Judge Louis Carpenter

Judge Louis Carpenter Photograph

Image courtesy of  Watkins Community Museum of History
All rights reserved

According to the inscription on his headstone, Louis Carpenter was born December 14th, 1829. The 1860 Federal Census for Lawrence, Kansas, records his place of birth as New York State. A letter written in 1862(1) reports that he came from Orange County in that state. Little else is known of him prior to his coming to Kansas.

The earliest known record of his being in Kansas is a notice appearing in the February 5th, 1859, issue(2); of the Herald of Freedom newspaper published in Lawrence. The notice reported that two letters addressed to a Lewis(3); Carpenter were still in the Lawrence post office at the end of January. Three weeks later on February 26th, 1859, a legal notice appeared in the same newspaper(4); for a case filed on February 21st, 1859, in the United States District Court of Kansas Territory, 2nd Judicial District for Douglas County, which lists Louis Carpenter as Deputy Clerk of the Court.

In 1860, he was listed in the Lawrence city directory as an attorney residing at 19 Massachusetts Street. Sometime in late 1860 or early 1861, Carpenter became Probate Judge of Douglas County, the first case bearing his name as judge being recorded on February 26, 1861. Probate judges could continue to practice law while they served, so when Solon Otis Thacher was elected to be judge for the 4th Judicial District in the new State of Kansas, he turned over his legal practice to Judge Carpenter(1). Between February 27th and September 4th, 1862, Judge Carpenter bought, sold, traded, and bartered lots in Lawrence, the result being his ownership of two adjoining lots, no. 89 and 91, on New Hampshire Street, with sufficient bricks and foundation stone to build a large brick house. On September 29, 1862, he was chosen by the Union Party as its candidate for the office of Attorney General of Kansas at the party's convention in Lawrence.

On the evening of October 10, 1862, Louis married Mary E. Barber at the home of her sister, Abigail, in Emporia, Kansas. Abigail’s husband, the Reverend Grosvenor C. Morse, officiated at the ceremony.

Judge Carpenter lost in his bid to be elected Attorney General of Kansas in the State election on November 4, 1862. He was then appointed to be the Reporter for the Kansas Supreme Court beginning in 1863, with the last case bearing his name as probate judge for Douglas County being dated January 10, 1863. He performed the duties of Kansas Supreme Court Reporter through the spring and summer of 1863, and began compiling and editing material for publication as the first report of the Kansas Supreme Court.

Louis and Mary moved into their new brick house at 943 New Hampshire Street, probably in late spring or early summer, 1863. They were at home there with Mary’s sister Abigail, who was in town visiting the couple, on the morning of August 21, 1863.

At dawn on that day, William Clarke Quantrill, perhaps the most notorious Confederate guerilla commander in the American Civil War, and 400 of his men attacked Lawrence. They proceeded to pillage and burn the town, eventually murdering over 150 unarmed men and boys.

As the raiders were preparing to leave town after four hours of destruction and bloodshed, one of them appeared at Judge Carpenter’s door and asked him where he was from. Carpenter, who had earlier talked several groups of the raiders into leaving his family and home unmolested, answered “New York.” The intruder yelled that New Yorkers were the ones that they were after and began firing his pistol at him. Judge Carpenter ran through the house, down into the cellar, and then out into the yard, trying to avoid the gunfire. A second gunman joined the first and they continued to fire at Carpenter. He collapsed in his backyard after sustaining four(5) severe gunshot wounds and, despite Mary falling down and covering him with her body, was killed with a point-blank shot to his head.

The raiders set the house on fire and then left. Abigail was able to put out the fire before it had time to do much damage.

About three hours after Quantrill and his men had left town, a crude wooden coffin was made by friends who had survived the devastation and Judge Carpenter was buried in his own yard. A week later, on August 28, 1863, his body was exhumed from his backyard grave and moved to another temporary burial site. Eventually he was interred in a plot in Oak Hill Cemetery, near to the final resting place of many other victims of Quantrill's Raid.

Because of the tragic, lurid nature of his death, one or another story of it is included in most books written about the raid. They are all second or third person accounts except for the one written by Mary’s sister, Abigail Morse. Her's is the only account written by someone who actually witnessed the murder.

Louis Carpenter was a rising star in Kansas. He had accomplished much during the four and a half years that records have been found for him. He had been Deputy Clerk of the United States District Court, Probate Judge of Douglas County, and Reporter for the Kansas Supreme Court. He had run for Statewide office, married, built a fine house, and was seemingly destined to achieve great things for Kansas when he was cut down by an anonymous hatred.

Three months after the raid, on November 19, 1863, the members of the Bar of Douglas County met in an official session of the District Court to memorialize the attorneys who had died in that early morning attack. During that court session, resolutions were adopted expressing the profound grief of the members of the bar over the death of Judge Carpenter, noting his hard work, his many fine personal qualities, and offering deep sympathy to his wife and family. The session concluded with instructions that the resolutions be communicated to Judge Carpenter's family, that they be made part of the official records of the Court, and that they be transmitted to the Supreme Court of Kansas with a request that they be entered in its records "as permanent testimonials of the sentiments of this bar upon this occasion." On the first day of the Supreme Court's January 1864 term, the proceedings, statement, and resolutions on Judge Carpenter from the Douglas County Bar were ordered "to be spread upon the journal of the court," and were published in the first volume of the Kansas State Reports. Rather than remembering Louis Carpenter as “that judge killed in Quantrill’s Raid,” he perhaps should be remembered instead as the Douglas County Bar would have wanted, the way the Reverend Richard Cordley described him in one of his published accounts of the raid as: “A young man of marked ability.”

(1) Letter, from Elliott V. Banks to John Hutchings, May 30, 1862, Hutchings, John, 1836- . Correspondence, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.

(2) Volume 4, Issue 27 (February 5, 1859), page 3.

(3) In the handwriting style of the time, “Lewis” and “Louis” can be difficult to distinguish from one another unless an example of each is available for comparison. Confusion over the spelling of the name on documents, especially if the reader were not familiar with the handwriting of the person who wrote the name, would have been common. Therefore, when dealing with handwritten documents of the period, the two spellings of the name are interchangeable for all practical purposes.

(4) Volume 4, Issue 30, (February 26, 1859), page 3.

(5) From an article published in the September 24, 1863, issue of the Ripley Bee, Ripley, Ohio, containing extracts of a letter written by “a lady of Lawrence, Kansas” to a relative in Ripley. The author of the letter identifies herself as a friend of Mary (e.g. Mary Carpenter, Louis Carpenter's wife) and, among other things, describes the attack on Judge Carpenter.

Text 2003, by Kerry Altenbernd. All rights reserved.

Michael J. Malone
Douglas County Law Library

Judicial and Law Enforcement Center
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Lawrence, Kansas 66044
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Created: July 24, 2003; Revised: February 9, 2016