If I had been living on Hays Hill back in 1859-60, young Bill would have been my neighbor.
He was just down the road, around the corner and less than a mile away. He was teaching at the Roberts’ subscription school nearby and was boarding with the Roberts family.
He had to have been respectable. After all, Thomas Roberts was the first probate judge here in what was then Lykins County, and he had hired Bill to teach his children and others in the area. I don’t know how much Bill was paid, but the Judge charged $2.50 per student for each three months they attended.
The school year lasted only six months back then. The school itself was made of logs and was situated on the northwest corner of the southwest quarter of Section 33, Township 17, Range 22. The Roberts children claimed to be able to see it from the upstairs window of their home.
According to all who attended Bill’s classes and the Friday night adult “spelling school,” he was a good instructor. Roxey Roberts described him as “quiet, secretive and just a bit peculiar.” He had previously taught in his home town of Canal Dover, Ohio, in La Salle, Ill., in Ft. Wayne, Ind., before taking a similar position in Stanton.
Bill traveled here with the H. V. Beeson and Col. Henry Torrey families and often stayed with a friend named Beeson. He went to Leavenworth for a time, worked on an Army provision train, gambled and used the name “Charley Hart” before he began his outlaw career of serious crime.
He was arrested in Stanton and jailed in Paola for kidnapping, horse theft and burglary but was released because those crimes had occurred elsewhere and there were no warrants for extradition. Young Bill then headed for Missouri where he formed a guerilla band and became known by his real name — William Clarke Quantrill.
Quantrill is best known today for the deadly 1863 raid on Lawrence which left 150 men dead and much of that town destroyed. Local legend claims that he and his riders hid out here after the carnage. One version claims the hiding place was a ravine south of the present Osawatomie Golf Course; the other, that the site was near the present Saddle Club Arena.
Despite his southern sympathies, Quantrill was refused a commission in the Confederate Army. Infuriated, he fought both sides of that epic Civil War conflict throughout Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma. Federal forces chased him into Kentucky, and there he was wounded, dying June 6, 1865, in a military prison hospital. He was only 27 years old.
That was not the end of his story. Bill was buried in a cemetery near Louisville. In 1887, his mother directed that his remains be reburied near his Ohio birthplace. Clearly, that move was not successful. Two thigh bones, supposedly Quantrill’s, are held by the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka. Shin and arm bones are also there but no longer believed to be his. His skull was rescued from a fraternity initiation ceremony, and it was properly reburied in the Quantrill plot at Canal Dover.
The Roberts’ home, called the Mullins’ home after daughters married, was torn down in 1973. Until then, it had been pictured in local tourism brochures as a historic site.
The new home on 335th Street boasts rock from the original house, all a reminder that one of history’s most notorious villains lived here and was believed to have been “a little peculiar.”