Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What is a Border Ruffian?

If you are a fan of sports you know that neighboring states often have rivalries that date from history, but most of those rivalries began on the playing fields, not on the killing fields. One exception to the norm is Kansas and Missouri. Of the many names that Kansans have called Missourians - and believe me their labels are numerous - the title of Border Ruffian has achieved a level of infamy that few others can claim. Of course, this particular reference to the term "Border Ruffian" dates back to Kansans attempt at statehood in the mid 1850s and brings to mind a lawless Missourian determined to add Kansas to the Union as a slave state.

Recently while reading War to the Knife: Bleeding Kansas, 1854-1861, by Thomas Goodrich, I ran across a reference to Border Ruffians left by a New Englander, Reverend William Clark, who was a recent emigrant to Kansas. Naturally, the abolitionist the Clark was biased in his opinion of Missourians, but I found his remarks humorous. He stated, "Should my friends wish to know my present views on peace, I would say Peace principles are the best for all classes of men, but as to the wild beasts of Missouri, who walk upright, wear men's clothes, vote [fraudulently] for the people of Kansas, and hang around steam boats - nothing but Colt's revolvers have any influence with them..."

Another free-soiler added this detailed description of Border Ruffians: "Imagine a man standing in a pair of long boots, covered with dust and mud and drawn over his trousers, the latter made of course, fancy-colored cloth, well soiled; the handle of a large bowie-knife projecting from one or both boot-tops; a leathern belt buckled around his waist, on each side of which is fastened a large revolver; a red or blue shirt, with a heart, anchor, eagle or some other favorite device braided on the breast or back, over which is swung a rifle or carbine; a sword dangling by his side, and a chicken, goose or turkey feather sticking in the top; hair uncut and uncombed, covering his neck and shoulders; an unshaven face and unwashed hands. Imagine a picture of humanity, who can swear any given number of oaths in any specified time, drink any quantity of bad whiskey without getting drunk, and boast of having stolen a half dozen horses and killed one or more abolitionists, and you will have a pretty fair conception of a border ruffian..."

As you can see from the t-shirt above, the love between these two states continues to this day. And, whereas Kansans forefathers might have called the Missourians "Scum," "white-trash," "rif-raf," and "pukes;" and Missourians called Kansans "Blue-bellies," "hirelings," "mud-sills," and "pest-house paupers" during the Bleeding Kansas years, one could only hope for such civil language today at a Kansas-Missouri football or basketball game.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for blogging about the border war. Contrary to text books, the real first shots of the civil war happened on the great plains...I actually own and wear that shirt on KU v MU game days. I find that it opens up conversation with individuals who are not familiar with that era in US history.