Rekindling history

Historians, re-enactors commemorate city's ties to Civil War

Lawrence High School history and political science teacher Paul Stuewe said Civil War on the Western Frontier is not a celebration of Lawrence's ties to the war between the North and the South.

Rather it is a time to commemorate the pain and strength that was borne out of one of the most atrocious acts of the Civil War � William Quantrill's raid on Lawrence on Aug. 21, 1863, which killed nearly 200 people and did $1.5 million in damages.

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Richard Gwin /Journal World

Paul Stuewe, Lawrence High School history and political science teacher, will provide narration for the horse-drawn trolley tours.

"It's not a celebration of what happened here, but (bringing out) the history people should know about," Stuewe said. "The positive thing (out of Quantrill's raid) is how quickly Lawrence was rebuilt, how the people stayed and how the widows rebuilt their lives."

Civil War on the Western Frontier begins Aug. 11 with the building of mud forts and ends Aug. 25 with tours and a screening of Ang Lee's movie "Ride With the Devil."

Remembering the raid

For the past four or five years, Stuewe and Rob Phillips, owner of the Eldridge Hotel, have offered horse-drawn trolley tours of sites related to Quantrill's raid. Stuewe provides the narration while Phillips supplies the horses and trolley.

In previous years, four tours were offered, and each sold out quickly. This year, the number was been boosted to eight. (See list of events for times and dates). Each trolley can seat from 26 to 29 people.

The 1 1/2-hour tour begins fittingly at the Eldridge Hotel.

"It's the most historic site in the state of Kansas because since 1854 there has always been a hotel here," Steuwe said.

The hotel was burned in 1856 by Sheriff Sam Jones and in 1863 by Quantrill. The third hotel was razed in the mid-1920s to build the present-day Eldridge Hotel.

More information on Civil War on the Western Frontier can be found at civilwardays.ljworld.com, www.dchsks.org/about/news.htm and www.visitlawrence.com.

From the hotel, the trolley will travel down New Hampshire Street, where Stuewe will talk about events that happened in East Lawrence during the raid. The trolley then will proceed west on Ninth Street to Kentucky Street, while he talks about downtown Lawrence during the 1860s. The trolley will go to Old West Lawrence, where Stuewe will give accounts of violent acts carried out during the raid and point out a house that survived the ransacking.

Stuewe said the violence that rained down on Lawrence perhaps is more easily understood since the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

"An act of terrorism was something we just didn't understand. Internal violence was something in the 20th century we hadn't paid much attention to," he said. "But what is different than Oklahoma City and the attacks on 9-11, in those two cases there was a massive loss of lives that came over a short period of time. On Aug. 21, 1863, the raiders were in town for four hours, going door to door and killing people at random. In a town of 2,500, there were 300 to 400 raiders. The victims were not armed and were systematically murdered in front of their wives and kids."

A popular site

Similar to the trolley tours, many of the other Civil War on the Western Frontier events will be sold out or have capacity crowds, said Susan Henderson, marketing manager at the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau.

While she didn't know attendance totals, Henderson said, "I can tell you it's thousands over the course of the events."

One event that will have plenty of room for visitors is the picnic Aug. 17 at Blue Jacket Crossing near Eudora.

Blue Jacket Crossing is one of the possible routes that Quantrill and his raiders used to cross the Wakarusa River on their way to Lawrence, said Mary Gage, who owns the property encompassing the crossing. The crossing is among a grove of trees and was a popular stop for settlers heading west.

"It is also a proven crossing for the Oregon and California trails," she said. "There are swales of wagon trains still there."

Picnickers bring their own food and beverages, and Gage will give a short talk about the history of the crossing. The event starts at 4 p.m.

"Last year we had about 25 people," she said.

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