Every bed in the hospital at the military prison in Louisville, Kentucky was filled with wounded and dying men. The Civil War had officially ended on April 9, 1865, but Rebels still fighting for their lost cause refused to surrender. Union soldiers pursued renegade Confederates until they were captured or shot. Guerilla leader William Quantrill was gunned down on May 10, 1865, by a Union ranger party. Quantrill and his followers were holed up in a barn on the farm of James H. Wakefield in the southern part of Spencer County in Kentucky.
Quantrill was suffering from a serious injury. He’d been shot in the back while trying to flee the scene. A bullet struck the left side of his body near his left shoulder blade and smashed downward into his spine. The impact of the bullet knocked him off his ride face down in the mud. He struggled to get to his feet but found he was completely paralyzed below his arms.
Quantrill winced in pain when he opened his eyes and attempted to reposition himself in the crude, narrow bed where he had been placed. The thin bandage placed over his wound did not stop the blood from oozing through the bullet hole and soaking through the top cover of dirty sheets. Seventeen-year-old Sarah Catherine King was seated next to him on the bed trying to keep him still. She was a sturdy, buxom girl with striking features and raven-colored hair. She flashed a smile at the dying man, reached out, and gently took his hand in hers. The twenty-seven-year-old patient was pale, but his features were still sharp and handsome. With great effort he lifted his head to search the room for members of his loyal band of followers. The room was lighted by smoking, kerosene lamps, and the place was swarming with flies. Quantrill’s eyes came to rest on the form of a man lying in a blood-soaked bed next to him. The man was crying like a child. Quantrill didn’t recognize him. He did know Sarah however.
When Quantrill looked at Sarah, tears of pain rolled down his face and a sweat broke out on his forehead. She kissed his cheek. He was comforted by his wife’s presence. Sarah explained to him that a priest had stopped by the boarding house she operated in St. Louis and let her know that “he had been wounded in a scuffle on a farm and was not expected to live.”
Tears welled up in Sarah’s eyes and spilled onto Quantrill’s hand. With as much strength as he could manage he brushed the tears from her cheek. Stretcher barriers came and transported the dead man lying next to the couple away. The appalling conditions at the hospital as well as the sounds of the wounded swept over Sarah and for a moment she sat frozen with the horror of the picture.
A priest graciously interrupted and in a low voice instructed Sarah to let him have some time with her husband. Quantrill was dying and the clergyman wanted to pray with him and encourage him to get his heart right with the Maker. Sarah overheard a little of Quantrill’s confession and watched him be baptized into the Catholic faith.
Quantrill’s child bride watched him languish in terrible pain for more than two days after she arrived. The Confederate soldier referred to as “the bloodiest man in the annals of America” breathed his last breath on June 6, 1865.
Sarah left town before her spouse of two and a half years was dead and buried in the Portland Catholic Cemetery in Louisville. She suspected there would come a time when Union officers would look beyond her grieving and want to question her about what she knew of the property, jewelry, money, etc. her husband had taken from Lawrence, Kansas. Quantrill and his men had attacked the town in August 1863, killing hundreds and looting the businesses, banks, and homes before burning the town to the ground. Quantrill had shared his spoils of war with his wife but told her to deny having any of the property if she was ever asked. By the time authorities were ready to speak with Sarah about Quantrill’s raids on Kansas, she was long gone. Law enforcement officials would seek her out in much the same way they did her outlaw husband.
Sarah Catherine King met William Clarke Quantrill at her father’s farm near Blue Springs, Missouri, in the winter of 1861. She was thirteen years old and Quantrill was twenty-three years old. More than a hundred of Quantrill’s men had set up camp around Robert King’s homestead. While Robert and Quantrill were standing on the farmer’s porch discussing the progress of the Civil War, Sarah arrived home from school and hurried to her father’s side. She was instantly smitten by the charming Confederate officer. He was handsome, had blue eyes, was well built, and carried himself with sincere self-assuredness. Quantrill admired Sarah as well. According to the May 23, 1926 edition of the Kansas City Star, Sarah was “lively and jolly; a disposition which years of turmoil and suffering since had not changed. Old-timers who knew her remembered that she was pretty beyond question. She was raised on a farm. Her time, spent mostly outdoors and a great deal of that time spent horseback riding, had given her health and vigor and rosy cheeks. She could ride a horse like one born to the saddle. Ever since she was old enough to hold a rein her father had provided her with a mount, one that she could call her own.”
Quantrill made frequent visits to the King homestead after his introduction to Sarah. He dined with her and her family, and they took long horseback rides together. Sarah’s mother and father were concerned about the age difference between the two and just as the friendship was evolving into something more, Mr. & Mrs. King forbade Sarah from seeing Quantrill, any longer. The strong-willed teenager and the insubordinate militia leader refused to obey. Their relationship continued in secret. Sarah snuck out the house to meet Quantrill and the pair enjoyed spending time talking about their lives and possibilities for the future. Decades after Quantrill had been gone, Sarah told reporters at the Kansas City Star that he was candid with her about his difficult upbringing and trouble with authorities.
