Bushwhackers, Border Wars, and Bloody Kansas

With The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, Congress attempted to solve a problem that The Missouri Compromise of 1820 and The Great Compromise of 1851 could not. The problem? They were trying to find a solution to the growing political issue of slavery and what to do about determining the free/slave status of new states admitted to the Union.

On the issue of admittance into the Union as a slave or free state, The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 included this thing called, Popular Sovereignty. It meant the free/slave status of Kansas would be decided by the vote of the settlers. Sounds pretty mild mannered and academic, right? It was a disaster. Pro-slavery folks from Missouri flooded across the border, most only to vote pro-slavery and then head back home. Free Staters from the East, many associated with the Abolitionist’s New England Emigrant Aid Society, came in hordes to the Kansas territory. Water and oil that did not mix well at all.


Truth be told, very few of these folks on either side were upstanding citizens, think John Brown, William C. Quantrill, “Bloody” Bill Anderson, and Beecher Bibles (yes, Sharp’s rifles shipped in boxes of Bibles). When these factors converged on the wild, western boundary of this young nation, trouble began to brew between Kansas and Missouri, between free state and slave state, and the Border War for “Bloody” Kansas began.

Soon, a fight would start on one side of the border, followed by retaliation on the opposite side. Someone would steal a horse here, and then a horse would be stolen there. Back and forth, and ever-escalating. Groups of local bands of irregular militias, guerrillas, organized with the blessing of the Confederate and Union armies, formed and the real trouble began. These Kansas bands were called Jayhawkers and Missouri groups were called Bushwhackers.

Homes were burned to the ground, money stolen, people kidnapped, and killed, atrocities occurred from every corner of the region. It was ugly. The wounds and hate ran deep. Even years after the Civil War, these evil deeds carried out in the Border War for Bloody Kansas were not forgotten. Hate and revenge still ruled the hearts of some, while others wished only to forget and disappear.

My upper middle grade historical fiction book, THE YOUNGER DAYS, is set on a secluded southwest Missouri farm where a former member of Quantrill’s Bushwhackers and his wife have escaped their past deeds and built a new life…or so they think. 


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