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Bleeding Borders

Race, Gender, and Violence in Pre-Civil War Kansas

Kristen Tegtmeier Oertel

Publication Year: 2009

In Bleeding Borders, Kristen Tegtmeier Oertel offers a fresh, multifaceted interpretation of the quintessential sectional conflict in pre–Civil War Kansas. Instead of focusing on the white, male politicians and settlers who vied for control of the Kansas territorial legislature, Oertel explores the crucial roles Native Americans, African Americans, and white women played in the literal and rhetorical battle between proslavery and antislavery settlers in the region. She brings attention to the local debates and the diverse peoples who participated in them during that contentious period. Oertel begins by detailing the settlement of eastern Kansas by emigrant Indian tribes and explores their interaction with the growing number of white settlers in the region. She analyzes the attempts by southerners to plant slavery in Kansas and the ultimately successful resistance of slaves and abolitionists. Oertel then considers how crude frontier living conditions, Indian conflict, political upheaval, and sectional violence reshaped traditional Victorian gender roles in Kansas and explores women’s participation in the political and physical conflicts between proslavery and antislavery settlers. Oertel goes on to examine northern and southern definitions of “true manhood” and how competing ideas of masculinity infused political and sectional tensions. She concludes with an analysis of miscegenation—not only how racial mixing between Indians, slaves, and whites influenced events in territorial Kansas, but more importantly, how the fear of miscegenation fueled both proslavery and antislavery arguments about the need for civil war. As Oertel demonstrates, the players in Bleeding Kansas used weapons other than their Sharpes rifles and Bowie knives to wage war over the extension of slavery: they attacked each other’s cultural values and struggled to assert their own political wills. They jealously guarded ideals of manhood, womanhood, and whiteness even as the presence of Indians and blacks and the debate over slavery raised serious questions about the efficacy of these principles. Oertel argues that, ultimately, many Native Americans, blacks, and women shaped the political and cultural terrain in ways that ensured the destruction of slavery, but they, along with their white male counterparts, failed to defeat the resilient power of white supremacy. Moving beyond a conventional political history of Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Borders breaks new ground by revealing how the struggles of this highly diverse region contributed to the national move toward disunion and how the ideologies that governed race and gender relations were challenged as North, South, and West converged on the border between slavery and freedom.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xi

Many people have guided me on my path from Kansas to Iowa, New York, Texas, and, finally, Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. I must first thank Kathryn Kish Sklar and Tom Dublin for their initial encouragement of my foray into Kansas women’s history as a master’s student at Binghamton University. Graduate...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-8

On the morning of January 12, 1830, several Shawnee Indians and local white traders gathered to attend a birth at the Shawnee Methodist Mission, located just west of a Missouri River trading post called Kawsmouth (later named Kansas City). That afternoon a baby girl named Susannah Adams Yoacham was...

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1. “THE TWO WERE SOON PRONOUNCED ONE": RELIGIOUS, ECONOMIC, AND SEXUAL EXCHANGE IN INDIAN KANSAS

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pp. 9-32

Clara Gowing, a Baptist missionary in Kansas Territory from 1859 to 1864, attended the marriage of an Indian woman and a white soldier one Saturday afternoon during the Civil War. The couple wedded in haste because the new recruit for the Union army was scheduled to depart Kansas for the battlefield the...

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2. RUNAWAYS, "NEGRO STEALERS," AND "BORDER RUFFIANS": ANTISLAVERY AND PROSLAVERY IDEOLOGIES IN ACTION

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pp. 33-57

During the spring of 1855 the Fugitive Slave Law received a unique test in Kansas Territory, a region that had yet to be officially declared as free or slave. On March 19 a black slave escaped from his master and fled from Westport, Missouri, toward Lawrence, Kansas, a new stop on the Underground Railroad...

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3. "ALL WOMEN ARE CALLED BAD": WHAT MAKES A WOMAN IN BLEEDING KANSAS?

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pp. 58-84

On April 19, 1858, Joseph A. Cody, a recent Kansas settler, penned a letter to his “loving” wife who lived in Ohio. He reported from the battlefields of Bleeding Kansas that “the great mass of people are desperadoes. . . . All manner of evil conjectures are a[float].” He seemed particularly disturbed by the...

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4. "FREE SONS" AND "MYRMIDONS": WHAT MAKES A MAN IN BLEEDING KANSAS?

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pp. 85-108

On May 26, 1856, the pages of the New York Daily Tribune overflowed with news about the “War in Kansas.” The headlines warned of “Freedom” being “Bloodily Subdued” after proslavery forces attacked the town of Lawrence on May 21 and nearly destroyed the small antislavery outpost. Events in Washington, D.C., only...

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5. "DON'T YOU SEE OLD BUCK COMING?": MISCEGENATION, WHITENESS, AND THE CRISIS OF RACIAL IDENTITY

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pp. 109-134

On November 21, 1856, the Weston (Mo.) Argus mocked the candidacy of John Charles Frémont for president of the United States in the recent election. Capitalizing on the pervasive white fear of miscegenation, the editors argued that Frémont’s election would have resulted in the amalgamation of the races. “Don’t you...

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Conclusion

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pp. 135-141

After attending an antislavery meeting held to protest the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Samuel N. Wood and his wife, Margaret, left their Ohio home in May 1854 to settle in Kansas Territory. In part because of their efforts and the hardships they and other free-state settlers endured during the territorial era, Sam and...

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Epilogue

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pp. 142-146

In 2004, pundit Thomas Frank asked, “What’s the matter with Kansas?” in his best-selling book by the same name. Frank uses Kansas, his home state, as a representative example of a national political phenomenon: the political shift to the right of “ordinary,” working-class Americans. Frank wonders why and how...

Image Plates

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Notes

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pp. 147-181

Bibliography

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pp. 183-194

Index

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pp. 195-198


E-ISBN-13: 9780807135006
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807133903

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War