Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Border Wars

In celebration of my birthday last week, June and I made an overnight trip to Lawrence, Kansas. It was largely because of recently watching the 1999 Ang Lee movie “Ride with the Devil” that we decided to make the short trip to Lawrence and to do some sight-seeing there.
Part of the movie was about the infamous “Lawrence Massacre,” which occurred 150 years ago tomorrow, on August 21, 1863. That event, also known as “Quantrill’s Raid,” was a guerrilla attack led by William Quantrill. Between 150 and 200 men and boys were killed in that atrocious raid.

We re-traced the path of the guerrillas’ rampage, which began around 5 a.m. on that fateful August morning. We also visited the Watkins Community Museum of History, just a block from South Park that was part of the original layout of Lawrence when it was platted in 1854.
Watkins Museum houses exhibits from Lawrence and Douglas County—and a new permanent exhibition featuring the events of 1863 officially opened last Saturday. Fortunately, we were able to get a “peek preview” of that fine new $300,000 exhibition.
At noon on the fifteenth we dined in the historic Eldridge hotel. On that site, the Free State Hotel, a well-fortified structure built by the staunch anti-slavery Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society to receive anti-slavery settlers as they arrived from the east, was completed in May 1856--and burned down the same day by the avid pro-slavery sheriff as well as ruffians" from Missouri!
Colonel Shalor Eldridge rebuilt the hotel, naming it Eldridge House. That building, completed in December 1858, was then destroyed less than five years later during Quantrill’s Raid. But Eldridge and others built it back in 1866.
The new Eldridge House was torn down in 1925 and then rebuilt as The Eldridge. In 1970, though, it was turned into an apartment house. But in 1985 it became a hotel again after the top four floors were completely rebuilt and the lobby restored to its original elegance.
Before the Civil War started, the guerrilla free-state fighters were known as “Jayhawkers,” and they often clashed with pro-slavery groups from Missouri known at the time as “Border Ruffians” or “Bushwhackers.” After the Civil War, the word “Jayhawker” became synonymous with the people of Kansas.
In 1890 when the University of Kansas, located in Lawrence, fielded their first football team they were called the Jayhawkers. Now the KU sports teams are known as simply the Jayhawks.
After June and I moved to Liberty in 2005, we became fans of the University of Missouri Tigers basketball team, and we especially enjoyed the exciting games with the KU Jayhawks. Those games were sometimes called “border wars,” though.
The more we learned about the real border wars of the 1850s and ’60s, the more uncomfortable we felt. We were not particularly happy when MU transferred to the SEC, bringing the MU v. KU rivalry to an end. But at least we are no longer regularly reminded of those horrendous days when the deadly border wars were being fought.
Somehow we went through the Missouri school system not learning much about the appalling conflict between the Bushwhackers and the Jayhawkers. I don’t know if that wasn’t mentioned much back then or whether we just weren’t paying attention.
At any rate, although there has in the past been intense rivalry between the MU and KU sports teams, and while there is now some economic rivalry between the states especially in the Kansas City area, at least there is no longer actual fighting with lethal weapons.
Some things, thankfully, have improved over the last 150 years!


  1. Leroy,

    The reenactment last weekend was on the news. Did you see part of that?

    Since you've identified the origin of the Jayhawk mascot, you may find it interesting to know that the Tiger mascot from MU comes from an armed conflict. A pro-Union militia of Columbia residents formed to protect the MU campus from rebel groups during the Civil War. This volunteer militia took the name "The Missouri Tigers."

    Interesting how both schools took on identities that are military/war/violence-related. No wonder they call it "the border war!"

    1. David, thanks for posting your comments.

      Yes, next time I will be writing about going to the Order No. 11 reenactment last Saturday evening in the River Market area of Kansas City.

      Thanks for telling me about the origin of the MU "Tigers." I didn't know that.

      Here is what I found on the Missouri Civil War Museum website:

      "The true 'Missouri Tigers' were a Union 'Home Guard' militia unit made up of local men from the area around Columbia. Their duties were to protect the University of Missouri and the area from approaching Confederate forces, pro-Confederate guerillas, desperadoes and others that may have threatened the area."

      I also learned that the first football game between the MU Tigers and KU Jayhawkers was played in October 1891.

  2. It would be interesting to see the history text books used in the 50s to see what we were taught. It would be interesting to see what differences there were between the Kansas and Missouri schools. I'm pretty sure I learned as a child in Kansas that the term "Jayhawk" dated from the Civil War era, and I'm pretty sure I picked up the impression that they were on the "good side."

    1. Clif, thanks for posting your comments.

      Yes, it would be interesting to see the difference between Mo. and Kan. textbooks in the 1950s and before.

      As I will be writing in my next posting, my home town is Grant City, Mo., named after General U.S. Grant. Maybe my teachers didn't want to use textbooks that might have been slated to the pro-slavery side that many Missourians were on during the Civil War.

