Today in Midwestern news, the Missouri town of Osceola has passed a resolution asking that the University of Kansas retire the Jayhawk from being the school's official mascot.
To understand why, you have to know a little about 19th-century U.S. history. Thanks to congressional compromises that allowed some new states and territories to vote on whether or not they'd allow slavery, Kansas and Missouri started fighting the Civil War about a decade before the rest of the country. Missouri was a slave state. Kansas' status was up in the air. The result was a series of cross-border battles and raids aimed at destroying free-state strongholds, retaliating against slave-state strongholds, and generally intimidating people on both sides of the fence. For a while, Kansas even had dueling free-state and slave-state capital cities, which drafted their own unilateral state constitutions and, occasionally, raided each other for official state documents.
While the "Jayhawks" are today represented by a large, imaginary bird (and/or an alt-country band), they were, originally, the free-state militia. In September of 1861, this militia raided Osceola, killing at least a dozen men and burning a good chunk of the town. And the citizens of Osceola, it seems, are still pretty pissed about this and consider the mascot Jayhawk to be an example of Kansans rubbing salt in the wound.
Along with suggesting that KU change its team name, the resolution calls on the University of Missouri to make sure the full story of the Border War is told and not just the story of William Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, Kan., in August 1863. That attack featured many guerrillas shouting “Remember Osceola.”
And the resolution calls on Missourians to stop spelling Kansas or KU with a capital letter, as “neither is a proper name or a proper place.”
“I don’t expect them to do anything,” Rick Reed of Osceola, who brought the resolution to the aldermen, said of KU. “They are so arrogant and uppity.”
Now, an arrogant and uppity KU alum might take this moment to remind the good citizens of Osceola that the attack on their city did not happen in a vacuum. Free-staters in Kansas, including in Lawrence, had been defending themselves against attack from within and without the state for several years before the Osceola raid. And that it is generally accepted that pro-slavery forces started the violence. She also might wonder aloud what the heck any of this has to do with Kansas being a proper noun.
Or, your know, we could just acknowledge that a good deal of random violence happened on both sides. And it happened a long time ago. And neither Kansans nor Missourians are currently oppressing one another, nor particularly suffering from long-term fallout of that past violence. Nor does the name "Jayhawk" degrade any living people. So, maybe, this whole thing is just a bit silly.
Thanks to Sarah and Justin Henning!
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.