Captain Charles F. Coleman-Civilian Blood on his Hands

The small hamlet of Lone Jack, Missouri situated in eastern Jackson County was named from a large jack oak tree that stood alone on the prairie. This is where the principle settlement grew and where the township elections were held. The town was on a ridge of prairie between the Osage and Missouri Rivers. Pioneers from North Carolina settled the area in the early 1830s. There were nearly thirteen hundred people, predominately Southern, living in the area.

The Civil War had been raging for over two years and the Union military along the border had never been able to defeat the partisan soldiers under Colonel William Clarke Quantrill who were stationed here protecting the area against Federal terrorists and Kansas Jayhawkers. As the Federal juggernaut slowly tightened their grip throughout the South Quantrill's command was the only Confederate force that was attributed with any success in the Trans-Mississippi Department in 1863.

While Quantrill had spent the winter in Texas guerrilla Frank Smith recalled that the winter of 1863 was very severe in Jackson County after Quantrill’s men left. Redleg raids plundered Jackson and Cass Counties, and a great deal of that was conducted by Col. William Penick’s men, (known as Penick's Thieves) and the Jayhawkers stationed in Independence . Penick made it a standard practice to assassinate anyone who was suspected of being in sympathy with the guerrillas.

When Quantrill returned with his command and commenced military operations he managed to keep the Federals completely off balance. Besides numerous small scale victories all along the border his men nearly annihilated two Federal companies just outside the city limits of the huge Federal garrison in Kansas City on June 17, 1863, where the the guerrillas killed 33 Federals belonging to the 9th Kansas Jayhawker Regiment. In retaliation the soldiers murdered five young Southern girls related to Quantrill's men. On August 21, 1863 Quantrill conducted the successful raid on Lawrence, Kansas, called one of the most highly successful light cavalry raids of the war. Following this on October 6, 1863, Quantrill destroyed the Federal post in Baxter Springs, Kansas comprising elements of the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry and portions of the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry including the Federal Commander of the Frontier, General James G. Blunt's personal bodyguard totaling over 100 men.

Trying to counter Quantrill's successful victories General Thomas Ewing issued his infamous Order #11 giving citizens of five border counties in Missouri fifteen days to vacate the area or move within one mile of a Federal outpost. Eight days later before the citizens were able to leave the area with their property thus denying the Kansas Jayhawkers the opportunity of stealing their belongings in the name of liberty Federal troops and Kansas Jayhawkers were already swarming through Jackson County plundering the countryside and taking revenge by murdering Southern sympathizers before they had a chance to leave and taking the plunder back into Kansas.

Jayhawkers under the command of Lt. Col. Charles S. Clark of the 9th Kansas Jayhawker Regiment entered Jackson County, Missouri to enforce the evacuation order which was still three days away. Clark elected to execute Missourians whom his intelligence had identified as possibly being Southern sympathizers. In Lone Jack, Missouri early on Sunday morning, September 6, seventy-five-year-old Benjamin Potter was in the act of moving his family into Johnson County, Missouri, near Basin Knob when he was stopped by a Federal detachment of the 9th Kansas under the command of Lt. Col. Clark. Clark ordered Captain Charles F. Coleman to detain the prisoners until their identities could be ascertained. Potter was traveling in a small group that included his family and neighbors. One neighbor was Martin Rice. Rice was a farmer, dairyman, and a Unionist, traveling with his son and his son-in-law, William C. Tate. Rice was the only one with a certificate of loyalty. 

Other neighbors were Andrew Ousley, John S. Cave , brothers David and William Hunter and one of their young sons. The Federals were well aware that Quantrill had stopped at the Potter farm on his way to Lawrence and that Potter and his neighbors had fed Quantrill and his men and provided forage for the guerrilla’s horses from his own supply of oats. Captain Coleman separated all the men except Rice and his son and son-in-law ordering them to move along with the women. The party hadn’t gone too far when they heard a series of shots ring out. Rice tried to assure the women present that it might have only been the soldiers shooting fowls for breakfast but the women could not be convinced. Miss Jane Cave asked Amanda Potter to accompany her to search for her father. They frantically ran back to the site where they had been stopped by the soldiers. She found the soldiers gone and all seven of the men shot to death, some pierced by many balls. The men’s ages ranged from 17 to 75. Clarke erroneously reported to his superiors that the men were bushwhackers.

