June 6

This Day in History

Old West

Jun 6, 1865:

William Quantrill killed by Union soldiers

William Quantrill, the man who gave Frank and Jesse James their first education in killing, dies from wounds sustained in a skirmish with Union soldiers in Kentucky.

Born and raised in Ohio, Quantrill was involved in a number of shady enterprises in Utah and Kansas during his teens. In his early 20s, he fled to Missouri, where he became a strong supporter of pro-slavery settlers in their sometimes-violent conflict with their antislavery neighbors. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the 24-year-old Quantrill became the leader of an irregular force of Confederate soldiers that became known as Quantrill's Raiders.

By 1862, Union forces had established control over Missouri, but Quantrill's Raiders continued to harass the northern army and unguarded pro-Union towns over the next three years. Quantrill and other guerrilla leaders recruited their soldiers from Confederate sympathizers who resented what they saw as the unfairly harsh Union rule of their state. Among those who joined him was a 20-year-old farm kid named Frank James. His younger brother, Jesse, joined an allied guerrilla force a year later.

In August 1863, Frank James was with Quantrill when he led a savage attack on the largely defenseless town of Lawrence, Kansas. Angered that the townspeople had allowed Lawrence to be used as a sporadic base for Union soldiers, Quantrill and his guerrillas shot every man and boy they saw. After killing at least 150 male civilians, the raiders set the town on fire.

In May 1865, Quantrill was badly wounded in a skirmish with Union forces, and he died on this day in 1865. Since Quantrill's men were guerillas rather than legitimate soldiers, they were denied the general amnesty given to the Confederate army after the war ended. Some, like Frank and Jesse James, took this as an excuse to become criminals and bank robbers.

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