Performance on Border War set for March 12

Friday, March 1, 2013

The story of the Kansas-Missouri border war will be brought to life with a planned performance by the Baker University Speech Choir at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, at the Fort Scott National Historic Site.

The performance, titled "Guerilla Warfare: Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers," is part of the Shared Stories of the Civil War script series, a reader's theater project the historic site has been involved with the last few years.

"Students do performances or dramatic readings of different types of text," National Park Service Historian Bill Fischer said.

"We have done Shared Stories of the Civil War three times. The last one was at the Gordon Parks Celebration (last fall). The Kansas Humanities Council started having these scripts available a few years back, so we jumped right on that."

The speech choir's performance will be followed by an audience discussion led by Jeremy Neely, associate professor of history at Missouri State University in Springfield. Neely is an expert on the Kansas-Missouri border war, a news release said.

Fischer said the Border War was a requested topic for the series and organizers felt it would be a popular topic for area residents to discuss. He said funding was provided to allow the speech choir to visit five different historic sites between March 11-15.

In the years immediately preceding the American Civil War, the Kansas-Missouri border region was center stage for a national war of words and a local war of increasing violence over the issue of whether Kansas Territory would enter the U.S. as a free or slave state, the release said.

Two new terms -- "bushwhacker" and "jayhawker" -- emerged to define and demonize the radical pro-slavers and abolitionists engaged in the fight over irreconcilable ideologies. Yet, retaliation, retribution and revenge soon became as important as any stated ideology as more and more settlers suffered from the harsh guerilla tactics employed by both sides and took up arms, the release said.

"Missouri was a slave state and essentially, pro-slavers," Fischer said. "The Jayhawkers were essentially abolitionists ... in an area with very limited law enforcement, a lot of rabble joined in."

Fischer said the violence between the two sides "essentially began with the opening of Kansas Territory for settlement."

Fischer said more information on the Kansas-Missouri border war would be presented during the March 12 event and is also available online at various websites.

"Guerilla Warfare: Bushwhackers & Jayhawkers" is part of the Shared Stories of the Civil War, a collection of readers' theater scripts created from historical letters, diaries, newspaper articles and other archival documents from the 1850s and 1860s. The scripts explore the events -- the shared stories -- that occurred in Kansas and Missouri during the Border War and the Civil War.

The Baker University Speech Choir is an innovative student organization that performs and interprets scripts, letters or poetry in ways that help the writer's work come alive for today's listeners, the release said.

Fischer said eight to 10 students will participate in the performance. They create unique scripts according to the requirements of each audience and "bring the topic to life," Fischer said.

Fischer will serve as moderator who will set the stage and "try to get the audience involved," he said.

"Neely will emcee the presentation and afterwards, he'll lead a group discussion with the audience about things they just heard," Fischer said.

Neely has written a book titled "The Border Between Them" that focuses on the immediate border counties, including Bourbon County. Neely grew up in Vernon County and is "an expert in the topic," Fischer said.

"If there is not a lot of audience participation, he'll bring out other questions to get the audience involved," Fischer said.

Last fall, the historic site partnered with the Gordon Parks Museum and Center for the most recent Shared Stories of the Civil War presentation, which was on the First Kansas Colored Infantry and presented by Fischer during the Gordon Parks Celebration of Culture and Diversity in October. Fischer said about 35-40 people attended that presentation.

Members of the community are invited to attend this free program, which is made possible through Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area and the KHC.

Shared Stories of the Civil War is a partnership between Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area and the KHC. FFNHA is a partnership of 41 counties in eastern Kansas and western Missouri dedicated to connecting the stories of settlement, the Border War, and the Enduring Struggle for Freedom in this area. The KHC is a nonprofit organization that promotes understanding of the history and ideas that shape people's lives and strengthen their sense of community, the release said.

The event will be held in the historic site's Grand Hall, which is accessible to mobility-impaired individuals, the release said.

For more information, contact the site at (620) 223-0310, or visit

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