Quantrill’s family came from Hagerstown, Maryland. He was born at Canal Dover, Ohio, on July 31, 1837. “I was a quiet, reserved boy,” he told Sarah who later told the Kansas City Star. “I would fight if drawn into a brawl and felt I was obliged to defend myself, but it was not my choice to start trouble.” Quantrill shared with Sarah that he was an exceptional marksman. “Watch me make a pig squeal,” I would tell our neighbor Mr. Scott. Then I’d draw my gun and put a clean round hole through the ear of the pig twenty yards away.” Tales of his childhood antics gave way to stories of becoming a teacher and potential land owner. “I was too young to enter an agreement with a bank to purchase property so neighbors did purchase the property on my behalf,” he explained to Sarah. “After all the hard work I put in on the homestead the neighbors refused to turn the deed over to me. I was infuriated over the matter.” Quantrill sought his revenge against the people who ultimately “took the land meant for him by stealing some of their livestock.” He confessed to Sarah that he was arrested for the theft.
Shortly after his legal troubles ended, he moved to Kansas and taught school. When Sarah asked him about the war he told her that he had been friends with John Brown and that the two disagreed with slavery. They made midnight raids across the border into Missouri and stole slaves away from their owners and sent them into freedom. Sarah pressed to find out way he fought for the South if that were the case. “An act of treachery,” he relayed. He and three Confederates had planned to make a midnight raid on Morgan L. Walker, a rich farmer in Jackson County, Missouri, not far from Sarah’s family’s homestead. Quantrill and the three with him were going to steal slaves and other property. Quantrill rode ahead of the others to make sure the way was clear. When he entered Walker’s house the family kindly welcomed him and gave him dinner. The Walker’s hospitality caused him to reconsider his actions. Instead of returning to his comrades and carrying out the raid, Quantrill revealed the whole plot to Walker and his sons, even telling them where the men were hiding out. Heavily armed, Walker and one of his sons crept up on the raiders. The Walkers opened fire, and one of the raiders was killed. The other two temporarily escaped. They were eventually found and murdered.
Afterwards Quantrill, Morgan Walker and his sons joined forces. By December 1860, Quantrill elaborated to Sarah, he was at the head of a powerful guerilla band on the side of the South. “When the war broke out my name was already a terror to free state Kansas,” he concluded.
The very young and very naïve Sarah found Quantrill’s candor refreshing. She spent every moment away from him devising ways to leave her family and make her life with the renegade. On one occasion a neighbor saw Quantrill and Sarah riding together near a creek. When her father learned Sarah had disobeyed he took her horse away from her. Not even that could stop her from seeing Quantrill. At the first opportunity she walked to his camp and explained what had occurred. Sarah told the Kansas City Star in 1926 that she and Quantrill decided then to marry. In the spring of 1861, Quantrill escorted her to the home of a country preacher six miles away and the pair exchanged vows. Their wedding night was spent in an abandoned cabin. Quantrill insisted she change her name to Kate Clarke in order to keep their relationship a secret from his enemies. Sarah King, now Kate Clarke, (Quantrill’s middle name) agreed.
According to the May 23, 1926, edition of the Kansas City Star report, Mrs. Quantrill accompanied her husband on various raids he made on pro-Union towns in Kansas at the end of 1861. Quantrill left the Confederate Army five months after the Civil War started because he decided the South was not using the fierce tactics needed to fight as they should. His reputation for hijacking Union mail coaches, attacking Union soldiers and stealing from them attracted numerous outlaws. Sarah shared a camp with brutal men motivated solely by revenge who traveled by night to keep from being caught by law enforcement. According to the May 5, 1864, edition of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, newspaper the Daily Milwaukee News, she was with Quantrill on September 7, 1862, when he and his band attacked and looted Olathe, Kansas, in the dark and early hours of the morning. They quickly fled to an area close to the town of Wellington in Lafayette County, Missouri.
Sarah and Quantrill briefly lived in a one-room log cabin near the town of Wellington. Federal troops, hot on the trail of Quantrill’s guerrillas, were spotted one night by a look-out man and the pair was forced to abandon their quaint home. Sarah made a getaway with a fleet of horses her husband and his men had stolen. The renegade band met up with her once the coast was clear and regained possession of the fresh mounts. Sarah continued without her husband and took refuge in an area east of Kansas City, Missouri, known as Bone Hill.
In her absence Quantrill’s followers grew to four hundred plus men. Confederate leaders recognized the powerful influence his raiders had and unofficially commissioned them to defend the Rebel agenda by terrorizing and robbing areas and individuals who sympathized with the North. Quantrill’s raiders would ride full gallop into a town armed with pistols, firing their weapons left and right. Then they would wheel their horses around and be off and away like the wind. Quantrill and his men knew the land better than the Indians. They were always able to elude authorities with their hard riding and superior knowledge of the country.
Sarah was hiding out near the area of Fort Scott, Kansas on October 17, 1862, when her husband and group attacked Shawnee, Kansas. The Rebels burned the town to the ground and killed a dozen people by shooting them in the back of the head.
