Editor's note (11/23/07) - In the year since this story was originally published, KU and Missouri's football teams have gone from being perennially mediocre (at best) to both being in the Top 5 nationally. This year's Border War will be among the most watched games of this season, and may ultimately determine which team contends for the national title ... thus making the subject of this story all the more compelling.
Growing up in Kansas City, Mo., just on the other side of State Line Road, I was raised to believe that the Civil War was over.
I believed this was something people generally agreed upon. It's an idea I picked up in a place called "school." The Civil War, as far as my teachers were concerned, was a war to end slavery. Slavery is long gone (well, arguably perhaps).
Before the war, as I understood it, Americans owned unpaid human chattel. In the years since the Civil War, that sort of thing is not only frowned upon, but also illegal. Slavery is a Bad Thing. And therefore, The Civil War - though bloody and filled with atrocities committed on either side of the state line - was fought for the greater good.
Sports rivalries aside, I always thought Missouri and Kansas were otherwise, for lack of a better phrase, over it.
The surprising thing is that not all Missourians are.
You've always known MU sucked - now you've got proof
For those of you new to town and not yet baptized in Lawrence history, let me break it down in brief.
In August 1863, William Quantrill led an army of Southern outlaws across the border into Lawrence where, in the dead of night, his men shot unarmed Kansans in their homes. Quantrill's army went from one home to the next, shooting men between the ages for 14 and 90 in cold blood - in front of their wives, in front of their mothers, in front of their children, and in some cases shooting the latter, too.
Then, they torched these Kansans' homes before jumping on their horses and heading back east. In all, about 200 men died that night in four hours' time. Some historians count the number of men killed that sweltering night as closer to 150, but at the time the census did not count German- or African-Americans.
Lawrence historian Paul Stuewe used to lead tours of Lawrence sites where Quantrill's Raid left an indelible mark. His tours drew on accounts written by women who witnessed the killings and wrote home about them, sometimes in graphic detail.
National Public Radio, the Associated Press, and the Lawrence Journal-World have covered Stuewe extensively, and every time a new story comes out, Stuewe gets a little hate mail from people living in Missouri. The letter writers' bone of contention: Quantrill was a hero, Stuewe a slanderer.
"'Lawrence had it coming,'" Stuewe recalls a common thread of these letters.
He remembers a woman who came to one of his lectures several years ago at Lawrence's Eldridge Hotel and sent him a letter in response. "She thought I was probably a nice young man, but that I was misguided. She said that Quantrill was a nice boy, and those were nice Southern, Christian boys he brought with him." (Stuewe said that she concluded her letter by saying that she hadn't liked the Eldridge's food much, either.)
"The bitterness which began in the 1880s and continues to this day is just amazing," Stuewe says.
But he is not surprised that some Missourians - especially those whose relatives were Confederates or Bushwhackers - cling to the notion that their relatives fought and sometimes died for a just cause. "History has to do with who we are," he says. "And we want to feel good about who we are. The violence out here was vicious, and it was personal."
Stuewe says people often try to claim that Quantrill's Raid was no different from Kansas raids on Missouri, but Stuewe takes exception.
"Everyone in Missouri says, 'Well, what about about the raid on Osceola.' Ten people from Osceola were killed in the raid on Osceola, and they were fighting back. It's pretty hard to compare 10 men fighting back to 200 unarmed men who surrendered. Yes, Jayhawkers did raid. Yes, they did burn. But nothing on the scale of what Quantrill did."
The Quantrill Society
Harold Dellinger, whose list of Civil War and regional history involvements betrays a truly obsessive level of interest in the subject, worked - until recently - at the Blue and Gray Book Shoppe in Independence, Mo. He is also vice president of the Quantrill Society and a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans. He became interested in Civil War history out of curiosity about his own lineage.
Short histories of W.C. Quantrill as told by amateur historians.
