Tag Archives: KS/MO Border

When I was researching for my paper, I found something that I hadn’t thought much about before.  In Harrisonville, Missouri, which is a short drive from where I grew up, they have several interesting ways of commemorating the Civil War.  Harrisonville is the county seat of Cass County, which sits on the Kansas state line.  The county was the scene of really brutal violence before and during the war.  According to the website for the Battle of Lone Jack battlefield (about 20 miles from Harrisonville), the war really started in the region in 1854, when “Dishonorable men, clothing themselves with the contentions of patriotic citizens, crossed the State line from both sides and committed crimes of every kind from larceny to murder.”[1]

General Order Number 11, which I wrote about two weeks ago, turned the area around Harrisonville into a veritable wasteland.  Families had the option of leaving their homes outright, or swearing allegiance to the Union and moving to within one mile of a garrison town.  In Cass County, this meant that there are virtually no antebellum structures still standing.  The county, along with Jackson County, Bates County, and part of Vernon County, became known as the “Burnt District,” because all that remained were blackened chimneys.[2]  The monument today is a chimney, made from stone taken from the homestead of Henry Younger.  Younger was the father of bushwhacker Cole Younger, who, after the Civil War, joined Jesse James’ gang.  In Harrisonville, he is somewhat legendary.[3]

In the square in Harrisonville, murals surrounding the County Courthouse depict scenes from the Civil War era.  One mural is of “Jennison’s Jayhawks” looting the town in 1861.  Another is of the future outlaw, Cole Younger, and his family fleeing a farm put to torch by Union soldiers.  A third mural depicts “significant events, places and people of the Civil War in Cass County,” including burning buildings and what appear to be guerrillas.[4]

It is interesting to see these examples of memory shaping in the area where I’m from.  Growing up, I knew vaguely of the sentiments that these memorializations represent, but I had no idea these examples existed.

[1] “General Order #11,” Lone Jack Historical Society, accessed July 5, 2012, at

[2] “The Burnt District Monument: Inscription (left side plaque),”, September 1, 2009, accessed July 5, 2012, at

[3] “The Burnt District Monument,” Cass County Historical Society, 2012, accessed July 5, 2012, at

[4] “Civil War Murals on Harrisonville Square,” Cass County Historical Society, February 14, 2011, accessed July 5, 2012, at

To continue with a similar idea to my post last week, and incorporate some things from this week, I looked into a film that I know is influential to some people I knew in the Kansas City area.  Ride With the Devil was directed by Ang Lee and based on the novel Woe to Live On by Daniel Woodrell.[1]  The movie and novel take place along the Missouri-Kansas border in the Civil War period.  The main character, Jake Roedel (played by Toby Maguire), joins a band of bushwhackers with his friend Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich), when Chiles’ father is killed by a group of pro-Union guerrillas.[2]  The film is pertinent because it unabashedly forwards a Lost Cause mythology, and it is interesting because the mythology has some very distinctly Missourian facets.

Several elements of the Lost Cause are present in Ride With the Devil.  First, similarly to how the South claimed to be up against insurmountable odds in terms of manpower and industry, Roedel, Chiles, and their guerrilla comrades have to face not only rival partisans, but at times whole armies of Union troops.  And they do so with out even real military backup.  Secondly, the Jayhawkers (pro-Union Kansan guerrillas) and Union troops are portrayed as invaders and destroyers of Missourians’ way of life from the beginning of the film.  In contrast, the bushwhackers are represented as the sons of poor farmers who take to the woods to defend their homes and property.  Thirdly, the issue of slavery is barely dealt with, except when showing the pro-Southern bushwhackers having freed a slave.  This former slave, Daniel Holt, is shown being so grateful to his liberator that he, too, takes up arms against the Union.[3]

One significant divergence from Lost Cause orthodoxy is the brutality of the protagonists.  Throughout the film, they are seen acting without mercy, and generally un-gentlemanly.  The culmination of this behavior is when they sack the town of Lawrence, Kansas, with guerrilla chief William Quantrill.[4]

When I saw the movie, I thought it was so-so.  When I looked back at it with some more understanding of the Lost Cause, I can see how it perpetuates the ideology in a unique way in the Missouri-Kansas border region.

