December 26, 2012

Missouri and Iowa: Anointed with pure honey

A boundary dispute between Missouri and Iowa led to a war — at least, according to a poet named John I. Campbell. In 1839, the respective governors of each state — Governor Robert Lucas of the Iowa Territory and Governor Lilburn Boggs of Missouri — each cited different maps to delineate the end of one state and the beginning of the other. When a Missouri sheriff attempted to collect taxes in that area, Iowa officials arrested him. Public meetings were held as tension mounted. Then, a Missourian cut down three bee trees that Iowa officials claimed was theirs; a subsequent trial ruled against him and fined him $1.50 ("three bits"). Militia soldiers from both sides were sent to the area in question and threats were offered.

The ridiculousness of the situation, and the mounting animosity that culminated in, of all things, tree-cutting, inspired Campbell to write his poem "The Honey War," published on December 26, 1839 in the Whig and Advertiser in Palmyra, Missouri The satirical poem is sung to the tune of "Yankee Doodle":

Ye freemen of the happy land
   Which flows with milk and honey,
Arise! To arms! Your ponies mount!
   Regard not blood nor money.
Old Governor Lucas, tiger-like
   Is prowling 'round our borders.
But Governor Boggs is wide awake —
   Just listening to his orders.

Three bee trees stand about the line
   Between our State and Lucas.
Be ready all those trees to fall,
   And bring things to a focus.
We'll show old Lucas how to brag,
   And seize our precious honey!
He also claims, I understand,
   Of us three-bits of money.

The dog who barks will seldom bite,
   Then let him rave and sputter;
How impudent must be the wight
   Who can such vain words utter.
But he will learn before he's done,
   Missouri is not Michigan.
Our bee-trees stand on our own land,
   Our honey then we'll bring in.

Conventions, boys, now let us hold,
   Our honey trade demands it;
Likewise the three-bits, all in gold,
   We all misunderstand it.
Now in conventions let us meet,
   In peace this thing to settle,
Let not the tiger's war-like words
   Now raise too high our mettle.

Why shed our brother's blood in haste,
   Because "big men" require it?
Be not in haste our blood to waste,
   No prudent men desire it.
But let a real cause arise
   To call us into battle,
We're ready then, both boys and men,
   To show the true blue metal.

Now, if the Governors want to fight,
   Just let them meet in person.
For Governor Bogg can Lucas flog,
   And teach their brag a lesson.
And let the victor cut the trees,
   And have three bits of money,
And wear a crown from town to town,
   Anointed with pure honey.

And then no widow will be made,
   No orphans unprotected,
Old Lucas will be nicely flogg'd,
   And from our line ejected.
Our honey trade will then be placed
   Upon a solid basis,
And Governor Boggs, where 'er he goes,
   Will meet with smiling faces.

It is said that Missouri spent over $20,000 in public funds to address the issue before the Supreme Court made its decision in 1849. Campbell's poem was credited for diffusing at least some of the tension in the absurd tragicomedy.

*Some of the information for this post was found in A History of Missouri: Volume II, 1820 to 1860 by Perry McCandless (2000).

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