I once asked a Platte County woman of African American descent what things were like for her during the Civil Rights Movement. I was referring to the 1950s and the 1960s when seismic changes were occurring in law, communities and social outlook. She is several years older than me. I was curious.
Her eyes told me that this was a painful subject, one not easily revisited. The answer she gave me spoke of then and now.
“Why can’t we all just get along?” she said.
Her question seems so simplistic. Yet it’s wise. I wonder if they will be asking it 50 years from now? They were a century and one-half ago.
William Quantrill led southern guerillas in a pillage with murder and fire of Lawrence, Kan., Aug. 21, 1863. Of course, Union troops or vigilantes before then had dealt many Missouri farms and a few towns the same, including Platte City. But Quantrill’s raid led to a question. Would fiery retribution strike Platte County again?
Many residents fled the conflict on the border for other cities. Most able-bodied young men were off fighting for one side or another or outlawing in the bush. The elderly, indigent or stubborn left behind watched the roads and prayed for peace. Contingents from the County wooed leaders and Union commanders at Fort Leavenworth in hopes that retribution would not arrive in the form of bullets and torches.
“The indignation in Kansas over the Quantrill raid is intense, and we are charged as accessory over crimes committed,” historian W.M. Paxton wrote in his history Annals of Platte County. “The Red-legs dogs of murder are turned loose. The border is infested with prowling thieves and assassins. The alarm in Platte is universal. We inquire every morning into the outrages committed the previous night. On one occasion a large force was organized at Leavenworth to come over and burn Platte City, but the military authorities at Fort Leavenworth interfered. It had been reported that Platte City endorsed Quantrill.”
At least one history account lists the County’s feared southern-leaning bushwhacker Si Gordon as riding with Quantrill. Gen. Thomas Ewing’s Order No. 11 four days after the Lawrence sacking prompted forced evacuations from Jackson, Cass, Bates and Vernon counties along the border south of the Missouri River. What wasn’t burned in the towns and farms in those counties was stolen. This news must have passed among Platte Countians along the northern Kansas border with great trepidation.
The Union sympathies oft expressed in Weston and Parkville may have saved the County even more pain. However, if you just wanted to farm or tend a trade and love your family 150 years ago this month, you weren’t sure what was coming next. Many likely longed for everyone to get along in peace.