Jayhawks

Back on September 10, we took note of the request from the city of Osceola to the University of Kansas to quit referring to its teams as Jayhawks. Osceola, which was burned by jayhawkers during the Civil War, felt it was politically incorrect to identify with the “domestic terrorists that the Jayhawkers were in the days of Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War. Here’s a follow-up.

Our senate press table seatmate Rudi Keller does a daily piece in the Columbia Daily Tribune noting what was happening in his area 150 years ago on that day. He’s enjoying digging out these nuggets and we enjoy reading them. Monday his column included an editorial from the St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican for October 3, 1861. It gives us some insight into the historical background of “Jayhawk” or “Jayhawker.” Here’s the editorial Rudi cited in his article:

JAYHAWKING

We are unable to give the etymology of this word, very often used on our Western border.

It is one of those terms which mean nothing in themselves, but are exceedingly significant among the people who understand them. We have heard legislators speak of a bill being “jayhawked.” A foreigner who gets his ideas of our language out of the dictionaries would be puzzled by the word, for Webster does not define it and Worcester seems never to have heard of it. The foreigner would therefore acquire interesting information to be told that to jayhawk, in a legislative sense, is to smuggle a bill in committee, to pass it over without action, or to put it in into the pocket of the chairman, never to be reported.

This, however, is not the only, nor the most important, meaning of the active transitive verb to jayhawk. It has a signification wider and more comprehensive, though we cannot say that it is entirely comprehensible.

We may define jayhawking, in general, as a species of land privateering or political freebooting. A jayhawker is different from a common highway robber in that he assumes to sit in judgment upon the conduct of his neighbors or other parties, and to make what he deems errors of opinion or opposition to his own views payable in treasure, property or lives of the offenders. A common highway robber never makes any distinction as to other people’s notions or behavior, exercising in this respect the greatest liberality and toleration.

The Jayhawker, on the contrary, base, or profess to base, his operations upon the narrower principles of never robbing or hanging one who entertains the same political creed as himself, if it is convenient to avoid it. The Jayhawkers band together like other marauders, and gallop over the country, appropriating horses, cattle, farming implements, guns, and in short whatever comes in their way, belonging or being supposed to belong to anybody whom they don’t like.

Should the owner of the confiscated property be found, he is usually left the option of being stretched to the limb of an adjacent tree or departing the vicinity forthwith.

Jayhawking is a Kansas institution. The Leavenworth Conservative (whose conservatism will appear from the extract) says of it:

“Jayhawking was got up in Kansas. It’s one of our things. It works well; we believe in it, we are going to have it. It don’t make any difference whether the authorities, civil or military, believe in it or not. Kansas don’t care much for authorities; never did, never will.”

We like candor, and this is candid enough to suit us. It means that plunder and promiscuous pillage are good things. It is refreshing, when public sentiment all over the world is “down” on robbery and kindred villainies, to find a newspaper with the independence to come out in favor of the unpopular side, and vindicate and defend scoundrelism. This ends our chapter.

Thanks for digging that out, Rudi. Osceola should be honored to have been burned by such honorable people.

Border War Flares

A few years ago some high-minded folks at the University of Missouri-Columbia and some similarly high-minded folks at the University of Kansas decided it was no longer appropriate to refer to the MU-KU football game as a border “war.”   That’s why the teams play an emasculated contest known today as a border “showdown.”

The city of Osceola, in southwest Missouri, does not seem too interested in such a half-baked truce, however.  Osceola is still symbolically smoldering after “a group of domestic terrorists, referred to as ‘Jayhawkers,’ sacked the city…and burned all but four or five of the city’s buildings to the ground.”  A dozen peace-loving citizens were executed, says a resolution adopted by the city council.

The resolution concedes that William Clarke Quantrill kind of evened things up when he burned Lawrence.  After all, “Missourians had no choice but to defend themselves from the murderous attacks perpetuated by the jayhawkers….”

But what really gets Osceola’s goat (no, wait a minute.  Mexico already has the goat. You might remember those stories last year)……

What really gets stuck in Osceola’s craw is that the University of Kansas for 120 years has honored those domestic terrorists who burned the city by calling its sports teams “Jayhawks,” a slight modification of “Jayhawkers.”  The city resolution says the name “willfully, wantonly, and recklessly” disregards the “domestic terrorist” attack of 1861.

