Quantrill's Raiders (1958)

 

 

Director:     Edward Bernds. 

Starring:     Steve Cochran (Wes),  Diane Brewster (Sue Walters),  Leo Gordon (William Clarke Quantrill),  Gale Robbins (Kate),  Will Wright (Judge Wood),  Kim Charney (Joel),  Myron Healey (Jarrett),  Robert Foulk (Hager),  Glenn Strange (Todd),  Lane Chandler (Sheriff),  Guy Prescott (Major Mathews),  Thomas Browne Henry (Griggs),  Dan White (Fred Thomas). 

another psychopath only on the fringes of the southern effort against the north

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"In the dark days of the Civil War, guerrilla raiders led by William Clarke Quantrill, terrorized the Kansas-Missouri border, looting, burning, killing.  Quantrill fought for the south with a savagery that shocked even his own allies.  Many southern officers considered him little better than an outlaw, using the war as an excuse for pillage and murder. But in the desperate urgency of the conflict, Quantrill and his hard riding band were useful to the Confederacy and he was often given missions of military importance.  His fury reached its peak when he attacked the U.S. Army Arsenal at Lawrence, Kansas.  This is the story of events leading up to that raid."

An army unit comes riding along a trail.  A man in a business suit comes riding up to the leader and asks if he can ride along with the unit as far as Lawrence, Kansas.  He says his name is Mike Davis.  He says to the lieutenant that this here is Quantrill territory.  The lieutenant says:  "If you know that mister, you ought to stay out of it!"  Davis says he is going to talk with Major Matthews in order to supply him with horses.  The lieutenant checks over his papers and tells Davis he can come along.

The unit is just about to travel through a narrow pass when the lieutenant sends a man forward to make sure they are not stepping into an ambush.  The soldier sees a man and yells "Ambush!" just before he is shot from his horse.  The lieutenant sets up a defensive position and they fight from behind the wagons.  Davis suggests that they send some soldiers to flank the ambushers.  The lieutenant thinks that's a great idea and sends the men off to the left.  The soldiers get behind the ambushers below them and open fire.  Soon Quantrill orders a retreat. 

The unit and Davis arrive in Lawrence.  Davis meets Major Matthews.  Davis was at the siege of Vicksburg and got a disability discharge after receiving shrapnel wounds.  Matthews tells him that he will have to watch out for Quantrill because he operates almost freely along the border.  Davis asks for a pass to get around the military guards and Matthews provides that.  While Matthews steps out of the room, Davis looks at some of the papers on his desk. 

Matthews comes back into the room and introduces Davis to Judge Wood, Mr. Griggs, and the sheriff .  He explains to Davis that these men are the head of the local vigilance committee.  They help Matthews round up southern sympathizers in the area who have been giving information to Quantrill.  Davis leaves.  The committee members tell Matthews that the local gunsmith is a Confederate sympathizer.  And where's the first place Davis heads to?  Fred Thomas's Gun Shop.  Judge Wood watches him go into the gun shop. 

Inside Davis gives the password phrase and then tells Fred he is working under the command of the Confederacy.  He wants Fred to put him in touch with Quantrill.  Fred, however, is afraid of the vigilance committee because he just had a recent run in with them.  He says he is getting out of town.  Davis demands he tell him where to connect with Quantrill.  The fellow says there's a place west of town near Baxter Springs where one of Quantrill's men will be waiting.  Davis leaves and so does Fred, but from a rear exit. 

Judge Wood asks Davis if he knows a man named Charley Heart.  He was an outlaw before the war and shot down three of his closest friends right on the main street of town.  Davis says he does not know the man. 

Davis takes his horse to a stable.  The stable master is just a boy named Joel Walters.  Joe tells Davis that his Aunt runs a boarding house and he could stay there because the army has got the hotels all packed solid.  Davis says no thanks and turns around and knocks a pretty woman down.  Her name is Sue and she is Joel's aunt.  And now Davis suddenly wants to stay in the boarding house. 

Davis goes out riding.  He sees a horseman coming his way.  He gets off his horse to watch.  Quantrill's man whistles and Fred Thomas rides up to him.  Fred tells George that this is the last time he can meet with him because of the vigilance committee.  All of a sudden, the sheriff and his posse surround the two men.  Fred starts riding off at a fast gallop and the sheriff shoots him in the back, killing him.  Davis quietly takes off. 

