Saving History Saturday: Headstone from Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence Discovered

Officials from Lecompton city and township prepare to move James O’Neill’s headstone to Maple Grove Cemetery. Courtesy of Carolyn Kaberline.

Deep within a forest in Lecompton, Kansas, two large 19th-century headstones were discovered. One is believed to be of a man killed in Missouri guerrilla Capt. William Quantrill’s infamous Raid on Lawrence, Kansas in 1863.

On August 21, 1863, Quantrill and his Raiders (roughly 400 men) ransacked the Free-State town of Lawrence, Kansas. Not only had much of the town been burned and destroyed, anywhere from 150-200 men and boys were killed. According to historians, Quantrill sought revenge for the collapse of a Kansas City women’s prison that led to the deaths of some of the relatives of his guerrillas, including William “Bloody Bill” Anderson and Cole Younger. Additionally, the sacking of Missouri towns like Osceola also attributed to Quantrill’s attack. Ultimately, the Lawrence Raid was the deadliest attack by pro-Confederate guerrillas during the war.

Remarkably, the headstone found is of James O’Neill, a Lecompton resident who was working on a bridge across the Kansas (Kaw) River at Lawrence at the time of his death. According to the Lecompton Historical Society’s Facebook page, O’Neill was, “Buried in the old pioneer cemetery [Bald Eagle Cemetery] which was destroyed over 50 years ago.” Somehow, the headstone disappeared, and gravesites were destroyed.

In July, they said, “The Lecompton Township, City of Lecompton and the Lecompton Historical Society have worked to relocate the headstone, along with a headstone of a Lane University student who drowned in 1877, to the current cemetery of Maple Grove in Lecompton.”

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