Kansas vs. Missouri: The End of the Border War
Robert Mays
March 22, 2012

There's a scene about halfway through The Outlaw Josey Wales, right before Clint Eastwood guns down four Union soldiers, where his character follows a family into a general store. Once inside, the man behind the counter informs Grandma, who's just scolded Eastwood for his nasty tobacco habit, that the wheat he has is from Kansas, and the molasses is from Missouri. "We'll go without molasses then," the old woman says. "Everything from Missouri has a taint about it." A male companion warns her about watching her words now that they're headed to Texas; there are "lots of nice elements from Missouri coming west." "Never heard of nice things from Missouri coming west," she replies. "We're from Kansas — Jayhawkers — and proud of it."

When the clip came on the JumboTron at Allen Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon, just after the starting lineups for both Kansas and Missouri had been announced, the last four words were suffocated by the roar of the crowd. Josey Wales is set in 1865. The plot follows Eastwood as a Confederate Missourian who refuses to surrender to the Union army after a Kansan militia kills his family. Missouri and Kansas played their first basketball game 105 years ago, but the hatred behind the oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi dates back to before shots were ever fired at Fort Sumter. Everything about the Border War — the mascot names, the passion, the depth — is a product of some 170 years of enmity.

After the clip ended, a second video began — this one of Paul Pierce warning those who enter the Phog to pay heed. The crowd exploded again. The mob of blue bounced up and down, and I felt shivers from my spine to my scalp. Missouri and Kansas have shared a conference for 104 years, but next season, Mizzou will move to the SEC. When the realignment shakedown began again this fall, Missouri decided that leaving the Big 12 was a chance to achieve stability in an uncertain college sports landscape. The move means that next season, for the first time since 1908, MU and KU will not play each other. Both sides have said the onus falls on the other to reach out and make an effort to continue history, and both sides have denied that the responsibility should be theirs. As the Phog rocked, the no. 3 Tigers prepared to play the no. 5 Jayhawks in one of the biggest games in their shared history. The Border War was set to tip off for the 267th — and last — time.

R oy Williams knows something about rivalries. Before becoming head coach at Kansas, Williams spent 10 years as an assistant at his alma mater, North Carolina. Nationally, the rivalry between Duke and Carolina is considered the nation's best — a result of both proximity and success. The two schools, separated by just eight miles of Tobacco Road, have combined for 10 national championships and 57 ACC regular-season titles. When Williams arrived in Lawrence, Missouri and Kansas had never played a game with both ranked in the top 10. Kansas leads the series 172-95. The stakes have not always been high when Mizzou and Kansas meet, but the bad blood — deep, historical, and often familial — has always been palpable

"I grew up an ACC guy, and that's all I had ever really known," says Williams. "I got up there, and I was stunned by how important it was, how big it was, how far back it goes.

"Kansas-Missouri is not just about athletics. There are some hard feelings that go back a long, long time."

Tension between Kansas and Missouri has existed since the establishment of the Kansas territory via the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The legislation was primarily conceived by Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas, and its original intention was to further extend efforts to create a transcontinental railroad. The problems arose when the use of popular sovereignty — a people's right to participate in the creation of their state laws, and an idea that Douglas staunchly favored — was written into the act. Voters (in those days, white males over the age of 21) in both the Kansas and Nebraska territories would decide if slavery would be allowed. The act made irrelevant the Missouri Compromise, which in 1820 established that states north of the 36th parallel would be admitted as free states. Popular sovereignty was being used to rob the nation of the balance in federal legislation the compromise had attempted to create.

"The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 pushes this matter [of balance] back onto the front burner," says Marvin Overby, a professor of political science at Missouri. "There was this ongoing debate between those with slave interests who wanted to open up more western territory for the extension of a slave-labor-based economy and those who had interest in a free-labor-based economy and keeping slavery out of the territories.

"You have this tension, and the flash point for it, the place it becomes essentially a proxy war between North and South, is the Kansas-Missouri border."

The period from the mid-1850s through the Civil War is still known as "Bleeding Kansas" in recognition of the violence that dominated the region. Militias from each state led raids into the other in support of their pro- or anti-slavery causes, and even after Kansas was admitted to the Union in 1861, the efforts of Confederate guerrillas continued during the Civil War. The mascots from each school are derived from antebellum fighting forces. "Jayhawkers" was the name given to pro-Union militias throughout Kansas, and the "Tigers" were a group in Columbia, Missouri, that protected the town and university from Confederate forces. For all the ill feelings between the schools now, at their inception, the Jayhawks and Tigers were actually on the same side.

Hostility between the states, however, is still grounded in fact. And in the discussion of how the rivalry between the University of Missouri and the University of Kansas began, one particular raid is cited as the defining act of violence. On August 21, 1863, William Quantrill and his band of Confederate rebels rode into Lawrence, Kansas. The city, about 50 miles from the state border, was considered an abolitionist stronghold. Quantrill was the leader of a pro-slavery Missouri militia that some historians have called the Civil War's most vicious fighting unit. Quantrill and his men had little interest in the distinction between civilian and soldier, and that day in Lawrence, they killed more than 150 men and boys before setting fire to each building they passed.

N orm Stewart has been around the Border War since 1952. As a high school senior in Missouri, Stewart was recruited by Dr. Forrest Allen — as in Allen Fieldhouse — but eventually chose to attend Mizzou. Stewart began coaching after his college career ended, and in 1966 he was named head coach of Missouri's basketball team. He would stay for the next 32 years....
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