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Entry from December 05, 2011
Origin of “Jayhawk” (Kansas nickname) - summary

Entry in progress—B.P.
Wikipedia: Jayhawker
Jayhawkers is a term that came to prominence just before the American Civil War in Bleeding Kansas, where it was adopted by militant bands affiliated with the free-state cause. These bands, known as “Jayhawkers”, were guerrilla fighters who often clashed with pro-slavery groups from Missouri known at the time as “Border Ruffians”. After the Civil War, the word “Jayhawker” became synonymous with the people of Kansas. Today the term is a nickname for a native-born Kansan.
The origin of the term “Jayhawker” is uncertain. The term was adopted as a nickname by a group of emigrants traveling to California in 1849. The origin of the term may go back as far as the Revolutionary War, when it was reportedly used to describe a group associated with American patriot John Jay.

The term became part of the lexicon of the Missouri-Kansas border in about 1858, during the Kansas territorial period. The term was used to describe militant bands nominally associated with the free-state cause. One early Kansas history contained this succinct characterization of the jayhawkers:
“Confederated at first for defense against pro-slavery outrages, but ultimately falling more or less completely into the vocation of robbers and assassins, they have received the name—- whatever its origin may be—of jayhawkers.”
Another historian of the territorial period described the jayhawkers as bands of men that were willing to fight, kill, and rob for a variety of motives that included defense against pro-slavery “Border Ruffians”, abolition, driving pro-slavery settlers from their claims of land, revenge, and/or plunder and personal profit.
While the “Bleeding Kansas” era is generally regarded as beginning in 1856, the earliest documented uses of the term “jayhawker” during the Kansas troubles were in late 1858, after the issue of slavery in Kansas had essentially been decided in favor of the Free State cause. The most credible explanation of why the term (as applied to the Kansas troubles) emerged at that time is provided in the retrospective account of Kansas newspaperman John McReynolds. McReynolds reportedly picked up the term from Pat Devlin, a Free State partisan described as “nothing more nor less than a dangerous bully.” In mid-1858, McReynolds asked Devlin where he had acquired two fine horses that he had recently brought into the town of Osawatomie. Devlin replied that he “got them as the Jayhawk gets its birds in Ireland,” which he explained as follows: “In Ireland a bird, which is called the Jayhawk, flies about after dark, seeking the roosts and nests of smaller birds, and not only robs nests of eggs, but frequently kills the birds.” McReynolds understood Devlin had acquired his horses in the same manner the Jayhawk got its prey, and used the term in a Southern Kansas Herald newspaper column to describe a case of theft in the ongoing partisan violence. The term was quickly picked up by other newspapers, and “Jayhawkers” soon came to denote the militants and thieves affiliated with the Free State cause.
The meaning of the jayhawker term evolved in the opening year of the Civil War. When Charles Jennison, one of the territorial-era jayhawkers, was authorized to raise a regiment of cavalry to serve in the Union army, he characterized the unit as the “Independent Kansas Jay-Hawkers” on a recruiting poster. The regiment was officially termed the 7th Regiment Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, but was popularly known as Jennison’s Jayhawkers.[10] Thus, the term became associated with Union troops from Kansas. After the regiment was banished from the Missouri-Kansas border in the spring of 1862, it went on to participate in several battles including Union victories of the Battle of Iuka and the Second Battle of Corinth. Late in the war, the regiment returned to Kansas and contributed to Union victory in one of the last major battles in the Missouri-Kansas theatre, the Battle of Mine Creek.
The jayhawker term was applied not only to Jennison and his command, but to any Kansas troops engaged in predatory operations against the civilian population of western Missouri, in which the plundering and arson that characterized the territorial struggles were repeated, but on a much larger scale. For example, the term “jayhawkers” also encompassed Senator Jim Lane and his Kansas Brigade, which sacked and burned Osceola, Missouri in the opening months of the war after their defeat by Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guard in the Battle of Dry Wood Creek.
Relationship to the University of Kansas Jayhawk
When the University of Kansas fielded their first football team in 1890, the team was called the Jayhawkers. Over time, the name was gradually supplanted by its shorter variant, and KU’s sports teams are now almost exclusively known as the Jayhawks. In the traditions promoted by KU, the jayhawk is said to be a combination of two birds, “the blue jay, a noisy, quarrelsome thing known to rob other nests, and the sparrow hawk, a stealthy hunter.”
(Oxford English Dictionary)
jay-hawker, n.
A name given to members of the bands who carried on irregular warfare in and around eastern Kansas, in the free soil conflict, and the early part of the American civil war, and who combined pillage with guerilla fighting: hence, generally, a raiding guerilla or irregular soldier.
1865 Pall Mall Gaz. No. 143. 5/1   Jay-hawkers, cut-throats, and thieves.
1867 A. D. Richardson Beyond Mississippi x. 125   Found all the settlers justifying the ‘Jay-hawkers’, a name universally applied to Montgomery’s men, from the celerity of their movements and their habit of suddenly pouncing upon an enemy.
8 February 1859, Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, “More Fighting in Kansas!,” pg. 2, col. 6:
The “posse” came across a “fellow;” they fired at him, as they said he “was a jayhawker.”
Google Books
June 1865 The Wisconsin Journal of Education, pg. 328:
The following are the “nicknames” of the native inhabitants of the different States:
... Kansas, Jayhawkers; ...
22 March 1866, Louisville (KY) Daily Journal, “Nicknames,” pg. 1, col. 4:
Kansas, Jayhawker State.
The natives of these States are:
... Kansas, jayhawkers; ...
7 April 1866, The Daily Cleveland Herald (Cleveland, OH), “Geographical Nicknames,” pg. 2, col. 2:
... Kansas, Jayhawker State; ...
... Kansas, jayhawkers; ...
Google Books
Annual Statistician—1876
Compiled by John P. Mains
San Francisco, CA: L. P. McCarty, Publisher
Pg. 90:
KANSAS—The Squatter State, the Garden State. Jayhawkers.
11 December 1893, The State (Columbia, SC), pg. 6, col. 1:
Origin of “Jayhawker.”
The word “jayhawker” became generally known during the war of the rebellion from the application of it to himself and his soldiers by Colonel Jamison of the Seventh Kansas. The appellation passed from this regiment to all Kansas soldiers and was finally applied to the inhabitants of Kansas themselves. The Kansas “herdbook” gives the following story as the origin of the name:
Early one autumn morning in 1856 Pat Devlin, a noted character in Kansas in those days, was seen entering the village of Osawatomie, riding a mule loaded down with all sorts of articles. A neighbor met him and said:
“Good morning, Pat. You look as if you had been out on some kind of a foraging expedition.”

