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Jayhawkers is a term that came to prominence just before the Civil War in Bleeding Kansas, where it was adopted by militant abolitionist groups. These groups, known as "Jayhawkers", were guerrilla fighters who often clashed with pro-slavery partisans, as well as Missouri militia units. With the admission of Kansas as a free state in 1861, "Jayhawker" became synonymous with the people of Kansas. Today the term is applied to a native born Kansan.

The term refers to the mythical Jayhawk, a cross between two common birds—the noisy blue jay and the quiet sparrow hawk.



The origin of the term "Jayhawker" is uncertain. Its origin is likely rooted in the historic struggles of Midwestern settlers. The term "Jayhawk" was probably coined about 1848. Accounts of its use appeared from Illinois to Texas. The name combines two birds-the blue jay and the sparrow hawk.[1]

During the American Civil War the members of the 7th Regiment Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, commanded by Colonel Charles R. Jennison, became known as "Jayhawkers", and it is probably due to this that "jayhawker" came to popular use in Kansas.

In more recent years the term "Jayhawker" has been applied to people or items related to Kansas, similar to the term "Hoosier" for Indiana, "Sooner" for Oklahoma, and "Buckeye" for Ohio.

Well-known jayhawkers include James H. Lane and Charles R. Jennison. Lane and his militants wore red gaiters, earning them the nickname "Redlegs", or "Redleggers". This moniker was often used interchangeably with the term "jayhawkers", although it was sometimes used to refer specifically to jayhawkers who refused to join units officially sanctioned by the U.S. Army. Guerrillas on both sides of the Missouri-Kansas border achieved some measure of legitimacy through sanction from the Federal and Confederate governments, and the bands who scorned such sanction were typically more violent than federally recognized soldiers. Jayhawkers often supplied themselves by stealing horses and supplies from farmers.

Jayhawker bands invaded Missouri with the intent of freeing slaves and killing slave owners, playing a part in the exchange of hostilities known as Bleeding Kansas. One such event was the Lane-led attack on Osceola, Missouri.

Cultural Influence

  • The sports teams at the University of Kansas in Lawrence are known as the Jayhawks.
  • A cattle drive being held up by Jayhawkers is depicted in The Tall Men.
  • Colonel James Montgomery in the movie Glory was referred to as "a real Jayhawker from Kansas."
  • Abolitionists were referred to as "Jayhawkers" or "Red Legs" and both were used as terms of derision towards those from Kansas after the Civil War. The term "Jayhawk" has evolved over the years to a term of pride used by all Kansans. The term "Red Leg" as applied to Kansans has disappeared from common lexicon.
  • Items stolen in raids into Missouri were frequently referred to as having been "Jayhawked".
  • The United States Coast Guard adopted the name "Jayhawk" for its search and rescue helicopter model HH-60J.

See also



  • Castel, Albert (1997). Civil War in Kansas: Reaping the Whirlwind. (ISBN 0-7006-0872-9)
  • Kerrihard, Bo. "America's Civil War: Missouri and Kansas." TheHistoryNet.
  • Starr, Steven J (1974). Jennison's Jayhawkers: A Civil War Cavalry Regiment and its Commander. (ISBN 0-8071-0218-0)
  • Wellman, Paul. (1962) A Dynasty of Western Outlaws (details the origins of the James-Younger and other outlaw gangs in the Kansas-Missouri border war).


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