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Quantrill wooed by Spencer County girl

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By Tom Watson

In 1983, this scribe wrote a series of columns on one of the men of Confederate guerrilla leader William Clarke Quantrill and his infatuation with a young Spencer County girl.

John McCorkle was a Missourian as were most of Quantrill’s men who rode into Spencer County in January 1865.
During the bitter winter of 1864-65, Quantrill’s men found “safe homes” where they could be fed and stay out of the weather. The 26-year-old McCorkle, Will Parker and other guerrillas went with comrade George Wigginton to meet some of Wigginton’s relatives. They included the Wiggintons of Little Union, and the guerrillas no doubt were often in the Wigginton House near the Little Union Church.
Several years after the Civil War ended, McCorkle dictated a book called “Three Years with Quantrill” to a writer by the name of O.S. Barton. In the book, McCorkle talks about staying at the Aaron Thurman residence in Spencer County and how struck he was by Thurman’s lovely daughters, Jennie and Dollie.
In 1983, the scribe struggled to find that particular Thurman line and only in recent years was it made clear that Barton didn’t understand what McCorkle was saying. When McCorkle said “Aaron Foreman,” which he may have pronounced “Ferman,” Barton wrote down “Thurman.”
Jennie “Thurman” was Nancy Jane Foreman, the 18-year-old daughter of Aaron Decker Foreman. Dollie “Thurman” was Dorthula Bradford Foreman, Jennie’s 15-year-old sister.
Once again, credit for this discovery must be given to Perry Brantley of Glasgow, my writing partner, although the scribe would have eventually figured it out, maybe in another 20 years or so.
Anyway, here’s a passage from McCorkle’s book:
“One day, George Wigginton, Will Parker, John Hunter and I were in the woods north of Mr. Foreman’s house when a body of federal soldiers came from Taylorsville looking for us. Miss Jennie saw them coming and going over to a neighbor’s house, whose name was John Stilwell, she and Mrs. Stilwell (Sarah Stilwell) came to the woods and told us they were coming.
“We mounted our horses and taking to the edge of the woods, amused ourselves watching the federals circling around the woods looking for us. They circled the woods three times, but never entered it and, finally, giving up the hunt, they returned to Taylorsville and we went up to one of the Wigginton’s for supper.”
McCorkle sought the advice of Quantrill after James Metz, a former Union solder, roughed up a senior citizen named Duncan in the Waterford area. The Wiggintons told McCorkle that “Major Metz,” as he was known, was accompanied by some other thugs, and they placed the old man’s fingernails under the ramrods of his pistols and mashed them, trying to make him tell where his money was hidden.
It was indicated in McCorkle’s recollection of the incident that Quantrill and his men were blamed.
Duncan gave up $30 to Metz, described by McCorkle as a “Union deserter.”
McCorkle says he visited Duncan, who fearfully admitted it was Metz and his men who had abused him. McCorkle went to Quantrill and told him about what happened.
McCorkle quoted Quantrill as saying:
“Well, why didn’t you go get him? Go back and catch him and make short work of them. We do not rob people, and I swear no man can accuse us of such hellish acts as this and live.”
McCorkle says in his book that a citizen delivered Metz for $10 and that after seeing the plunder Metz had stolen and stashed away at his father-in-law’s house, Metz was taken into the woods for a little heart-to-heart.
“We led the major into the wood and he was soon deprived of all desire to steal and rob and had abused and mistreated his last man,” McCorkle said in the book.
Many readers of this column may be unaware that Quantrill was hunted down by Union decoy guerrilla Edwin Terrell and his band of men from Shelby and LaRue counties. Quantrill was shot May 10, 1865 at what became known as “Wakefield” in Spencer County. He died nearly a month later at a Louisville hospital.
Quantrill gained most of his infamy in the sacking and burning of Lawrence, Kan. The Ohio-born former school teacher led a force of more than 400 guerrillas into Lawrence and by the time they left just over 140 men and boys old enough to fight were dead.
Quantrill’s final battle on the James Heady Wakefield farm, although just a skirmish, is the single most historical incident to occur in Spencer County.
Have rare photos, diaries, hand-me-down tales? Email twatson@yahoo.com.