Trying Quantrill

News comes today that William Quantrill was acquitted of six charges of murder relating to the 1863 raid on Lawrence, Kansas … which, given that Quantrill died in 1865, will have no effect on him.

Participants noted that the mock trial, which took place in Missouri, might have had a different outcome had it taken place in Kansas. Ya think?

More interesting may be the website that helped publicize this event.

What do you think such exercises prove? What purpose do they serve?


20 thoughts on “Trying Quantrill

  1. Pat Young October 27, 2013 / 12:14 pm

    When these are offered at law schools they are typically seen as entertainment, so if they are entertaining, they are a fun diversion.

  2. M.D. Blough October 27, 2013 / 3:15 pm

    Lawrence, KA was a war crime, not a diversion. There were soldiers murdered at Lawrence but just because a civilian is old enough to hold a gun does not make him a soldier. I did some reading on Osceola and 9 Confederate SOLDIERS died there and I saw nothing that indicated that they were executed after they surrendered or could have been taken prisoner without risk and there is no indication that any civilians were killed, intentionally, or otherwise. This article makes my skin crawl. What next? The vindication of Champ Ferguson. The war in Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas was brutal in ways that Easterners couldn’t begin to imagine and both sides had terrible sins to their accounts but trying to excuse it is just wrong.

    As for participants blithely admitting that the result depended on the location makes this a sick form of popularity contest, not justice, and means it proves nothing.

    What next? A mock trial set up to exonerate the Nazis who wiped out Lidice, Czechoslovakia and most of its population (except for a few “Aryan” looking children who disappeared into Germany) in retaliation for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich?

  3. Schroeder October 27, 2013 / 3:15 pm

    This is very odd to me. This obsession of this specific group of individuals. Sitting here thinking about what their motivations are.

  4. jfepperson October 27, 2013 / 4:54 pm

    Mostly it appears that such exercises are organized to advance an agenda. They could be used to advance our understanding, but I fear that is tilting at windmills …

  5. Justin Evans October 28, 2013 / 5:11 am

    I attended this production and from my point of view (which isn’t inflamed by the Kansas-Missouri rivalry) it was conducted with due respect to the seriousness of the events in Lawrence. Nobody I know at the University of Missouri law school felt that the result was a forgone conclusion either. The verdict very well could have been a result of those things due to jury bias, but there wasn’t an apparent “agenda” other than illuminating the intersection of law and historical events. The outcome, in my opinion, had a lot to do with the performances of each side of the argument as well.

    To be fair, the “verdict” was the result of a four hour production that presented a good deal of background. It wasn’t one-sided.

    • M.D. Blough October 28, 2013 / 1:56 pm

      Justin-Excuse me if I have difficulty coming up with any set of circumstances in which pre-meditated execution of unarmed civilians including boys can be justified.

  6. Neil Hamilton October 28, 2013 / 8:10 am

    It proves that 21st century minds do not responds or act in ways that 19th century minds did.

  7. Charles Lovejoy October 28, 2013 / 8:49 am

    “when the players are all dead, there needs none to be blamed.” I’m sure we all know where that came from. 150 years latter in my life time I’m much more concerned about the out of control murder rate in Metro Atlanta, than an event that happened a 150 years ago. More worried about stopping genocide in places like Darfur and other parts of the world today. A person could practice mortification for a life time, both emotional and physical and it would not bring back one of the dead, relieve their suffering and change one thing that happened. A mock trial of the event at this time only serves the idle curiosity of some.

  8. Will Hickox October 28, 2013 / 9:04 am

    It’s a little disturbing that real U.S. military officers were involved in this.

  9. Dennis October 28, 2013 / 1:09 pm

    LOL! Read the whose who on this website. All MU history expert wannabees.

    Website & trial says more about these University of Missouri law school widgets’ manipulation of history than it does about Quantrill. Never imagined Quantrill could be used as a pawn, but these heritage holders of MU Slavers have figured out a way to do so.

    Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!

  10. Justin Evans October 28, 2013 / 7:28 pm

    @ Charles Lovejoy: I don’t think that a mock trial of a historical event is any more trivial than any other interaction with history. And while I’m glad that you invest all of your energy in modern-day problems, I’d say many of the participants in this little academic lark share your passions and invest as much of their time in such endeavors. But we all sit down at times to take a break from fixing the world’s problems, and this was an informative way to spend an evening.

    @ Dennis: Again, it was a rather evenhanded treatment of events – it didn’t paint the man in a positive light, it simply gave his motivations through a character acting the part. It wasn’t a particularly sympathetic portrayal. Movies often depict events such as this. The audience (typically) understand that our villains of history had motivations, just as the heroes of history often had moments of infamy. Overall, this was probably just as much an education on the subject of jury bias as it was on war-crimes in the Civil War era.

    @ M.D Bough: I’m not sure I see the problem with attempting to illuminate a historical event from the perspective of both sides. Should they have written only the Kansan’s perspective?

    • M.D. Blough October 28, 2013 / 9:53 pm

      On your answer to Dennis, I’d say it’s more of an example of jury nullification, a situation in which a jury makes a decision on emotion, etc, that is intentionally contrary to what a decision based on the law would be.

