Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Honey War: Part Two

Wild honeybees abounded in southeast Iowa in the largely forested areas. The plentiful hardwood trees provided plenty of hollowed trunks for bees to settle into and do what they do best, produce honey. In the 1800's before cultivating bees was more widely accepted, farmers would chop down these honey filled trees to harvest the honey for personal consumption and perhaps a little extra income. As time progressed, people learn how to cultivate bees so that they produced more honey and it required a lot less work to access. As a bonus, the bees stayed put year after year as long as their food needs were met instead of migrating from a chopped down tree to another standing hollowed out tree.

In the early 1980's, my father decided that he wanted to harvest some honey from the hive of bees that my grandfather had on his farmstead but had neglected for the last decade or so. My parents soon turned this interest into a small hobby and quickly expanded it into a full-blown business. Within a few years of purchasing established colonies and trapping the plentiful swarms of bees, they had almost 150 colonies and were selling honey by the 55-gallon drum full. As the 80's progressed, the farming industry radically changed and farmers either got big or got out. My parents got big and couldn't sustain the honey business that had a busy season that coincided with fall harvest. In the late 80's they sold the business and as it turned out, not a moment too soon. The following year, mites that killed off about 90% of the native honeybees invaded our part of Iowa.

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So with Brown having determined the location of the "official" northern boundary of Missouri, the Governor of Missouri named Boggs decided that it was high time that "their" land contributed to the tax base and sent out agents from Kahoka. The residents of this area considered themselves Iowans and didn't take too kindly when Missouri tax collectors showed up at their door and chased away the revenuers with pitchforks and clubs. Not wanting to go home empty handed, the collectors chopped down three bee trees, which were plentiful in this thickly forested disputed land and extracted the honey, worth at that time $0.37 per gallon, as partial payment for the taxes.

Governor Boggs didn't give up and next sent in the sheriff of Clark County Missouri, Uriah (Sandy) Gregory to collect taxes on, among other things, bee trees. He was met by a group of 1200 angry "Iowans" who gave him a choice, go home or else. Sheriff Gregory prudently went back south where he stopped to compose a letter to Boggs stating, "I am at a loss what to do the Citizens of that territory two-thirds of which is hostile to the officer and declare if I pretend to use any authority which I am invested by the State of Missouri, they will take me by fourse and put me in confinement." Governor Boggs ignored the letter ordering Boggs back in to collect those taxes and the Iowans proved good on their threat and arrested the Sheriff. He was confined in Burlington but was allowed to roam around town as long as he didn't leave to go back home. He later said he was treated well and enjoyed his enforced vacation that relieved him of having to solve the problem.

While Sheriff Gregory was "locked" up in Burlington in December of 1839, an angered Missouri Governor Boggs ordered up the state militia and sent them north to the border. Iowa Territorial Governor Robert Lucas responded in kind by calling up his state militia (the first use of the Iowa National Guard) and ordered them to the border. Both sides began to arm for battle with what available weapons were had including everything from rifles to pitchforks and in one reported case on the Missouri side, a sausage stuffer. (Perhaps an early torture device?) On both sides, plenty of whiskey was passed out and it is said that a Missouri supply convoy of six wagons contained five filled completely with booze. Both sides spent two nights camped out in the cold and snow, drinking their booze and waiting for the order to attack. It never came.

Fortunately, Governor Lucas wisely contacted Governor Boggs and while the two militias stood (or staggered) on each side of the border eyeing each other up, the two men agreed to allow the U.S. Congress resolve the dispute. Sheriff Gregory was released and Missouri tax officials were instructed to refrain from collecting taxes or chopping down any more bee trees until an official resolution was found. An arbitrary line was drawn between the two disputed lines extending southwest until it reached the same latitude as the old Sullivan line past the disputes "honey land" region and then went straight west to the Missouri River. Both governors ordered back their militias. The militias weren't happy at this news and wanted something to shoot. So they shot a deer, split it in half and labeled one half Governor Lucas and the other half Governor Boggs. The promptly shot both halves full of holes, held a mock funeral, and beat a rowdy retreat.

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