  3. There is still animosity lingering in the border counties. General Lane (The Grim Chieftain) and his Kansas Brigade were not kind to either slave owner or non-slave owner citizens in Missouri (or those passing through). Quantrill's actions were in response to Lane's. Their were no saints in that war (and probably not many wars). To this day, politicians, and people in general, do not consider the long-term effects of their actions.

  4. It may not be a coincidence that America's only World War I museum is in Kansas City, Missouri, just a few blocks from the Kansas border. Just when the wounds of the Civil War were starting to heal, along came "The Great War" to remind humans of just how omnipresent war remains. I attended a musical farce a couple of years ago at the museum's theater, which was all about the flimsy excuses and poor planning of the leaders in that war. On the way out I saw the field of 9,000 artificial poppies in the museum, each poppy representing a thousand soldiers killed in the war. I thought about how that war had set in motion the forces that created communism, fascism, and even the atomic bomb. Then just a couple of days later the news came out that the last known American veteran of World War I had just died. I realized that while I had laughed in the theater at the absurdity of that war nearly a century before, feeling so safely removed from it, that a veteran of that war had still lived. As does much of its legacy.

    Leroy may not have lived in Liberty long enough to figure out that Liberty is a hotbed of Civil War re-enactors. The past hangs heavy here. For instance, the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. was held in the Liberty Jail (now a Mormon visitor center), where he reportedly received a revelation that foresaw the desolation of this area that happened during the Civil War as a result of the Order Number 11, which left much of the border counties of Missouri in smoldering ruins. At the point he was sitting in that jail, he had faced a hostile North in Kirkland, Ohio, and a hostile South in Independence, Missouri, so he better than most probably did have an inkling of what would happen when that full hostility was mutually expressed. Meanwhile, Liberty's other famous son, Jesse James, never had a chance to meditate in the Liberty Jail, because he was never arrested!

    The re-enactors have been busy this summer, because July was the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. The Liberty Tribune reported that Liberty was well represented there. How many times must Pickett's Charge be repeated before it can be retired? An interesting 21st century response to all this was the release of the movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012). I was wondering what on earth was the rationale for such a movie, but people told me it was worth seeing, so I did recently. It turned out that Vampire Hunter was a powerful metaphor for War President. When Lincoln swung his silver-headed axe like a ninja warrior, no one missed what the symbolism meant. Slavery is evil, as evil as vampires!

    It is often complained that history is usually taught as the history of wars. There is some truth to that, but it is also true that wars are frequently great vehicles of history. So we study the wars of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Jews. All the way back to that first cryptic battle, between Cain and Abel. When my wife and I taught fifth-graders in Sunday school, we would ask them when the blood of Abel stopped crying out to God. Then we asked them if they could hear it, too. In the silence that followed, it was obvious that they did.

    One of my professors once paraphrased Santayana, "Those who do not mourn history are condemned to repeat it." Santayana said "remember" instead of "mourn," but I would note that the peoples of the former Yugoslavia demonstrated what happens when ancient history is remembered without being mourned. Or consider the even older remembering of the Sunnis and Shiites. Or, closer to home, the even older remembering of Christians and Jews. Only after World War II did significant numbers of Christians begin mourning that history, opening the door to something approaching peace between Christians and Jews. History is being made rapidly around the world. Mourning has much to do.

  5. I am also posting my blog articles on TheViewFromThisSeat.com. Thinking Friend Don Wideman left the following comment on that blotsite:

    "That surely was a violent and ugly time! 'Ride with the Devil' was a good movie and the Lawrence scenes were filmed in the old location of Pattonsburg. Interesting that Kansas would use Jayhawks and Oklahoma would use Sooners — but Missouri did not use Bushwhackers!"

  6. Thinking Friend Bob Carlson sent the following comments (with permission to post them here):

    "I enjoyed your story! Several years ago we took a carriage ride in 'old downtown Independence!' And we discovered that the feelings about the border war are not just about sports. But perhaps sports are a better outlet!

    "Sounds like you may be reading Aaron and Diane's book!"

    {Note: the book mentioned above is "The Big Divide: A Travel Guide to Historic and Civil War Sites in the Missouri-Kansas Border Region" (2013) by Diane Eickhoff and Aaron Barnhart.}

  7. Thinking Friend Jerry Cain also sent comments (and permission):

    "Thanks for the review of the terrible events of 150 years ago in Lawrence, KS. I read an article recently discussing whether we should label Quantrill a terrorist or a freedom fighter. That discussion would also entail the classification of John Brown in one of those categories. Strong feelings on both sides of the border war keep partisans from seeing the other side of the equation.

    "I hope we can face discord with more tolerance and less belligerence than 150 years past."

  8. Jerry also writes,

    "An interesting thought from your blog is the names given (or taken) by the partisans in the border wars, ie, Jayhawkers and Bushwackers. We do the same thing now by calling "them" terrorists or freedom-fighters and it all depends on which side one is on. Some call the citizens in the streets of Egypt terrorists while others call them freedom fighters. One hundred fifty years ago they would have been called Jayhawkers or Bushwackers."