- The Cruel and Unjust War
- The Morgan Walker Raid
- The Civil War in Jackson County
- That Bitter Blue Uniform
- The Occupation of Jackson County
- Early Quantrill
Other items of interest
"My family is from Northeast Missouri," he says. "When I was a kid, we'd go to town and my mom would say, 'Your great grandpa was killed over there.' I'd ask what happened and she'd say she didn't know. Well, it turns out I lost four family members in one day."
Dellinger's comments regarding Quantrill don't paint him as a hero, but he won't vilify Quantrill either. "I don't think Quantrill was a god or a devil. I think he was a man. A young man, too. That's part of it."
"It's hard to be judgmental," he continues. "I try to avoid moral judgment. I like to ponder Quantrill's psychology. There's some bad stuff there, but there's also some great, amazing human stuff." Dellinger's favorite anecdote about Quantrill is the one where Quantrill falls in love and, for a time, can't be bothered to act upon his rogue, anti-Kansan fervor.
Rest assured that Dellinger means Lawrence no harm. He likes Lawrence. In fact, the Quantrill Society had its reunion there back in 2000. The group's members - now numbering more than 300 according to the organization's web site - met at the Eldridge Hotel. The historic Eldridge was a focal point for Free State activity, and was raided at least twice during Confederate attacks, making it a curious spot for a meeting that waxes nostalgic about Quantrill.
"All they asked was that we not burn the hotel down," he chuckles. "And we didn't."
Betty Key, who owns the Blue and Gray Book Shoppe, says her clientele runs the gamut in terms of perspectives on the Civil War. But when pressed, she admits "There are more people in this area that are sympathetic to the Confederate cause because there was a lot of destruction by Union troops."
Sitting amidst Confederate flag beach towels, key chains, shirts and charm bracelets, she says that those who think the war continues to this day constitute a fringe element. "There are always those fringe people on either side who are still fighting the war," she says.
"But I'm a Kansas farm girl," she adds with a smile.
So what does she really think about all this? She keeps that to herself. The success of her business relies on it.
While one might claim - albeit dubiously - that a Confederate key chain is nostalgic, there is at least one item in this store that stands out as far from neutral.
It's a t-shirt. On the front of the shirt is an illustrated portrait of Quantrill. In big block letters, the shirt reads, "GO MISSOURI, BEAT KANSAS!" On the back, the shirt darkly attributes the following comment to Quantrill: "Lawrence is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there."
Border War pep talk
Key has received only one complaint about this shirt, but she says most of her customers don't mind the particularly un-PC propaganda. In fact, this shirt is one of her best selling items.
Revenge on the field
To be fair, Kansas isn't exactly without its Border War enthusiasts. Look up Extreme Anti-Missouri Sentiment in the dictionary. There, you will see a photograph of none other than former KU football coach Don Fambrough, who still attends KU Football practice every day. His claim to fame is his ability to instill a deep hatred of Missourians in his players.
"I dislike 'em," he says. "And I don't give a damn who knows it."
Fambrough tells about a time he needed an operation, and the recommended surgeon was in Missouri. "I wouldn't go," he declares. "I'd rather die. I'd rather die than have some Missouri bastard cut on me."
Fambrough is known for a speech he gave his football players before they played the big game against Missouri. He is still invited to come to practice and rally the troops in preparation for that game even though he has long since retired as the pre-game speech.
In the speech, he invokes Quantrill's Raid, admittedly exaggerating the story - or at least peppering it with unconfirmed details. "He came here, killed the men, raped the women and burned the town down!"
Stuewe says that there's no evidence of Quantrill's men raping a woman in Lawrence. And Quantrill most certainly was not a Missouri alum as Fambrough once claimed.
By Fambrough's account, the entire state of Missouri is drunk, and liable to throw whiskey bottles at Kansans' heads in the event that anyone should dare to remove his helmet.
Stuewe credits Fambrough's pep talk with numerous wins for KU's football team during seasons when, looking at the two teams' records, Kansas should have lost most of the games. He says Fambrough filled those young men with the sense that they weren't just playing football, they were reclaiming the honor of their city on the field.
And even while the evidence of lingering hatred between our states becomes more muted with the passing time, the "Border War" indeed lingers on, more than a century after it was technically over.