By ROSELLEN DOWNEY
“We were in the midst of a terrorist attack from all sides,” said Tom Prater, a Columbia history teacher for the past 30 years.
According to William F. Switzler’s 1882 book “History of Boone County, Missouri,”the militia adopted the name Tigers because it was “supposed to indicate the fierce and desperate nature of the members.”
The Tigers banded together and in October of that year began building a blockhouse at the intersection of Eighth Street and Broadway.
“They nicknamed that the Tigers’ Den,” Prater said.
They remained on armed watch until the end of the Civil War in 1865, though “Bloody Bill” never showed up. The 1864 invasion force, according to Prater, actually ended up detouring around Columbia.
“The Tigers, a lot of people would say, weren’t as ferocious as everyone thought they were,” Prater said.
In 1890, as the story goes, the University of Missouri honored the militia by choosing a tiger as the mascot for its newly formed football team. Prater’s research found newspaper and magazine articles going back 100 years that lend the tale credence.
Missouri was a divided state during the Civil War and flew its own flag instead of the Confederate flag. Jenifer Flink, curator and executive director of the Boone County Historical Society, explained the mood in the area: “It was hearts and minds divided.”
The idea of a historical marker honoring the work of the Columbia Tigers has been kicked around since 2007 when the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War first proposed it. What stands in the way is a lack of public awareness and funding.
The Sons of Union Veterans’ historian, Robert Allen, and Carolyn Doyle of theBoone County Historical Society first presented the idea of a marker at an August 2008 meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission.
At that meeting, Allen said the project’s goal was to “preserve the history of Union veterans of Missouri and Boone County.” Commission members were supportive of the project and urged Allen to keep them updated.
Over the next two years, the project made no progress. Now, the Sons of Union Veterans are seeking private funding for the marker. A design must also be commissioned. A plaque or footprint at Eighth Street and Broadway is most likely.
The commission has officially endorsed the project. Commission board member Bill Stolz volunteered to be the liaison between his group and the Sons of Union Veterans.
“Columbia does have a lot of history, and it’s important to maintain that,” Stolz said.
Allen thinks it’s impossible to ignore the impact the militia had on Columbia’s history.“This story needs to be told,” he said. “We can’t mention Columbia without the Tigers.”
He hopes the marker can become part of the historical walk that has been discussed for Eighth Street. “That’s what we are hoping to tap into,” Allen said on the possibility of funding.
Allen remains optimistic despite the challenges his group faces in completing the marker before the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in 2014. If the marker is completed by 2014, it will coincide with a Civil War exhibit that will soon be constructed by the Boone County Historical Society.
The year long exhibit, according to Flink, will feature a flag display, an encampment in the yard at the museum and monumental artifact collections on loan from five people.
“This is the first opportunity Missouri has had historically to have its role in the Civil War examined against the backdrop of national events during the 1860s,” Flink said.
The exhibit is slated to open on Jan. 13, 2011, and will feature a special section on the Columbia Tigers that Prater will help design.