Was This Quantrill?

Was This Quantrill ?
Written by F.W. Lindsay, “BC Outlaws”, 1963, Printed by Orchard City Press & Calendar Co., Kelowna, B.C. (Canada)

WILLIAM CLARKE QUANTRILL, prior to receiving his commission as captain in the Confederate army, had been a school teacher. Some historians say he had also followed a career of gambling and stage coach robbing in Colorado.
Encyclopaedias, history books and some other sources, such as the Kansas State Historical Society, tell us that Quantrill died of gunshot wounds in a Kentucky prison, shortly after his band was attacked  by a troop of Kentucky militia.
Of course, even history books and encyclopaedias could be mistaken. The following story which ran in the Victoria Colonist, was copied by Seattle papers and later carried by wire to every major paper in the United States, could be the true story. Some people believed it was, including Jim Butler, who knew Sharp before he was killed.
This is the story which appeared in the Colonist under dateline August 9th, 1907.

Guerilla Chieftain’s Home of Quatsino
“Bill” Quantrill, leader of Quantrill’s guerillas in the American Civil war 1861-66 who, according to history, died of wounds in a Kentucky hospital after his raiders were cut up, is alive on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island under the name of John Sharp. This is a statement made by people should be in a position to know. Among them is J.E. Duffy, a prominent timberman who recently became interested in timber limits at Quatsino. He met the so-called “John Sharp” and recognised him at once as Quantrill.  Duffy was a member of a troop of cavalry which cut up Quantrill’s force and he had no difficulty in recognising the man.

“Sharp, or more properly, Quantrill, admitted to Duffy that he was correct in his recognition. Quantrill, who is now over seventy years old, is grey but still active and wiry.”

“ At Quatsino he was called ‘old John Sharp’, a grey-headed, grey-bearded, wiry old man, who had obviously been a large, strong man in his younger days. He lived in a cabin with the forest about it at Coal Harbour and always had a drink for the weary traveller about to start over the trail to Hardy Bay or dragging in over the eleven-mile trail.”

“This summer J.E. Duffy came to Quatsino Sound and when he landed from the steamer Tees, he met Sharp on the beach at Coal Harbour. Duffy looked the old man over and then said, ‘Is that you Quantrill, you damned old rascal?’
“Come into the house,’ said Sharp, and for some hours the two men talked, Sharp stating that he was in reality Quantrill; and he talked at length of the raids in Kansas and elsewhere and eagerly listened to Duffy’s tales from the point of view of the cavalry man of the Union army. He was most keenly interested in the story of the cutting up of his band and when the narrator told of how forty had been killed, tears rolled down the old man’s cheeks.”

“R.E. Montgomery, who is engaged in business at Quatsino and who knew Sharp, or Quantrill, at Forth Worth, Texas, and H.D. Bergh, postmaster at Quatsino, were two others to whom Sharp stated his identity as Quantrill. ‘I might as well admit it,’ he told both, ‘it seems I cannot hide the fact.’ “
“ The story the old man at Quatsino told to the informant of the Colonist was that when his band was cut up, he had been bayoneted in the chest and had a bullet wound through his shoulder. History says Bill Quantrill died of such wounds. Those who talked with John Sharp, who says he is Quantrill, say that he has scars of two such wounds.”

“ ‘After he told me he was Quantrill,’ another Quatsino resident said, ‘I had a number of talks with him and he told me of many incidents of the raiding in the southern States, although I do not remember all the details.’ ”

After the above story appeared in the Colonist and was reprinted in the Seattle papers, many people came forward who knew about the old man of Quatsino. Jim Butler, logger, railroader and formerly soldier of fortune, knew him quite well. He told this writer many stories about Sharp.

