A Cry for Revenge
On August 1, 1863,
after driving a wagon load of produce from Grain Valley to Kansas City
where it was sold, and while returning by way of Westport, Susan Vandever,
her sister Armenia Selvey and her nine year old son Jeptha Selvey were
captured by Union Forces and imprisoned for aiding and abetting enemy forces
(bringing medicine and other necessaries to Confederate guerrillas.)
Originally neutralist, the Crawfords and many farm families like them who resided along Missouri's Western border with Kansas, were merely surviving the Civil War day by day, not taking sides-intensely aware that speaking what someone would take as a disloyal word could bring them death and utter ruin to their families. The following account of William Gregg from his manuscript, "A Little Dab of History Without Embellishment", was a common rehearsal for the repeated genocide practiced by Union Forces in this area. Without doubt it is what drove many farm boy to join up with Quantrill and other guerrilla leaders in order to avenge this type of treatment.
"...About the 18th of Feby, 1863 Col. Bill Penick stationed a Independence whose men were part Missourians and part Kansans sent a scout of about seventy five men sixteen miles south of Independence to the houses of Col. Jim Saunders and Uncle Jeptha Crawford, the scout arriving at the house of Saunders first, divided, one half going to Crawford's. Mrs. Saunders and her daughter prepared dinner for the half staying there, the Col. furnished feed for their horses, all went well until dinner was over, ( mind you that the snow was fourteen inches deep with the mercury 10 degrees below zero when Col. Saunders was placed under guard, the house burned, the women not allowed a bonnet or shawl. On leaving Saunders place, they told the wife they were going to take Col. to Independence and make him take the oath. On the arrival of this party at Crawford's practically the same scenes were enacted, except they snatched a lace cap from the head of Mrs. Crawford and they threw it in the flames of the burning building, they also told Mrs. Crawford that the men would not be hurt. On their way to Independence arriving at the house of James Burris, they dismounted Crawford and Saunders and shot them to death.
It was such dastardly acts as the forgoing that caused the raid on Lawrence..."
ough the Civil War was raging throughout the land, August 13, 1863 began in Kansas City as it was typically expected, hot and humid with the essence for survival making the necessity to provide for oneself the usual priority. But by days end an event was to unfold that was to become one of the most fascinating and mysterious events of the Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas border. On that August day, a building being used as a temporary prison to house female prisoners who were relatives of Confederate guerrillas and imprisoned on suspicion of aiding and abetting the Confederate cause, had collapsed into a heap of brick, mortar and bodies. Of those killed, one was my great great grandmother, Susan Crawford Vandever. Thought to be a deliberate act of murder, it sealed the fate of many Union soldiers and sympathizers. Coming at a most opportune time in his career, it was most certainly the spark that beckoned the revenge which set forth Quantrill's rampage through the streets of Lawrence, Kansas just eight days later.
A Confederate Sisterhood
"It is an utter impossibility to rid the country of these pestilent outlaws, so long as their families remain...One of the greatest difficulties the military authorities have to encounter, is the constant information that the families of the bushwhackers give of every movement the troops make...With the aid of these spies, dotted all over the country and living in the perfect security, a hundred bushwhackers may defy the efforts of five hundred solders to exterminate them."
At first the women
were imprisoned in the Union Hotel, located at the southeast corner of
Sixth and Main Streets. But, because it was considered too crowded,
they were then moved to the Mechanics Bank at Delaware and Commercial,
which after becoming infested with rats and vermin of all kinds, was deemed
unfit for human habitation but only after the guards complained of the
stench and torture of these vermin. They eventually moved to a building
in the Metropolitan Block of McGee's
Addition. General Thomas Ewing, who was commander
of the District of the Border, as this area was known and who's headquarters
were at Kansas City, without notification, took possession of this building
proclaiming it a women's prison in late July, 1863.
This was not acknowledged by him until much later when he wrote in a letter:
" This certifies that a certain house in McGee's Addition to Kansas City,
Mo., known as 'No. 13 Metropolitan Block,' was occupied as a prison, by
my order, from some day in the latter part of July, 1863 , until the 13th
day of August last, when it fell."
At the time of it's collapse, this building housing the women prisoners was owned by the estate of Robert Thomas who had died June 12, 1859. Thomas' daughter was married to the Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham. Being an artist and in need of a studio, Bingham, after conferring with a competent architect, had the building remodeled, adding a third floor some twenty feet high to the structure at a cost of $1800.00. After Bingham was selected treasure for the state of Missouri, a position which became vacant after the flight of Governor Claiborne Jackson and his cabinet to the Confederate States, he move with his family to Jefferson City. The building then remained unoccupied for a year and a half until taken over for use as a prison.
