Monday, March 24, 2008

Civil War quilter's Crown of Thorns

When recalling the Civil War, Georgia, South Carolina, even Pennsylvania spring to mind. These were the scenes of major battles, loss of life, and other than Pennsylvania, antebellum slavery.

But the impetus that catapulted the United States into the bloody civil war focused in a Midwestern location: Kansas. The border between Kansas and Missouri became a battlefield long before the war began in 1861.

By the 1850s, pro-slavery and 'free soilers' or abolition factions were racing to claim the new state of Kansas for themselves. The one with the most population could vote to turn the state toward their own politics so that it could enter the union as a slave or a free state.

Caught in the middle of this were the families. In Barbara Brackman's book Civil War Women, she includes a chapter on Bursheba Fristoe Younger. If you have watched many Westerns -- movies and television, you will have heard of Cole Younger and other outlaws who made the West so wild. Until reading Brackman's account, I didn't realize what motivated those men to turn to such a violent criminal behavior.

Brackman imagines that Bursheba would have chosen the Crown of Thorns pattern to symbolize her "trials in the midst of the worst guerrilla warfare ever to take place in the United States." Perhaps she wouldn't have made hers quite so bright nor set the crowns in this configuration, but as you can see from the photo, it looks like a rather prickly pattern.

Her trials were many. Bursheba's husband, Henry Younger, a good husband by all accounts, promoted slavery in Kansas. He voted in the Kansas territorial elections and was a representative in the first Territorial Legislature which is referred to as the "Bogus Legislature". This legislature held a pro-slavery stance and many members were not Kansas residents.

Once the war broke out, Younger returned to his farm and family only to be targeted as an enemy of the Kansas Free State cause. On July 1862, Henry's dead body was found lying in the road near the Shawnee Indian Mission on the state line. Ironically, the wad of cash found on his body was returned to his wife, eliminating any thought that this was a robbery. It is possible he was killed for the crimes his sons were committing as guerrillas. But their father's death only embittered Cole and Jim and made them more determined to exact retribution.

Bursheba inherited an impressive bit of money and land but with the war, lack of a justice system and outlaws, she couldn't make a profit from the farm Soldiers and bandits stole most of her stock and eventually without Henry, Bursheba lost everything. Federal troops threatened to burn down her house, but they allowed her one more night to spare a sick daughter. The cost -- the next morning Bursheba must put the torch to her own home, which she did.

Probably aided by the guerrillas, she and her four remaining children moved from one relative's house to another, sometimes hiding in the woods and caves along the Little Blue and Sni Rivers, according to Brackman.

In August, 1863, several women died under the rock walls of a collapsing jail where they were being held because of their affiliation with the guerrillas and fugitives. In retribution, 400 Missourians raided the Free-State symbol, Lawrence, Kansas. "In two or three hours, the Missourians murdered 185 men and boys."

Bursheba returned to her home in 1870, but her three sons refused to live within the law. They joined up with some neighbors you may have heard of, the James boys, and robbed banks. Bursheba died at the age of 54, shortly after her youngest son, John, was hung and then cut down just short of death, by a mob trying to get him to tell where his outlaw brothers were.

Crown of thorns definitely would fit the tribulations of one lone woman in a sea of trouble on the Kansas-Missouri border during the Civil War. Although with the wars and turbulence of today, I can see the relevance of the pattern now.

Here's a contemporary paper piecing pattern for the Crown of Thorns by Judy Niemeyer.

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