KATE'S SONG

by Cathy Barton

(Words and music by Cathy Barton 1993)
Time—4:20
Cathy Barton—guitar and vocal; Dave Para—guitar; Judy Domeny—vocal; Dave Wilson—fiddle; Lou Whitney—bass

Kate KingSo much has been written about the controversial guerrilla chief William Clarke Quantrill and his bushwhacking activities along the Kansas and Missouri border during the Civil War, it is surprising how little has been written about his young Jackson County wife, Kate King, who took Quantrill's middle name and called herself Kate Clarke during and after the war. What information exists about this intriguing character is often contradictory, and much of it is of dubious value.
Some sources tell us she was kidnapped by Quantrill and coerced into being his mistress; she herself told newspaper reporters in her later years that she fell in love at first sight with Quantrill when she was not quite thirteen years old. Because of Kate's age, her parents strongly disapproved of their romance and tried to put an end to it, but Kate persisted in seeing him in secret. An experienced horsewoman, she frequently rode through the Jackson County countryside with her lover.
When she was thirteen the two eloped and were supposedly married in a church not far from her parents' Blue Springs farm.
There are accounts of how Kate rode right along with the guerrillas after her marriage, some even saying she dressed in men's clothing. She may, indeed, have ridden with the men as they changed camps, but she almost certainly did not fight alongside the guerrillas or dress like a man. Women were generally not harmed by the soldiers of either side during the war, so Kate would have been far safer dressed like a woman.
Some commentators insist Kate became a madam of a famous bawdy house in St. Louis after Quantrill was killed in Kentucky in April 1865, using money and jewels that Quantrill left to her. But others say she ran a small boarding house, not a bawdy house, in St. Louis, and later returned to the Kansas City area where she was twice re-married before her death at the age of 82 in 1930 at the Jackson County Home for the Aged.
In her later years Kate insisted she never truly loved any man but Quantrill. She remembered him to be handsome, polite and debonair, and inclined to “josh” her. This description provides an interesting contrast to the usual descriptions one reads of William Quantrill as evil personified.
In writing this song, Cathy Barton has formed her own conclusions about Kate based on information gleaned from Donald Hale's We Rode With Quantrill and materials gathered by Bob Dyer. Whatever facts one chooses to accept about Kate, she is a fascinating character deserving far more attention than she has yet received. Much information exists about the guerrillas, almost all of it from a male point of view; a study of Kate King would provide a valuable woman's perspective.


Oh yes, I well recall the time, all in my thirteenth year,
When he first rode up unto our farm to bend my papa's ear.
And although I cannot now recall many words the stranger said,
It was clear his thoughts weren't long on pa, they were on pa's girl instead.

His blue eyes made you think of ice and a chilling winter's day;
And they followed me so closely, watching every move I made.
My papa told me eyes were like a window to the soul;
But not so with this handsome man who kept the shutters closed.

And don't you think I know full well how scarlet are those hands,
Those hands that hold me close at night, and gun down scores of men?
And those blue eyes that are watching me in the flickering candlelight,
Are the eyes that gaze right down at death and rob men's sleep at night.

But this man they call a devil is my husband and my friend,
And I would lie by Will Quantrill though he kill a thousand men.

Well, he came to see me more and more and together we would ride,
Across the hills, through tangled woods and the endless countryside.
Sometimes we'd race till all I knew were pounding hooves and wind,
And it made him smile to see me ride my horse just like a man.

So the home we made together was wherever we could ride,
And bed was floors and hard, cold ground wherever we could hide.
And I came to know my lover was a leader amongst men.
His command was large and growing, and they all looked up to him.

And sometimes when I lay with him I'd look into his face,
And he'd look so calm and peaceful there with all the hate erased.
He wasn't hearing dying groans or hearing women cry.
He wasn't seeing bloody ground or the flames that licked the sky.
He'd sleep in peace and it was me who'd wonder how and why.

Well, he's gone off to Kentucky now and left me here alone,
But he said, “Don't worry, Kate, you know I'll soon be coming home.”
And it seems like only yesterday I heard Will Quantrill cry,
As he sang out, “Katie, “ dear Katie, will you be my own dear bride?”
He sang out, “Katie, Oh dear Katie, will you ride by Quantrill's side?”

© Big Canoe Records, 1993