Border Ruffians

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Border Ruffians

Border Ruffian History, Border Ruffian Definition, Who were the Border Ruffians, What is a Border Ruffian, Facts of Border Ruffians, Kansas Missouri Border War Causes, Results, Bleeding Kansas Details

Border Ruffians

The term "Border Ruffian" in early days was applied to those individuals on the western border of Missouri, who sought by illegal and violent means to determine the domestic institutions of Kansas Territory. The Border Ruffians participated in what is commonly referred to as Bleeding Kansas and the Border War. The appropriate name was liked by the owners, and Holloway writes: "Nor was this an unpopular appellation among the border gentry. They gloried in it as much as Cicero or Socrates did in that of philosopher, or the soldiers of the seven-hilled-city that of Roman. Boats on the Missouri river took to themselves the name, hacks, omnibuses, hotels, houses and dogs, were not infrequently adorned by the title 'Border Ruffian.' And woman so far became blinded to the pure and virtuous, as to take unto herself the name of Border Ruffian, and admire and praise those of that character."

One well-known Border Ruffian, Joseph Orville Shelby, later became a renowned Confederate general. He was friends with Frank and Jesse James, the Younger brothers, and even William Clarke Quantrill and Quantrill's Raiders. Ironically, in his latter years, "Jo" Shelby served as a loyal and competent United States Marshal. Another Border Ruffian, "Bloody Bill" Anderson, joined the ranks of Quantrill's Raiders in 1863. See Border State Civil War History.

The commerce of the plains, that in its width had given to the frontier a commanding place in population, wealth and political influence, had also bred and trained an army of plainsmen, restless, daring, adventurous, impatient of the bounds of civilization, passing the freighting season beyond the restraints of law. In winter, and seasons of idleness, they made residence in the border counties and were ready for any adventure suggested. Also there were a large number of citizens on the border between Kansas and Missouri who spent much time in loafing, gambling, drinking and carousing, and who were genuine ruffians before the troubles in Kansas arose. A great many of these men became willing tools of the politicians who sought to oppress, harass and defeat the free-state men. In most of the invasions in Kansas the ruffians were joined or led by the more respectable men of the border. Some of these were men of ability who had occupied high positions of public trust and profit, but who during the border wars, agitated by the slavery question, unmindful of their dignity or honor, would throw off restraint and play the coarse part of the real ruffian.

While the main objects of the Border Ruffian chiefs were the overthrow and destruction of free-state men and the establishment of slavery in Kansas, the ruffian border bands delighted in raiding towns, ransacking houses, stealing horses, and doing whatever they could that was annoying, exciting and rough. The towns and country along the eastern tier of counties were raided with uncomfortable frequency. Free-state men holding claims were driven from them, elections were molested and crimes of violence committed. When the crash came between north and south many of these men became bushwhackers or guerrillas. See also: Missouri Civil War HistoryKansas Civil War Historyand Border State Civil War History.

(Sources and related reading listed below.)

Recommended Reading: Black Flag: Guerrilla Warfare on the Western Border, 1861-1865: A Riveting Account of a Bloody Chapter in Civil War History. From Library Journal: The Civil War on the Kansas-Missouri border was initially fought by Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers, guerrillas from Missouri and Kansas, respectively. Union troops mostly displaced the Jayhawkers by 1862, but the Bushwhackers remained active until Lee's surrender. Continued below...

Historian Goodrich describes the death and destruction the guerrilla war wrought on this region through excerpts from diaries, letters, local news accounts, and published articles, letting the victims do most of the talking. Citing cases that graphically underscore the terrorism, Goodrich captures the fear of the populace. He indulges in a few overly dramatic statements… This title should be considered for public libraries with strong Civil War collections.

