Bleeding Kansas & the Missouri Border War

Come on, then, gentlemen of the slave states. Since there is no escaping your challenge, we accept it in the name of freedom. We will engage in competition for the virgin soil of Kansas, and God give the victory to the side which is stronger in numbers, as it is in right.

— Senator William Seward, on the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, May 1854

What an interesting piece of history to explore! Did you know that most historians believe that the Civil War began as a result of what has become known as “Bleeding Kansas?” When the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed the Kansas Territory to be settled and eventually become a state, there were a lot of people who fervently believed that by the state becoming a “Free-State,” the tides could be turned in the ongoing issue between pro-slavery advocates and abolitionists. No sooner had the territory been approved for settlement when eastern anti-slavery groups began to populate the area with supporters. Alternately, southern supporters saw the same opportunity and a flood ofpro-slavery supporters rushed in from nearby states, especially Missouri.

What is even more interesting was doing the research for this article. Upon visiting the site of the Mine Creek Civil War Battle, we were told that the hostilities between Missouri and Kansas still exist to this day, albeit to a much lesser degree. Though Legends of America is based in Missouri, we are not native to the area and were surprised to hear this. However, when we began to do our research on this fascinating story, we found evident disparities, where the sentiments of the Civil War  generation have been passed down for well over a century.

For instance, when doing an internet search, you will get a very different story when searching for “Bleeding Kansas” than you will get if you search on “Missouri Civil War .” Many of the books that are available are no different. Though most lean toward the Kansas side of the conflict due to its anti-slavery sentiment, Missouri cannot be ignored in its contribution to history and its heavy losses during the Civil War . Officially, a Union State, Missouri was internally divided between its pro-slavery sentiments and its obligation as a Union State. Never officially entering the Civil War , Missouri fought its own internal battles between the Federal Officers and its own State Forces.

Bleeding Kansas Fight

Jayhawkers and Bushwackers fight it out over Kansas becoming a Free-State or a pro-slavery state.

Even when we visit the historical sites of Kansas and Missouri, we get a different impression in the “telling.” Kansas sites will focus on the great battle of Mine Creek, where the Union Forces won the skirmish against the Confederates at immense odds; the Lawrence Massacreby Quantrill’s Raiders, or, upon John Brown, the fanatic abolitionist, and his actions to defeat the Missouri Bushwhackers.

In Missouri we heard the stories of the burning of Osceola by Lane’s Kansas Brigade, the attack upon the Missouri building that killed many innocent women and children, and the forcible evacuation of Kansas City area counties that displaced many Missourians and turned the area into a desolate “No Mans Land.”

The “war” between Kansas and Missouri began almost immediately when Kansas was opened for settlement in 1854, seven years before the Civil War  officially began. No doubt, both sides were ugly — it was a “war” between people that had strong opposing sentiments and lifestyles at stake.

Here, you will read both sides of the story.

P.S. This is not a short snippet — but the full story with several pages. Put on your reading glasses and hunker down!

Jump to Kansas-Missouri Border War Timeline

Civil War

Civil War

On May 30, 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act was signed, which opened the two territories to white settlement primarily so that a railroad could be built across the vast plains to the Rockies. Though the area was reserved for the Indians, the treaty was disregarded with the coming of the steam engine. Little did those long ago legislators realize the chain of events they had set in motion that would end in theCivil War and usher in an era of violence that would plague the plains for the rest of the century.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act also repealed the Missouri Compromise and reopened the issue of extending slavery north, allowing the two territories to decide the matter for themselves. As a result, settlement of the state was spurred, not so much by westward expansion, as by the determination of both pro-slavery and abolitionist factions to achieve a majority population in the territory.

With congressional power in the grip of the Southerners, the federal government placed the volatile issue of slavery into the hands of those settling the new territories. Abolitionists, especially strong in New England, were pitted against Southerners, who realized that if Kansasbecame a Free-State; their strength in the congress would be eroded.  To the South, this tip in congressional power was a threat to their political, economic and cultural existence.

Soon, New England abolitionists began organizing emigrant aid societies to encourage like-minded citizens to settle in the new territory. One of the men who joined the New England Emigrant Society and settled in Kansas for several years was Horace Tabor, before he moved on to LeadvilleColorado to later become known as the famous “Silver King.”

Pro-slavery interests in and throughout the South took counteraction. Towns were established by each faction – Lawrence and Topeka by the Free-Staters and Leavenworth and Atchison by the pro-slavery settlers.

On August 1, 1854, Twenty-nine northern emigrants, mostly from Massachusetts and Vermont, were the first to arrive in Lawrence,Kansas, named for Amos A. Lawrence, a promoter of the Emigrant Aid Society.  A second party of 200 men, women and children arrived in September. Soon all the tasks required to organize a new territory for statehood would become secondary to the single issue of slavery.

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