Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


The Iowa Militia was first organized in 1839 to go to war against the State of Missouri!

A dispute had been going on for two years, and an actual war was brewing. A rag-tag army had already formed along the Iowa side, in an attempt to prevent invasion from Missouri.

Missouri’s northern border was the Old Sullivan Line of 1816, named for the surveyor who made the assessment. Known to be in error, Brown surveyed the line for Missouri in 1837 and concluded that a corrected boundary nine miles north was in order. Based on his findings, Missouri attempted to collect taxes from citizens living within the area of Missouri’s new claim.

Instead of using the well-known landmark known as the Des Moines Rapids in the Mississippi River, Brown used some previously unnamed ripples of the Des Moines River at the village of Van Buren (forerunner of Keosauqua) to mark the boundary.

Van Buren County citizens resisted Missouri’s attempt to collect taxes, and the sheriff chased the agents back to Missouri. He arrested the sheriff of Clark County who was jailed in Iowa. Governor Boggs of Missouri sent about 600 militia to the border area.

When Governor Lucas heard about the situation along the border, with Missouri preparing for hostilities that might include an invasion of the territory, he decided that he needed to take military action. He quickly began organizing a unit of 1500 men to proceed with the slogan, "Death to the invading pukes!" and even envisioned leading his men into battle!

It took awhile to organize the territory’s first militia, and no appointments were made until January 7, 1839. In the meantime, a rag-tag "army" began to assemble south of Keosauqua, around Farmington, and at Mt. Sterling.

Each man dressed as he felt appropriate and carried his own weapon. Some were armed with old muskets, ancestral swords, and pistols. One man carried a plough coulter attached to a log chain, one used a sausage stuffer, and another carried a sheet iron sword that was six feet long! In all, 1200 men gathered along the Iowa side of the Sullivan Line.

Before there was any clash between the "military forces," delegates from both sides agreed to send the matter to Congress for arbitration, and they laid the matter aside. In 1848 Congress finally approved the Sullivan Line. Missouri appealed and took the matter to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Iowa in 1851.

The Territorial Militia became the Iowa Militia with Iowa statehood in 1846. Eventually, they were called the Iowa National Guard. Thus the Guard owes its beginning to the little rag-tag army that illustriously protected our southern border in 1838-1839.

The Iowa Militia was only called out once before the Civil War, and that was in response to the Spirit Lake Massacre of 1857. The Sioux Indians who were involved fled into Minnesota, while Iowans patrolled the border to prevent more raids.

In the process, the Iowa Guard’s first casualties were reported in the April 16, 1857 edition of the Ft. Dodge Sentinel. Bodies of Captain I. C. Johnson of Webster City and William Burckholder, Esq. Of Granger were recovered. The men had become lost in a snowstorm while returning to duty at Storm Lake.

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