Happy Veterans Day.
Many trails originating in what is now the Kansas City metro area followed the same path until they reached Gardner, Kansas, where they separated. From Gardner, the Santa Fe Trail headed southwest through much of the state. The Oregon and California Trails moved in a more east-northeasterly direction.
The Oregon Trail had progressed several miles north of the Santa Fe Trail by the time it reached present-day Douglas County. Near Lawrence, just south of the Wakarusa River and 56 miles from the trail’s beginning, is one of the early major landmarks for the Oregon- and California-bound travelers: Blue Mound. Despite the trees and human development, this large hill is still visible for quite a distance; during the 1800s, when the land was still open prairie and the treeline was limited to the Wakarusa riverbank, it would have been visible from many miles away.
After Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence on August 21, 1863, Major. Preston B. Plumb was at Blue Mound with somewhere between 100 and 250 men, but was unsuccessful at stopping Quantrill’s men, who headed south past the mound and scattered for a successful escape. During this week’s Twitter reenactment of Quantrill’s Raid (which you can still read on Twitter!), Jim Lane criticized Plumb for not taking the offense.
Today, roads surrounding the mound, which is still in a highly rural area, are easily accessible. However, be warned: despite appearing on Google Maps and TomTom as a county road, E 1700 Rd to the immediate south of the mound appears to be a long driveway to private property. To learn more about the Oregon and California Trails, click here.
If you’re on Twitter, here’s the one list you should be following during the next 72 hours: QR1863. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence on August 21, a cast of nearly 50 people portraying both Quantrill’s raiders and the citizens of Lawrence have been tweeting the events leading up to the raid. It should be an amazing way to understand and experience the tragedy, anger, fear, and chaos of the raid and the retaliation that followed.
A year ago, we picked up a copy of Ronda Hassig’s The Abduction of Jacob Rote: A Civil War Tragedy, a smart and accessible historical novel written from the perspective of Jacob Rote, a young boy who was kidnapped by Quantrill’s men and forced to lead them into Lawrence (it’s based on a true story). Written for middle schoolers, it’s a quick and easy introduction to the tragic events that would later be known as Quantrill’s Raid and the Lawrence Massacre.
With Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence on our minds, we grabbed a free copy of Historic Cemeteries Tour of Lawrence at the Lawrence Visitor’s Center and started exploring how this tragic event shaped the way Lawrence buried its dead. The guide covers five cemeteries: Davis Cemetery, Pioneer Cemetery, Haskell Children’s Cemetery, Memorial Park Cemetery, and Oak Hill Cemetery. We explored two with strong connections to the Lawrence Massacre: Pioneer Cemetery and Oak Hill Cemetery.
Established in 1854, Pioneer Cemetery is a typical early town settlement cemetery. Originally known as Oread Cemetery, it is the final resting place for some of Lawrence’s earliest settlers and several deaths connected to the battles over slavery.
Several Civil War Soldiers form the 13th Wisconsin Cavalry who died of typhoid fever are buried there, as well.
Originally, most of the 180 men and boys killed during Quantrill’s Raid were buried here (including 70 in a mass grave), but most of the remains were reburied at Oak Hill Cemetery. Four markers of Lawrence Massacre victims are still visible.
Today, the land is reserved for University of Kansas faculty and staff members, whose cremains are marked by highly personalized ground markers. It is a simple yet moving cemetery, and it’s hard not to imagine the trauma the community must have endured burying so many of their men and boys here, only to move them to Oak Hill Cemetery later on.
Oak Hill Cemetery
Established in 1865, Oak Hill Cemetery was created in response to the mayor’s plea for a cemetery that was closer to town (Pioneer Cemetery was out in the country back then and difficult to maintain).
Professionally landscaped as a garden cemetery, Oak Hill also served to memorialize the victims of Quantrill’s Raid. Although some Raid victims are buried individually, most were reinterred in a mass grave behind a large monument commemorating them.
Obelisk monuments are common for cemeteries of this era, and Oak Hill has one of the largest collections of intact obelisks I’ve seen in Kansas.
The cemetery is also home to some famous Kansans. U.S. Senator James H. Lane (1814-1866), architect John H. Haskell (1832-1907), President Abraham’s Secretary of the Interior John P. Usher (1816-1889), and basketball coach Dr. F. C. “Phog” Allen (1885-1974) are all buried here. Emporia Gazette editor William Allen White called Oak Hill Cemetery “the Kansas Arlington.”
This large cemetery is home to numerous artistic monuments, including a receiving vault. The cemetery includes statues, tree stump monuments, family mausoleums, and other personal and amazing expressions of grief and remembrance. A vast cemetery with thousands of burials, you could easily walk through this cemetery every day for a year and not see every single grave.
More about Quantrill’s Raid and the Lawrence Massacre
The city of Lawrence and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area have numerous events planned during the next several weeks to commemorate this important moment in Kansas/Missouri history. Visity 1863 Lawrence and the Freedom’s Frontier websites for more information.
If you live in Kansas, especially if you live in northeast Kansas, find some time to explore the KU Natural History Museum. The museum does a wonderful job of exploring today’s plants and animals as well as the flora and fauna of Kansas’ prehistoric days. It’s also free (with a suggested donation). The museum offers events and programming throughout the year, too.
What fascinates me most are the fossils of the creatures that used to roam and swim in the area that is now Kansas. Gigantic land mammals that dwarf our modern buffalo and cows. Large, sharp-toothed fish that swam the seas in places that are now high plains and chalk beds. Some of the fossils on display at the KU Natural History Museum were found only a few miles away from Lawrence.