The Honey War

The Honey War


Boundary disputes between states and territories were not uncommon in the 19th century, but few have caused the participants in The Honey War.  The Honey War resulted from a dispute over the boundary line between the state of Missouri and what was then the territory of Iowa.  The constitution of the state of Missouri defined the boundaries of the state:

Beginning in the middle of the Mississippi River, on the parallel of thirty-six degrees of north latitude; thence west along the said parallel of latitude to the St. Francois River; thence up and following the course of that river, in the middle of the main channel thereof, to the parallel of latitude of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes; thence west along the same to a point where the said parallel is intersected by a meridian line passing through the middle of the mouth of the Kansas River, where the same empties into the Missouri River; thence, from the point aforesaid, north along the said meridian line, to the intersection of the parallel of latitude which passes through the rapids of the River Des Moines, making said line correspond with the Indian boundary-line; thence east from the point of intersection last aforesaid, along the said parallel of latitude, to the middle of the channel of the main fork of the said River Des Moines; thence down along the middle of the main channel of the said River Des Moines to the mouth of the same, where it empties into the Mississippi River; thence due east to the middle of the main channel of the Mississippi River; thence down and following the course of the Mississippi River, in the middle of the main channel thereof, to the place of beginning.

Confusion developed over what rapids were referred to on the River Des Moines.  Iowa claimed land south to 15 miles into modern Missouri and Missouri claimed land 9.5 miles into modern Iowa.

In 1839 the dispute heated up with Iowans chasing Missouri tax collectors out of what is now two Iowa counties at pitchfork point.  Missouri tax collectors supposedly cut down three trees containing bee hives to collect the honey in lieu of taxes.

Missouri militia was sent out under Major General David Willock, who quite sensibly was unwilling to engage in blood shed over an issue that should be resolved by Congress.  Three companies of Iowa militia were mustered although their military effectiveness was suspect according to a contemporary witness:

in the ranks were to be found men armed with blunderbusses, flintlocks, and quaint old ancestral swords that had probably adorned the walls for many generations. One private carried a plough coulter over his shoulder by means of a log chain, another had an old-fashioned sausage stuffer for a weapon, while a third shouldered a sheet iron sword about six feet long.

Before farce could degenerate into tragedy the two governors agreed to let Congress determine the boundary.  Congress did, and that boundary was upheld by the US Supreme Court in the case of Missouri v. Iowa, 48 U.S. 7 How. 660 (1849).  Go here to read all the arcane detail with which that unanimous decision was packed.

Published in: on September 22, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Honey War  
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