In Memory Of Sisters
Susan Crawford Vandever,
Armenia Crawford Selvey
and the others who perished
in the collapse of the Union Jail in Kansas City

The civil war before the Civil War

August 1, 1863, after delivering a wagon-load of produce to Kansas City where it was sold, Susan Vandever, her sister Armenia Selvey and Armenia's nine year-old son Jeptha Selvey were quietly returning home by way of Westport to their home near Blue Springs, Missouri, when they were quickly surrounded by Union forces, restrained and returned to Kansas City where they were to be imprisoned - charged with aiding and abetting enemy forces; or, in other words, bringing medicine and other necessaries to Confederate guerrillas. Actually, these three were imprisoned in hope that their confinement would regulate the conduct of their husbands, brothers and others who were Missouri 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 and it is, without doubt, what drove many Missouri 'Jewels' to join up with Quantrell 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..."

A Cry for Revenge
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 Quantrell's rampage through the streets of Lawrence, Kansas just eight days later.

Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas border began long before the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter, that bloodless battle over a man-made island in Charleston Harbor, SC. The trouble began with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed for the opening of these two new territories to settlers.  The issue of whether they would enter the union as a free or slave state was to be left up to the voters of each territory, thus repealing the of  Missouri Compromise which had outlawed slavery in the Kansas Territory. Southern senators voting for it's passage assumed that while Nebraska would enter the Union as a free state, Kansas would be a slave state.  Abolitionists and their emigration societies, especially The New England Emigrant Aide Company, led by Eli Thayer, had other ideas.  These aide societies helped settlers trying to reach Kansas and by the end of 1854, seven hundred persons aided by Thayer's company alone, had departed Boston.  At the same time, many Missourians were becoming increasingly concerned about having a free state on their border. Throughout the 1850's, tension developed among groups holding these political views.  Rumors ran rampant. Missourians insisted that the emigrants vote had already been paid for by Northern Abolitionist for $100 each.  Hundreds of Northern Churches raised money to buy weapons for these emigrants. Especially prized was the Sharp's rifle, which could fire ten rounds per minute. On election day, 30 March 1855, thousands of Missourians, urged on by newspaper articles spewing word that hundreds of the new Sharp's rifles had been sent to Kansas and preparations for war were imminent, were led across the Kansas border by David Atchison to cast their own votes for slavery.  The result was the election of pro slavery candidates and a constitution making slavery legal. Soon, murder and kidnapings of persons known to hold one political view by adherents of the other side became common.  Groups of Kansans formed armed mobs known as Jayhawkers, led by James LaneCharles Jennison and James Montgomery, men that were more politically ambitious than abolitionist, raided into Missouri, stealing, burning homes and hanging or shooting those who resisted. During the autumn of 1861, then Brigadier General James Lane, with the authority granted by Lincoln, assembled his Jayhawkers into the 3rd, 4th and 5th Kansas Regiments. Calling themselves Red Legs, -these pages are the property of William Pennington-a name describing the color of the leather leggings wore by it's members, they were to perpetuate the Jayhawkers terrorist activities. Later that year, in order to place his troops under military discipline, Charles Jennison was commissioned a colonel and Jennison's Jayhawkers officially became the 7th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry Regiment.
    Throughout the war as many sixty-two guerrilla units and twenty-two corps of Partisan Rangers operated throughout Missouri. Primarily area citizens, these Missourians, who were mostly pioneers from Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia, would participate in raids of their own and then return to their normal activities.  Although they generally supported the Southern cause, the Confederate government did not sanction their activities.   Most insurrectionist were driven by the treatment received from Union troops in the area. It was not until December of 1861 when one such raider, William Clarke Quantrell, formed the first organized guerrilla band in Missouri. Once an abolitionist,  but now acting foremost for himself,  he would often befriend runaway slaves and kidnap them back into Missouri, receiving a reward for his efforts.

A Confederate Sisterhood
order for any guerrilla operation to be successful, it must have the support of the local population. Many of the guerrillas had friends and relatives living in the area. Thus, as the situation the the area worsened, orders were needed to counter-act this support. On January 20, 1863, military authorities issued the following order: "All persons who shall knowingly harbor, conceal, aid, or abet, by furnishing food, clothing, information, protection, or any assistance whatever to any such emissary, Confederate officer or soldier, partisan ranger, bushwhacker, robber, or thief, shall be promptly executed."
   Beginning in July of 1863, in an effort to destroy the guerrillas' base of support, Union troops began to arrest Kansas City area women who were suspected of gathering information on the partisans' behalf and to detain them until arrangements could be made to transport them out of Kansas City, where they would be tried.  Shortly afterwards the Kansas City Daily Journal of Commerce printed an editorial supporting the effort to strike at the families of the guerrillas:
"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 known then as the The Longhorn Tavern. General Thomas Ewing, who was commander of the District of the Border, as this area was known and whose 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 its 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 Southern Missouri, he moved 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 Quantrell'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 began its 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. 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, having a brother, Riley Crawford, serving as Quantrell's youngest recruit and Susan's sister, Armenia (Mina Crawford) Selvey, their husbands away with Jo Shelby's Cavalry and who were 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, Nannie Harris McCorkle, whose husband, Jabez, had rode with Quantrell before his death and whose future husband, James Lilley, was also a Quantrell man, a Miss Hall, Alice Fay Ness, whose grand daughter was to become actress Fay Templeton, 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.
   In a newspaper article, dated November 11, 1911, the sister of Nannie Harris, Eliza Harris states: "I was a girl of eleven at the time as I remember that the Union men sent three caskets containing my cousins to Little Blue. With the caskets was the satchel of trinkets and dry goods that my sister and Charity had gone to town to buy.
   The dead were buried in the old Smith Cemetery near Raytown. We didn't have much time for funerals in those days and the three were buried in one grave...A little after the guard house fell, Order No. 11 was issued and our house at Little Blue was burned. We went down near Glascow and my sister Nannie walked thereafter she got away from the Union guard house-almost 100 miles. After the guard house fell, the remaining women were taken to some hotel and kept for a period of time."
   (It is possible that the imprisoned Mrs. Wilson 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.)

