Activities commemorate the anti-slavery history of this Kansas community

From 1854 to 1861 – years before shots rang out at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, starting the Civil War – Kansas Territory became known as “Bleeding Kansas” for its violent proslavery and abolitionist activity. Forces on both sides repeatedly clashed in skirmishes, sackings and massacres along the Kansas and Missouri border. In the thick of it, Lawrence, Kan., gained the reputation as a center for anti-slavery Jayhawker and Redleg sentiment and activity. The town was also a key stop along the Underground Railroad.

In a climax to the violence, proslavery William C. Quantrill’s Aug. 21, 1863, raid on Lawrence resulted in the deaths of more than 150 men and boys. The bloody event helped permanently establish Lawrence’s claim as a bastion for freedom in a divided nation.

It’s possible now to relive some of Lawrence’s turbulent and glorious past. Each August around the anniversary of Quantrill’s Raid, Lawrence and Douglas County commemorate the region’s early history with specially organized activities focusing on the Civil War and frontier eras. You can learn more about the Civil War on the Western Frontier event, held this year August 8-21, at the Lawrence Visitor Information Center, 402 N. Second St. Pre-registration and/or reservations are required for some events, so make your plans early.Among the many activities offered, consider:

  • taking an evening stroll to visit the graves of victims of Quantrill’s Raid and hear a tour guide’s stories about the massacre;
  • attending Watkins Community Museum of History’s Open House for displays and presentations focusing on the Civil War in Douglas County;
  • building a frontier-era mud fort (for kids only);
  • watching John Wayne’s film classic “Dark Command,” which features Quantrill and his violent raids;
  • spending an evening with historic re-enactor Harold Riehm who portrays Reverend Richard Cordley, a survivor of Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence; and
  • taking a walking tour of the area destroyed by Quantrill.
Also stop to see the major new exhibit “Freedom’s Frontier” at the Carnegie Building, 200 W. 9th St. in Lawrence, headquarters of the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area. The free exhibit focuses on the enduring struggle for freedom in the federally designated 41-county national heritage area of eastern Kansas and western Missouri. Learn about the area’s pre-settlement days and border war. Open Wed.-Sun.; call (785) 856-3040 for exhibit hours.
Becky Blake is the Director of  Tourism Division of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism, and has been involved in the Kansas tourism industry for the past 30 years. TravelKS Blog provides a brief update from Becky each week, featuring communities, events and attractions throughout the state.