The Massacre of St. Mary’s.
A TRUE STORY BY ART BRIDWELL.
Many tragedies have been enacted on the bloody soil of Kansas. When on the verge of the most thrilling scenes, actors let fall many humorous bits which give relish to the play. But on the stage of the world, one little thinks of the scenes that may follow.
In the little settlement of St. Marys in the western part of Douglas county, Kansas, a Home Guard had been organized. Rumors had been circulated through the country, and every one was on the alert for the coming of the Border ruffians. The brawn of the settlement came together to drill at the little Catholic church on Saturday. The captain, Billie Baldwin, was one of the “Indiany” settlers who, seemingly grave at all times, possessed the deep imbred sense of humor, characteristic of the “Hoosier.”
As the little band marched and counter-marched, there was one among them that seemed to take especial pride in his military maneuvers; and when the command, “Rest,” was given, the boastful brogue of Pat _______ might be heard above the quiet talk of the American and German settlers.
“Faith, Ii’ll droive the darty brats from Kansas loik me namesake St. Patrick sint the snakes skedaddlin’ from ould Oirland.” “Oh, come now, Pat, don’t you mane they will droive you?” said Richard Kelley, imitating the Irishman. “Ye’re mighty brave, ain’t you? when they ain’t no one around to fight,” put in another “Vot yow dink you do?” cried Joe Michael, in his taunting Dutch accents.
Then followed a steady stream of gibes and jests. This manner of carrying on took place nearly every Saturday. At last the word came that a band of “borderers” were coming from the southwest where they had been seen along the Marias des Cygne valley. Word was sent to all the members of the company. By noon, the little church was crowded with women and children, while in front stood the men ready to vault into the saddles at the command. Fear was pictured on the pale faces the women who watched the prairies, half expecting to see the galloping forms of the ruffians rise over the tops of the hills at the south and west. Some of most devout knelt in the church and offered earnest petitions for the safety of the home guards and for their own preservation.
Soon the order to mount was given and the little band rode away to the southwest, and were lost to view amid the undulating billows of the tall prairie grass. Stern hearts beat under their home made garments. No word, no sound save the steady beat of hoofs escaped from the body of horsemen.
Several miles to the west was a deep gulch with a few scattered trees which had outlived the annual prairie fires. The slough grass, here, grew to such a height that a horseman, by dismounting, might easily have concealed himself without the least chance of being discovered. Imagine, if you can, the feeling one would have as he passes through such a place, not knowing at what moment he may be attacked by an unmerciful foe. But through Lonely Hollow, as it was called by the settlers, they passed and on to the southwest went, but still no signs of the enemy. The depression of spirits soon passed away as they rode on. At first the two riding side by side began to talk to each other. Then one in advance would turn to speak to his neighbor in the rear. Their actions became free as the novelty of the situation died away.
But what of Pat? At the rear of the troop, he might be seen. Occasionally he would dismount and look at his horse’s foot, with the remark, “Sure an’ the crather is limpin’ a bit, Oi do belave.”
“Yaw, you show how you was prave?” tauntingly responded Michael.
“Don’t you think your horse will hold out till you get back home, Pat?” called out another.
“Sure, an’ Oi don’t belave it’s good for much more,” replied Pat.
At this the whole troop burst out into laughter, for it was evident that the Hibernian’s parade bravery had deserted him now that he was to have a real chance to assert it.
Along the Santa Fe trail they went but heard nothing of the “borderers.” They had received a false alarm but at last they concluded to go on for a few miles to the 110 Trading Post. This was long before the days of prohibition in Kansas, so here some of the men stocked up with whiskey. After having stopped a short time, Billie Baldwin decided to divide the company in two parts; one of which would follow down the 110 creek to the Marias des Cygne valley, thence along the river, and return to the settlement from the southeast; the other was to go back the same route they had come. Among the latter were Richard Kelley, Joe Michael and pat, while the captain with about fifteen of the men struck off to the southeast.
By this time Pat’s horse had lost all of its lameness, and as they rode along, once more the Irishman could be heard enlarging on what would have been done if they had only met the “blackgards” from Missouri. Kelley suggested that they had better thake their time going home as they had ridden hard, “It will be moonlight any way.”
