Sacking of Osceola

Encyclopedia entry by ,
Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence, Kansas

James Henry Lane served as a lieutenant governor, congressman, senator, and Union general. Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Event Summary:

  • Date: September 22-23, 1861
  • Location: St. Clair County, Osceola, Missouri
  • Adversaries: Brigadier General and U.S. Senator James Henry Lane with the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Kansas Volunteers vs. Missouri State Guard Captain John M. Weidemeyer and local militia and civilians of Osceola, Missouri
  • Casualties and damages: At least 10 casualties (including nine executions after the raid ended) and approximately $1 million in building and property damage
  • Result: The city of Osceola was left in ruins; Missouri bushwhackers sought retribution in the form of Quantrill’s Raid on August 21, 1863

The sacking of Osceola was a significant military engagement that took place during the early stages of the Civil War in Missouri. After losing the Battle of Dry Wood Creek near Fort Scott, Kansas, the Free-State leader, U.S. Senator and Brigadier General James Henry Lane guided his 3rd, 4th, and 5th Kansas Volunteers in the looting and sacking of Osceola, Missouri. A proud “jayhawker” and fierce antislavery supporter, Lane used his military status to impede the Confederate war effort in the border state.

Union General John C. Frémont originally ordered Lane and his men to cut off Confederate General Sterling Price and the secessionist Missouri State Guard north of Fort Scott, Kansas. Rather than personally pursuing Price and his Confederate troops after the Battle of Dry Wood Creek, Lane delegated Colonel Charles R. Jennison and some of his men to follow the Confederate general into western Missouri. Meanwhile Lane led his jayhawkers toward Osceola with intentions of raiding strong proslavery communities in the state.

Osceola's Board of Aldermen resolved in 2011 to request that the University of Kansas cease using the Jayhawk mascot and to use the lower-case to spell "kansas" and "ku," because "neither is a proper name or a proper place." 

Lane’s precise motivations for attacking Osceola are unclear. Local Osceola historian Richard Sunderwirth claims Lane targeted it because it was the home of one of his Confederate political foes, Missouri Senator Waldo P. Johnson. Other scholars, including Jay Monaghan, acknowledge the Johnson-Lane rivalry, but they assert that Lane’s chief purpose was to liberate African American slaves and squelch proslavery Missourians’ plans of secession from the Union. Indeed, before the sacking of Osceola, Lane stated, “Everything disloyal from a Durham cow to a Shanghai chicken must be cleaned out.”

Lane and approximately 2,000 of his troops arrived in Osceola, a port town on the Osage River, on September 22, 1861. In the early morning hours of September 23, Lane and his troops violently descended on the community. The so-called “Kansas Brigade” looted valuable goods and supplies from private homes, stores, the bank, and other businesses throughout the city, burning houses and buildings as they went. Lane and his men also “succeeded in capturing a heavy train of supplies destined for the armies of Generals [Gabriel J.] Rains and Price, together with $100,000 in money.” When the raid began, Missouri State Guard Captain John M. Weidemeyer and 200 Missouri militiamen fired their rifles and cannons at Lane and his men in an effort to protect the town and its citizens. Severely outnumbered and outmatched, however, the Missouri troops were soon forced to retreat to safety.

Brigadier General Lane and his troops left Osceola on September 23, many of them in a drunken state. Having plundered and burned almost everything in sight, including all but three of the town’s 800 buildings, the unauthorized jayhawker attack left Osceola in ruins. The October 11, 1861 edition of The Newark Advocate reported, “With his immense train of supplies, three hundred and fifty horses and mules, four hundred head of Price’s cattle, large droves of sheep and swine, with as many ‘contrabands’ [200 slaves] as he could employ, he [Lane] made his way to West Point [Missouri] unpursued.”Additionally, Lane stole 3,000 sacks of flour, 500 pounds of sugar and molasses, 50 pounds of coffee, and even the country records from the local courthouse. At least one of Captain Wiedemeyer’s men was killed during the raid and Lane executed nine other Osceola residents after giving them a hurried mass hearing.

From History to Pop Culture: In the novel True Grit, and in two movies of the same name, the character Rooster Cogburn was a native of Osceola, who joined up with Quantrill's Raiders after Jim Lane's Sacking of Osceola. The 1969 film featured John Wayne in the role, for which he won an Academy Award.

As the citizens of Osceola took stock of the extensive damage the Kansas Brigade had inflicted, many immediately called for revenge. John W. Fisher stated that the damage was “enough to make a man’s blood boil. . . . Men are anxious to go to Kansas and retaliate, [and] if we are permitted to go the retribution will be awful. Lane’s men were the destroyers and there will be no mercy shown them if we ever get a hold of them.” The formerly thriving port town never fully recovered from the attack.

The long-term consequences of the Kansas Brigade’s sacking of Osceola became evident two years later. On August 21, 1863, a group of 400 Missouri bushwhackers raided Lawrence, Kansas, killing between 160 and 190 men and boys and looting and burning much of the town. Commanded by William Clarke Quantrill, a proslavery guerrilla, the bushwhackers cited the sacking of Osceola as one of the primary justifications for their surprise attack on Lawrence. Brigadier General Lane was in Lawrence at the time of Quantrill’s bloody raid, and he narrowly avoided the wrath of the bushwhackers by running into a cornfield clothed only in his nightshirt.

Suggested Reading: 

Blair, William J., ed. The Journal of the Civil War Era 3, no. 2. Chapel Hill: UNC Press Books, 2013.

Castel, Albert E. "Kansas Jayhawking Raids into Western Missouri in 1861." Missouri Historical Review 54, no. 1 (October 1959). Republished on the Civil War St. Louis website on November 15, 2003.

