Even Ken Burns' magnum opus fails to do the Civil War justice, being mainly a recital of names, dates, battlegrounds and various personal tales of private ruin and remorse. You have to go back to the generation just before the Civil War, back to Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore, to understand what a cesspool of moral filth and degradation this country was up to its necks in.If Vietnam was a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia, then Bleeding Kansas was the proxy war between the North and the South.
I learned more about Bleeding Kansas from my own family than I did from the Kansas Board of Education. It was alive in living memory† when I was a kid. And it was mysterious as an old family photo of blood kin we can't recognize without a shudder. Life was not just hard, in those days; it was cruel.
But our Bleeding Kansas eventually became the Wild West; my great-grandfather Lafe rode with Kit Carson. We had no South in our family to forget — or remember. Although, I've heard my mother's Dad, Morton Philips, spelled his name with one L because of some family feud, the Powell side stepped down gently into grace.
†When one of my elderly female relatives, Lafe Powell's wife, Sophie, was about ten years old, she refused to go to church. Quantrill's Raiders had just burned down her farmstead and slaughtered her parents. She'd been taken into another family like Tom Sawyer, and she was angry and bull-headed. No church! The local Baptist minister came calling. Was she mad at God because her parents had been killed so recently by those murderin' Missourah bushwhackers? Sophie blushed and broke into tears. No, but she'd gotten away from the burning farm with just the clothes on her back. She had no shoes! She couldn't go to church with no shoes on. Tomorrow's Sunday, and everyone will expect her at church, the minister sternly proclaimed. She went, in an agony of shame. When she shyly entered the church, everyone stood up and looked at her, the shoeless orphan child. And no one in that congregation was wearing shoes, either. I heard this story (at least the essentials) from family I trust, so I know its mostly true. We never heard anything good about Jesse James, either, come to think of it. [n.b., Sophie Powell always had candy in her apron pockets for her grandchildren, my mother among them. Sophie was Linnie Maude Powell's mom.]