Personal Experiences of Samuel A Riggs
August 21st, 1863 I was living on the west side of Rhode Island Street, about the middle of the block between Warren and Berkley Streets. About five o'clock in the morning I was awakened by the shouting of men and the firing of guns. Looking from my chamber window I saw a band of mounted men riding rapidly into town from the southeast. They were then at a point about where Quincy Street crosses New York Street, and were shooting at every person who appeared at door or window of the residences as they passed. It was about this point they shot and wounded Hoffman Collamore, son of Major Geo. W. Collamore, who was going out for a morning hunt.
From rumors that had come to us I knew that it was Quantrell's gang, and that we could expect no quarter. I gave my wife $50 which I had received for a pony sold the day before, and my watch, suggesting that she secrete them on her person, which she did. A minute or two later, hearing firing back of our house, I went to a west window, looking towards Massachusetts Street, and saw the armed recruits for the 14th Kansas regiment, numbering I think twenty-two, who were tenting on vacant ground on the east side of Massachusetts Street, awaiting arms and a mustering officer, chased from their tents in their night clothes and shot to death as they ran. Only four or five escaped death.
The guerrillas had passed to the rear of our house and had gone into the business and more thickly settled portions of the town; so that we were for a short time out of the range, but within hearing, of the shooting, and within sight of the burning which was taking place there. After a time, perhaps an hour, the guerrillas having scattered over the town began to fire houses in our neighborhood. The house in which we lived was of stone and had outside blinds to doors and windows. Shutting these we went out to assist our neighbors whose homes were burning, my wife to assist neighbors on the east side of the street, and I to assist Mrs. Dr. Lewis our neighbor on the south, whose husband was absent in Leavenworth. Her home had just been fired. A straw tick which had been taken from a bed and its contents emptied on the parlor floor, was burning. I was trying to put out the fire when one of the gang appeared and suggested to me, in no very mild or temperate tone, that I "had better let out that job." In view of his armament I agreed with him; and the house was burned. Mrs. Lewis asked me to help her save a set of table chinaware which she valued highly as one of her wedding presents. I turned my attention to this, and was conveying it out and putting it in a partially concealed place in the back yard, when another of the gang came riding from the west and stopped at the rearyard fence. As I came from the house with an armload of dishes, he asked me what I was doing. I replied that I was helping a lady save her chinaware. He sat on his horse at rest while I went into the house and got another load, and as I came out he turned and rode away. What sentiment of mercy controlled him in this action I cannot conceive; for as he rode towards me, not five minutes before, I saw him shoot to death one of the young recruits who was lying within one hundred feet of the lot where I was, and who raising himself on his elbow said to him, as he passed, "For God's sake give me a drink of water."
After this when the lessened noise of guns seemed to indicate that their savage blood-thirstiness had been satisfied we found opportunity to communicate with a number of our neighbors and learn how they had fared.
It is fair for me to say here that during the time I was on the street I talked with several of the gang who told that while they came to plunder, they did not come to murder, and that if they had known that was Quantrell's intention, they would not have come. Some of the men with Quantrell on that day are known to have been young farmers and sons of farmers who joined him for that special raid.
The house in which we lived being of stone, and closed as it was, may have suggested defense and thus prevented any attempt to destroy it; but as the town seemed to be doomed to total destruction, and as many of the houses in our neighborhood had already been burned and it appeared probable that ours might be, I suggested to my wife that she go into the house and pack a trunk with our best clothing and when she had it ready I would help her carry it out, that we might have something to wear when we went away, as I supposed we would if we escaped alive.
While she was engaged in this, I was standing in the street in front of our house talking with J. D. Rollins, a neighbor, and a young man, his nephew, then visiting him. My most thrilling experience came at this time and place. To state this clearly it will be necessary to detail some matters not of my personal observation but well understood at the time.