      I think we can go too far in wanting to be even-handed. This is not a matter of Kansas v. Missourian from my perspective. Personally, I think John Brown, if he was to be hung, should have been hung for the cold-blooded murder at Pottawattamie not for “treason’ against a state of which he was not a citizen. Studying the viciousness of the war in the Kansas-Missouri-Arkansas region in the Civil War is important. However, given what is known about the planning of the Lawrence massacre, unless you are going to give the audience a good grounding on jury nullification, then I have real problems with an acquittal. We are talking about dragging unarmed civilian men and boys and slaughtering them in front of their families. Lawrence was a target long before Osceolan.

      • Justin Evans October 29, 2013 / 12:28 pm

        They ran short of time (again, a 4 hour production), so unfortunately the audience wasn’t privy to the jury instructions, but as I understand it the jury was a “military tribunal” instructed on the law of war as it was at the time. Criminal law wasn’t the standard. Since I don’t know what instructions they used, I can’t say whether the jury ignored the law outright.

        • Dennis November 2, 2013 / 10:47 am

          I am struggling to figure out what “law of war at the time” was used? I am familiar with the United States Constitution, and I know there is no provision for finding terrorists innocent for slaughtering civilians in the time of war. Perhaps the MU law school which spawned so many of these folks is using a different Constitution?

      • Dennis November 2, 2013 / 10:51 am

        Rarely disagree with you, but this is certainly an issue of Kansas vs Missouri. We see this all the time on the border. Small groups that justify or glorify the atrocities. The difference here is the association of folks trained in law at MU with this. Troubling.

        Justin. What would the Kansas perspective on this be that is different than Missouri in terms of the slaughter of innocents.

        They did admit these folks were killed didn’t they?

    • Dennis November 2, 2013 / 10:38 am

      Justin, It doesn’t matter what even handed treatment was given to Q. Any “trial” that ends up finding this man not guilty of war crimes is fundamentally flawed,. Do you seriously think the raid was not an atrocity? I mean what’s the point – or agenda for even having this?

      What’s next for this little pseudo-historical/judicial group? A even handed look at – well, I cannot diminish the memories of those killed by other terrorists in our country by naming one as an example but you get the point.

      As I said, it really reflects poorly on the University of Missouri to have these folks associated with this and them.

      Be careful of the Kool aid they are offering in the form of “justice”


  11. Dennis November 2, 2013 / 10:44 am

    The rivalry between MU & KU (recently ended) always bought up the issue. MU bloggers promising to Burn Lawrence once again and KU bloggers calling out the “slavers.”

    The most creative was probably the Brown mural displayed by students at a KU MU game that depicted Brown with a Rifle in one hand and the NCAA Championship troohy in the other

    Childish, maybe, and shallow as well. But a helluva a lot better than a “trial” that vindicates the cold blooded murder of civilians.

    I’ll take the student antics with Brown’s mural over that any time.

  12. Frank Bowman December 2, 2013 / 9:47 pm

    As the faculty adviser to the University of Missouri Law School Historical and Theatrical Trial Society (HATTS) that presented the Trial of Quantrill, I suppose I ought to set the record straight. Every year, HATTS presents a trial that might have been, but never was. Which is to say, we create a trial file and then actually litigate a historical event that might have resulted in a legal case, but didn’t. We’ve tried Lewis and Clark for stealing Indian canoes, Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden for arranging the assassination of Jesse James, John Brown for the Pottawatomie Creek Massacre, and this year William Quantrill for the Lawrence Raid. The trials are selected not only for regional interest, but also when possible to explore issues that resonate today.

    For example, the Crittenden trial occurred during the Bush Administration’s intense focus on counter-terrorism and the trial explored the appropriate limits of executive branch action when faced with outbreaks of violence that conventional law enforcement is unable to quell. The Brown trial necessarily involved the question of how far individuals may go in confronting government-sanctioned injustice (in that case slavery). And the Quantrill trial, in which an irregular combatant killed civilians and was tried before a mock military commission, had obvious resonance in current events.

    Each of these trials is made as historically accurate as the necessarily limited time permits. And all the participants take the exercise very seriously. If you are interested in watching what we do, both the Crittenden (Jesse James), and John Brown trials can be watched in their entirety at my website. Go to and follow the links to the trial information and videos.

    As for the outcome of the Quantrill trial, I confess myself a bit nonplussed (particularly because I prosecuted the case). But I think it is explainable partly based on the then-applicable law of war which permitted reprisals to an extent not now allowed, partly because we had to compress and therefore dilute the force of the evidentiary presentation, and partly due to the fascinating persistence of regional historical memory. On the first point, if you are interested in the law of war of the period, you should read the excellent book by John Witt, Lincoln’s Code. On the last, I do think that having the trial in Missouri affected the outcome. People’s perception of the rights and wrongs of the Border War are still heavily affected by where they grew up.

    In part for that reason, I’m working with representatives of the KU Law School to bring the Quantrill trial to Lawrence next year. My students claim that I’m doing it simply because i hate losing, even mock trials, which is true enough. But mostly I think it will be absolutely fascinating to see if residents of Lawrence end up judging the same facts markedly differently than the residents of Columbia. Those of you in Kansas should come.

    Frank Bowman
    Floyd R. Gibson Missouri Endowed Professor of Law
    University of Missouri School of Law

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