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.
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, issue¹ of the Herald of Freedom
newspaper published in Lawrence. The notice reported that two letters
addressed to a Lewis² 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 newspaper³ 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 who was residing at 19 Massachusetts Street. Sometime in late
1860 or early 1861, he became Probate Judge of Douglas County, the
first case bearing his name as judge being recorded on February 26,
1861. 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 four4
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 Volume 4, Issue 27 (February 5, 1859), page 3.
² In the handwriting style of the time, “Lewis” and “Louis” were,
and are, 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
³ Volume 4, Issue 30, (February 26, 1859), page 3.
4 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
Text © 2003, by Kerry Altenbernd. All rights reserved.