Nathan Stone was the owner and proprietor of the Whitney House, a frame hotel located on the north side of Pinckney Street, I think at the corner of New Hampshire. He had on one occasion when Quantrell, who was known here as Charlie Hart, was making Lawrence his headquarters, taken him to his hotel and cared for him during a short sickness. Seemingly in recognition of his kindness, Quantrell placed a guard around this hotel and gave orders that no person there should be harmed. Stone had a daughter Lydia, a highly esteemed and very attractive young lady, into whose custody General George W. Deitzler had given a fine diamond ring for safe keeping while he was in the army field-service. She was wearing the ring on that day and was forced by one of the guerrillas to give it to him. Quantrell came into the house shortly afterward, and Lydia told him of the circumstance, and asked him to compel the man, who was still there, to return it. This he did. Later the man seeking a favorable opportunity said to Lydia "Miss I'll make you rue this." About the time the band was leaving the town Skaggs returned to the hotel and killed her father.
This circumstance and the threat I learned from Miss Stone personally. The execution of this threat cost the man his life as I will explain. The name Skaggs or Skeggs has been assigned to him by several persons who came into contact with him on that day; and in the completion of my story I will call him Skaggs.
About nine o'clock in the morning the picket which had been placed on Mount Oread to give warning of the approach of relief to the city signaled the appearance to the southeast of a company of Union cavalry. This was the command of Col. Plumb. Collecting his men hastily, Quantrell changed his contemplated line of retreat, and went due south, on the line of Massachusetts Street projected, and crossed the Wakarusa at the Blanton bridge about one mile west of the point where he had crossed coming in. Skaggs supposing that the command would go out on the same road it came in on, after leaving the Whitney House where he had just killed Mr. Stone, came south on Rhode Island Street expecting to join the command at some point southeast of town.
George Burt, a prominent citizen, was sitting on a piece of furniture, a sofa as I recollect, which had been carried into the street from the house occupied by Joseph Lowe, situated almost directly opposite my home. He was sitting within fifty feet of the place where I was standing in conversation with J. D. Rollins. Skaggs was alone. As he came up to Burt he demanded Burt's arms. He had none. Then he demanded his money. Burt handed him what I supposed was money which Skaggs stuffed into a pocketbook already overfull, without a further word shot and instantly killed Burt. In the meantime Rollins and his nephew had run through my yard gate and secreted themselves on my premises.
Skaggs rode up to me where I was standing and, as they all did, demanded my arms and my money. I told him I had no arms, not even a pocket knife and then gave him a small amount of money--one or two small bills wrapped about some small fractional paper currency such as was in use at that time in the place of silver. We had a little parley then, he repeating their usual excuses for their brutal operations, and I suggesting that even if what he said was true it would not justify their entering a peaceful town and killing unarmed men and women and children. A profitless discussion as I knew but I had to gain time to plan an escape.
The revolver with which he had killed Burt lay across his lap as we talked. His horse was standing in front of my gate, facing my house. I stood on the north side of the horse facing the east with my right hand resting on the horse's mane. I saw that he was full of liquor which was showing its effects in his blinking eyes and occasional short periods of absent-mindedness. I had but one way to escape, which was to the east. After he had disposed of the money I gave him, he took up the revolver from his lap, and after our conversation, in which he had applied to me all the opprobrious epithets his vocabulary afforded, he presented it within a foot of my breast and pulled the trigger. The cap snapped but there was no discharge. He half cocked the revolver and turned the cylinder to a good cap and undertook to present it again. I seized the barrel of the revolver, and as he was in his saddle and I on my feet, active, and with a grip acquired by college and law school athletics, I was able to prevent his getting aim. We had a struggle for perhaps a minute, when, noticing that he was in one of his absent-minded spells, I thrust the muzzle of his revolver to the south and away from me as far as I could and jumped to the rear of his horse, intending, if I could, to escape through the lots on the east side of the street by jumping fences, and to make any shot he might fire a chance one.
And now came a providential interference in my behalf as marked as any that occurred on that fateful day. While my wife was engaged in an upstairs room in packing some of our clothing she heard Skagg's demands of Burt, ran to the window, saw Burt fall and his murderer approaching me. She ran downstairs and to the front gate and stood during our parley and struggle behind me and not more than three or four feet from me. I did not know this at the time. As I jumped behind his horse and ran to the east Skaggs said with an oath "Oh I can run you down easy enough" and turned his horse to the north. My wife at once seized the bridle reins, and by pulling guided the horse directly north on Rhode Island Street, directly at right angles to the direction in which I was running. Her presence and intervention, which probably saved my life, were not known to me until. I heard Skaggs cursing and threatening someone and heard the blows of his revolver on the neck of his horse as he was trying to beat her hands from the bridle. I stopped, looked around and saw her; but being powerless to help her or myself, and at her urgent insistence, I ran on and carried out the plan I had formed. I was very agile and strong for one of my size and leaped two or three fences and recrossed the street while Skaggs was in a vacant lot on the south side searching for me. While my wife was in partial control of his horse Skaggs turned in his saddle and fired one shot which missed me. My wife was dragged over a board and wood pile and around one of the houses on the east side of the street before her hold on the bridle reins was broken.