Quantrill and his young bride did not reunite until the end of August 1863. By that time Quantrill and his band of outlaws had already viciously attacked Lawrence, Kansas. According to the September 1977 edition of Real West Magazine, Sarah reported that Quantrill “did little other than plan and execute the horrible raid. The by word was “Kill! Kill! Kill! He ordered all males in the town old enough to carry a rifle be destroyed; no women or children were to be harmed.” The outcome was much more severe than that. The town’s bank and businesses were robbed, one hundred fifty-four buildings belonging to Union sympathizers were ruined, and more than one hundred eighty men and boys were slain.
Sarah was waiting for Quantrill outside Lawrence after the massacre. She told the Kansas City Star that “arising before dawn on the morning of the Lawrence massacre, anxious about Quantrill’s safety, she had left the bushwhacker camp in Missouri and ridden ninety miles in five hours, reaching him, as it turned out, just in time to accompany him on the arduous two-day retreat back across the line. His blood-thirsty group was then disbanded and the couple fled the area and headed to Texas.”
The Quantrills spent several weeks camping around Missouri, and it was during this time he presented her with a myriad of jewels he had acquired while in Lawrence, seven diamond rings, three pins and four sets of earrings. By the end of 1863, the couple had returned to the Midwest and established a hideout in the Perche Hills of Howard County, Missouri. Their temporary dwelling in Howard County was “as close to a permanent home the couple ever had,” Sarah told the Kansas City Star in 1926. Quantrill introduced Sarah to a variety of vices there including drinking and smoking. “We whiled away many hours beside the stove, planning the future,” she recalled to the Star.
Quantrill remained in the hills until early 1864. While lying low, the renegade had a chance to organize a new group of guerrilla fighters and were planning attacks on towns that backed the Union’s position on the war. Sarah occasionally traveled with her husband and his men from location to location. The warriors always treated her with absolute respect. Quantrill trusted her explicitly, so much so that when he needed two bad teeth removed he preferred to have Sarah do the job over a medic he didn’t know or could not depend on.
In June 1864 Quantrill sent Sarah to St. Louis and he returned to Jackson County, Missouri, to rendezvous with some of his old followers. Some of the guerrillas went with Quantrill to Kentucky; others rode into Texas. Among the latter was Jesse James. Sarah wasn’t the only female to reportedly leave Quantrill and his raiders, Sue Mundy, a guerrilla from Tennessee, was said to have fled the band of fighters in 1865.
According to the October 11, 1864, edition of the Louisville, Kentucky newspaper the Louisville Journal, Sue was an artillery specialist with Quantrill’s group. Her last ride as a guerrilla was in March 1865. The group was headed for Paris, Tennessee, when home guards, loyal to the Union, fired on Mundy and the others, killing one man and injuring another.
Sue and another guerrilla found shelter for their wounded companion in a barn, but word of the skirmish as well as the whereabouts of Sue and the other survivors reached the Union garrison in Louisville. Union troops surrounded the barn, and Sue agreed to surrender after being assured they would be treated as prisoners of war. Three days after their capture Sue was hanged. Once the deceased was buried in an unmarked grave, the truth about Sue was revealed to the public. Sue was, in truth, a man, and his name was Marcellus Jerome Clark. Nicknamed “Sue” by his superiors because of his long hair, Union officials assumed the twenty-year-old killer was indeed a woman. For a brief period of time, Sarah King and Sue Mundy were two of the most sought after female outlaws connected with Quantrill.
Quantrill’s end came at a fight near Smiley, Kentucky, at the Wakefield farm. According to a report in the August 3, 1888, edition of the Fort Wayne, Indiana newspaper the Fort Wayne Weekly Gazette, it is believed that Quantrill was trying to reach General Robert E. Lee at Virginia and surrender with him. In Kentucky he called himself Captain Clarke and his men wore Federal uniforms, but their identity was discovered. On May 10, 1866, Quantrill and his party were attacked. In trying to escape two of his men were killed, and he was mortally wounded. Sarah was gone by the time he took his last breath and wasn’t notified until weeks after his passing that he had left her more than $500. Sarah used the funds Quantrill left her along with the money she received from the sale of the jewels he had stolen to set herself up in the boarding house business. Authorities found the widow in a small town in southwest Missouri. Unable to recover the rings and pins Quantrill gave her they decided to let the matter go.
Sarah abandoned the life of a business owner in the late 1860s and returned to Blue Springs, Missouri, to live near her parents. She spent the money she earned from the boarding house and its subsequent sale to rebuild her parent’s home which had burned to the ground in an accidental fire.
Sarah married two more times after losing Quantrill and had one child, Bertha Ivins-Evans. In late 1928 Sarah moved to the Jackson County Home for the Aged to live out the remainder of her days. While a friendly person most said, she seldom spoke to anyone and kept, for the most part, to herself.
Sarah King died on February 4, 1930. She was laid to rest at the Maple Hill Cemetery in Kansas City, Kansas. She was eighty-two years old when she passed.
Chris Enss is the COWGIRL Book Editor, and a New York Times Bestselling author who writes about women of the Old West. For more stories about these wild women, visit www.chrisenss.com for more information on her books.