“ Sharp was Quantrill alright,” Butler said, “he knew too much about Quantrill’s outfit to be anyone else. He talked freely about Jesse and Frank James and knew a great deal about the Civil War. Not only that, but he looked exactly as Quantrill had been described to me by men who had known him when he was leading the guerilla outfit. He was a tall, blue-eyed man with a voice that was made to command. Even when I knew him, he must have been seventy-odd then, he was a striking figure of a man. Of course northerners hated his guts because of his guerilla tactics, but you have to realise that he was a captain of the Confederate army and it is reasonable to suppose that his raids were carried out under orders. Had the south won the war, Quantrill would probably have had his statue in front of the Capitol buildings, wherever they were located. “

More Than a Watchman
“ The only time sharp talked about Quantrill was when he got tanked up - and he could drink a lot of liquor before he got into that condition. But when he was drinking, it seemed as though he wanted people to know that he was more than a watchman at a deserted coal mine. That was his job, you know, watching over that old coal property near Quatsino.”

“ One time he showed me the wounds on his body. He was scarred in a dozen places with bullets., knife-wounds and a great bayonet scar on his chest and a scar from a bullet through his shoulder. He was a gambling man too, so he said, and I don’t know what else.”

“ Sharp told me that he was wounded when a northern cavalry outfit trapped him and his band in a barn somewhere in Kentucky,” Butler said, “Sharp said that he was so badly wounded the northerners left him for dead and that he managed to creep into a neighbouring field and was looked after by a farmer.’ “

So much for the story of old man Sharp as told by the late James Butler. Apparently there were other people who were convinced that Sharp and Quantrill were identical, people in whose breasts burned a bitter hatred and a great longing for vengeance. But we have to fill in the gaps with a certain amount of imagination as to the events which followed the publishing of Quantrill’s story in the Victoria Colonist that August in 1907.

Sequel to a Story
It is not too hard to picture the story of Quantrill reprinted in some Kansas paper- Kansas, the state where Quantrill’s raiders had killed 150 helpless men, women and children in the town of Lawrence. And it is not difficult to imagine surviving relatives of some massacred family reading the headlines, ‘QUANTRILL STILL LIVES’ and setting out on a northern trek to end a vendetta.

In any event, a few weeks after the story about Quantrill appeared in the Colonist, two men, obviously southerners, arrived at Victoria and registered at the Dominion Hotel. They made several cautious inquiries about how to get to Quatsino Sound and when, two days later, the steamer Tees commenced her voyage up the west coast, these two men were aboard. During the trip they are reported to have evinced an interest in a certain “old man Sharp at Quatsino,” and were told by crewmen where sharp could be found. They discussed no other business, so it can be presumed that their business concerned the man, John Sharp.

When the Tees arrived at her dock in Quatsino, the two men obtained transportation to Coal Harbour. Next day, when the Tees sailed south, the two men were again passengers. Arriving in Victoria, these men took passage on a Seattle-bound vessel and so passed out of the picture. Now just about the time that the S.S. Tees was midstream in Quatsino Sound, bound for Victoria, a young friend of Sharp’s decided to pay the old man a visit. This is how he told what he found.

Old Score Settled

“Sharp’s cabin door was ajar and I went inside. I heard a groan and looked toward the old man’s bunk. When my eyes became accustomed to the darkness of the cabin, I saw old man Sharp lying on his bunk. He was an awful sight.  His face and hair and whiskers were matted in blood. I went to him and asked, ‘What’s happened?’ He recognised my voice, for he roused up and said, ‘Go and get me some whiskey.’ “
“There was a heavy iron poker that he used for his fire, beside the bunk and it was covered in blood. ‘Who hit you?’ I asked, ‘Get me some whiskey,’ was all he said. I had no way of getting him any whiskey or liquor of any kind, but I knew he needed help badly. I hurried away and got some men to go back to his cabin and see what they could do for him.”

When the men arrived, Sharp was still conscious, but was very angry when they had no whiskey for him. They asked him what had happened but he refused to tell them. They asked if he knew who had attacked him or why he had been beaten, but he remained silent. He died several hours later, with the name of his killer or killers passing on with him, so that there has never been a solution to the murder of old man Sharp.
There were no police on the north-western shores of Vancouver Island in 1907 and by the time an investigation was launched into the killing, Sharp had been buried for several months. The reason for the murder has never been truly answered. But we can presume that old man Sharp, an obscure watchman at an abandoned coal mine on Quatsino Sound, paid for the deeds committed by Captain William Clark Quantrill, school teacher, gambler, stage coach robber and Confederate guerilla fighter.



Comments