Border Wars

Rivalry between Missouri and Kansas goes back a little over 150 years. The Missouri compromise of 1820 brought two new states into the union–Maine a free state and Missouri a slave state–preserving the balance of slave vs. free states. The Missouri compromise also stated that slavery would not be extended west of Missouri.

In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska act created two future states which would decide by popular sovereignty whether to tolerate human bondage in their borders (thus ending the “freeze” of the Missouri Compromise and re-opening the issue). Pro slavery forces were afraid that a new free state would tip the balance and endanger their peculiar institution. While many of the pioneers to the newly opened territory came seeking land for homesteading or other economic opportunities; many also came to advance political causes–either the cause of slavery or of freedom.

They took their politics seriously back then. The border Ruffians from Missouri were called “Bushwackers” when they made raids into Kansas territory. In 1854 the new city of Lawrence was sacked and burned. Local vigilantes who made revenge-counterattacks into Missouri were called Jayhawks.

In 1864 a misfit from the Confederate army named William Quantrill gathered a gang of bandits that included future leaders of the James gang (Frank James and “Bloody Bill Anderson). Quantrill’s raiders masacred 181 free-state citizens, including women and children.

Lately we’ve learned to settle our differences in the football field.

A few years ago, football in Kansas was a joke. There were rumors that Kansas and Nebraska were going to merge. What would Nebraska get from the deal? All that wheat. What would Kansas get? A football team.

But then in the 1990s Bill Snyder built a respectable football dynasty at Kansas State University. When we first moved into K-State territories I didn’t flaunt my Jayhawk sympathies too obviously. I could root for K-State football and Jayhawks basketball, because KU didn’t have a football team anyway. Now that has all changed.

For the first time in decades KU has a winning football team. They have an 11-0 record and are ranked in the top 3 or 4 in the nation. Missouri also is ranked in the top 4; and tomorrow the warriors will meet in Arrowhead stadium in Kansas City (Missouri)–almost neutral territory–to settle old scores.

My niece Claudia is a manager for the Jayhawks football team, and one of the perks is that she gets two tickets for every game. So my dad and my brother will be there watching the game of the century–or really, the game of two centuries.

I hear that some Missouri fans have a posters saying “Missouri 181, Kansas 0”–a reference to Quantrill’s massacre. I also saw a T-shirt with a picture of John Brown and the slogan “Kansas–Keeping America Safe from Missouri for 150 Years.”

But maybe athletic competition is a more civilized and less lethal way of settling questions or regional pride. After all, whichever team leaves the field heart broken and humiliated–the young men will have lives and opportunities ahead of them.

It does show that people who once were bitter enemies can now enjoy a friendly rivalry. I can imagine someone saying in 1864, “those Missourians and Kansas have been enemies for years, the hatred is bred into them, they will never be at peace.” But today, there are no checkpoints at the border, and I even admit to having friends from Missouri.

It does bother me that there are a few Neanderthals who don’t get it; small-minded, pitiful little people who take everything too literally. There are a few who don’t understand the idea of friendly rivalry, who think the hatred is supposed to be real. I’ve heard of windshields being broken in Lawrence. I have heard there is fear of sporadic outbreaks of violence after the game.

Regardless of the score on the field, those who act this way are losers.  Come on, get a life!