Jayhawkers were guerrilla fighters during the American Civil War in Kansas who often clashed with States' Rights and pro-slavery partisans, as well as Missouri militia units.


While the term originated during the Bleeding Kansas Affair, Civil War jayhawkers are to be distinguished from Free State Jayhawkers who fought during Bleeding Kansas, which occurred in the decade leading up to the Civil War. Some Civil War jayhawkers had in fact supported Kansas' admission to the union as a slave state, and had fought on the opposite side from the Free-Staters during the earlier conflict. Rather than anti-slavery sentiment, which motivated the Free-Staters, jayhawker bands organized to prevent and repel possible invasions of Kansas by Missouri bushwhackers. Some of their organizers, such as James Henry Lane, were nonetheless prominent abolitionist politicians. As is often the case in insurgencies, the conflict between bushwhackers and jayhawkers rapidly escalated into a succession of atrocities committed by both sides.

Well-known jayhawkers include Lane and Charles "Doc" Jennison. Lane and his band of militants wore red gaiters, earning them the nickname "Redlegs." This moniker is often used interchagably with the term "jayhawkers," although it is sometimes used to refer specifically to jayhawkers who refused to join units officially sanctioned by the U.S. Army. Guerrillas on both sides of the Missouri-Kansas border achieved some measure of legitimacy through sanction from the Federal and Confederate governments, and the bands who scorned such sanction were typically even more vicious and indiscriminate in their methods than their bureaucratically recognized counterparts. Even within Kansas, the jayhawkers were not always popular because, in the absence of federal support, they supplied themselves by stealing horses and supplies from farmers.

Jayhawker bands waged numerous invasions of Missouri and also committed some of the most notorious atrocities of the Civil War, including the Lane-led massacre at Osceola, Missouri, in which the entire town was set aflame and at least 9 of the male residents killed. The sacking of Osceola inspired the 1976 film The Outlaw Josey Wales, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. Jayhawkers also were accused of engineering the collapse of a jail in Kansas City in which female relatives of bushwhackers were incarcerated by Union sympathizers because of their connection to pro-Confederate guerrillas. These two incidents were prior to the Lawrence Massacre in Lawrence, Kansas, led by William Quantrill and his band of bushwhackers, who retaliated (according to apologist of Quantrill) by setting the town on fire and killing an estimated 200 male residents.

Origin of the Term "Jayhawker"
by William G. Cutler (1883)
Since this epithet has become synonymous with Kansan, its origin is a question in which all Kansans are interested. the following, is the true story of its origin:

Before sunrise, one morning in the autumn of 1856, during the existence of the troubles throughout the State, Pat Devlin, a noted character of those times, was seen entering the village of Osawatomie, riding a horse or mule laden with no inconsiderable amount of articles of various kinds, and of different degrees of value. The animal Pat bestrode was almost hidden from sight by the load. A neighbor meeting him said:

"Good morning, Pat; you look as if you had been out on some kind of a foraging expedition."

"Yes," said Pat. "I've been out jayhawking..."

"What do you mean by 'jayhawking,' Pat? I never heard that word before."

Pat, who was a bold Free-state irishman, at once developed into an etymological neologist, and replied:

"I have been out foraging off the enemy," meaning the Pro-slavery party, and while riding home on me baste, I bethought me of the bird we have in Ireland, we call the jayhawk, which takes delight in worryin' its prey before devouring it and I thought 'jayhawking' a good name for the business I was in meself."

The word became generally known during the War of the Rebellion from the application of it to himself and his soldiers by Col. Jennison of the Seventh Kansas. From his regiment it passed to all Kansas soldiers and finally was applied to all the inhabitants of Kansas themselves.

Pat Devlin, the originator of the term "jayhawking" was killed in the fall of 1860, in Aurora, Col. And it is a remarkable coincidence that "Marshall Cleveland," the last and by no means the least of the "jayhawkers" should have been killed on almost the exact spot where the name originated. Marshall Cleveland was known at different times by different aliases. His real name was Metz, and he came to Kansas from Ohio. He was a man of commanding stature, tall and muscular, and brave to a fault.

He first made his appearance on the border in 1861, as one of Jennison's jayhawkers. On the 14th of October, he was mustered in as Captain of Company H, Seventh Cavalry, but unable to bear the restraints of army life, he resigned his commission November 1st. Gathering about him a number of men of his own class, he commenced a course of robbery and plunder in the name of "Liberty." Having stolen $125 from H. L. Lyons and considerable property from Joseph and John Beets, himself and two of his confederates, named respectively "Buckskin" and "Rabbit Ear" were indicted for robbery at the March term of the district court.

A State warrant was issued for Cleveland, and the sheriff made several ineffectual attempts to arrest him. He laughed at the civil authorities and defied the military. He was declared an outlaw and Capt. H. S. Greeno, Company C, Sixth Kansas Cavalry, in command at Paola, sent out two soldiers in citizens' clothing, to ascertain his whereabouts. On the 10th of May they found him at the Geer Hotel in Osawatomie. On the same day the Sheriff attempted to arrest him, but failed to procure a posse equal to the task.

Capt. Greeno proceeded to Osawatomie in the night. Approaching the town he picketed the roads with a portion of his forces under Sergeant Morris. As daylight approached Sergeant Mooris drew in his men, surrounded the Geer Hotel, and before Capt. Greeno reached the hotel, had received Cleveland's surrender. Cleveland being allowed to dress and come out of the house, sprang upon his horse, which some friend had brought him, broke through the guards and dashed off in the direction of the Pottawatomie, followed by the whole command.

Capt Greeno and Private John Johnson, being finely mounted, rapidly gained upon the outlaw, and when within range were fired upon by him several times. On arriving at the bank of the creek he dismounted and ran down the steep bank. Johnson also dismounted and approaching the bank, fired a fatal shot at Cleveland from above. He was buried in the Osawatomie cemetery and some time afterwards his "wife" caused to be erected at the head of his grave a monument bearing the following inscription:

May 11, 1862
Earth counts a mortal less
Heaven an angel more

This is not so much "a new departure in gravestone literature," as it is considered by an excellent local historian as it is an apotheosis inspired by a woman's love.

Cultural influence
The sports teams at the University of Kansas in Lawrence are known as the Jayhawks. The Jayhawk is a mythical bird, a cross between a blue jay and a sparrow hawk.

A cattle-drive being held up by Jayhawkers is depicted in The Tall Men.

A minor character in the movie Glory was referred to as a "real Jayhawker from Kansas."

Abolitionists were referred to as "Jayhawkers" or "Red Legs" and both are still used as terms of derision towards those from Kansas.

Items stolen in raids into Missouri were frequently referred to as having been "Jayhawked."

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