Rifles for Watie

by Harold Keith

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What political issue divided the Kansas-Missouri border residents?

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Prior to the Civil War (the time period of Rifles for Watie), there was frequent conflict between Kansas (where Jeff is from) and Missouri. In 1821, Missouri was admitted to the United States as a state where slavery was legal. However, according to the Missouri Compromise, no future state north of the latitude that marked Missouri’s southern border could be a slave state. In 1854, the Missouri Compromise was repealed, opening Kansas to those who wanted the territory to become a future slave state. Many people from the North moved to Kansas in order to make it free. The struggle between these two groups continued throughout the Civil War. The Bushwackers from Missouri often crossed the border to attack towns where abolitionists held sway, such as Lawrence. People from Kansas, called Jayhawkers, entered Missouri to attack slave-holding families. This conflict led to Kansas becoming known as “Bleeding Kansas.” After the Civil War started in 1861, Kansas became a free state, and Missouri, though it did not legally secede and join the Confederacy, was the center for many battles, making it the third-most state fought over, after Virginia and Tennessee. It is in this conflict that the novel takes place and in which Jeff finds himself fighting on both sides.

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