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Fight at Tate House
AFTER the meal at Major’s Quantrell resumed his march, sending Haller and Todd ahead with an advance guard and bringing up the rear himself with the main body of twenty-two men. Night overtook him at the Tate House, three miles east of Little Santa Fe, a small town in Jackson County, close to the Kansas line, and he camped there. Haller and Todd were still further along, no communication being established between these two parts of a common whole. The day had been cold and the darkness bitter. That weariness that comes with a hard ride, a rousing fire, and a hearty supper, fell early upon the Guerrillas. One sentinel at the gate kept drowsy watch, and the night began to deepen. In various attitudes and in various places, twenty-one of the twenty-two men were sound asleep, the twenty-second keeping watch and ward at the gate in freezing weather.
It was just twelve o’clock and the fire in the capacious fireplace was burning low. Suddenly a shout was heard. The well known challenge of “Who are you?” arose on the night air, followed by a pistol shot, and then a volley. Quantrell, sleeping always like a cat, shook himself loose from his blankets and stood erect in the glare of the firelight. Three hundred Federals, following all day on his trail, had marked him take cover at night and went to bag him, boots and breeches. They had44 hitched their horses back in the brush and stole upon the dwelling afoot. So noiseless had been their advance, and so close were they upon the sentinel before they were discovered, that he had only time to cry out, fire, and rush for the timber. He could not get back to his comrades, for some Federals were between him and the door. As he ran he received a volley, but in the darkness he escaped.
The house was surrounded. To the men withinside this meant, unless they could get out, death by fire and sword. Quantrell was trapped, he who had been accorded the fox’s cunning and the panther’s activity. He glided to the window and looked out cautiously. The cold stars above shone, and the blue figures under them and on every hand seemed colossal. The fist of a heavy man struck the door hard, and a deep voice commanded, “Make a light.” There had been no firing as yet, save the shot of the sentinel and its answering volley. Quantrell went quietly to all who were still asleep and bade them get up and get ready. It was the moment when death had to be looked in the face. Not a word was spoken. The heavy fist was still hammering at the door. Quantrell crept to it on tip-toe, listened a second at the sounds outside and fired. “Oh,” and a stalwart Federal fell prone across the porch, dying. “You asked for a light and you got it, d——n you,” Quantrell ejaculated, cooler than his pistol barrel. Afterwards there was no more45 bravado. “Bar the doors and barricade the windows,” he shouted; “quick, men!” Beds were freely used and applicable furniture. Little and Shepherd stood by one door; Jarrette, Younger, Toler and Hoy barricaded the other and made the windows bullet-proof. Outside the Federal fusilade was incessant. Mistaking Tate’s house for a frame house, when it was built of brick, the commander of the enemy could be heard encouraging his men to shoot low and riddle the building. Presently there was a lull, neither party firing for the space of several minutes, and Quantrell spoke to his people: “Boys, we are in a tight place. We can’t stay here, and I do not mean to surrender. All who want to follow me out can say so. I will do the best I can for them.” Four concluded to appeal to the Federals for protection; seventeen to follow Quantrell to the death. He called a parley, and informed the Federal commander that four of his followers wanted to surrender. “Let them come out,” was the order. Out they went, and the fight began again. Too eager to see what manner of men their prisoners were, the Federals holding the west side of the house huddled about them eagerly. Ten Guerrillas from the upper story fired at the crowd and brought down six. A roar followed this, and a rush back again to cover at the double quick. It was hot work now. Quantrell, supported by James Little, Cole Younger, Hoy and Stephen Shores held the upper story, while Jarrette,46 Toler, George Shepherd and others held the lower. Every shot told. The proprietor of the house, Major Tate, was a Southern hero, gray-headed, but Roman. He went about laughing. “Help me get my family out, boys,” he said, “and I will help you hold the house. It’s about as good a time for me to die, I reckon, as any other, if so be that God wills it. But the old woman is only a woman.” Another parley. Would the Federal officer let the women and children out? Yes, gladly, and the old man, too. There was eagerness for this, and much of veritable cunning. The family occupied an ell of the mansion with which there was no communication from the main building where Quantrell and his men were, save by way of a door which opened upon a porch, and this porch was under the concentrating fire of the assailants. After the family moved out the attacking party would throw skirmishers in and then—the torch. Quantrell understood it in a moment and spoke up to the father of the family: “Go out, Major. ............
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