Davis places a bandana over his lower face and stops the posse.  He gets George free and they both take off.  The sheriff and his men ride after them.  The two men are able to shake the posse.  George now takes Davis to Quantrill's hide out. 

George introduces Davis to Quantrill.  Quantrill tells his pretty red-headed girlfriend Kate to get out.  She leaves, but turns around and gives Davis a huge grin.  Quantrill demands to know who Davis is.  He is Captain Allan Westcott attached to Gen. Price's command.  The general is going to push all the way through Missouri and into Kansas.  Quantrill says his men usually number from 30 to 40.  Davis says they need at least 60 men.  Quantrill says that's easy enough.  The mission is to take the U.S. Army Arsenal at Lawrence.  Quantrill is eager, but Westcott warns him there is to be no looting and no wanton killings.  Westcott is to get Quantrill some information about Lawrence before he goes in for the attack. 

Judge Woods watches as Davis goes into the boarding house.  Davis speaks with Sue.  He tells her he would like to settle down after the war in a town like Lawrence.  After Davis goes to bed, Joel says to Sue:  "Can I pick 'em or can't I?" 

The judge comes over for breakfast at the boarding house and, as a member of the vigilance committee, he questions Davis.  He says it's mighty peculiar that on the day Davis came to town Fred Thomas was killed and a stranger in town stole one of Quantrill's men from under the nose of the sheriff.  And the judge wants to tell Davis more about Charley Heart.  He pretended to be a northern sympathizer and helped his son and the sheriff's kid brother with their underground railway operation getting slaves to freedom.  They learned that Heart intended to relay their plans to southern bushwhackers.  Heart could have easily gotten away, but instead he came to town and gunned down his son, the sheriff's brother and another young man named Tanner.  The judge says that he thinks Quantrill is Charley Heart.  Sue was in love with Heart and it nearly broke her heart when she learned what he had done.  So, if Davis isn't right, he wants him to stay away from Sue. 

Davis goes to talk with Major Matthews.  On the pretext that he needs a military escort, Davis learns that Matthews has send for reinforcements.  He rides out to see Quantrill.  On the way he runs into Kate who knew he would be coming this way.  She wants to warn him about Quantrill, saying he can't be trusted.  Kate really wants Westcott and she kisses him.  He hesitates at first but soon is kissing her passionately. 

Westcott goes on to see Quantrill.  He drops the name of Charley Heart to Quantrill and Quantrill tells him to leave Charley Heart out of this.  Westcott says he brings the subject up because he cannot have Quantrill using the raid as an excuse to butcher the people of Lawrence, as he, Charley Heart, did in Lawrence earlier.  Quantrill gets angry at this remarks and pulls his pistol.  Westcott deflects the pistol as Quantrill pulls the trigger.  The shot ignites the papers on Quantrill's desk.  His body guards rush in, but Quantrill tells them to get out --  it was only an accident.  He apologizes to Westcott and says that Charley Heart is in the past.  The men mount up to go see the Cherokees who have the horses for Quantrill and Westcott.  They get the horses. 

As they move the horses out, they are stopped by a small group of Indians who say that the horses were stolen from them.  Quantrill and his men just shoot the Indians down.  Westcott tells the leader that he hasn't changed and now he wants Quantrill to stay out of Lawrence altogether.  Quantrill simply agrees and lets Westcott, with one of the unknown men, take the horses into Lawrence, but Quantrill tells George that he has a score to settle with Lawrence and will see blood running in the gutters. 

Sue tells Davis that people are talking about him.  She says that if he isn't right, he should stay away from her.  Davis says he likes Sue more than any other girl he has ever met.  Joel tells Davis that the army has hired up most of the mules and have tied up most of the wagons in town.  Davis has to tell Joel that he can't make it for dinner and leaves.  He confers with the Quantrill man and they figure the army must be moving the ammunition to Fort Scott. 

The sheriff and a deputy come over to Davis and his helper and take them into the sheriff's office.  There the room is full with Indians, the vigilance committee and law officers.  The deputy takes the guns of the two suspicious men.  Chief Gray Bear has told everyone about the massacre of his son and two other braves.  He also says that the horses are the ones that Davis brought to town.  When they have no bill of sale, the Judge tells the sheriff to lock the two men up.  (The lawmen, however, forget to check the men closely because Davis's helper has a knife on him.)

