Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers

By Hill, Steven | Humanities, November/December 2012 | Go to article overview

Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers


Hill, Steven, Humanities


KANSAS OUTSIDE THE WATKINS COMMUNITY MUSEUM of History in Lawrence, crowds throng Massachusetts Street, the city's downtown thoroughfare, for a night of museumand gallery-hopping during the Final Friday art walk. A band plays in a parking lot across the street, and the smoky smell of barbecue wafts sweetly on the July breeze.

Inside the nineteenth-century building, museumgoers are reliving an earlier, less peaceful time in Lawrence history - the turbulent 1850s and early 1860s, when the conflicts between proslavery and antislavery forces were erupting in a war of words and violence along the Kansas-Missouri border and leading up to the Civil War.

"Tonight we gather for no small purpose: to fight the Civil War and settle the thing once and for all," Jeremy Neely playfully tells an overflow audience in the museum basement. "It is a point of pride - at least I know Missourians say so - that this is where the Civil War started. So, take that, South Carolina."

Neely, a history instructor at Missouri State University, is introducing Guerilla Warfare: Bushwhackers ana Jayhawkers. The readers theater performance uses a script based on primary sources - diaries, letters, memoirs, and newspaper accounts - to explore the Border War that still shapes much of the region's identity. Called Shared Stories of the Civil War, the series is produced by the Kansas Humanities Council and the Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area.

Tonight's reading focuses on guerilla warfare practiced by proslavery forces (Missouri "bushwhackers") and antislavery Free State advocates (Kansas "jayhawkers"). Kansans are most familiar with William Quantrill's 1863 raid on Lawrence, the most infamous in a series of cross-border raids by the Missouri guerilla, who was impatient with his Confederate commanders' timidity and eager to capture a Union general, James H. Lane, who called Lawrence home. Quantrill's four hundred bushwhackers killed 182 men and boys and burned homes and businesses, including most of the Massachusetts Street business district. The Union general - himself a notorious guerilla - escaped.

In fact, both sides used arson, looting, and murder to advance their cause, as Guerilla Warfare makes clear. Six volunteers read aloud, interweaving letters from citizens and soldiers, eastern newspaper accounts of Bleeding Kansas clashes, and passages from the memoirs of Cole Younger. Later a bank robber in Jesse James's gang, Younger was only eighteen when he joined Quantrill's band. …

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