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Iowa History Daily: April 3 - The Honey War

sThe dispute centered on a 9.5 mile-wide strip running west from the Des Moines River along the border between the two states. Confusion arose due to unclear wording in the Missouri Constitution relating to the northern boundary, as well as problems with the Louisiana Purchase survey, and issues related to treaties with the areas Indigenous peoples. Following issues related to tribal sovereigty and the 1804 Treaty of St. Louis, the 1808 Treaty of Fort Clark, and the 1815 Treaty of Portage des Sioux, American surveyor John C. Sullivan set out to survey a line 100 miles north of where the Kansas River emptied into the Missouri and straight east to the Des Moines River. The plan meant to terminate the line at the Des Moines Rapids of the Mississippi River, the eventual location of First Fort Des Moines.

The dispute centered on a 9.5 mile-wide strip running west from the Des Moines River along the border between the two states. Confusion arose due to unclear wording in the Missouri Constitution relating to the northern boundary, as well as problems with the Louisiana Purchase survey, and issues related to treaties with the areas Indigenous peoples. Following issues related to tribal sovereignty and the 1804 Treaty of St. Louis, the 1808 Treaty of Fort Clark, and the 1815 Treaty of Portage des Sioux, American surveyor John C. Sullivan set out to survey a line 100 miles north of where the Kansas River emptied into the Missouri and straight east to the Des Moines River. The plan meant to terminate the line at the Des Moines Rapids of the Mississippi River, the eventual location of First Fort Des Moines.

Sullivan’s survey consisted of markers placed along the line, establishing the northwestern border of Missouri with a marker near Sheridan. Passing just south of Farmington, Iowa, in Van Buren County, Sullivan took no special notice of any rapids and continued on to the Mississippi. Confusion over the Des Moines River and the Des Moines Rapids precipitated the confusion over the border. In 1837, Missouri ordered the line resurveyed. The surveyor, J.C. Brown, looked hard for rapids in the Des Moines River due to the confusion, and identified some at Keosauqua, roughly 9.5 miles further north than the Sullivan survey’s line. As the dispute heated up, Missouri claimed not only the higher-Keosauqua line, but asserted the Des Moines Rapids located all the way to the current site of Iowa’s capital city at the confluence with the Racoon. Iowa in response claimed an even more southerly border, asserting the southern border of the then territory should extend fifteen miles into Missouri at the location here the Des Moines empties into the Mississippi at Keokuk.

Now, how does honey figure into a bloodless war? Basing their claims on the Keosauqua-based line, tax collectors from Missouri arrived in the eventual area of Van Buren and Davis counties and sought to collect from residents. According to local legend, the future Iowans chased off the tax collectors with pitchforks. Not to be denied, however, the Missouri agents cut down three trees in the area of today’s Lacey-Keosauqua State Park containing honey bee hives. As tension ratcheted it, Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs sent out eleven members of the 14th Division, Missouri State Militia from Palmyra to protect the government tax agents. In response, a group of Iowans captured Clark County, Missouri’s sheriff and locked him in the Muscatine City Jail. Territorial Governor of Iowa Robert Lucas also called out his troops before the two governors agreed to allow the federal government to sort out the mess. In 1846, when Iowa gained statehood, Congress stipulated the modern line as the boundary, and three years later the United States Supreme Court upheld the line. (Daily Crescent image from the State Historical Society of Iowa’s collection at: https://iowaculture.gov/history/education/educator-resources/primary-source-sets/how-states-get-their-shapes/boundary-missouri-iowa #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar #IowaOTD


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