Least We Forget

Over 150 years ago people came to this country seeking a new life. They brought with them their families, their work ethic, their morals, their patriotism and their Bibles. They started successful farms. They built schools for their children to attend. They started businesses which, with others grew into towns where they served the public good as judges, representatives and civil servants. They made this country what it is today. And when the terrible Civil War started, their fine homes and possessions, their cattle and thoroughbred horses and their movable wealth was coveted by their avaricious neighbors across the border.

What separated the different beliefs at that time was that one side believed in the complete supremacy by an all powerful central government while the other side believed in Constitutional principles and individual freedom. Missouri was a border state torn by these two radically different concepts. Civil rights and personal freedoms were a thing of the past as Federal control erased all vestiges of Constitutional guarantees. The South was fighting for a balance of power between the absolute dominance of a Central government so coveted by Lincoln and the concept of State Sovereignty so cherished by the South. Any Missourian with the courage to express their political opinion signed their own death warrant. One such man was Jeptha Crawford.

In 1863 Jeptha Crawford was 51 years old. He had come from Kentucky to start a new life. He married Elizabeth Harris, sister of Reuben Harris who had married the daughter of Henry Washington Younger. Jeptha had nine children, the youngest of which was five years old. Jeptha was a Southern sympathizer, but had never taken up arms against the government. The winter of 1863 was one of the coldest on record. On January 29, 1863 there was fourteen inches of snow on the ground and the temperature read 10 degrees below zero. Early that morning Jeptha went to a nearby gristmill with a sack of corn to have it ground to make bread for his wife and children. He promised to be back at noon. Noon came, his wife Elizabeth had prepared dinner as best she could, but was waiting for her husband’s return so she could have bread for their dinner. Two o’clock came and still he did not arrive. At three o’clock she saw a company of Yankee cavalrymen approaching. They rode up to the door. Elizabeth and the children went to the front porch and saw they had her husband as a prisoner. Jeptha was told to dismount. Then the Yankees shot him down in cold blood before the eyes of his wife and children. Then the soldiers told Elizabeth to get the children out of the house as they were going to burn it down. She begged them to let her give her little children something to eat, as they had had no food since early morning. In answer to her appeal one of the Yankees snatched a brand from the fire and stuck it in a straw bed. Everything was soon in flames. Elizabeth ran from the house snatching up a few things as quickly as she could. As the Yankees rode away Elizabeth looked at what was left in their wake. She saw her husband lying on his door steps where he had been murdered. Her house was in flames and she and her children turned out in the cold, homeless and destitute. Such was the fortunes of war as the Yankees waged war on innocent civilians in Missouri. This was not an isolated incident. This very same atrocity was being perpetrated all across Jackson County, to the Saunder's family, the Kimberlins and untold others.

Shortly after guerrilla Colonel William Clarke Quantrill’s return from his winter sojourn in Texas, Elizabeth learned that he was camped nearby. She took her four sons, twenty-two-year-old William, twin fifteen-year-olds Marshall and Marion, and thirteen-year-old Riley, to the guerrillas’ camp. With her sons beside her she approached Quantrill and said, “These are all I have left. Take them and make soldiers of them."  Below is the only known image of Riley  Crawford.                                                                              

William, Marshall and Marion stayed with Quantrill until deciding to join General Price in the Missouri State Guards. Riley being too young remained with Quantrill. To remain at home would have been certain death. Riley Crawford was not only one of the youngest guerrillas, he was also one of the hardest fighters in Quantrill’s band. It was said that he killed every Union soldier who fell into his hands. Riley Crawford was killed in combat less than two years later.

Six months after Jeptha Crawford's murder his three married daughters were arrested by Yankees, belonging to the 11th Kansas Jayhawker Regiment and imprisoned in a makeshift prison in Kansas City. The brick building was undermined by the guards, detailed to protect them. In a matter of days the building collapsed, killing two of Jeptha's daughters along with three other young Southern women, one being only 14 years old.

And what of the Yankee's reaction to this atrocity? They are ominously silent. And their silence speaks volumes. They would like to omit this part of history. Like a recent statement by a Washington politician when confronted by a current atrocity, stated to the world, "What does it matter?" But to those gathered here today, we will not forget, because it does matter. Those who lie here, now in peace, gave us the only hope we have. They gave us a moral standard, a deep patriotism for the Constitution, and a belief in God. Despite their persecution they remained true to the Cause. And when necessary they picked up arms and fought against a tyrannical government and for what they believed in. For us who remain behind, to honor their memory, all we can do is to follow their example.

Paul R. Petersen © Quantrillsguerrillas.com 2013. "Permission should be requested and agreed to before using this copyrighted essay and or image."

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