1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 43 Part 1

CHAPTER XLIII

COLLAPSE OF THE MILITARY PRISON

The most unfortunate event in the administration of General Ewing was the Lawrence Massacre. An incident which was responsible for many of the barbarities committed in the sacking of that defenseless town was the collapse at Kansas City of the military prison for women. It was made the excuse for many inhuman crimes later committed by the guerrillas.

In the midst of such conditions as existed in the District of the Border it was inevitable that women should become spies for the bushwhackers and commit other violations of military regulations. Women had been arrested before General Ewing's arrival. On the 26th of June, 1863; a number of prisoners were sent from Fort Leavenworth to Kansas City, among them ten women, two of whom were sisters of Jim Vaughan, the outlaw executed May 29th. These women were treated with great consideration, being quartered at the Union Hotel under guard.

When Bill Anderson found it necessary to leave his home at Council Grove in the night on a stolen horse in the spring of 1862 to escape punishment for various crimes, he sought the border and there engaged in indiscriminate robbery. He was arrested and disarmed by Quantrill for preying on Confederate sympathizers. After his release he was in a way subject to Quantrill until that outlaw was repudiated by his followers. Anderson removed his sisters from Kansas and for a year they lived on the border, stopping finally with the Munday family on the Missouri side of the line near Little Santa Fe. Both parents of this family were dead, one son was in Price's army, and three daughters were at home - Sue Munday, Martha (or Matt) Munday, and Mrs. Lou Munday Gray, whose husband probably was a bushwhacker. The Munday girls and the three Anderson sisters were arrested as spies. On the same day others were arrested, among them a Miss Hall, Mollie Grandstaff, Charity Kerr, Mrs. Nannie Harris McCorkle, Mrs. Sue Vandiver and Mrs. Arminna Selvey, the two latter being daughters of William Crawford, who, by marriage, was the uncle of Cole Younger. There were other arrests, but it is not known how many women were imprisoned when the building in which they were quartered collapsed. Among them, however, was Miss Alice Van Ness, whose daughter, Fay Templeton, achieved fame as an actress.

The Union Hotel could not accommodate such a number of prisoners, and to those already quartered there were now added the newcomers. G.M. Walker, of Company C, Eleventh Kansas, was Sergeant of the Guard when the prisoners were brought in. He took them to the prison for men, but they refused to enter this building even when shown that their apartments were entirely separated from those of the men. Then a frame building on the west side of Main Street, between Ninth and Tenth Streets, one story in front and two stories in the rear, and with a porch, was prepared for them. In was with difficulty that they were made to enter this building, the Anderson girls being the leaders in abuse of the Union, its soldiers, generally, and those at Kansas City in particular. There was a three-story brick building on the east side of Grand Avenue, in McGee's Addition, between Fourteenth and Fifteenth Streets, on each side of which were twostory buildings, in the second story of which men formerly had been imprisoned. It was No. 1409 Grand Avenue. That part of the city was at the time little settled, there being no buildings in the block opposite on the west side of the avenue, which was then the main thoroughfare to Westport. This building had a frontage of about twenty-five feet. The stairway to the second floor, from the front, and all access to the third story had been permanently closed. An old Jew had a store of cheap goods on the first floor - a medley of merchandise, including flashy jewelry, clothing, groceries and liquors. The second floor was reached only by an outside stairway in the rear of the building.1 To this building these women prisoners were removed.

The second floor of the building was the prison. There were three rooms, in one of which was segregated one, possibly two, women of known bad character, the other prisoners refusing to speak to them, though they were Quantrill's trusted spies. The women separated into groups, which, if not hostile, were indifferent, and between which there was little communication. The first guard was a detail from the Twelfth Kansas and was strict with the women. Major Plumb had the guard changed. Those who would pledge their word that they would not try to escape were permitted to visit stores accompanied by a guard under orders to remain back far enough so that the prisoners could converse without being overheard. The Captain of the Guard was Frank Parker, Company C, Eleventh Kansas.2

There were friendships between members of the guard and officers at headquarters and some of the women, and it is even asserted that a soldier of Company I, Eleventh Kansas, married one of the prisoners. Parker sent to Little Santa Fe for the bedding of the Munday home to be used by the Munday and Anderson girls. Cards and musical instruments were provided, and sometimes officers from headquarters visited the prison in the evening and were entertained with music It is established beyond question that these women were treated with respect and kindness.

