Dave Para—guitar and vocal; Cathy Barton—banjo and vocal; Bob Dyer—guitar and vocal; Dave Wilson—fiddle; Lloyd Hicks—drums; Lou Whitney—bass; and the “Bushwhacker Chorus” (Michael Cochran, Judy Domeny, Dave Bowen, Howard Marshall, and Lisa Redfern)

On August 21, 1863, guerrilla chief William Quantrill and 450 Missouri bushwhackers invaded Lawrence, Kansas; after a four hour rampage much of the city was in ashes and 150 men lay dead. Because the thriving Kansas town was a center for abolitionist and Jayhawking activity as well as a Union recruiting center, it was an obvious choice to strike. Many pro-southern Missourians considered the raid long overdue retaliation for repeated Jayhawking expeditions into western Missouri in the years before the Civil War, and for various outrages committed by the Federal Army in Missouri after the war began. The raid was also prompted by the collapse of a crumbling Kansas City warehouse that killed and maimed the wives and kin of several of the guerrillas being held there temporarily as prisoners.

The raid gave Quantrill a blood-stained reputation throughout the country that still persists in most accounts of him. Largely because of the Lawrence raid, writers such as William Connelley in the early years of this century labeled Quantrill a “depraved degenerate” and one of the most ruthless killers of the entire Civil War. In more recent years this assessment has been seriously questioned by writers such as Tom Goodrich in his thoroughly researched and well-written book, Bloody Dawn, but the fact remains that the raid was a horrific event, and a sanguinary culmination of the hatred that had been building up along the Missouri and Kansas border ever since the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Our version of “Quantrill” is from the singing of the late Joan O'Bryant of Wichita, Kansas, who learned it from Bill Koch, a folklorist and professor of English at Kansas State College in Manhattan, Kansas. It is interesting that this obviously pro-Quantrill song seems to be known in Kansas, but is not to be found in any of the major Missouri folksong collections. In Malcolm Laws' Native American Balladry “Quantrill” is listed as an American ballad of "doubtful currency in tradition,” but it evidently circulated at least as far as Texas. Charles Finger in his Frontier Ballads mentions hearing the ballad sung near Devil's River, Texas, in the 1920's. The song can also be found in John and Alan Lomax's Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads. In this song, as in “Guerrilla Man,” there is an obvious attempt to romanticize events and people; Quantrill is a Civil War Robin Hood, as brave and daring as he is wild, ruthless and bloody, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, in much the same way that Jesse James is often depicted.

The third verse makes reference to Kansas Senator James Lane, a powerful orator who led numerous Jayhawking expeditions into Missouri. The “Grim Chieftain” was particularly hated by pro-southern Missourians, and Quantrill hoped to capture him during the raid so he could bring him back to Missouri and “burn him at the stake.” Lane escaped, not by hiding in a corncrib as the song says, but by crawling from a back window in his house and running through a cornfield still wearing his nightshirt.

Come all you bold robbers and open your ears,
Of Quantrill the lion-heart you quickly shall hear;
With his band of bold robbers in double quick time,
They came to burn Lawrence just over the line.
All routing and shouting and giving the yell,
Like so many demons just raised up from hell,
The boys they were drunken on powder and wine,
They came to burn Lawrence just over the line.

They came to burn Lawrence, they came not to stay,
They rode in one morning at the break of the day,
Their arms were a-waving, their horses a-foam,
Quantrill was riding his famous grey roan.

They came to burn Lawrence, they came not to stay,
Jim Lane he was up at the break of the day;
He saw them a-coming, and got in a fright,
He crawled in a corn-crib to get out of sight.

Oh, Quantrill's a fighter, a bold hearted boy,
A brave man or woman he'd never annoy;
He'd take from the wealthy and give to the poor,
For brave men there's never a bolt on his door.

© Big Canoe Records, 1993