The Border War Goes Digital

It was 150 years ago this month that Missouri found itself with a dual government. After confiscating state records, pro-Confederacy Missouri Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson and ex-Governor Sterling Price relocated the capital from Jefferson City to Boonville. They had secession on their mind.

Young Union Captain Nathaniel Lyon had other plans, however, and on June 17, 1861, in a skirmish known as the Battle of Boonville, Lyon defeated the pro-Southern Missouri State Guard. Jackson retreated to southwest Missouri, and Lyon set up a pro-Union state government. Meanwhile, Confederate President Jefferson Davis continued to support Jackson.

Though depicted humorously in the political cartoon below (that’s Jackson in the dress), the battle was an intense early conflict in a tumultuous time in local history. Soon, history buffs around the world will be able to experience, through a unique digital portal, events like the Battle of Boonville as they transpired in Eastern Missouri and Western Kansas before and during the Civil War.


"Let out! General, let out! he's getting close to us!"


Currently in development, The Missouri-Kansas Conflict: Civil War on the Western Border 1854-1865 is well on the way to becoming a fully functional, multifaceted online repository containing thousands of digitized primary source materials from this era in our region’s history.

In addition to historic documents, photographs, maps, letters, diaries, military records and more, the site will include encyclopedia entries, historical narrative essays, and an interactive Civil War Timeline, which is already available for users to view.

The project is the work of the Kansas City Public Library and eight other regional partners:

In 2010, a $43,000 planning grant from the Missouri State Library funded the uncovering of more than 25,000 primary source materials from more than 25 area institutions, from as far east as the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis and as far west as the  Museum Division at Fort Riley, Kansas. Digital Projects Manager Jordan Fields guided the research, which was conducted by Research Coordinator Perry Collins (who left the Library in January 2011 to pursue her MLS).

“When you visit these cultural and historical institutions, most have only collected one side of the story,” says Fields. “We’re bringing together both sides.”

That will be easier, too, now that the Library has received a second round of funding.

Thanks to a $110,000 grant from the State Library, the Kansas City Public Library will begin digitizing these items – 5,000 pages worth – building, in effect, a comprehensive portrait of our region 150 years ago. Much of the digitizing work will be performed by a temporary Project Coordinator and a Project Associate. (Fields reports that the Project Coordinator is in the process of being hired. All staff are welcome to apply for the Associate position; for info, contact Bob Pedersen at x3652.)

In 2012, once funding has been procured, the content will be uploaded to the site, and, if all goes well, events from local history – be it the Battle of Boonville or Quantrill’s 1863 raid of Lawrence – will take their place in the national discussion of Civil War history.

Stay tuned for more updates from the Western Border.

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