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One Sloppy Land Surveyor Almost Caused a War Between Missouri and Iowa

Between 1816 and 1836, the border between Missouri and Iowa was surveyed several times, because the first survey was done so badly, and there were four possible borders, all slightly different. The nine-mile-wide band of disputed territory was fertile and popular with settlers. But what governing body the residents belonged to was a problem. Things came to a head in 1839 when Sheriff Uriah S. Gregory tried to collect Missouri state taxes from the farmers of the disputed territory.   

But Gregory knew he was heading into an area where he was not welcome. Missouri claimed this land all the way to the Booth line, another survey line drawn in 1836 about nine miles north, but the people who lived here considered themselves part of Iowa. The last time Gregory had crossed the Sullivan line, back in October, he had met a group of locals at a house raising, and when he had explained, carefully, that he had come to collect their taxes on behalf of the state of Missouri, they told him that it would be in his best interest—best for his personal safety—if he went back over the border.

Since then, the border conflict between Missouri and Iowa had tensed into what historians would call “the Honey War,” after some unknown Missourian went over the border and cut down three bee trees filled with honey. It was about to escalate even further.

The honey theft appears to be incidental to the real dispute over taxes. Sheriff Greggory was arrested and both sides raised a militia. Read how the confusion came about and how the Honey War ended at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: Americasroof)


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