding with the command, caught a cavalry horse, whose rider had just been shot off him, and leading it back to Mrs. Thomas’s carriage, hurriedly assisted her to mount, and they both struck out across the prairie toward Fort Scott, and fortunately escaped.
While the rebels were galloping across the field to attack Blunt’s party, Johnny Fry, one of Tuft’s “Buckskin Scouts,” being “drunk as a fool,” galloped out to meet Quantrill and bombastically called out to him, “I order you to withdraw your men from the field, sir, by General Blunt’s command!”
Quantrill merely answered, “Get out of my way!” as he shot Fry off his horse, killing him, and rode on without even slowing up.
Major Curtis, Blunt’s Adjutant General, was overtaken and killed by Quantrill himself, also, as he (Curtis) went pacing along following Blunt’s retreating party.
Lieutenant Farr, of the 3d
Wisconsin, was also killed. I don’t remember
to have heard the names of the other commissioned officers who lost their lives
in this affair.
Sometime afterward I met a big Sergeant of one of the companies of the escort, who was called “Big Jack,” whose face was badly disfigured by scars from Quantrill’s bullets. He told me that Quantrill shot him through the body first, and as he fell off his horse, supposing himself mortally wounded. As he lay on his back the guerrilla chief rode up and stood his horse over him, and reaching his pistol down close to Jack’s face, said to him, as he fired two balls into his face: “When you get to hell tell the devil this is Quantrill’s work.”
The fiend then rode off, supposing that he had finished the big Sergeant, but by good luck none of his wounds proved fatal, and he recovered, but will never look pretty again.
When the soldiers stampeded, the band started to run, also, in their wagon, but were soon overtaken by the bloodthirsty bushwhackers, who surrounded the band wagon and shot the musicians where they sat, only one of them succeeding in getting out before being killed- O’Neil, the bass drummer, who had formerly been an actor in a Leavenworth theater, and also a newspaper correspondent, jumped out and ran a few steps before he was brought down. His body was found where he fell, a few steps from the wagon.
The six-mule teams were overtaken and disposed of in like manner- the teamsters killed, mules taken, and wagons burned. The guerrillas seemed to have killed nearly everyone they caught, teamsters and other non-combatants being shot down the same as if they were armed soldiers. I passed over the ground a few months afterward and saw the irons of the band wagon and trains still lying where they were burned. The rebs also robbed the bodies of their victims of their pistols and all valuables, and in some instances took such articles of clothing as happened to strike their fancy. Before burning the wagons they plundered some of them of their most valuable contents, especially Blunt’s baggage, among which Quantrill is said to have captured the General’s best uniform and considerable money in Blunt’s trunk.