Kate Doane Earle Riggs

Bushwhacker Beater

Kate Doane Earle was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on December 29, 1836. As a young woman, she taught school before moving to Lawrence and marrying lawyer Samuel A. Riggs. In Lawrence, she continued her teaching at a female seminary based in the Trinity Episcopal Church. When Quantrill’s guerrillas attacked on the morning of August 21, 1863, the Riggses, horrified, watched from their home as Confederates rode down and killed Lawrence men.

Kate ventured outside to help a neighbor family, the Lowes, but begged Samuel to stay hidden because he had “prosecuted Quantrill several times for horse stealing, robbery, and other crimes, and I felt that he would be a marked man,” she recalled. Soon, however, Kate saw an awful sight: a guerrilla fighter on horseback confronting Samuel in front of their gate. As Kate approached, the assailant—later identified as Larkin Skaggs—demanded money, then attempted to shoot Samuel.

As her husband turned and ran, “an inspiration, not a thought, made me spring forward and catch the bridle with both hands,” Kate recounted. Skaggs spurred his horse forward to chase Samuel, Kate holding onto the bridle all through a mad dash around neighboring houses and over a woodpile. Skaggs halted and trained his revolver on the fleeing man, but Kate pulled the horse to throw off his aim. The guerrilla, “with a fierce oath … lifted his revolver high in the air to strike me over the hands compelling me to let go,” but Kate dodged the blow and turned to look for Samuel. Skaggs rode off and was later killed by Lawrence residents. Kate, meanwhile, reunited with her husband.

Numerous people had observed her actions, and a Union soldier who arrived in town soon afterward made a sketch of the incident. Twelve years later, one witness noted, “Mr. R[iggs] is a prominent attorney now, and lives to bless his wife for her heroic conduct.” The Riggses finished their impressive new house and lived there for several decades as one of Lawrence’s most honored couples. Kate and Samuel both died in 1920 and were buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.