Fannin County Museum of History


One Main Street, Bonham, Texas

Folk Hero and Murderer - William C. Quantrill

Bonham Daily Favorite, August 16, 1992

Folk hero, Murdered. Rebel with a cause.  Psychopath.  Guerilla.  Choose a label.  At one time or another all of these descriptions have been used to describe a man who was probably the biggest enigma of the American War - William C. Quantrill.  Not only did he leave his mark in Missouri and Kansas where some of his more outregous exploits took place, but he also left a legacy of death and robbery along the Red River Valley, most notably in Bonham and Sherman.

For at least four years Quantrill and his men took up winter residence in north Texas far removed from the scene of battle.  As soon as spring had returned to the midwest he once again led his raiders into skirmishes with Union forces and hapless citizens alike. From these forays the reputations of men were forged into legend and fact as told and retold by those who supported the Southern Cause. Probably no group is as widely remembered as the men of Quantrill's band, the Younger brothers, Kit Dalton, The James brothers, and Bloody Bill Anderson,

The winter of 1863 - 1864 saw the beginning degeneration of the guerrillas for a number of reasons. In the summer of 1863 Quantrill ordered an attack on the small town of Lawrence, Kansas. In the bloody aftermath of that raid nearly 200 citizens were killed and the town almost destroyed. Many members of the band, in later years, admitted that his one episode in the history of the group was so sickening and repugnent 
that any effectiveness the group might have had in carrying forward the Southern effort was lost.

There had been a growing movement among Confederate authorities to withdraw support for Quantrill's group and some even suggesting that Quantrill should be arrested and tried for his activities. In all probability Quantrill was aware of the sentiments against him and during the autumn of 1836 he and his men began to work their way sooth to the winter quarters and out from under the eye of the Confederate officials in Missouri and Arkansas.

By late November they had reached Red River and crossed into Texas at Colbert's Ferry north of Sherman. After spending several days in that city he established his winter camp on Mineral Creek about 15 miles southwest of town. It was at this camp that unrest began in spread among the men.

Within weeks of encampment a number of citizens of the Red River valley were robbed  and murdered. Suspicion immediately fell on Quantrill's group became of their reputations. In all likelihood some of the crimes could probably be attributed to the Confederate deserters and renegades who were roaming the area.

One murder, however, was the catalyst that percipated Quantrill's arrest by General Henry McCulloch, Commander of the Northern SubDivision of the Confederate Army In Texas. Major George Butts, husband of Sophi Coffee Butts, famed hostess of Glen Eden Plantation, had taken cotton from the plantation to Sherman.  Reportedly, on the road he encountered some of Quantrill's men.  (These men had some weeks earlier been involved in a drunken episode involving Sophie at her son-in-law's hotel in Sherman.)  Butts was murdered and robbed of his money and pocket-watch.

The Quantrill gang was immediately suspected of the crime and there were demands to General McCulloch for the arrest of Quantrill.  Two differing stories given years later concern the events leading up to the arrest.

One story recounts a meeting between McCulloch and Quantrill some weeks before the murder.  Under orders from General Kirby-Smith, McCulloch summoned Quantrill to this headquarters in Bonham and ordered him to venture into Jernigan's Thicket along Fannin County's southern border and arrest suspected Union guerrillas reported to be hiding in the area.  Quantrill firmly believed that there were no Union men in the area and that McCulloch's order was merely a ploy for him to bring in suspected Confederate deserters.  His refusal was the grounds for McCulloch's later summons and the arrest of Quantrill.

The second version deals with the continued disintegration of Quantrill's band which had been growing since the Lawrence episode. Bill Anderson had information proving that Quantrill had ordered many of the depredations against area citizens including George Butt's merder.  Quantrill and Andrews had quarreled ever since Anderson's marriage to a Miss Bach Smith of Sherman. This, plus general dissatisfection over Quautrill's leadership caused Anderson to go to Bonham and personally present to McCulloch the evidence he needed for Quantrill's arrest.

For whatever reason, McCulloch did order Quantrill's arrest and confinement soon after Quantrill had responded to his summons.  At the in the Fannin County courthouse rather than at the camp in west Bonham.  Under the general's orders Quantrill was divested of his weapons and confined to a room in the builing.  Oddly, his weapons were placed across the bed that was in the room.  Soon after McCulloch went to his supper leaving two guards posted in the room and two below at an exit. (Some accounts state that only one guard was posted.)

Quantrill on pretext of getting a drink water managed to gain possession of his weapons and ordered the guards to lay down their weapons, then stepped out the door locking it behind him.  If there were two additional guards at the exit he likewise surprise them in a similar manner.

Signaling to his men who were across the street talking to with Bonham citizens, Quantrill shouted that they were all to be prisoners.  Local legend says that as the band left the scene they circled the courthouse several times and shot holes in the weathervane atop the building.

Heading in a northwest direction toward Colbert's Ferry the band took steps to elude whatever men McCulloch would send after them.  In fact the general ordered a Colonel Martin in pursuit.

Quantrill's band left the Bonham to Fort Warren road and took to the timbered region to escape detection.  They finally reached the ferry and crossed over into Indian Territory where his pursuers had no jurisdiction.

Quantrill returned to the area at least one more time in May of 1864.  He believed that all charges against him had been dropped.  During his short stay there were no more attempts to arrest him.  However, while he was here his guerrilla band disintegrated completely.  In December he moved to the east with the intention of aiding in an attack on Washington D.C.  Faced with the impossibility of this, he turned his newly gathered band to raids in Kentucky.  In June of 1865 during one of these raids he was shot through the spine.  He lingered for several days, dying on June 6, at the military prison in Louisville.

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