"We could stand no more"
news of the collapse reached the families of the dead and injured, they went wild. Crowds gathered around the ruins as the dead and wounded were carried off. Soldiers fixed bayonets as shouts of "Murder!" intensified. Four days later, August 18, 1863, General Ewing issuedGeneral Order #10 which banished guerrilla families from their homes in Western Missouri.  As Quantrillian John McCorkle stated, "We could stand no more".  William Quantrell called for his band of Missouri Partisan Rangers to assemble on the farm of Captain Perdee on Blackwater Creek, Johnson County, Missouri. Revenge was the consensus among his Lieutenants. During the week following the collapse along with the likes of Frank James, Cole, James and Bob Younger and Bill Anderson, Quantrell had planned, organized and reaped their revenge on Lawrence, Kansas, killing more than one hundred and eighty men.
   Most of the guerrillas claimed that the prison had been undermined by Union soldiers in order to kill their relatives, especially the Anderson sisters. The mere fact that the one prisoner  observed soldiers in abundance entering the lower floor grocery where liquor was allowed to be sold is the only detail presented to support it's already thin vale of authenticity and the only circumstance she could muster. William Anderson, whose father had been killed earlier in the war by Jayhawkers, was an ordinary soldier among Quantrell's Rangers, a horse thief who in May of 1862, finding it necessary to escape punishment for various crimes, fled his home at Council Grove, Kansas with his three sisters, eventually leaving them in the care of the Munday sisters. The death of his sister is what had turned him from a blood thirsty murderer, into a homicidal maniac, persistent in hating all men who supported or served the Union. Swearing to avenge her death, he counted his victims by tying a knot in a silk scarf he wore as a necklace, which, at the time of his death, totaled fifty-six. He also enlisted the help of a subordinate named Archie Clements, who would butcher Anderson's prey, braiding the bridle of Anderson's mount with human scalp. Meanwhile, the union continue to claimed that the women were digging a tunnel to escape after learning they were to be transported to Gratiot Prison in St. Louis to be tried as spies and this is what had weakened the building causing it to collapse.

   William Connelley, who wrote the book "Quantrell and the Border Wars," had said:

"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 Quantrell, is one of the most often quoted authors of Quantrell 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, several affidavits 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 oftheir brothers, husbands or relatives, who were supposed to be in sympathy with, or actually engaged in, theConfederate cause... "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 established. 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 Quantrell, 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!"

"It will be adequate"
ge Caleb Bingham, aside from being a successful artist and politician, also bore and insatiable grudge against General Thomas Ewing because of his issuance ofGeneral Order Number 11, 25 August 1863, and the effect it had on the population of western Missouri. He repeatedly urged Ewing to rescind it but was rebuked. Bingham finally got his revenge on Ewing, ruining him with the Democratic party in Ohio where he was running for the United States Senate and later for the governorship of Ohio.  Upon speaking the words, "It will be adequate", Bingham laid aside the brush of his painting, "Order Number 11", in which General Thomas Ewing is a central figure. With it, Bingham depicts the calamity, ruin and the pitiful living conditions of those banished Missourians who had resided within the district which Ewing commanded.

              Author and HistorianAlbert 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 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. J. 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. Being a modern building that had been occupied by the women for only two weeks, and the sentiment towards the guerrillas, their sympathizers and their 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 its occupants.  Was it the spark that ignited Quantrell'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 Quantrell really was.

If you would like to respond to this article or have any questions, contact me at:

Follow the Crawfords
Wander with the Whitsetts
Pennington Pedigrees
Roster of Quantrell's, Anderson's and Todd's Men (A rather large file. Be patient)
Sign My Guest Book
Top of Page
Two cool letters from Quantrellians 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
1850's Five dollar bank note found recently in western Missouri. Could it of been?

These pages were created the original research of William Pennington. Copyright 1998-2009 by William Pennington. The information on these pages are for research. They may not be used in whole or part without written / verbal permission from the owner. No information may be used in whole or part for commercial purposes, or submitted for commercial purposes! Please report any unauthorized use. I spent years compiling this information. Thanks.

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