Though most of the women were Quantrill's trusted spies, friendships developed over time between the woman and their guard, enough so that the Captain of the guard eventually allowed the personal belonging of many of the women to be retrieved from their homes and delivered to the prison. Pledging their word not to escape, the girls were often allowed to shop at various stores while their guard remained out of earshot of their conversations. Without a doubt, the women were respected and treated kindly.
Signs that the building was in peril of falling appeared before the collapse. A store merchant on the first floor began removing his goods after noticing cracks appearing in the ceiling and walls. Earlier that day, Lieutenant John M. Singer of Company H, Ninth Kansas, Captain of the Provost Guard, upon receiving a request from Frank Parker, Company C, 11th Kansas, Captain of the Guard at the prison, stating that he was becoming increasingly uneasy about it's safety, hastily preceded to the prison and upon arrival, immediately noticed the cracked walls and ceilings, with mortar dust having painted the floor white. Reporting to General Ewing, he immediately expressed his concern about the condition of the building. Ewing sent Major Harrison Hannah, adjutant general on Ewing's staff, to investigate Singer's findings. Upon his return, Hannah reported that he believed the building was safe. Later that day, as the women were served their dinner, Parker requested that Thomas Barber, a soldier in his company, to again inspect the building. Enlisting the help of Barber, together they began their query. By the time they had reached the third floor the walls commenced there tardent separation from the ceiling; incipiently, the entire building it began it's fall. Scarcely escaping injury themselves, the most that they could do was warn the the women of the havoc which was about to take place.
As the building began to fall, all the prisoners, which estimates place at about seventeen women, one boy and a guard, were on the second and third floors. Charity Kerr, who was sick and in bed, was attended by Mollie Grindstaff and several other girls who sat on the floor watching. Just then, the ceiling began to crack sending debris upon the women and sensing immanent danger, most either ran to a back balcony or climbed out windows in their attempt to escape. Crowds gathered around the ruins as the dead and wounded were carried off. Soldiers fixed bayonets as shouts of "Murder!" intensified. Among the killed and injured in the collapse were women who were close relatives of prominent Confederate guerrillas. At age fourteen, sixteen and ten, sisters Josephine, Mollie and Janie Anderson were the sisters of Bill Anderson, who soon was to earn the nickname "Bloody Bill" while avenging Josephine's death. Arrested along with the Anderson girls were the orphaned sisters Susan Munday, Mattie (Martha) Munday and Mrs. Lou Munday Gray, their brother serving in Price's army and Mrs. Gray's husband probably a guerrilla . Also imprisoned were sisters Susan (Crawford) Vandever and Armenia (Crawford) Selvey, having a brother, Riley Crawford, serving as Quantrill's youngest recruit and also cousins of Cole Younger, Armenia's ten year old son Jeptha, Charity McCorkle Kerr, wife of Quantrillian Nathan Kerr and sister of guerrilla John McCorkle, Alice Fay Ness, Nannie Harris McCorkle, whose husband, Jabez, had rode with Quantrill, a Miss Hall, Josie, Caroline and Sally Younger, sisters of guerrillas Coleman and James Younger, a Mrs. Wilson, and Mollie Grindstaff, she being with the Mundays at the time of their arrest. Four of the women, Susan Vandever, Armenia Selvey, Josephine Anderson and Charity McCorkle Kerr were killed immediately, one fatally injured, Mrs. Wilson, the others injured, both physically and emotionally, their scars a reminder of the evil known as James Lane, the 'Grim Chieftain'. Ultimately, the trauma of the collapse would soon claim another life, that of Caroline Younger, who would die in 1865. It is possible that the Mrs. Wilson mentioned above was serving as a Union spy, planted by General Ewing to gather information on the guerrillas and their supporters. This is possibly the same Mrs. Wilson that informed Lt. Col. J. T. Buel that an attack on Independence was imminent, having seen Colonel Upton Hayes and his men marching past her farm.
"Sometime in the summer or fall of 1863 it was decided to send them to
St. Louis where better accommodations
could be found for them. In some way they discovered that they were to be sent away from Kansas City and
they determined to escape if possible. They dug under the foundation wall of the part of the building occupied
by them, and in one more night they would have dug their way out and have been free. But a windstorm came up
and the building collapsed, killing a number of women and wounding others."
