The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Currents

November 13, 2011

‘Too pretty to shoot’

Ashtabula County woman avenged husband’s death by spying for Union

The knock at the cabin door came late in the October evening 149 years ago. Elizabeth Stiles, cracked open the door, advanced her lantern into the darkness and surveyed the mass of Union soldiers in front of her.

  Although she did not recognize any of men, their uniforms put Elizabeth at ease. Shawneetown, situated on the Kansas-Missouri border, was a dangerous, bloody place to live in 1862. There was constant violence over the issue of slavery, and outlaws roamed the countryside inflicting terror and death upon those who favored the preservation of the Union.

  The most feared of these was Charles Quantrill and his gang, which included Jesse James. One historian/author called Quantrill “the bloodiest man in American history.”

Elizabeth, a school teacher who was born and raised in Ashtabula Village, had reason to be especially cautious. Fiercely patriotic and committed to the Union, she dabbled in espionage while posing as a nurse who cared for sick and injured Union soldiers. Perhaps it was for that purpose that the Union soldiers were calling upon their home this evening.

No, the men simply needed directions, information that her husband, Jacob, would be able to provide. Would she be so kind as to ask him to step outside?

George Todd of Kansas City was the first to approach Jacob as he came out to see what all the ruckus was about.

“What’s your politics?” Todd asked.

“Union,” Jacob said.

Todd shot and killed Jacob on the spot.

Another man, whom Elizabeth recognized as a former neighbor, stepped forward, placed the muzzle of his gun against Jacob’s mouth and shot him again.

The uniforms were thus but a disguise that Quantrill’s men hid behind as they delivered their package of terror to Shawneetown that night. Fearing for the safety of her children, Elizabeth returned to the house, but Quantrill and several of his men soon had her cornered therein.

One of the guerillas pulled his gun and put it next to her temple.

Quantrill intervened.

“Let her go, boys. She’s too pretty to shoot!”

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