William Quantrill - Still Hiding In Arkansas?

Within Augusta Memorial Park Cemetery, en enigma lies under a large marker bearing the name L.J. Crocker. Many believe the moniker is an alias and that the grave is actually the final resting place of William Clarke Quantrill, the infamous Confederate renegade.

Quantrill burned his name into American Civil War history during the border clashes between the states of Missouri and Kansas. On August 21, 1861, he led a group of 450 men into Lawrence, Kansas, where they executed 183 men and boys and then burned the town. Most historians think Quantrill was wounded and captured in 1865 and that he died in prison in Louisville, Kentucky.
A band of Yankee cavalry caught up with Quantrill on a farm, located 5 miles south of Taylorsville, Kentucky on May 10, 1865. Quantrill and about 21 of his men were camped inside the barn when the Yanks launched a surprise attack. He and his men fought desperately from the windows and doorways of the farm house until their ammunition was exhausted. Quantrill was shot while trying to escape. One bullet struck him in the hand and another hit his left shoulder blade, angled down and lodged against his spine. He was instantly paralyzed from the waist down. When questioned, Quantrill gave his name as Captain Clarke of the 4th MO Confederate Calvary and asked to be allowed to stay on the farm and die. His wish was granted and the northern  men rode off in pursuit of Quantrill. Mr. Wakefield, the owner of the farm, sent for a doctor who announced that Quantrill’s wound was fatal.

After learning the supposedly true identity of the man who was injured at the Wakefield farm, the Yankees returned with a wagon on Friday, May 12. They loaded Quantrill and took him to Louisville, arriving there on the 13th of May and a few days later, there he died.

According to one legend though, what really happened was that Quantrill, who was so badly injured that he lay quietly in his bed, pleaded with the authorities to let his wife visit him. Finally they agreed. Then one of the most bizarre escapes in all of America history took place.

When Mrs. Quantrill arrived in the hospital room, Quantrill's companion in the next bed had just died. They stripped the dead man and dressed the body in Quantrill's uniform and placed it in Quantrill's bed. Then Quantrill himself put on his wife's clothes. She in turn put on the dead man's clothes, was gagged and tied, and lay down in the dead man's bed. Quantrill, whose bruised spine had healed enough that he could move again, dressed as a woman and walked away a free man. Mrs. Quantrill was discovered bound and gagged, gasping she had found her husband dead in his bed and had been attacked by the other man n the room who made her exchange clothes with him and then tied her up.

The authorities believed her story and as a result of this dramatic escape plot no further search was ever conducted for Quantrill. Instead the Louisville hospital records reflect William Clarke Quantrill died of his wounds and that an unknown member of his gang managed to escape. Quantrill and his wife stayed in Kentucky for the next two years while Quantrill was fully recovering his health.

In 1867, a wealthy stranger calling himself Captain L.J. Crocker arrived in Gregory, a small town near Augusta, Arkansas. He bought a large farm with cash pulled from his saddlebags. It is said he had a military bearing and it was obvious he was an expert horseman. For several years, he and his wife worked their farm and kept mostly to themselves, but eventually Crocker made many friends, helped establish the local bank, and joined the local Freemason lodge. When the Crockers arrived, they had a young daughter named Laura Lee with them, but unfortunately, Laura died shortly before her 4th birthday. She was buried in Augusta Memorial Park cemetery.

Rumors circulated about Crocker’s true identity. Men familiar with Quantrill noted the stranger’s striking resemblance to the guerilla leader. Quantrill was known to have lost a finger in the fight on the farm when he was captured and Crocker always wore a glove in public. Crocker’s wife, Gabriella, was a relative of Cole Younger. Younger and Frank and Jessie James were former members of Quantrill’s Raiders and visited the Crocker home on several occasions.

Then one day when Captain Crocker was chatting with friends in the livery stable at Augusta, a newcomer by the name of Hutchison approached him and said, "You, Captain Crocker, are the man I knew as Quantrill. I was in the Federal Army and was captured by your men. It was you who finally let me escape." Captain Crocker looked at the man and smiled slowly. "You are mistaken, Sir. My name is L. J. Crocker, and furthermore I think that Quantrill would have shot any Yankee soldier that he captured."  Over the years, a number of former soldiers identified Captain Crocker as Quantrill, but he always denied it.

Could Captain Crocker really be the infamous William Clarke Quantrill, the feared guerrilla fighter, the leader of a large group of desperadoes who tried to aid the Confederacy by burning, pillaging, and murdering during raids in Missouri, Kansas, and even Kentucky? Could this stately gentlemen who had made so many friends in Gregory and Augusta, and who was adored by children when he visited in their homes, could he possibly be that same Quantrill who had been described in the newspapers as "The bloodiest man in the annals of American history, the father of American outlaws, a killer who had butchered women and children"?

Eventually, in 1910, after obtaining a secrecy oath from his fellow Masons, Crocker confirmed suspicions. He was, he said, William Clarke Quantrill and he asked that his true identity be kept secret until after his death.
Captain Crocker, or Quantrill, take your pick, lived on his farm near Gregory for 50 years, from 1867 until his death in 1917. He is buried in Augusta Memorial Park next to his daughter Laura Lee. No one seems to know for sure what happened to Mrs. Crocker after her husband's death, but it is assumed she rejoined her relatives in Missouri.
Augusta is a small, peaceful town 75 miles northeast of Little Rock. To visit the cemetery, turn south off US64 East onto Fifth Street at the armory and go about 1 block. The cemetery will be on your left.

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