“Yes. I’ve been out jayhawking.”
“What do you mean by jayhawking, Pat? I never heard of that word before.”
“Well, I’ve been out foraging, and while riding home on my baste I bethought me of the bird we have in Ireland we call the jayhawk, which takes delight in worrying its prey before devouring it, and I thought jayhawking a good name for the business I was in myself.”—Kansas City Times.
Google Books
Universal Dictionary of the English Language
Edited by Robert Hunter and Charles Morris
New York, NY: Peter Fenelon Collier, Publisher
Pg. 5344:
Kansas. Jay-hawkers (a term applied to the guerillas during the Kansas civil war).
22 January 1899, Dallas (TX) Morning News, pg. 15, col. 3:
August Bondi Tells How the Term Was Originated.
Topeka State Journal.
Visitors to the senate chamber have noticed a little man with snow-white hair and beard going in and out among the members. Although by no means a conspicuous figure among those who frequent the corridors, he has probably seen more stirring times than any one man in the legislature, and has made greater sacrifices for the cause of liberty. He is August Bondi of Salina, clerk of the senate committee on public health.
Mr. Bondi is a Hungarian by birth.He came to America fifty years ago, a fugitive from his native land because he dared to raise his hand against the Austrian tyrant and joined Kossuth and the other Hungarian patriots in their fight for liberty. He was still only a boy when he was compelled to flee to America, and he never visited his native land again until last summer, just fifty years after he had fled.
In the early days he settled in Kansas and took an active part inthe border struggles in this state, fighting along with Jim Lane. It was during these days that the term “Jayhawker” was originated, and Mr. Bondi was one of the party that originated it.
He was postmaster of a little office down in Anderson county at the time, a place called Walker. The settlers had named the office Greeley, after Horace Greeley, but the post office authorities refused to accept the name, and it was changed to Walker, after Governor Walker.
The border ruffians were accustomed to make depredatory excursions among the free state settlements and drive off any stock that came in their way, as well as committing all sorts of other outrages. The free soldiers in retaliation organized bands to protect themselves, and Mr. Bondi belonged to one of these. Along in December, 1857, word was brought that General Price, then a United States marshal, was coming over from Missouri with a band of border ruffians to help hold federal court at Fort Scott. The free soldiers knew that this meant another raid, so about forty of them, headed by Jim Lane, rode down toward the border to meet Price. Mr. Bondi was one of this party.
“It was just about midnight on the night of December 14, 1857,” he told a Journal reporter,“while we were encamped in a school house near Mound City. We had fortified ourselves in the school house and were awaiting the attack of the enemy. Jim Lane there proposed that we call ourselves ‘Jayhawks,’ after the jayhawk, which always gives a shrill note of warning before it strikes its prey. This was meant that we would always give the border ruffians warning before we ell upon them in order that they might have a chance to fight fairly and openly. The original term was Jayhawk and not Jayhawker.”
It came to the ears of the department at Washington that Mr. Bondi had taken part in the fight against Price, and he was removed from his postoffice for resisting a United States officer.

He was appointed postmaster of Salina during Cleveland’s last term, but was removed by President McKinley about a year ago.

Posted by Barry Popik
Other ExpressionsOrigin of “Jayhawk” (Kansas nickname) • Monday, December 05, 2011 • Permalink

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