Monday, August 03, 2009

The Human Shooting Gallery

Kansas, August 21, 1863: During the Lawrence Massacre, when rebel raiders knocked on their doors, women employed almost any device to save their homes . . . and very often the men hiding in rooms just above or cellars just below. 

But as often as not, no amount of tears or lies would suffice, and a home was put to the torch anyhow. And, as soon as the bushwhackers had done their work and moved on, behind them women and children rushed with quilts and slopping buckets of water in an attempt to smother the flames. As was commonly the case, however, after gamely battling and subduing a blaze, the soot-smeared ladies looked up only to find another squad approaching with the same intent.

"Put that out if you can!" snapped an exasperated guerrilla to a woman who had just stopped one fire. When he had gone, she did just that.

Those at the home of John Thornton were more persistent. When the straw tick they ignited was doused, the rebels returned and started it again, but this time Nancy Thornton was forced to leave. In a short while, when the husband too appeared and raced out the back, the guerrillas were ready and waiting. A chunk of hot lead burned into Thornton’s hip. He turned and fled back into the house. Again the heat became unbearable, and when he reappeared another shot was fired, this time blowing his knee apart. Once more, and followed by his screaming wife, Thornton limped back into his blazing home.

Blinded by smoke, the wounded man soon came out again, leaning on Nancy for support. One of the raiders rode up, took aim, but just before he could jerk the trigger the Kansan lunged for his leg. Thornton was unable to reach the weapon, however, and a slug at pointblank smashed into his eye and exploded out the cheek. Another gun went off and a ball entered the victim's back, ripped down the spine, then tore into a buttock. Still, Thornton clung to his attacker. Frustrated and out of ammunition, the bushwhacker tried again.

"I can kill you," he growled as he used the heavy revolver like a hammer to bash again and again the head of the struggling man. At last John Thornton lost his grip and released the leg. But he wasn’t dead.

"Stand back and let me try," yelled an impatient guerrilla nearby. "He is the hardest man to kill I ever saw."

With that, the enraged bushwhacker let fly every ball in his weapon, striking the target one, two, three times. Thornton stumbled a few steps, then collapsed in a heap. Still doubtful, one of the rebels reared his horse to stomp the body.

"For God’s sake," shrieked the hysterical wife as she grabbed the horse’s bridle, "let him alone, he’s killed now."

Satisfied, though amazed at the time and energy needed to do it, the men finally moved on.

To preserve it for burial, Nancy managed to drag the body away from the fire to an open space across the street. There, she saw that her dead husband had a wound for almost any given spot and was literally soaked in blood from head to toe. Looking closer though, the woman saw something else--John Thornton was still alive!

Historical Postscript

Many of John and Nancy Thornton's neighbors were not so lucky. Shot, stabbed, drowned, strangled, suffocated, incinerated--150 men did not escape the awful revenge of Missouri on that fateful "Black Friday." And, in more ways than one, John and Nancy Thornton may have envied them. Terribly maimed and disfigured by his ordeal, Thornton spent the rest of his life as a pitiful freak, slithering along the sidewalks of Lawrence on his hands and knees like some crippled amphibian.

More on Fire Ants

Little did I realize when complaining about the fire ants in the last blog that the best was yet to come. A day or so after receiving the stings, blisters began to form. Now, as painful as the initial attack was, it was nothing compared to these poison pockets. I could not stop itching the things one night. In desperation I applied vinegar. For the most part, it worked. But today my scabbed over feet look like a meth addict's face. At a party last night, one lady told me that fire ants are responsible for some horrific livestock losses. When horses, cattle and sheep deliver their babies, death is sure to follow if the newborn happens to be dropped near a fire ant colony. And, given that there might be dozens of such nests per acre, the likelihood of something bad happening are strong.


Scary Clown of the Day