116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
In 1839, militias in Iowa and Missouri squared off over where the state line should be between the two states.
No one was killed in the so-called Honey War, though a Missouri sheriff was arrested and a Missouri settler sneaked across the border and chopped down three trees holding honeybee hives.
Honey was the only sweetener on the frontier and apparently worth fighting for.
The dispute concerned the Sullivan Line, established by surveyor J.C. Sullivan in 1816 to mark Native American territory. The 100-mile straight line was the accepted boundary in 1821 between the new state of Missouri and the Michigan Territory, which included the land that would become the state of Iowa.
No one disputed the line until 1837 when new Missouri settlers discovered the rich land and the honey trees in a strip of timber north of the Sullivan Line — in what is now southern Davis and Van Buren counties.
The next year, a Missouri settler chopped down the three of the honey trees in the disputed strip.
When Iowa became a U.S. territory in 1838, Congress decreed that President Martin Van Buren would appoint three commissioners — from Missouri, the Iowa Territory and the United States — to survey and mark the boundary between the two states.
Albert M. Lea, a soldier and engineer, would represent the United States. Dr. James Davis was appointed for the Iowa Territory. But Missouri's Gov. Lilburn Boggs declined to appoint a commissioner.
Missouri had adopted its own declaration in 1837, stating the boundary was several miles north of the Sullivan Line.
That was seen as law in the eyes of Missouri citizens and was enough authorization for Uriah S. Gregory, the sheriff of Clark County, Mo., to attempt to collect taxes in the disputed area in October 1839.
It didn't take long for Iowa Territory residents to object and chase the sheriff back across the original border.
When the sheriff tried a second time on Nov. 20, the sheriff of Iowa's Van Buren County arrested him. The county had no jail, so Gregory was kept at the Iowa sheriff's home in Farmington until he could be moved to the jail in Bloomington (what is now Muscatine).
In response, Gen. Allen of Lewis County, Mo., prevented any mail from entering into the Territory of Iowa.
Missouri forces were ready to march on Bloomington and rescue the Clark County sheriff.
On Dec. 3, 1839, G.A. Hendry, the deputy marshal of the Iowa Territory, sent a letter to Robert Lucas, governor of the Iowa Territory, reporting that a 'body of armed men from the state of Missouri, to the number of forty or fifty,' came into Van Buren County, 'that part of the Territory over which Missouri pretends to claim jurisdiction, and proceeded to demand, seize by force and carry away property of the citizens of the United States' as payment for taxes they claimed were due Missouri.
Lucas promptly ordered three divisions of Iowa militia to support the U.S. marshal in defending the Iowa Territory.
At the same time. the speaker of the U.S. House in Washington urged Congress to intervene and avoid a civil war between the two states.
No shots fired
As quickly as tempers flared, calmer heads prevailed.
Both militias were battling rain and snow and a serious lack of equipment or supplies, when six of their leaders — Col. Thomas Anderson, F.H. Edmondson and S.M. Grant of Missouri and William Patterson, Dr. J.D. Payne and L.B. Hughes of Iowa — met in Waterloo, Mo., and negotiated an armistice.
With that, the two militias were told to go home. The soldiers were upset. They had been promised compensation for fighting in a war. No war meant no money.
Later reports said the soldiers opened a barrel of whiskey and shot a deer. They divided the deer in half and hung the carcasses from a tree. The halves were labeled Gov. Boggs and Gov. Lucas and were used for target practice.
Nonetheless, the two governors agreed to let Congress resolved the issue.
The March 7, 1840, Salt River Journal, published in Bowling Green, Mo., had an interesting take on the conflict.
To avoid all the trouble, it wrote, 'it only required that the Governor of Missouri should perform his obvious constitutional duty — to see that the law for the survey of the northern boundary was faithfully executed before the occupation of the disputed district under either Missouri or Iowa.'
Even though Iowa gained statehood in 1846, its southern border with Missouri remained in flux until 1849, when the Supreme Court ordered the Sullivan Line resurveyed and permanently marked. The court also agreed that Iowa's far southeastern border would follow the Des Moines River to its confluence with the Mississippi, putting Keokuk in Iowa instead of Missouri.
The new survey was accepted by the court in 1851, and the boundary dispute settled.