One of the best known and most feared of all Missouri Confederate guerrillas was William Anderson who, surprisingly, considered himself a Kansan. Born about 1840 in Randolph County, Mo., he spent his teenage years near Council Grove, Kan., where he was drawn into the Border War when his father, a Southern sympathizer, was shot to death by a prominent Unionist, some say for horse-stealing, others say for simply having pro-slavery views. Whatever the reason, Bill Anderson returned to Missouri and, desiring revenge, joined William Quantrill's guerrillas.
Up to a few days prior to the 1863 raid on Lawrence, Kan., Anderson seemed content to follow rather than lead. Then, in an attempt to curb the growing guerrilla problem in Missouri, Union soldiers imprisoned a number of the womenfolk of known bushwhackers in a deteriorated building in Kansas City. The building collapsed on August 14, killing some of these women, including Anderson's sister, Josephine. Another sister was maimed for life. This event, cited by many of the guerrillas as one of the primary reasons for the August 21 raid on Lawrence, intensified Anderson's hatred and turned him into a Federal soldier's nightmare.
Stories about Anderson's rage are legion. It is said he carried a silk cord on which knots were tied for every Yankee he killed. Some report that he cried and even frothed at the mouth during battle. By 1864 his quarrels with Quantrill led him to form a fierce guerrilla band of his own that included 16-year-old Jesse James.
Anderson's greatest fame came as a result of a massacre and battle with Union soldiers in and around the central Missouri town of Centralia. On Sept. 27, 1864, Anderson's men rode into Centralia, robbed many of the town's citizens, and were in the process of robbing a stagecoach from Columbia when they heard a distant train whistle. Racing into town they stopped the train, forced a number of Union soldiers, many of whom were on furlough, out of the cars, and brutally executed all but one of them. They were pursued by Maj. A.V.E. Johnson of the 38th Missouri (Federal) Infantry, but the guerrillas ambushed Johnson's men and killed nearly all of them. Jesse James is credited with firing the shot that killed Johnson.
Anderson once said he had killed so many Federals that he grew sick of killing them. He, himself, was killed in a Union ambush near the present day town of Orrick in the fall of 1864.
Songs such as The Blackfoot Rangers paint a romanticized picture of guerrilla warfare. Cathy's song presents a contrasting picture, sometimes using phrases from Anderson's own writings, that more accurately depict the type of guerrilla war waged on both sides by the last years of the war, when a no quarter policy was embraced by all, when mutilations became commonplace, and when the average Missouri citizen in the countryside lived in terror of marauding bands, be they Union or Confederate.