On the day of the collapse of this building Lieutenant John M. Singer, Company H, Ninth Kansas, was Captain of the Provost Guard. Early in the day the Captain of the Guard at the building sent a request to Singer to examine it, saying that he feared it was no longer safe. Singer found the walls cracked and mortar-dust on the ground. He reported to General Ewing, who sent his Adjutant to examine the building. The Adjutant believed the building safe, but the Captain of the Guard was uneasy. When the prisoners had been given their dinner he requested Thomas Barber, a member of his company, to examine the prison. Barber's recollection is that there were prisoners on both the second and third floors, and that he and Parker went to the third floor. He saw the walls slowly separating from the ceiling, and advised Parker to get the women out of the building with all haste. Parker shouted: "Get out of here! This building is going to fall!" Barber, some of the women, and one or two guards ran down the stairs, and as they reached the ground the building collapsed, falling inward.

A great cloud of dust arose from the wreck, and for an instant nothing could be done. Soon some of the uninjured crawled from the ruins. A courier was at once sent to headquarters, and Major Plumb hurried to the prison. A crowd of five thousand people assembled. The women were in a state of excitement, and were abusing the Government and the Union troops, asserting that the building had been undermined with intent to kill them. The crowd was in sympathy with them and jeered the guard. Major Plumb ordered up other troops and threw a cordon about the premises. He ordered the troops to fix bayonets and force a number of citizens to help rescue the wounded and bring out the dead. The uninjured were sent to the Union Hotel, where they were guarded until another house could be made ready for them. The wounded were taken to the military hospital, where a ward was given them. The names of four of the dead are now remembered: Charity Kerr, Mrs. Vandiver, Mrs. Selvey and Josephine Anderson.3

The charge that the Federal soldiers undermined this prison was absurd. There never was a particle of evidence to support it. When asked why she believed the building bad been undermined Mrs. Womack (Sue Munday) said, "I know it was, because I saw the soldiers going into the Jew's store as thick as bees all day."

This was the only circumstance she could mention to support her declaration. There is perhaps no doubt about the soldiers having gone into the store, but the fact that the proprietor was permitted to sell liquors might account for their visits. And the Jew was caught in the collapse and injured. If he had known of any intention to wreck the building he would not have been there, and no mining could have been carried on in his room without his knowledge. On what date the building fell has not been established, but it was about two weeks before the Lawrence Massacre, and was made one of the excuses for that horrible affair.

The charge that this prison was undermined was taken up by the guerrillas all along the border. Revenge was the cry. Retaliation was demanded. Quantrill, planning, threatening, cajoling, persuading, never could have induced the guerrillas to undertake the raid on Lawrence but for the collapse of this building. It came at an opportune time in his career and he made the most of it.


1 There is a conflict in the statements of those who remember the building. Some say it was but two stories in height, and Mrs. Sue Womack, one of the women imprisoned there, says the entrance from the front had not been closed. With one exception it is agreed that it was on the east side of the street and fronted west.

2 On September 19, 1910, he made a statement to the author on this subject.

3 The statement of Mrs. Womack says Mrs. Vandiver and Mrs. Selvey were killed. Charity Kerr was a cousin of Cole Younger. In his Quantrill and the Border Wars, the author, following Cole Younger's autobiography, included Nannie Harris among those killed. Her sister, Mrs. Eliza Deal, now living in Kansas City, Kansas, says that Nannie Harris was not injured

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A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 2000.

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