Harry Truman’s

border background

     Harry Truman might just be my favorite American president: fair, strong, pragmatic – and with an impeccable civil-rights record.

     Truman wasn’t born till 1884. But his Southern family lived near the Missouri-Kansas border during the Civil War, and they were plundered and tortured by Kansas jayhawkers. Truman’s uncle Harrison Young – for whom Truman was named – was just 10 years old when Union militia attacked the family home and tried to get information from him about Southern bushwhackers – similar to the scene with Jesse’s stepfather in Guerrilla Season, except that Truman’s uncle was just a child. When the boy would divulge nothing (or perhaps he knew nothing), the Yankees hanged him repeatedly by the neck.

     Of this incident, Truman would write:

     “...They tried to make my uncle Harrison into an informer, but he wouldn't do it. He was only a boy. ... They tried to hang him, time and again they tried it, 'stretching his neck', they called it, but he didn't say anything. I think he'd have died before he'd have said anything. He's the one I'm named after, and I'm happy to say that there were people ... around at the time who said I took after him."

      Harrison’s mother – Truman’s grandmother, Harriet Louisa Young – never forgot or forgave the harsh treatment of her family at the hands of the jayhawkers. Every year as they sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, she would remind her children and grandchildren that some family in Kansas was about to eat off the Young family’s china.

     When this lady was 91 years old, her grandson Harry joined the
Missouri National Guard. It was 1905. Proudly, he arrived in uniform at his grandma’s house. “Harry,” she said, “this is the first time since 1863 that a blue uniform has been in this house. Don’t bring it here again.”

     In his later years, Truman had this to say about the Confederate guerrillas:

    “Quantrill and his men were no more bandits than the men on the other side. I’ve been to reunions of Quantrill’s men two or three times. All they were trying to do was protect the property on the Missouri side of the line ...”


Young Harry in the uniform that raised Grandma’s hackles.