William Connelley, a man who despised Quantrill, is one of the most often quoted authors of Quantrill and the guerrilla wars-yet some conflicts of facts appear. First, the women were imprisoned on the second and third floors of this building bringing into question their access to the first floor or basement. Secondly, being bordered on both sides by other buildings a windstorm, which would be a rare site in Missouri in August, would have little effect on that building alone and, later in his statement, he says the building ancient, and was only two-story in height. In fact, this building was a three story structure and built in 1857, making it only six years old. Shortly after the collapse, severalaffidavits were taken from various persons, all stating that the building was in excellent condition before the building was occupied by United States Military Authorities as a Military Prison for females . George Caleb Bingham, owner of the building, filed a claim against the government demanding $5000 for damages that he insisted were caused by the intentional undermining of the building by troops intent on murdering the women. In an article written by Mr. Bingham and published in the Washington Sentinel, March 9, 1878, he states:
"These females were arrested and confined under the pretext of holding
them as hostages for the good behavior of
their brothers, husbands or relatives, who were supposed to be in sympathy with, or actually engaged in, the
"Explaining as we proceed, we will state that in the lower story of the building in which they were incarcerated,
and also in the lower story of the adjoining building, occupied by soldiers who guarded them, large girders, supported
by wooden pillars, extended from the front to the extreme rear of each. From these girders, joists firmly held together
by flooring securely nailed thereon, extended into and met each other in the dividing wall which formed a part of each
building. It will thus be readily be seen that the removal of the wooden pillars which supported the girders in either
building would force it to yield to the great pressure from above the cause the joists resting thereon, and firmly held
together by flooring, to operate as a lever the entire length of this dividing wall, with a force sufficient to cut it in two.
and thus effect the certain destruction of both buildings. The soldiers on guard had greatly weakened this wall by
cutting large holes through the cellar portion thereof, but as it still stood firm, they found it necessary to the most
certain method of accomplishment in the diabolical work required. Not having access to the pillars which supported
the girder in the building in which the helpless females were confined, they removed those supporting the girder in the
building occupied by themselves. As soon as this was done, as was clearly foreseen, the girder began and continued
to yield, until, losing its support at each end, it suddenly gave way, and by leverage of the joists resting upon it, cut the
dividing line in two, forcing the lower portion into the cellar of the prison and causing the super-structure thereof to fall
over with a force of a mountain avalanche upon the ruins of the adjoining buildings thus producing a scene of horror
in the death groans and shrieks of mangled women, which fiends could only contemplate without a shudder. In vain,
had they, upon the first discovery of the danger, begged in piteous accents to be released. Their earnest apparels
were to hearts as callous as that of the general by whose authority they were confined. While their prison walls were
trembling, its doors remained closed, and they were allowed no hope for release except through portals of a horrible
death into that eternity where, in the great day which is to right all wrongs, they will stand as witnesses against the
human monster, who to promote his selfish aspirations, could cruelly plan, with satanic coolness, the desolation of a
large district of country and the utter ruin of its defenseless inhabitants. That the death of these poor women crushed
beneath the ruins of their prison was a deliberately planned murder, all the facts connected therewith sufficiently
"The fact that no inquiry was instituted by General Ewing in relation to the matter and that no soldier was arrested,
tried or punished for a crime which shocks every sentiment of humanity renders it impossible for him to escape
responsibility therefrom, in death of hundreds of Union soldiers and citizens of Missouri, as well as the brutal massacre
which immediately followed in the state of Kansas. It is well known that when the notorious Quantrill, at the head of his
band of desperadoes, entered the city of Lawrence, dealing death to the affrighted inhabitants, the appeal of his victims
for quarter were answered by the fearful cries of 'Remember the murdered women of Kansas City!"
Author and Historian Albert Castel Wrote...
"Order Number 11 was the most drastic and repressive military measures directed against civilians by by the Union Army during the Civil War. In fact...it stands as the harshest treatment ever imposed on United States citizens under the plea of military necessity in our Nations History."
Eventually, both General Ewing and James Henry Lane would meet a fitting fate. Ewing would be run over by a streetcar on January 21,1906 after leaving his New York law office. James H. Lane justifiably committed the utmost act of humiliation. In August of 1866, he placed a pistol in his month and scattered his brains to the winds. Neither of them ever uttering even a syllable of remorseful tribute to the inhumane acts that followed them to their graves.
So, what really caused the collapse of the building? It is a fallacy to believe that this building would collapse on its own. Having been occupied by the women for only two weeks and the sentiment towards the guerrillas and it's sisterhood of spies can lead to only one conclusion, that, with Senator James Lane, again, threatening his political career, General Ewing ordered that this building be purposely undermined by Union soldiers with the intent of killing it's occupants. Was it the spark that ignited Quantrill's cry for revenge that led to the raid on Lawrence only a few days later? You will have to draw your own conclusions to these questions and to what kind of man Quantrill really was.
Wander with the Whitsetts
Roster of Quantrill's, Anderson's and Todd's Men (A rather large file. Be patient)
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Two cool letters from Quantrillians George Scholl to Fletch Taylor (with translation)
A Letter from George Washington to Valentine Crawford (Jeptha's great-grandfather)
Contract between Valentine Crawford and George Washington
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