The sun was just sinking behind the hills as they came to the west side of Lonely Hollow. A haziness filled the valley with an indistinctness almost supernatural. A lone wolf away to the north howled. It was answered by the screach of a prairie owl.
“Och, Holy Mather, what if the dirty brats be a waitin us here!” exclaimed Pat.
The rest of the company begain to play on the fears of the poor Irishman. “I dink ve beter get our guns ready,” spoke Joe Michael in a low tone. “Hist, what’s that?” said Kelley in an undertone. “Oh! that’s nothin’,” spoke up another in a cheerful manner. So down into the hollow they rode, joking until they themselves began to feel a “creepy” sensation.”
Pat, ,who had been in the lead while on the homeward way, now dropped back into the bunch of horsemen as they broke into a sharp gallop. There is a movement in the tall grass, south of the beaten trail. Hark! is it some cattle that have strayed off into the valley? No. In another place the grass stirs, and another and another.
The report of a volley of rifles cracks through the stillness of the evening. Every horse save Pat’s is now riderless. Tragedies have been enacted, but where could a more fitting place be found than here in a lone valley on the bleak prairie. Pat up spurs to horse and ran. How his horse ran! As the shots were fired he thought he felt something hit him but now he was sure of it. He sank the spurs into the flanks of the horses which was running its best. How his back hurts him! The rest had been killed and he was wounded. Is that the sound of hoofs behind? Yes, They are pursuing. No. It is but the throbbing of his head. He thinks he can feel the blood throbbing down his clothing. Yes. He is het. Will he fall from his horse? He clings to the saddle horn in desperation. He will try to reach the little church before he dies. Oh! heavens, he hears the sound of hoofs! He is sure of it! Now they are lost. Yes, again they come. If he can only reach the church! How his past floods his mind! The evil deeds that he has done, how he sees them all! He can no longer hear his pursuers. He listens intently. Surely they have given up the chase. Yes, he is sure of it. Oh, how his back hurts! Will he bleed to death before he can reach the church? Now he can see the spire siloutted against the eastern sky. Now over the rise he can see the light in the church. He wonders if he ruffians will see the light and follow him there. How his horse runs! Will it hold out? The foam fairly covers it and drops from its reeking sides. He thinks of the ugly wound which must be in his back. Now the church is only a few yards distant. The people, hearing the hastening hoofs, run out see what is the matter. Who is it? What is wrong? “Och, holy mather! sure an’ the dirty varmints hav kilt all the rist; and sure an’ Oi’m that bad hurt that Oi can hardly brathe! Sure an’ tear he shirt off of me back, for its hit that Oi am!” cried Pat as he burst into the building.
What a commotion there was. Some of them in their terror, fell down on their knees and prayed. Others rung their hands and wept. Their sobbing and prayers mingled in a strange melody. In their fear, they opened their hearts and showed their secrets. “Oh Lord, forgive me, I called John a coword this very morning,” came the wail of one. “Mercifu God, spare us!” “O Lord, forgive me!” “Blessed virgin, guard us!” “O, Fader, vatch ofer us!” “O, holy mother, we have done wrong! Forgive us, O, blessed virgin!” Such comingling of prayers. What a scene of terror. Some of the German women forgot their newly acquired English and their cries in German were mixed with the weapings and wailing of the American born.
Pat removed his shirt and stood waiting for some one to dress his wound, when the sound of approaching horsemen were heard above the noise in the room. “Why, Pat, there is nothing the matter with your back,” said Mrs. Baldwin in a wondering manner.
“Sure now an’ don’t you s’pose that a man can feel himself –” In at the door rushed the body of Home Guards who who could no longer restrain themselves. How the little church rang with laughter which mingled with the prayers of the women. It was some time before they could convince the women that it was not a band of border ruffians.
Having seen what a coward Pat really was, the company had divided so that one part could get in ahead of the one with which Pat went, and conceal themselves in Lonely Hollow. Michael and Kelley who had helped to get up the scheme, told the rest of the men as they rode along, so that at the first fire, they all dropped from their horses and grabbed the reins. At the same time Kelley, who rode close to Pat, had thrown a stone which hit him in the back. It is needless to say that Patrick could no longer stay in that part of the country. He moved to Lawrence, where he was killed during Quantrell’s raid.
Lawrence Daily world (Lawrence, Kansas) May 7, 1897