Information eventually leaked out as to how the events transpired. It was reported that the soldiers were reluctant to kill Potter but a youthful Union soldier volunteered for the deed and so he was killed. 75 year old Potter had been "gut shot" and left to die slowly. David Hunter attempted to flee. He was a large man and knocked two soldiers down in his break for liberty. He was felled in the edge of the timber and then, in a frenzy of hate, shot repeatedly in the face. Andrew Owsley, a nephew of the Hunters, also attempted to flee when a Federal voice cried out, “Five dollars to the man who drops the boy” and he was cut down while trying to jump a fence, and was left hanging there. An eyewitness reported that the beardless boy looked like a child as he lay in death. 

Clark was reported to have been aghast at Coleman’s actions. Clark admitted, “Those were innocent men. I could have saved them and I didn’t.” He told Coleman that their blood would be on Coleman’s hands alone. Southern newspapers carried the story throughout the South. “On Sunday last the desire for blood manifested itself in the southeastern part of Jackson County, not far from the village of Lone Jack . Although it was Sunday, the people of that region, alarmed and terror-stricken by threats from Kansas, and cruel edicts from headquarters of the district, were hard at work straining every nerve to get ready to leave their homes before this memorable 9th day of September, 1863.” The account went on to say how the men were separated and mercilessly killed. “There lay six lifeless forms, mangled corpses, so shockingly mangled that it was difficult, my informant stated, to identify some of them. They were buried were they were murdered, without coffins, by a few friends who had expected to join them on that day with their families, and journey in search of a home.”

The father of David and William Hunter arrived and in the rush of the forced evacuation had to bury his sons without shroud or coffin, merely covering them with quilts and placing them in the ground. When the war was over, several Confederates, relatives of the men slain, returned home to learn of the tragedy. They located Coleman and were laying plans to kill him when they found out that he had died. Gaius Cave , one of the murdered men’s relatives would often tell the story of the Federal atrocity ending with the words, “And he died before we got to kill him.”  

 Potter’s son Marion joined Quantrill after hearing of his father’s murder not only to fight but for safety, as it was hazardous for young men to remain at home. In the spring of 1865 Marion was seriously wounded and staying with friends in Waverly, Missouri , when he was captured by Federal soldiers. They took him to Marshall , Missouri , where he was taken, still unconscious, to the cemetery, placed on his casket and shot.

And 150 years later the name Jayhawker is still relished in Kansas.

References:  Photo courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society. Thruston, Ethylene Ballard. Echoes of the Past. The Lowell Press, Kansas City, Missouri, 1973, pg. 275

Voss, Stuart F..“Town Growth in Central Missouri , 1815-1860: an Urban Chaparral.” Missouri Historical Review, No. 64, pg. 199-200

Cave, Lillian L. The Biography of Benjamin Potter, Westport Historical Quarterly, Issue 2, Vol. 8, Sept 1972, pg. 44-55 St. Louis Republican September 1863

Jones, John B. A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary. Vol II, pg. 68-69, J. B. Lippincott & Co. P hiladelphia , 1866 History of Saline County, Missouri, St. Louis, Missouri Historical Company, 1881.

Petersen, Paul R. Quantrill in Texas, The Forgotten Campaign, Cumberland House Publishing, 2007.

© 2012 Paul R. Petersen Quantrillsguerrillas.com. "Permission should be requested and agreed to before using this copyrighted essay and or image." Next is an image of Captain Charles F. Coleman, Jayhawker & Murder.  ENJOY!


                                          MEMBERS ONLY SECTION

Text Size