By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
LAMAR, Mo. —
On Nov. 5, 1862, a still unknown teacher on his way to becoming “the bloodiest man in American history,” according to one historian, arrived at the outskirts of Lamar. The community was the site of a small Union outpost during the Civil War.
William Quantrill’s men entered the town from the north, while another force of Southern partisans and rangers led by Col. Warner Lewis entered from the south. Combined, they numbered about 300 men.
They rode the streets to the Barton County Courthouse, where they encountered Union soldiers — members of Capt. Martin Breeden’s company serving in the 8th Missouri Cavalry — who had learned of the attack and lay in wait for the raiders.
The firefight that followed lasted 90 minutes, with Quantrill’s men eventually driven out of town. But before they left, they had set a third of the town’s houses on fire, damaged the courthouse with artillery, and left behind six men dead and 20 wounded, according to historical accounts.
The unsuccessful raid was chronicled by John McCorkle, a young Missouri farmer with Southern sympathies, in “Three Years with Quantrill: A True Story by His Scout,” published in 1914.
While that raid would be overshadowed by Quantrill’s more notorious attacks — in August 1863 at Lawrence, Kan., and in October 1863 at Baxter Springs, Kan. — it has caught the attention of Lamar residents and area history buffs who see the 150th anniversary as a perfect time to relive it.
The Civil War will be brought to life on Oct. 13-14 as part of Lamar’s first Wyatt Earp Days. The famous lawman, who lived from 1848 to 1929, landed his first job in police work in Lamar. His wife is buried in the town.
“We have worked on it for almost a year,” said Mary Miller, a Lamar resident who is helping to coordinate several activities that weekend. “We are hoping for thousands.”
Her brother, Randall Miller, of Jasper, and a friend, George Parsons, of the nearby community of Nashville, are both Civil War enthusiasts and members of the Missouri Civil War Reenactors’ Association. They are helping to organize the parts of the event.
Three artillery crews — from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Joplin — have registered, as have hundreds of re-enactors. On Saturday and Sunday of the festival, numerous events will play out on a 60-acre field west of town, as well as on and around the courthouse square.
“We’ve packed the whole weekend as much as we can pack it,” said Betty Kuhn, another organizer. “We’ve tried to involve as many groups and interests as we could.”
On Saturday, Oct. 13, re-enactors will be set up at an encampment on land west of the Wal-Mart Supercenter and Dairy Queen near U.S. highways 71 and 160. At 1 p.m., a battle re-enactment will be sponsored by the 2nd Missouri Cavalry. It is sanctioned by the state association.
A Civil War ball featuring live period music and period attire will be held at 8 p.m. Saturday. The winner of the Wyatt Earp look-alike contest also will be announced.
On Sunday, Oct. 14, there will be a church service at the site at 10 a.m. followed by another battle re-enactment at 1 p.m.
Numerous events also are slated around the courthouse square. On Saturday, craftsmen in period costume will demonstrate leather working, soap making, blacksmithing, Dutch oven cooking, spinning and weaving, and more.
Champion marksman Lee Shaver will demonstrate muzzle loading, and period children’s games will be available.
At 2 p.m., the historic Plaza Theater will offer a free showing of “Wyatt Earp,” a 1994 movie starring Kevin Costner.
At 5:30 p.m., a re-enactment of Quantrill’s raid on the courthouse will begin, with an attack from the east.
In case of bad weather, activities will be moved to Memorial Hall on the southeast corner of the square.
One more try
ACCORDING TO HISTORICAL RECORDS, on May 20, 1864, William Quantrill and his men once again passed through Lamar and decided to try to exact some revenge for the failed attack in 1962. A rumor had circulated that they planned to attack Neosho, so most of the Union soldiers had been stationed there. Only a contingent of about 40 men from the 7th Missouri Provisional Cavalry remained at Lamar.
AT DAWN, Quantrill arrived and the Union troops scattered. Some fled to Fort Scott, Kan., while others hid along Muddy Creek. Only nine reached their rifles and ammunition, stacked in the center of the square behind the walls of the courthouse, but they were able to hold off the attackers. After three failed assaults, Quantrill’s men gave up and rode on.