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Recommended Reading: The Devil Knows How To Ride: The True Story Of William Clarke Quantrill And His Confederate Raiders. Description: William Clarke Quantrill was quite possibly the most dangerous man to fight in the Civil War. The leader of an almost psychopathic band of guerrilla warriors, Quantrill participated as a Confederate in a deadly border war between Southern sympathizers in Missouri and the Unionist Jayhawkers of Kansas. He was largely responsible for the 1863 massacre of nearly 200 unresisting men and boys in Lawrence, Kansas, as well as dozens of other brutal acts that today would be called terrorism. Among the notorious men who rode with him were Frank and Jesse James, whose postwar crime careers are briefly reviewed. Continued below...
Edward E. Leslie provides an objective treatment of his controversial subject, and readers will appreciate his ability to tell a good story--including the one about why Quantrill's bones currently rest in three different states and why a forensically correct wax reconstruction of his head can be found in the refrigerator of an Ohio historical society.
Recommended Reading: Bloody Bill Anderson: The Short, Savage Life of a Civil War Guerrilla. Description: Nowhere was the Civil War as savage as it was in Missouri-and nowhere did it produce a killer more savage than William Anderson. For a brief but dramatic period, "Bloody Bill" played the leading role in the most violent arena of the entire war-and did so with a vicious abandon that spread fear throughout the land. A name associated with William Quantrill and Jesse James, Bloody Bill Anderson was known for never taking prisoners. A former horse thief turned bushwhacker, he became the scourge of Kansas and Missouri with a reputation for unspeakable atrocities. Sometimes he left the bodies of dead Federal soldiers scalped, skinned, and castrated. Sometimes he decapitated them and rearranged their heads. Wherever Bloody Bill rode, the Grim Reaper rode alongside. Continued below...

In telling this story of bitter bloodshed, historians Castel and Goodrich track Bloody Bill's reign of terror over increasingly violent raids. He rode with Quantrill in the infamous sack of Lawrence and killed more victims than any other raider. Then he led the brutal Centralia Massacre, a blood-soaked nightmare recounted here hour-by-hour from firsthand accounts. More than compiling a chronicle of horrors, Castel and Goodrich have produced the first full-fledged account of Anderson's career. They examine his prewar life, explain how he became a guerrilla, and then describe the war that he and his men waged against Union soldiers and defenseless civilians alike. The authors' disagreements on many aspects of Anderson's gruesome career add a fascinating dimension to the book. Bloody Bill--only 26 when he was killed charging an ambush--had already become a legend; that legend continues to this very day… This book takes readers behind the legend and provides a closer look at the man-and at the face of terror.

Recommendedd Reading: Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy: Guerrilla Warfare in the West, 1861-1865. Review: Gray Ghosts is an excellent foray into a chapter of the Civil War that does not always garner attention -- the establishment of a police state in Missouri and the subsequent backlash and ensuing war of sabotage by local guerrillas. "Complexifying" the historical landscape, Missouri and Kansas had shared much animosity in the years leading up to the Civil War, and Kanasas, who was a steadfast Union state, used the War as an opportunity to raid Missouri towns as Union Army representatives. Missouri to this point had been a borderline state. Many of the bands of Guerrillas, while they received aid from the Confederacy, never considered themselves a part of any Civil War cause. As Bill Anderson wrote, "I am a guerrilla. I have never belonged to the Confederate Army, nor do my men...I have chosen guerrilla warfare to revenge myself for wrongs that I could not honorably avenge otherwise" (201). Continued below...

These "wrongs" included the murder of his father and mother and the imprisonment of Anderson's sisters. The book is excellently written with thorough footnotes and documentation. Brownlee applies an array of primary and secondary sources, and also shows himself to be an excellent writer, stringing together the accounts into a vivid portrait of the time. His conversations with such characters as Jessie and Frank James, Bloody Bill Anderson, and William Quantrill represent Lazaras-esque scholastic resurrections... From such a perspective, Brownlee comments on both the contextual factors shaping the guerrillas and the decisions they made that in turn shaped history.

Recommended Reading: Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri During the American Civil War. Description: During the Civil War, the state of Missouri witnessed the most widespread, prolonged, and destructive guerrilla fighting in American history. With its horrific combination of robbery, arson, torture, murder, and swift and bloody raids on farms and settlements, the conflict approached total war, engulfing the whole populace and challenging any notion of civility. Michael Fellman's Inside War captures the conflict from "inside," drawing on a wealth of first-hand evidence, including letters, diaries, military reports, court-martial transcripts, depositions, and newspaper accounts. Continued below...

He gives us a clear picture of the ideological, social, and economic forces that divided the people and launched the conflict. Along with depicting how both Confederate and Union officials used the guerrilla fighters and their tactics to their own advantage, Fellman describes how ordinary civilian men and women struggled to survive amidst the random terror perpetuated by both sides; what drove the combatants themselves to commit atrocities and vicious acts of vengeance; and how the legend of Jesse James arose from this brutal episode in the American Civil War.


Sources: Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc., Volume I, p. 207, with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar.

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