The judge comes to see Davis on behalf of Sue who believes in him.  Davis asks the judge to send Joel over to him.  The judge agrees, but says he doesn't know if the lad will come, because:  "He lost a hero today."   The judge walks over to see Sue and Joel.  Sue asks if she can go see Davis, but the judge says that wouldn't be a good idea.  And, Davis only asked for Joel. 

The sheriff lets Joel go in to talk with Davis.  Joel tells Davis that he knows he is not a horse thief and that he didn't kill anybody.   He adds, Sue knows that too.  Davis grabs Joel and holds a knife to his throat. He calls in the sheriff who has to give the keys up.  The sheriff and Joel are locked into the cells and the two "Confederates" ride to see Quantrill.  Westcott balls Quantrill out for getting him thrown into jail for horse theft and murder.  He adds that since the army is moving the ammunition to Fort Scott, they can grab the ammunition train outside of town.  So there is no need to even go into Lawrence.  Quantrill tells Westcott that he is going into Lawrence as planned. 

Westcott pulls his two pistols on the men and says that he is taking commander under the authority of General Price.  He wants Quantrill put under arrest.  A man starts coming in the door and Kate yells to Westcott:  "Watch out!"  Westcott turns and shoots the man, but this gives two men the chance to jump the captain.  It takes about five guys to get Westcott down and out.  Quantrill says they are going.  He leaves a guard behind to watch Westcott.  He says he wants the man alive when he returns.  They will infiltrate into the Lawrence area and then meet up.  They will hit Lawrence and the ammunition train in the morning. 

Kate defiantly tells Quantrill that he is disobeying orders and now he is finished, because if the Yanks don't get him, the Confederates will.  Quantrill gives her a hard slap across the face.  The men move out of camp. 

Westcott is tied up and sitting on a sofa under guard.  The guard has been drinking liquor.  Kate tells him there is another bottle of booze in the kitchen.  She goes into the kitchen and starts breaking a lot of dishes saying she can't reach the bottle.  The guard wobbles into the kitchen.  Kate comes out and grabs the bottle in the living room and when the swaying guard comes out with the kitchen bottle, she smashes the living room bottle over his head.  Westcott kisses Kate goodbye.  The guard wakes up and starts to chase after Westcott.  Kate grabs a rifle and shoots at him, but he shoots her in the stomach area, killing her.   

The guard catches up with Westcott and soon both men are off their horses and shooting at each other amid the rocks.  Westcott climbs on top of the large flat rock.  He whistles down for the guard.  He looks up and Westcott shoots him dead.  Now Westcott heads straight into Lawrence.  He jumps off his horse in front of the U.S. Army Arsenal.  The marshal and judge want to put him under arrest, but Westcott yells:  "Quantrill's coming!"  The judge wants to know why he is sticking his neck out for them.  Westcott replies that he came for the arsenal, not to kill innocent women and children.   The towns people start setting up barriers in the street. 

Quantrill's men come riding down the street.  He is shocked to see that the people have been tipped off.  They charge the barricades anyway but are driven off.  The judge asks Davis for his real name.  It's Allan Westcott.  The judge tells him he's glad that Allan came back to the town and Sue will be too, once she has thought it over.

Quantrill's men come back shooting.  Again they are driven off.  This time Westcott gets Quantrill thrown from his horse with a pistol shot.  Quantrill tries to run into a building, but the door is locked.  Quantrill shoots at Westcott but misses.  Westcott shoots at Quantrill and hits him mid-body.  Quantrill falls onto the street, still trying to kill Westcott.  Westcott shoots him again.  Quantrill lasts for a little while longer and then dies.  The cavalry returns.  Westcott surrenders to Major Matthews and is placed under arrest. 

Westcott is brought out the next morning.  The judge tells Sue not to worry; Westcott is just going to a prisoner of war camp until the war is over.  The captain apologizes to Sue.  Sue and Joel indicate they both want him to come back to Lawrence after the war.  He rides out under military escort. 