Therefore, the city of Osceola, CONDEMNS “the celebration of this murderous gang of terrorists by an institution of ‘higher education’ in such a brazen and malicious manner” and asks the University of Missouri to educate the school in Lawrence on “the full historical origins of the ‘Border War.'”   Not a border showdown, mind you.  This is still a war as far as Osceola is concerned.   The city also asks  MU alumni never to capitalize the “k” in Kansas or ‘k’ in KU.   Neither, says the resolution, “is a proper name or a proper place.”

The resolution does not come right out and demand the school in Lawrence stop using the mascot name “Jayhawk,” but it does hint that the citizens of a little town in southwest Missouri will be purty darned unhappy if they don’t.

It’s all mighty big talk for a town where the high school football team is known as the Indians.

(Our thanks to our senate press table colleague Rudi Keller of the Columbia Daily Tribune for calling our attention to the resolution.  Rudi’s daily articles about the Civil War can be found at www.showmenews.com)

 

So this is what one looks like

Want to see what someone looks like who writes books your children should not be allowed to read? Want to hear what she sounds like when she speaks and what words she uses? Want to see if she wears fishnet hose, a short skirt, and bright red lipstick?

Get thee to Springfield late next month. Sarah Ockler will be in town. And while she’s there she will read from banned and challenged books. Right out loud and in public she will read some of this stuff!!

Sarah Ockler, in case you have not been watching the way the Republic School Board has decided to protect its students, is the author of “Twenty Boy Summer,” a novel that the school board has ordered off the general circulation shelves of the district libraries. The board has extended the same courtesy to Kurt Vonnegut’s most famous novel, “Slaughterhouse Five.”

Vonnegut has been dead for four years but someone from the Vonnegut Foundation will be attending events in Springfield and also reading excerpts from banned or challenged books. So the curious can see what somebody who believes “Slaughterhouse Five” is great literature looks like and how he dresses.

The picture we’ve seen of Sarah Lockler kind of reminds us of Bette Midler, the singer. Maybe its the curly hair or the big smile. She certainly doesn’t look like someone who would threaten the safety or virtue of a school child or of the general population.

And based on photographs and writings and interviews, neither do Mark Twain, Robert Penn Warren, Theodore Dreiser, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, Judy Blume, Jack London, Stephen King, Alice Walker, Ernest Hemingway, and J. K. Rowling. Or Upton Sinclair, William Golding, John Steinbeck, John Updike, Harper Lee, James Joyce, or Madeline L’Engle.

The American Library Association and the Radcliffe Publishing Course lists those authors as creators of the most frequently banned or challenged books in the country.

I must confess that I read banned books. Lots of them. And I’m looking forward to reading a lot more. When I was in High School I read “Peyton Place.” It was not in the school library but it sure was in circulation.

In fact, I distinctly recall my fifth grade teacher reading an entire banned book to my entire class one year. It was about a boy from Hannibal and his slave.

Those of us who write for a living, whether it’s news stories or books or magazine articles, stage plays or screenplays, grow nervous when someone wants to “protect” someone else from reading or hearing something.

A lot of parents don’t want their children to read something on a subject that the children have been talking among themselves about for quite a while, probably, or don’t want them exposed to words the kids have known about for some time—and are likely to have tried to look up in the dictionary. Remember how disappointed you were when….well, maybe I shouldn’t mention the words we used to look up and found either absent or with definitions that didn’t tell us what we really wanted to know.

As for Sarah Ockler, challenged book author: She’s a college graduate who wrote her first novel after attending the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver. She teaches adult fiction writing there. Her controversial book–The New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association nominated it for one of its annual book awards. Girl’s Life magazine rated it one of the Top 100 Must Reads. The Young Adult Library Services Association nominated it to its Top 100 Must Reads list. The kind of attention she has gotten for “Twenty Boys” reminds us of the kind of attention Judy Blue got many years ago for “Forever,” another novel of teen romance. I read that one, too.

Here’s what Sarah has written on her blog:

“I get that my book isn’t appropriate for all teens, and that some parents are opposed to the content. That’s fine…But don’t make that decision for everyone else’s family by limiting a book’s availability and burying the issue under guise of a ‘curriculum decision.'”

And she goes on a few lines later:

“You can ban my books from every damn district in the country—I’m still not going to write or send messages or make teens feel guilty because they’ve made choices that some people want to pretend don’t exist.”

She’ll arrive in Springfield on September 29th, we understand. And she’ll spend the next two days taking part in the library’s observance of Banned Books Week. A lot of the authors listed earlier who have written books that have been banned or have been challenged by those who know what’s best for the rest of us are dead. But if you want to see what one of these creatures looks like up close, living and breathing, get thee to Springfield.

One other thing. The Republic school board is meeting soon to talk about the books again.