[1] Daniel McCarthy, “Ride With the Devil,”, March 27, 2001, accessed 6/28/2012 at

[2] McCarthy.

[3] Ride With the Devil, directed by Ang Lee (Universal City, CA: Universal Pictures, 1999), HD Stream from Netflix.

[4] Ride With the Devil.

A significant part of Civil War memory in Western Missouri focuses on a localized version of the Lost Cause.  It is similar to the “mainstream” version of the Lost Cause, with some local nuance.  To commemorate local veterans, for example, the city of Nevada, MO (pronounced nuh-vay-duh), instead of a Confederate memorial, has a Bushwhacker Museum.  Bushwhackers, according to the museum’s website, mostly didn’t fight for slavery, because

[i]t was a matter of states’ rights for many, and for others, the reasons were dictated by personal hostilities. Perhaps for most, it was simply a matter of loyalties. If they left Virginia to settle in Missouri, their sympathies were probably still with the South. If their parents were abolitionists from Boston, they sided with the North.[1]

Also in Nevada, the Chamber of Commerce sponsored community festival is called “Bushwhacker Days,” and is held annually in early June.  At the festival, they crown “Bushwhacker Royalty,” tell the “Legends of our Flags,” and have a border raid reenactment.[2]

Nevada was in the part of Missouri that was affected by General Order No. 11.  This was an order issued in 1863 that was intended to remove areas where Bushwhackers found sanctuary in western Missouri.  It effectively depopulated three counties and part of a fourth, by requiring all residents to leave, except those who swore loyalty to the Union.  Those who did swear allegiance were permitted to move to within one mile of Union garrison towns.  The order was issued after a Bushwhacker raid on Lawrence, Kansas, which destroyed much of that city.  George Caleb Bingham, a Missouri artist, painted a somewhat famous picture depicting the effects of the order.  Anecdotally, I remember growing up hearing General Order No. 11 being compared to Sherman’s March to the Sea in terms of local destruction.[3]

Order No. 11 by George Caleb Bingham

As Karen Cox points out in Dixie’s Daughters, “the first group of women to call themselves ‘Daughters of the Confederacy’ was organized in a non-Confederate state, Missouri, in 1890.”[4]  These women helped a group dubbed the Confederate Home Association to found a Confederate Veterans Home in Higginsville, Missouri.  According to the Higginsville Chamber of Commerce, the women sold tickets for ten cents apiece, each one representing a brick in the proposed home.  Today the site is a State Historic Park.[5]  The Missouri State Department of Natural Resources’ web page about the Park has a list of over 1,600 men and women who applied to live in the home.  While many were denied, for lack of documentation of their service, I found one thing very interesting.  There were at least five men who were admitted without service in the Confederate army.  These five, at least, served with a band of irregular guerrillas, under William Quantrill.  I think this shows that the guerrillas were considered important, heroic even, to locals, although they were considered criminals during war time.[6]

[1] “Border War/Civil War Exhibit,” Vernon County Historical Society, 2010, accessed June 21, 2012, at

[2] “Bushwhacker Days Schedule of Events,” Nevada Chamber of Commerce, 2012, accessed June 21, 2012, at

[3] “Ewing Issues Order No. 11,” Missouri State Library, accessed June 21, 2012, at

[4] Karen Cox, Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 2003), 15.

[5] “Confederate Memorial Missouri State Historical Site,” Higginsville Chamber of Commerce, 2005, accessed June 21, 2012, at

[6] “Applicants to the Confederate Home of Missouri,” Missouri Department of Natural Resources: Division of Parks, p. 19, 25, 29, 30, 38, accessed June 21, 2012, at