Captain Tough Chief Of Scouts. A-Book-Review.

Charles F. Harris, The Gregath Publishing Company, Wyandotte, OK, 2005, 130 pages, $14.95. We hope you enjoy this image of Captain Tough.

Charles Harris has written a fine small work on Captain William Sloan Tough, a member of the infamous Kansas Red Legs who terrorized the Kansas-Missouri border during the Civil War. Harris, a Wichita, Kansas, attorney, numbers among his ancestors two Missouri guerrillas and Nan Harris, one of the young ladies injured in the collapse of a jail between 14th Street and 15th Street on Grand Avenue in Kansas City during the Civil War.

Nan Harris and the other young women were imprisoned for aiding Missouri guerrillas in the battle against Kansas Jayhawkers and people like Captain Tough who were involved in desolating western Missouri from 1861 onward. Harris is remarkably evenhanded with Tough, who, as his name suggests, was a most formidable character.

Harris describes Tough, in one instance (pp. 55-57), on July 28, 1863, killing one of his own men, another Union soldier, Bill Gardner, who rode up to Tough one day on horseback and inexplicably screamed, "Look out, Tough!" Tough had been grooming a horse and had hung his revolvers over a peg to facilitate the task.Nonetheless, his brother Lyttleton Tough was next to him, and William grabbed a revolver from his brother's holster and sent two bullets slamming into Gardner's forehead killing him instantly. That's the way the Red Legs often operated, immediately, without forethought, and violently. It's why they were feared all along the Missouri-Kansas Border. Other Red Legs, like James Butler, "Wild Bill" Hickok, had similar reputations for quickness and ferocity.

In another earlier instance, in 1862, when asked to ensure order during a political debate at the Planter's Hotel in Leavenworth, Kansas, Tough also acted spontaneously.When he was alerted a brawl was occurring downstairs that threatened the destruction of the hotel, Tough "slid down the banister, pistol in one hand and a long knife in the other and called out, 'Stop instantly or I'll make this a slaughter pen!'"The frightened combatants rushed from the room. (p. 46).

Years later, after the Civil War, when called on to quell striking railroad workers, he gathered a posse and rode to the railhead near Holton, Kansas, where he confronted the leader of the strikers, William Hartman, and attempted to arrest him. Instead of complying, Hartman rode away, firing a shot behind him. Tough shot and killed him instantly with his rifle. Obviously, Tough was a dangerous man, indeed.

Tough was originally a native of Maryland, the son of a merchant, who with a loan from his father set up in the mule- and horse-selling business in St. Joseph, Missouri, an interest that later became lifelong. He also drove wagons for the McDonald's freight company and rode for the Pony Express. Many of his ventures were risky to life and limb.

When the Civil War broke out, he joined the Red Legs, a clandestine group of civilian scouts hired by the U.S. Army in Missouri and Kansas. Generals Thomas Ewing Jr. and James G. Blunt organized them "for desperate service along the border." There numbers were from fifty to seventy-five men, and their headquarters were at the Johnson House hotel in Lawrence, Kansas, and at the Six-Mile House on the Leavenworth Road at Quindaro.

One contemporary Union newspaperman, C. M. Chase, referred to the Red Leg as a "more purely an indiscriminate thief than the Jayhawker or Bushwhacker."On October 6, 1863, Tough, acting as General James Blunt's chief of scouts, led his Union force toward Ft. Blair, a Union outpost near Baxter Springs.

In an unexpected encounter, Blunt's force blundered its way into William Clarke Quantrill's main Missouri guerrilla force, an advance force of which was attacking Ft Blair, over the hill and out of Blunt's view. After noticing Blunt's force approaching, Quantrill's ordered his men into line of battle.

Because many of Quantrill's men wore blue uniforms, Blunt sent out Tough and his scouts to discover whose force it was. Tough returned with bad news: they were secesh guerrillas. While Blunt organized his men, Quantrill called for a coup de main charge of the Federals, and the lightning attack panicked Blunt and his men, and the officers raced from the scene on their horses, including Blunt, while the eighty enlisted men were annihilated. Tough, not so tough in this encounter, was one of those who fled the scene.

After the war,in March 1873, Tough became the U.S. Marshall for Kansas, the chief law enforcement officer in the state, and later a Kansas state representative. At about the same time, George Hoyt, the field leader of the infamous Red Legs, became the Kansas attorney general. Charles Rainsford Jennison, the overarching leader of the Red Legs, became a state representative, also. The line in Kansas between legal and illegal, admirable and despicable, was quite blurred!Tough's main claim to fame, however, came from his cattle and mule breeding businesses, which became world famous.

After the Civil War, he became one of the leaders of the Kansas City Stock Yards and sold stock to the Cubans before the Spanish-American War. Later, he owned another business that sold horses and mules to the English army fighting the Boer War. At one time, one of Tough's blooded horses sold for $600,000 in today's equivalent of money.

Harris concludes his book by saying that Tough was a man who "has been called the 'Palladin of the Kansas Border." Clearly, Missourians have had a vastly different conception of the man. Harris' book, while short (double spaced in large measure, with numerous illustrations, maps, notes, and index) is well worth reading and fills a significant niche in Kansas-Missouri history.*· Harris' book can be obtained at The Camp Pope Bookshop, www.camppope.com.

Donald L. Gilmore ©Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas Border.Gretna, LA, Pelican Publishing Co., 2005. "Permission should be requested and agreed to before using this copyrighted essay and/or image. 

                                          MEMBERS ONLY SECTION

Text Size