 

Spoiler Warning.  Good cowboy movie.  But this is a real fantasy movie.  There was no hero that saved Lawrence, Kansas.  On August 21, 1863 Quantrill committed a massacre in Lawrence, Kansas murdering 150 citizens of the town.  It makes for a nice Hollywood movie ending that Westcott saved the day, but it never happened.  Quantrill dies laying on a prison cell floor bleeding to death in June of 1865.  Good riddance!  The acting was okay.  I don't think anyone really stood out. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 


Historical Background:

 

1854 -- Kansas-Nebraska Act, introduced by Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, repeals the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Congress establishes the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. All territories can decide whether to permit or prohibit slavery. Act is condemned by abolitionists.

1854 -- Republican Party is formed as a reaction against the Kansas-Nebraska Act. It calls for the abolition of slavery, high protective tariffs, and a transcontinental railroad.

1855 -- settlement of Kansas under Douglas doctrine of "popular sovereignty" leads to bloody war between pro- and anti-slavery factions for control of the territorial government ("Bleeding Kansas")

1856 -- President Pierce recognizes pro-slavery legislature in Kansas Territory

1856 -- Border Ruffians (pro-slavery) sack Lawrence, Kansas. In return, abolitionist John Brown, with four of his sons and three other men, murders five pro-slavery colonists at Pottawatomie Creek. Civil war continues between Free State and pro-slavery factions until federal troops restore peace.

1857 -- Kansas elects Free State legislature. Pro-slavery delegates meet at Lecompton, Kansas, and draw up constitution rigged so that slavery could not be eliminated from the territory.

1857 -- President Buchanan consents to Lecompton Constitution in Kansas, thereby splitting the Democratic Party

1858 -- people of Kansas reject the Lecompton Constitution, and the territory becomes non-slave

1859 -- Abolitionist John Brown with 21 men seizes the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry

1858 -- William Clarke Quantrill comes to Kansas as a young man from his home state of Ohio where he was a suspected thief and murderer. His extremist Southern leanings became evident when he formed a troop of border ruffians to sack pro-Union farm owners, burning their crops, firing their homes and often hanging the farmers. He was an educated man, but one with a burning desire to get rich quick and he blamed others for his failure to become wealthy. Hiding behind the mask of a decent school teacher by day, by night he committed acts of brutal violence.

1859 -- Kansas ratifies anti-slavery constitution at Wyandotte

1861 -- with the war's outbreak, Quantrill gathers his followers en masse, clothing them in regulation gray uniforms and forming his own private guerrilla army.

1861 (Sept. 22)  --  Jim Lane and his pro-union supporters destroyed pro-slavery Osceola, Missouri, killing nine southern sympathizers.

1863, August 10 -- when Quantrill learns that the authorities in the town of Lawrence, Kansas, are spearheading a plan to bring about his demise, he plans a raid on the town.

1863, August 13 -- a rattletrap jail in Kansas City collapses, killing several female political prisoners from Missouri who were relatives of Quantrill's guerrillas and of fellow guerrilla "Bloody Bill" Anderson.

August 18-- Union General Ewing issued General Orders No. 9, detailing the program to free the slaves of disloyal Missourians in the Border District, and General Orders No. 10, arranging for the deportation of the families of guerrillas from the state.

August 21 -- Quantrill's men hit Lawrence, Kansas, murdering 150 civilians, and burning 100 buildings to the ground. The burned and mangled corpses littered the streets of Lawrence when Quantrill's men rode away, just a few hours after they had arrived.

Among Quantrill's men are Frank and Jesse James and their cousin, Cole Younger (all later famous as outlaws).

August 25 -- Gen. Ewing issues General Orders No. 11.(9) in reaction to Quantrill's murderous raid on Lawrence, Kansas; it results in the evacuation of most of the residents of four counties in the state: Bates, Jackson, Cass, and part of Vernon.

1864, Sept -- brutal slaughter and mutilation of over 100 unarmed Union soldiers at Centralia, Missouri by Blood Bill Anderson (the most savage and sadistic of all the Civil War guerrillas), who is associated with Quantrill.

A Union scouting party catches Anderson on the run and kills him with more than two dozen bullets in his chest. Upon learning the news, Quantrill experiences a sense of dread about his own future.

1865, June -- death of Quantrill; a federal patrol blows him off his saddle in Kentucky severely wounding him; they toss him into a local jail, where he slowly bleeds to death

 

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