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The Rockingham-Missouri War

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

If the Missouri War of 1839 counts for anything, the small adjacent villages of Rockingham and Davenport, Iowa, can claim the world record for patriotism. When the Iowa Governor sent out a call for soldiers to march toward the Missouri State line and drive Missourians from sacred Iowa soil, nearly every man in the two towns answered the call to arms.

A conflict had arisen over which Des Moines Rapids Congress had been referring in establishing the Missouri-Iowa boundary in 1820. Iowans thought it was the Des Moines Rapids in the Mississippi near Keokuk; Missourians claimed it was a rapids much further up the Des Moines River itself, and here they had begun to settle.

The volunteers met in Davenport to hear a patriotic speech by their colonel, Sam Hedges. Not having any guns, the men were armed with pitchforks, scythes, hoes, and clubs. One man had a sheet iron sword six feet long. Many were so drunk they had difficulty standing. Others grumbled when they discovered they had to provide their own blankets, whiskey and hard tack for the war. The spirit was willing, as they say, but the flesh was weak.

Colonel Hedges dismissed all those who were drunk and improperly armed and began to drill the remnant. The soldiers were just beginning to line up in columns when they noticed the rejects marching on them, led by the man with the sheet iron sword. The grand army of Rockingham-Davenport retreated under the onslaught, Colonel Hedges leading the way. "Go home," he ordered, "and await further orders." Apparently, not even the spirit was terrible willing.

As it turned out, there was no need for further orders. When the Missourians heard rumors of the brave army headed their way, they snuck away back to their own state, and the war was over.

I'd say the Missourians made a smart move. Had the brave Davenporters really gotten riled up, they might even have captured their rival, St. Louis, and brought her back to Davenport as a suburb.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.