Monday, August 22, 2011

The Honey War of 1839

Wondering about useless things can often lead in interesting directions.  After discovering the Treaty of Ouchy that ended the Italo-Turkish War I got to thinking...why Italo-Turkish, why not Turko-Italian.  Frankly I think the second version sounds better.  Is there some convention in these matters?

I have a theory on that but it will have to wait for another day.  Because in researching a list of 19th century wars great and small I ran across the Honey War of 1839, fought between the Missouri and Iowa.  Wisconsin was sort of involved as well.

It all started with some rotten posts.  Back in 1816 a fellow named J.C. Sullivan surveyed the northern edge of what would become Missouri.  It was a fairly casual effort, a line of wooden posts every now and then, and some ambiguous reference to a series of rapids that could have been on two different rivers.

In 1837 the state of Missouri wanted a more precise survey of their northern boundary.  They asked if their neighbors to the north wanted to participate.  This was in the brief two year period in which Iowa was actually part of Wisconsin Territory.  Wisconsin showed no interest in the project, seeing as how the area was in a matter of months going to become Iowa Territory.

Several different "lines" were drawn by the new survey.  The old posts could no longer be found and it was unclear which river rapids were mentioned in the original survey.  One version of the survey just happened to be nine and a half miles into Iowa, and included properties that could be taxed by whichever entity could claim them.

Missouri asked for the tax money.  The self identified Iowans refused.  So Missouri sent tax agents into the area.  The agents cut down three honey trees, the confiscated honey being a very valuable commodity on the frontier, and threatened the locals with action by the Missouri State militia should continued tax resistance be contemplated.

Well, cutting down honey trees and making threats.  As the saying goes, "them's fightin' words".

With continued grumbling from the Iowans a 600 man detachment of Missouri militia was eventually dispatched.  They came with six wagons of provisions, five of them said to be full of whiskey.  To their disappointment there was nobody around to fight, so they just drank the whiskey and went home, after at one point engaging in target practice against haunches of venison dubbed "Boggs" and "Lucas" those being the names of the respective governors involved.  It does not sound like a serious military operation in any respect.

Eventually the Iowans got around to mounting a belated armed response, although lacking a formal militia the best they could manage was a contingent of rustics armed with pitchforks and Revolutionary war vintage muskets.  This elite fighting force did manage to capture the sheriff of Clark County Missouri and briefly imprison him in the jail at Muscatine Iowa.  The Missouri troops had gone home by then.  It is beyond reasonable scholarly doubt that additional whiskey was consumed in celebration.

Cool heads prevailed, and the matter was referred to the Supreme Court.  Ten years later an unambiguous line was drawn pretty much where Sullivan put it in the first place.  This time they used iron posts.

Thus ended the Honey War of 1839.  It sounds like all concerned had a pretty good time.  There was no loss of life whatsoever, and the only casualties were, one assumes, a few bee stings and a larger number of hangovers.

No comments: