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par Kathleen WALLACE
Men hid in the cornfields, some even opted for potato patches, a poor choice, of course, due to the low lying nature of the crop. If you ever have to hide, pick a crop that is tall, or you will have a long day trying to will your body to a ridiculous and miniscule width.
That steaming August day had men and boys looking for any measure of safety, any concealment. One man was rolled up in an ornate carpet. His wife dragged it out of their burning home, begging Southern sympathizing Bushwhackers to allow her but this rolled rug –a memento of the house they were burning down. They strangely agreed, ignorantly creating a survivor. Some men jumped in wells, while others went to retrieve bodies in wells, only to have their own life extinguished when the rope broke. So wells played a big part in the day’s drama. Some men jumped out windows. It made no difference if you begged for mercy because it was all in the wispy nature of reflex. The thin moment of decision which led most of the Bushwhackers to decide on death. This was their imperative, to loot and kill all men and older boys.
This was the raid on Lawrence, Kansas which occurred about 150 and a half years ago, part of the shocking violence of the Bleeding Kansas/Civil War years. Termed Quantrill’s Raid for the handsome schoolteacher turned fashionably attired guerrilla leader, this event is compelling for its historical relevance as well as the incredibly slight turns of fate from things like a smart wife or a candle blowing out. The trajectory of everyday existence is fraught with similar aggressive whimsy. A settled cesium particle that you slurp in on that day your body was tired, the patch of black ice unobserved, the high-schooler who put the gun back at home on that dark day of their mind. All, mired in the background, a delicate play of the gods or electrons (or both) –what might happen, what didn’t happen ? Sometimes it is incredible to examine small moments of a historical episode to consider how tenuous it all really is.
This raid was accomplished when over 400 hastily assembled men, loyal to the Southern cause, opted to attack Lawrence, a town founded by staunch abolitionists from New England. Downtown Lawrence, the place of so much carnage on August 21st, 1863 is named Massachusetts Street for the home state of those who founded this anti-slavery outpost. The thought was to arrive and outnumber the pro-slavery sympathizers. Those in Missouri found this to be a terrible thing, these outsiders showing up with such plans.