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The Honey War

November 18, 2012
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

The Honey War was a bloodless territorial dispute in the 1830's between Iowa (first as a part of Wisconsin territory, and then Iowa Territory), and Missouri, over their border. The dispute concerned a 9.5 mile wide strip running the entire length of the border. The trouble had its beginnings long before any settlers came to Iowa. In 1816, J.C. Sullivan had been employed by the United States government to survey and marks the boundaries of the Osage Indians land in Missouri. When Missouri became a state in 1821, that part of the Sullivan line that extended due west was regarded as the northern boundary of the new state. No question was raised about the boundary until after settlers began moving into northeastern Missouri and southeastern Iowa in the late 1830's. By this time the original survey lines could not be found, and settlers did not know if they lived in Iowa or Missouri!

In 1837 the line was resurveyed and the problem with that was that the survey actually began in the wrong place. Then the trouble really began! In the area under dispute, several bee trees were cut down (hence the name Honey War). By this time things were so bad that preparations were made for war. Although it was in the middle of winter, more than a thousand Iowans answered the call. Each man wore whatever he could piece together for a uniform, and they brought a large variety of weapons. While the armies were being assembled, cooler heads were busy seeing if war could be averted. It was then decided to let the Supreme Court of the United States hear the case.

In 1846 Iowa entered the Union, and in 1849, the Supreme Court issued an opinion that since Missouri never challenged its straight line border for more than 10 years, the border was valid, affirming a nearly 30 mile jog in the otherwise straight line border.

Today, just north of Sheridan, Missouri, sits two monuments, side by side.. One shows the start of the Sullivan line, and the other commemorates the Honey War.



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