The Fiction In His Letters

When researching my recent story, Diehms Trace History to Bleeding Kansas,” about two German immigrant brothers and the log cabins they both built near Middle Creek south of Beagle in May 1857, I kept getting off track.

I continually googled sites about Bleeding Kansas and reading about the border warfare in Kansas and Missouri. This helped satisfy my curiosity about the time and place in which Friedrich and Jacob Diehm chose to homestead in May 1857.

Former cabin owner, George Diehm, described the construction as “all labor intensive.” He didn’t know how they did it, unless they used oxen to drag the logs.

I checked into John Brown’s whereabouts. Not in Kansas. Read about the various battles, skirmishes and border actions. Most had already taken place in 1856.

With just about every hit from the search button, the name William Clark Quantrill surfaced. I knew Quantrill had been a Kansas school teacher and about his blood-thirsty side – killing 150 men and boys in the raid on Lawrence in 1863 – but what about his life in Miami County?

Quantrill, age 20 and known as Bill, arrived in March 1857 to file a claim outside Stanton, which lies about 15 miles to the north and west of Beagle.

A treasure trove of insight and information popped up when I opened the Google eBook posting Quantrill and the Border Wars by William Elsey Connelley (1910).

Unlike the stout and hardworking Diehm brothers, Quantrill’s arrival proved more an arrangement at Bill’s mother’s request. Both Harmon V. Beeson and Colonel Henry Torrey already had families but had fallen on difficult times and were looking for a new start in Kansas.

Giving in to Quantrill’s mother, the men agreed to take Bill along. Connelley writes in his book, “Mrs. Quantrill was anxious to have him go, hoping that he might secure a farm upon which could be made a home for herself and children… .”

A plan materialized, and Quantrill would work for the two men. But Connelley wrote, “…it was decided to take him to Kansas and try to induce him to abandon his roving, idle habits and settle himself to some steady occupation.”

Several sources suggested Quantrill left Ohio ahead of the law. Had Quantrill stolen a horse while still a school teacher in Dover?

Beeson and Torrey bought their claims – a half mile south and half mile west of the small village of Stanton – just across the line in Franklin County and even assigned one in Quantrill’s name in the northeast quarter of Section 21, Township 17, Range 21.

A small cabin stood on Torrey’s claim near Stanton. In a letter dated May 16, 1857, possibly about the time the Diehms were felling trees to start one of their two cabins, Quantrill described the cabin to his mother: “Our house is built of round logs with a fire place made partly of stone; a floor made of puncheon – that is split boards about 3 inches thick.

“Our furniture consists of 2 stools made out of puncheon, 3 trunks & a table made when we wish to use it by putting a board (which we found in the river) across the 2 trunks. Our walls are decorated with guns, boots, side meat, skillets, surveying chain &c.”

Known actions run counter to letters home to mother. In the same letter, he wrote, “I have just finished a hard job of rolling logs at a clearing around our cabin, which we are going to put in potatoes.”

Yet, Connelley, through his research and stories by Beeson and Torrey said, “Although Quantrill was paid to work he was a very unsatisfactory hand. He prowled through the timber of the river bottoms with a gun most of the time, and every day he visited the claim he was holding for Torrey.”

Quantrill also had taken to running with a man named Benning, described as shiftless, a proslavery man, and who gave Quantrill, “…the first bent…in favor of the border-ruffians.”

Nothing much was found about his teaching, even though one chapter, titled “Quantrill As A Kansas Teacher,” was full of letters written in his school house and sent home to his mother. But what he wrote – the fiction in his letters – was far from the life Quantrill lived.

Connelley wrote, “…she was to see that he was a poor, meek boy struggling to get board and clothing,” when in fact, “He was…a thief from the first in Kansas…a reckless gambler.”


Short URL: http://osawatominews.com/?p=1420

Posted by admin on Aug 25 2011. Filed under Kevin Gray, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Leave a Reply