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The Great Quantrill-Crocker Mystery in Augusta, Arkansas

by Gary Telford

L.J. and Gabrielle Crocker On Friday August 21, 1863, in one of the more tragic and senseless acts of the Civil War, William Clarke Quantrill, an outlaw and self-appointed Southern officer, and a number of his men raided Lawrence, Kansas, burning the town, looting the stores and people's purses, and murdering about 150 men in a wanton slaughter that served no useful purpose.

They destroyed about $1,500,000 worth of property. After which the mention of his name brought terror to Northern sympathizers in Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky.

Quantrill led the largest and best-known band of guerrillas in Missouri. Anyone who wanted to join his band was asked only one question: "Will you follow orders, be true to your comrades, and kill those who serve and support the Union?" Frank James and Cole Younger were two of the people who answered "yes" to this question and joined Quantrill's Raiders. Whole battalions of Federal troops were sent out to track Quantrill down and bring him in dead or alive.

Finally on Wednesday May 10, 1865, in a farm house near Spencer, Kentucky, Quantrill and a small number of his band were surrounded by Federal troops. He and his men fought desperately from the windows and doorways of the house until their ammunition was exhausted.

Quantrill was badly wounded in the shoulder by a bullet that raged down through his body, and his left hand was mangled. After the surrender he and one of his men, who was even more severely wounded, were placed under guard and taken to a military hospital at Louisville, Kentucky for treatment, where according to one legend, William Clarke Quantrill died. The death of Quantrill would effectively close a long and bloody chapter of guerrilla warfare motivated more by criminal than patriotic instincts. The legacy of Quantrill's Raiders would long haunt the hills of Missouri.

"Did he really die?" Not so, according to another legend; Here is what really happened.

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 American history took place.

When Mrs. Quantrill arrived in the hospital room, Quantrill's companion in the next bed had just died. She and Quantrill 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, dressed as a woman, walked out a free man. Mrs. Quantrill was later discovered bound and gagged, gasping she had found her husband dead in his bed and had been attacked by the other man in the room who made her exchange clothes with him and then gagged and 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 back to his normal health.

Then one day in 1867 a stranger rode into the little town of Gregory, Woodruff Co., AR south of Augusta, on a very beautiful horse. He introduced himself as Captain L. J. Crocker. He wanted to buy some land, and he had the cash in his saddle bags to pay for it. He bought a tract of land about 12 miles south of Augusta, and he and his wife began clearing some acreage and building a log cabin.

At first Captain and Mrs. Crocker kept very much to themselves. Mrs Crocker seldom ever leaving the house. Captain Crocker rode his horse frequently into Gregory and Augusta making new friends wherever he went.

But there persisted an air of mystery about the Crocker's. Someone said that Mrs. Crocker was the daughter of Colonel Younger, the father of Cole, Bob and Jim Younger, the notorious bandits in Missouri. And it was rumored that the famous Jesse James and his brother Frank made several visits to the Crocker farm.

Then one day when Captain Crocker was chatting with friends in the livery stable at Augusta, a newcomer by the name of Hutchinson 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 futhermore I think Quantrill would have shot any Yankee soldier that he captured."

There were many other times when Crocker was recognized as Quantrill but each time he denined it.

Captain L. J. Crocker established a store south of what is now the town of Gregory by 1870, and his wife, Gabriella, was postmaster of the Crockersville post office, which was located in the store, from 1870 to 1873. In 1880, L. J. Crocker was granted a license to sell wine, beer and other liquors in quantities less than a quart in the town of Crockersville. In 1881, the firm of Crocker and Smith obtained a license to sell liquor in the town of Augusta. It is belived that Captain and Mrs. Crocker were separated at this time.

Captain and Mrs. Crocker had a daughter named Laura Lee, born September 26, 1864 and died August 1, 1868 and is buried in the Augusta Memorial Park Cemetery. They also adopted a son whose name was Joseph "Joe" Crocker, born in May of 1882 in Missouri. He was adopted when he was eight years of age. While still a young man Joe was brutally murdered. The man who committed the murder was sent to prison for several years. However Crocker always felt that another man in the community was responsible for the death of Joe. Joe is also buried in the Augusta Cemetery.

Captain Crocker had told a friend or two and his wife, who really knew who he was, not to reveal his true idenity until after his death.

Captain L. J. Crocker --or William Clarke Quantrill-- lived on his farm near Gregory for 50 years, from 1867 until his death in 1917.

Captain Leonard Josiah "L. J." Crocker was born October 18, 1839 in Kentucky and died June 23, 1917 in Woodruff Co., AR and is buried in the Augusta Memorial Park Cemetery.

After the death of Captain Crocker his wife, Gabriella "Gabie" Younger Crocker, who was born in 1841 in Kentucky, left Woodruff County and moved back to her relatives ( the Younger's) in Missouri.

Shortly after the death of Captain and Mrs. Crocker a news article appeared in the Arkansas Gazette under this title, "Man Who Lived and Died Near Augusta Said to Have Been Quantrill, Notorius Guerrilla and Foe of Federals in 60's."

Could Captain L. J. Crocker have been William Clarke Quantrill?. His true identity may always remain a mystery to all of us and probably went to his grave with him at his death.

If you have comments or additions to this story you may contact me at wgt@centurytel.net or Gary Telford, Family Roots, at the Woodruff County Monitor, by letter, P. O. Box 898 McCrory, AR 72101, fax (870) 731-5899, or e-mail, wcm@centurytel.net Don't miss a single issue of Family Roots, interesting, sometimes amusing, always informative and always found in the Woodruff County Monitor. Take the time and subscribe today!