Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Legislation and legal maneuvering by both sides during the border dispute incident could have had much worse consequences.

According to a summary of the situation made by Governor Lucas, he received a letter from Sheriff Heffleman of Van Buren County dated October, 1839 recommending that a Deputy Marshal be appointed to the county to maintain order. Missouri had already tried several times to collect taxes in the territory, and citizens had resisted, and had threatened the sheriff of Clark County.

Peace lovers from both sides met in Farmington to iron out their difficulties. The meeting broke up with nothing resolved, but the Iowans had made it clear that they were opposed to any form of taxation from Missouri. Heffleman suggested that Thomas Babcock was a suitable candidate for Deputy Marshal.

Lucas wrote the US Marshal in Washington, outlining the dispute and requesting an appointment for Van Buren County to prevent bloodshed.

A meeting in Keosauqua on October 30, 1839 was held to discuss the matter, and several resolutions were submitted and passed. Van Buren County refused to agree to any Missouri taxation; Van Buren County refused to be considered part of Missouri until a proper boundary was established; and Heffleman reported all these actions to Lucas.

Again Lucas wrote to General Francis Gabon, US Marshal, requesting prompt attention to the matter. Under the instructions of Lucas, the Adjutant General of Iowa, Mr. Van Antwerp, was called on to carry out an investigation of the trouble.

When Antwerp arrived in Keosauqua, he discovered that the county sheriff was in Farmington. The militia directed him to a crossing of Indian Creek where Missourians were attempting to collect taxes. Antwerp did not find the tax collectors, but Lucas reported to the legislature that armed conflict was about to break out at any moment.

On November 9th Sheriff Heffleman took into custody Sheriff Gregory of Kahoka and charged him with attempting to collect taxes in Iowa Territory. He did not have a jail to contain the prisoner, nor a legal right to do so.

Heffleman contacted Lucas outlining what he had done, and back came a letter praising the sheriff for his action. Lucas immediately went before the Territorial Legislature asking for a law that gave Heffleman legal authority to arrest the Missouri sheriff and confine him anywhere within the territory, wherever he desired. The law was written and passed in record time, and Sheriff Gregory ended up jailed in Burlington.

When an overland caravan of supply wagons was stopped and searched by Missouri Militia and a roll of lead confiscated, the owner contacted Governor Lucas. Fort Madisonís postmaster discovered that the postmaster of St. Francisville had been given instructions not to deliver mail from Missouri into Iowa. Deputy US Marshal Henry also wrote Governor Lucas that Missouri had attempted to collect taxes in that area on December 4, 1839 and recommended that steps be taken at once to prevent raids on Iowa citizens.

Lucas brought the Iowa Militia to the border, and this so impressed the Missourians that they made no more claims on Van Buren County and allowed the matter to lie dormant until Congress took up the issue.

Missouri had six hundred men camped along the Fox River a couple of miles south of Mt. Sterling. The weather was cold, the snow was deep, and the men had short supplies. A peace-keeping delegation from both sides met on December 20, 1839 and a settlement was reached. They would forward the matter to Congress with the facts and findings from each committee, and allow the government to form a decision. In the meantime, they agreed to leave matters as they had been before altercations arose.

Meanwhile, Missourians cut down some valuable bee trees south of Keosauqua in 1838. An indictment had been sworn out with a fine assessed at $1.50, but no arrest was ever made and the fine was never collected. Local poet John S. Campbell described the incident in writing and coined the name "Honey War." But neither side could gloat in sweet revenge.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick