The Strange Story of Quantrill’s Bones
The strange story of William Quantrill’s multiple graves is too long to cover in a short post so this post will contain the Reader’s Digest version. For a more complete picture of the story, please check out the chapter entitled “Quantrill’s Bones” in my book, Moonlit Mayhem. Signed copies can be purchased at www.jonathanjonesauthor.com.
William Quantrill, the notorious guerrilla, was best known for his raid on the abolitionist stronghold, Lawrence, Kansas where he and his men killed over 180 men and boys and burned down most of the buildings in the city. Quantrill died of a bullet wound in Louisville, Kentucky on June 6, 1865. He was only 27 years old.
His body was buried in an unmarked grave in St. Mary’s Cemetery (now known as St. John’s Cemetery) in Louisville. Quantrill had requested for food waste from the prison kitchen to be scattered on his grave so that nobody would realize that it was a new grave. The concern was that if the public knew the occupant of the grave, it may be desecrated.
Caroline Quantrill, along with journalist and Quantrill’s childhood friend William Walter Scott, traveled to Louisville in 1887 and asked for permission to dig up her son’s bones and take them back to his hometown of Dover, Ohio. After some negotiation, the cemetery agreed to allow the exhumation of the body so that it could be put in a better coffin and then reburied in the same spot. Over the course of a couple years and multiple trips to Louisville, Scott would remove most of the bones including the skull from the grave and put them in a box that eventually made its way back to Dover, Ohio. A marker was added to the Louisville gravesite in 2008 with significant fanfare.
Back in Dover the bones and skull sat in a box in the Dover newspaper office, which is where Mr. Scott lived and worked. During this time, Scott had reached out to the Kansas State Historical Society (KSHS) and offered to sell some of the bones and the skull to that organization for their collection.
In 1889 Mrs. Quantrill asked to have her son buried in the Dover Cemetery next to his father and brothers. The town of Dover was not too thrilled to have someone of Quantrill’s reputation interred in their cemetery but eventually agreed to allow the burial if the family agreed that the service would be private, less than six people would attend and the grave would be unmarked. It is unknown how many bones went into the grave in Dover.
W. W. Scott died in 1902 and Caroline Quantrill died in 1903, shortly after their deaths, Scott’s wife contacted the KSHS and sold the three arm bones and the lock of hair to William E. Connelly, then an officer of the Society. Connelly would try to sell the three bones to other collecters but when that failed, he donated them to the Society. For a short time, the KSHS put the 5 bones on display in their museum until 1910 after which, the bones and hair were boxed up and put on a shelf in the storage room.
The skull took a different path. Around 1910, the skull was given to the Zeta Chapter of Alpha Phi fraternity by W.W. Scott’s son, William. It was then used in fraternity rituals for the next 32 years. In 1942, the fraternity folded, and the skull was purchased by a member for sentimental reasons. In 1972, the skull was donated to the Dover Museum where it was displayed in a glass case.
By the late 1980s, the box of bones still sat at the KSHS and the skull was still at the Dover museum. A man named Robert L. Hawkins, an attorney, and the Commander in Chief of the Missouri Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, made it his mission to give Quantrill a decent burial. After much negotiation with the KSHS, the State of Missouri, and the Dover Museum, it was agreed that the five bones and lock of hair would be buried at the Confederate Memorial Site in Higginsville, Missouri. The skull would be buried in Dover Cemetery along with Quantrill’s remains in that gravesite.
On October 22, 1992, Quantrill’s five bones and lock of hair were buried in the Confederate Cemetery in Higginsville. Over 600 people attended an elaborate service to honor the infamous guerrilla. Less than a week later, the skull, now encased in a child’s coffin was buried on top of the bones buried in 1889 in the Dover Cemetery. Only around twenty people attended the service in Dover.