Mary Jane Dunlap

Professor: 'Border Wars' concept belongs to modern coaches, not history

Fri, 10/21/2011

LAWRENCE — Today’s use of "Border Wars" to describe athletic rivalries between the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri did not evolve in the decades that followed the Civil War, according to a study at the University of Kansas.

Jennifer L. Weber, KU associate professor of history, says that referring to KU-MU athletic contests as “Border Wars” has developed within the past 20 years primarily through coaches and sports writers.

Weber will present her findings in a paper, “‘William Quantrill Is My Homeboy,’ or The Border War Goes to College,” at a national public conference on Border Wars Nov. 10-12 at the Kansas City (Mo.) Public Library. Sessions are scheduled at the central library site, 14 W. 10th St., and the Plaza branch, 4801 Main St.

Weber used a slogan that helped boost Border Wars T-shirt sales to title her paper. When vendors hawked T-shirts that disparaged Missouri, MU fans came back with tees blaring “Quantrill Is My Homeboy,” featuring a tintype portrait of William Quantrill imposed over a rendering of the 1863 sacking of Lawrence.

Claims that the MU-KU rivalry has always been an extension of the actual Border Wars is “a marvelous, meaty, historically appealing story,” Weber writes. “There’s just one problem. It is not true. To the contrary, ‘The Border War,’ with a capital ‘T,’ is a relatively recent moniker that seems to have emerged within the past two decades and gained broad acceptance in the mid-2000s, when both schools fielded nationally ranked football teams.”

Kansas and Missouri played their first game in 1891, making theirs the oldest Division I college rivalry west of the Mississippi River. Held in Kansas City, Mo., the game drew a crowd of 3,000 to see KU win 22-8. Weber has found no references describing the games in the 1890s as a Border War. The earliest Border War reference found appears a century later in 1990.

In addition to reading newspapers from both Kansas and Missouri, Weber has searched yearbooks and school newspapers in the archives of both universities looking for references to the Border War rivalry.

The lack of references is not to suggest that the two schools were not highly competitive even early on, Weber notes. Contests were intense by 1895, but at best KU-MU matches may have been known as “The Great Game.”

Mascots for both universities, however, can be traced to the Civil War, Weber says. Kansas Jayhawkers – later shortened to Jayhawks -- was a name used by anti-slavery forces during the Bleeding Kansas period and the Civil War. Missouri’s Tiger mascot can be traced to the Tiger militia that successfully protected the university’s town, Columbia, from Confederate forces in 1864.

The aldermen of Osceola, Mo., made national headlines this September with a proclamation demanding that KU drop its Jayhawk mascot due to its violent historical origins. The proclamation commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Sept. 23, 1861, raid of Osceola by abolitionist Kansas militia that left the town a smoking ruin and about a dozen men dead. The next year on Sept. 7, Quantrill reportedly yelled “Remember Osceola” as he led Bushwhackers to destroy Lawrence and kill about 200 men and boys. The 2011 Osceola proclamation asked MU to educate Kansans about the border wars and Jayhawkers.

Weber’s paper is one of lighter topics being covered by some of the nation’s leading scholars on the Border Wars at the Kansas City conference. They are focused on the issues and circumstances that shattered the Union during the Civil War — slavery and the politics in Territorial Kansas; the sectional crisis and Civil War on the western border; and reconstruction.

Weber notes that her paper grew out of observing “really hard feelings of residents on either side of the state line.” When she moved to Kansas from New Jersey in 2005, Weber met people who would not shop on either side of the state line because they didn’t want their tax money to go to the other state.

“One Kansas friend who was over age 30 had never been to the Plaza because her family didn’t go into Missouri. And another who grew up in Missouri won’t spend her money in Kansas unless she absolutely has to,” says Weber, who teaches on KU’s Edwards campus in Overland Park.

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