Kansas Humanities Council. Shared Stories of the Civil War Readers Theater Project: "Quantrill's Raid and Order Number 11." citations and script.

Monaghan, Jay. Civil War on the Western Border, 1854-1865. Boston: Little, Brown, 1955.

Phillips, Christopher. "Lane, James Henry." The Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865. The Kansas City Public Library.

Cite this page: 
Paryzek, Scharla. "Sacking of Osceola" Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865. The Kansas City Public Library. Accessed Nov, 12, 2018 at


Another referenced factor was

Another referenced factor was Osceola was Sterling Price's storehouse for supplies to his army's expedition from Fort Scott to Lexington, Missouri. Price was clear that Osceola would become a repository of supplies before the penetration to Lexington. Lane intended to destroy Price's supply line into Missouri. Having other benefits to the sacking of Osceola probably contributed to the decision, among which were the home of Waldo Johnson (policital), the liberation of slaves (propaganda) and the maintenance of some safe distance from Prices army.

Interestingly enough, the overall view of the many divisions of Fremont's army in Missouri and nearby Kansas that could have relieved Mulligan in Lexington, several were closer to Lexington than Jim Lane.

I'm a direct descendant of

I'm a direct descendant of Nancy Ellen Dunlap-Guinn-Dark (married twice) whose husband was among the nine persons Lane had shot--for defending the town's largest bank and not telling Lane where the money was. As per my second great-grandmother as she told it to her grand-daughter who told the tale to me: Osceola had been pro-Union. The paper had even taken a poll shortly before the incident. Champion Guinn was one of the wagon-makers for people going to Santa Fe, and he and the other townsfolk saw it as in their economic interest to stay with the Union--despite the fact that Mr. Guinn had two slaves--he had no sons working with him (long story on that). The family expected slavery to eventually end, as did the other small minority of townspeople who still had a few slaves. Price had his ideas but the town was pro-Union, additionally Price had to discard his ideas because the town was indefensible--something ALREADY seen by Union officers and locals, who had heard Lane brag how he was going to someday rob the banks of what HE believed was a nest of southern sympathizers. The Confederate captain had actually left the town the day before, after having received only about 6 volunteers from the townspeople and NO money. He actually had to return when he saw fire in the sky, and heard explosions and then tried to use his small force to stop Lane and drive him out. My second great-grandmother was emphatic that the town was completely defenseless except for the small militias set up to protect the banks, of which her husband was one of the members. She and two toddler daughters were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Champion Guinn was mortally wounded and died a few weeks after (Lane and his men were drunk already when they shot Guinn and the others). His friend, Micajah S. Dark had been visiting and had joined the party defending McClain's bank (McClain lived next to Guinn). Micajah was wounded also and Nancy was able to nurse him back to health. He was a widower and then married her, and they had six more children together of which only three lived. Micajah S. Dark was very angry at the destruction of Osceola and the murder of his friend and rode with Quantrill to Lawrence, Kansas in revenge. It was the only time he rode with Quantrill. However, he quietly supported (helped hide) the James and Younger boys after the War. In October, 1874, Kansas bushwhackers with the help of some Union army officials and Pinkertons came looking for Mr. Dark and found him, he was beaten up in front of his 7-year old daughter who was hiding in a nearby bush--to keep an eye on her baby brother hidden in the oven to keep him quiet and rescue him if the Kansans burned the house again. She gasped and the Kansans realized they were observed and took her unconscious father away on one of his own horses. He was shot and dumped in the Osage River and the family received word of it soon after by another local witness. He was 74 years old. Nancy Ellen Dunlap-Guinn- Dark was probably the only woman in Missouri to have had two husbands murdered by the Kansans with the help of the Union army when Missouri was not at war. She was also the only "doctor" and midwife left in the town after it and helped tend the more than 150 burned and wounded, including her husband and his friend and buried her own husband with her own hands. Besides the wounded--some of whom had been raped by the way, there were about 150 killed outright, men, women and children, some burned to death when the drunken Kansans failed to make sure all the people who had been inside the homes were out before burning them. My 2nd great-grandmother was emphatic--the town was defenseless except for the militias for the banks. They'd heard of the threats from Lane to rob the banks, as this town was a jumping off place for the Santa Fe trail and a trading partner with the natives in Indian territory (to which many former residents, including the McClains and Raleys fled), but never thought he'd pillage and burn the entire town, especially since Missouri hadn't seceded up to that day. The official Union army investigations and reports condemned Lane, but Congress never authorized any repayments for losses. To this day, descendants and residents who know the history are angry and bitter about this. Myself, I'm not angry but yes, I do think there should have been, sometime between then and now, repayments. If there had been, and done promptly and Lane removed from his office as brigadier general (a post he should NOT have had while he was in the Senate--as per the U.S. Constitution), the sons of Micajah Dark and others would NOT have volunteered some months later for the CSA. Lane and his family also took four county records books and only returned three. The CSA burned the newer records, and whatever had been returned by Lane at that time, in 1864 when it attacked the town. The building was stone, so it was the interior with wooden floors, etc. that was burned. I wrote about my great-grandmother's eye-witness account for the St. Clair County Historical and Genealogical Society some years ago and a second cousin took my account, embellished it a little and had it published by a local paper. I still have my grandmother's original letters in which she first related a few bits and pieces of the incident prompting me to call her (long distance, and not cheap at that time) to ask her for the whole story. Also Champion Guinn had been a well-known, regional fiddle player, besides excellent wagon and carriage maker who had been making a very good living for his second family (he wasn't a saint--he'd deserted a wife and four children in Tennessee and didn't tell my 2nd great-grandmother, nor the county clerk who registered their marriage, believing it lawful, in (I'm not making this up) Cheatham County, Tennessee to where he'd persuaded her to elope with him.

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