Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 2, Spring 2008, pp. 154-55.
The Border between Them traces the troubled relationship across the Kansas-Missouri state line during the nineteenth century. Jeremy Neely successfully recreates the world of ordinary settlers, such as western Missouri farmer John Dryden, who didn't care whether Kansas became slave or free but suffered political violence nonetheless. In order to make the settlers' story intelligible, however, Neely often has to describe larger political events, making for much summary familiar to students of the Civil War era.
Missourians pioneered a slave frontier. They expected Kansas to be part of this dynamic economy, but free soil migrants resisted. Neely emphasizes some elements of Bleeding Kansas's familiar story that are often passed over. For example, because Native claims had not been extinguished, settlers squatted on Native lands, disputed title, and often came to blows. These conflicts then became part of the territory's political turmoil. In discussing the Civil War itself, Neely deftly acknowledges that many Missouri guerrillas, such as Coleman Younger, came from good families but does not turn this into a defense of their every action. His discussion of the guerrilla war along the border is nuanced and balanced.