After a vain search and inquiry of some of the neighbor women as to where I had gone, Skaggs took a southeasterly course to find and join the command. But he was intercepted by William Hughes, a farmer, and others coming from the east, and was run down and killed. It was reported at the time, and I have no doubt it was true, that Skaggs had on his person when killed $1500 in money. He was the only one of the raiders who was killed here. Later in the day as I was going from my home to the west part of town I saw the iron grey horse on which Skaggs had been riding, in the possession of a colored man who was riding bareback and singing at the top of his voice "John Brown's body lies mouldering in the grave." He was dragging north through the dust of Massachusetts Street the naked body of a dead man--without doubt the body of the man Skaggs. It was a terribly repulsive sight, but seemingly a just retributive ending to his brutally savage work of the morning.
Later in the day I think about noon, L. J. Worden brought me word that S. M. Thorpe, my law partner, had been mortally wounded and had expressed a desire to see me. He and Josiah C. Trask, one of the editors and proprietors of the State Journal, and Harlow Baker of the firm of Ridenour and Baker, with their wives were boarding with Dr. J. F. Griswold, of the drug firm of Prentiss and Griswold, on the southeast corner of Winthrop and Indiana Streets. In going from my home in response to this message I passed through the section of the town where the murderers had held their most savage carnival of blood and fire, and saw scores of the dead bodies of citizens whom I knew, many of them my personal friends, lying where they had been murdered and some of them half consumed by fire, the work of collecting and caring for them having not been begun. I cannot find words to express the horrors of that short journey and it is not my purpose to attempt it. But I cannot close this very incomplete statement of my experiences on that Black Friday without a reference to the indescribably sad scene which met me at the end of the journey. The four young men were citizens of the highest character and all had been my warm personal friends and their wives were close friends of my wife and myself. Thorpe, my law partner, was state senator from this district, a man of splendid ability and a most lovable personal character. Trask, physically and mentally as fine a specimen of young manhood as I ever knew, alert, untiring, and morally clean, was just entering upon an editorial career for which he seemed particularly adapted and full of promise. Griswold was an active, energetic and successful business man of the highest standing in the community, and Baker, who survived his wounds, lived many years to demonstrate here and in Kansas City that he was one of the country's great merchants.
When I entered the house Trask and Griswold lay dead side by side on a table in the hall--Baker was on a bed in the back parlor, and Thorpe lay curled and twisted in agonizing pain on a feather mattress which had been taken from a bed and thrown on the floor in the front parlor. He had been carried in from the street, his clothing covered with blood and dust, and laid upon the mattress. His intense suffering prevented any attempt to remove his clothing or even to change the curled and twisted position in which he lay. In my short and painful interview with him it seemed to me that the strength and beauty of his character and the brightness of his intellect had never before appeared more clearly. During our conversation concerning matters which could not have proper place here, which was carried on by him in intense physical pain, there was no word of complaint, even of the cowardly whelps who had shot him in the back as he was going, as they promised and he believed, under their guard to a place of safety; but there was a calm and courageous waiting for the end which he saw so clearly, attended with the keen brightness of intellect which he had always shown. After my first greeting he said to me "Sam, this dissolves our partnership; but I don't like this kind of a dissolution." In the same vein he said to Edward Russell a personal friend, "Ed, they have moved the previous question on me." Such fair-day expressions naturally came to his lips from his warm and generous heart, even in his moments of intense suffering and perfect consciousness of approaching death.
Of such stuff the world's heroes are made.
Samuel A. Riggs
Riggs, Henry Earle, Our Pioneer Ancestors - Being a record of available information as to the Riggs, Baldridge, Agnew, Earle, Kirkpatrick, Vreeland and allied families, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1942
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