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Posted January 23, 2003
as desribed by John Newman Edwards in 1872
[Kansas City Times, May 12, 1872.]
As the glorification of living and dead guerrillas seems now to be the order of the day, a few words as to the character of this, the king of guerrillas, may not be amiss. Since Mosby's recent interview with General Grant, the Radical papers declare that his sins, though as scarlet, shall be made white as snow. No good reason, therefore, exists why the truth shall not be told of one who, brave and steadfast to the end, died as he had lived, a fearless Ishmaelite.
Richardson, whom McFarland killed, wrote once in a letter from Denver city to the New York Tribune of Billy West, a noted border man, as "the swarthy Adonis of the Plains." Carrying forward the simile, Quantrell [sic: common misspelling of Quantrill] might be likened unto a blonde Apollo of the prairies. His eyes were very blue, soft and winning. Peculiar they were in this, that they never were in rest. Looking at the face, one might say there is the face of a student. It was calm, serene, going oftener to pallor than to laughter. It may be that he liked to hear the birds sing, for hours and hours he would linger in the woods alone. His hands were small and perfectly molded. Who could tell in looking at them that they were the most deadly hands with a revolver in all the border. Perhaps no man ever had more complete mastery over a horse than Quantrell, and whether at a furious gallop or under the simple swing of the route step, he could lean from the saddle and snatch a pebble from the ground.
Anderson was a tiger let loose; Quantrell was a tiger too, that had the innocence of a lamb. Nature loves to group the grotesque. Hence all the smiles his features had on when his pitiless lips pronounced the death sentence. Todd mingled no melody with his murders; Quantrell was heard to sing little snatches of song as the gray smoke rolled away from his pistol. Mosby delighted in surprises and disguises; Quantrell published his name broadcast when the mood was on him, and blazed it along the route of his travels as if it were a cloud to cover him. He was unlike them all, just as he was greater than them all.
It is instructive sometimes to study the pictures the war painted. No nation furnishes a counterpart for guerrillas such as ours, except Spain. France had a few, but women tempted them and they were trapped and slain. These Missourians loved women, but the love lasted not beyond the bivouac. In the morning each heart was all iron. What instructs one in the contemplation of such characters, is their intense individuality. Horrified at their ferocity, one yet delights to analyze their organization. If there is a race born without fear, Quantrell belonged to it. He loved life, and yet he did not value it. Perhaps this is why it was so hard to lose it. In his war-life, which was one long, long, merciless crusade, he exhibited all the qualities of cunning, skill, nerve, daring, physical endurance, remorseless cruelty, abounding humor, insatiable revenge, a courage that was sometimes cautious to excess and sometimes desperate to temerity. In the midst of a band who knew no law but the revolver, his slightest wish was anticipated and obeyed. Hence his power to command was unquestioned. Recognizing no flag but the black flag, he sat as quietly down in the midst of a hostile country as the foes who were on his track; and having shaken hands with death, he thought no more of the word surrender. If he believed in God, he denied the special providences of heaven, and stabled his horses in a church as well as in a stall. Without knowing the ghastly irony of it, perhaps, he was often heard to offer up a prayer for a victim.
It is useless to declare that these kind of characters do not attract. All Paris came to see Cartouche hung, and yet Cartouche was only a robber. But then his little child was suspended on the same scaffold. In the arsenal at Jefferson City is a picture of Bill Anderson, taken after death. The clear-cut face is ghastly pale. A white, mute, appealing look is on the tense, drawn features. Dead leaves and sand are in the long yellow hair and tawny beard. For hours women gather about this picture and babble of balls and revels and dances and battles, and ever and ever come back to the white, set face and the wan, mute features. No visitor goes away without seeing it, and thinking of it for many a day thereafter.
No nation equals in individuality the American. Her people possess all the elements to make the finest soldiers on earth. Keen, desperate, enduring, insatiate for the excitement of active conflict, and readily hardened into reckless butchers, they make conscience subsidiary to slaughter, and accept the fortunes of a struggle with a fatalism that is Oriental. As a perfect type of this, Quantrell will live as a model. Sooner or later he knew death would come, and so he forgot him. Meanwhile his killing went on, and his exploits filled a historic page of the gigantic contest.
This California paper is too far away to know the truth of his last battle's ending. The curious can find his grave if they will look for it in Kentucky, deep enough to keep him till the judgment day. Bloodier and crueller than Mosby, he died as he had lived, worshiped by a few, loved by many, and abhorred of half the nation.
Pages in the James & Youngers
©2003 D. H. Rule
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