Westport speaker brings Missouri burnt district history to life

Cinders.backcover1The Westport Historical Society is offering a glimpse into a little-know piece of history, Missouri’s “burnt district.”

Author and historian Tom Rafiner will discuss the burnt district and his book Cinders and Silence: A Chronicle of Missouri’s Burnt District, 1854 to 1870 on March 8. It is the first record of Jackson, Cass, and Bates counties as the border conflict between Missouri and the Kansas Territory escalated during the Civil War period.

When Order No. 11 was issued August 25, 1863, civilians were given 15 days to leave the border area.

“Refugees, mostly women, children, and the elderly, fled in an atmosphere of burning, murder, and deprivation. Kansas troops and scavengers stole the Missourians’ property and carried it to Kansas. By October 1, 1863 the entire district, outside of military stations, had been destroyed. It remained so until 1865,” he writes on his website.

About 40,000 people left and more than 2,200 square miles of western Missouri was completely burned, including 2800 family farms, and most of the villages and towns in Bates and Cass Counties.  Only Kansas City, Independence and Westport survived.

“Between 1865 and 1870 the population exploded from a few thousand to over 90,000 as northern  immigrants flooded and repopulated the district. By 1870, only about 1 in 7 of the Burnt District residents had any personal knowledge of the events,” Rafiner says.

“Cinders and Silence” provides a detailed history of the burnt district , the violence and destruction began long before the issuance of Order No. 11, and the reasons for the history’s quick disappearance from local memory.

Rafiner is an independent researcher and author. In the last 10 years he has spoken in over 30 counties in Missouri. He has also spoken at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Missouri History Museum at St. Louis, and the State Historical Society of Missouri. Rafiner has visited the National Archives in Washington, D.C. five times to collect material for his two books. His research focuses on the communities and families of Missouri’s burnt district. He graduated from the University of Missouri in 1969, and later earned a master’s degree from UMKC.


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