The Meaning of “Between the Hawk and the Buzzard”

5 May 2016

Evidently, there is an expression about “being caught between the Hawks and Buzzards” that a lot of older Arkansans may know. It is probably because they heard their relatives talk about it from the generations of relatives that fought on either side of the Civil War.

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What it shows is that states like Arkansas and Kentucky, which had normally been associated with the Southern states and their traditions, were somehow caught on the border between the Union states and the Confederate states. Some of their people were for slavery, while many were opposed to it.

These borders often became the sites of great battles, which forced peacemakers on either side to have to choose sides. The “hawk” for many Arkansans was the federal government putting pressure on the southern states to join ranks with them, the Union. The “buzzards” were the small militia groups of southerners putting pressure on the state to keep slavery as well as the pickets of Indian tribes still living in the area.

Because Arkansas was so closer to Missouri, there was a regular presence of Hawks in the state, which included invasions from Union Army generals from Missouri on the northwest corner of Arkansas at the battle of Pea Ridge which killed 2,000 Confederate soldiers and 1,400 Union soldiers. There were battles at Ft.

Smith in the northwest part of the state, where the Confederates were able to chase off the Yankees. Ironically, the Kansas Jayhawks mascot gets its name for the same reason. Kansas was also like Arkansas, near the border of the Union, with groups of “guerillas” surrounding the border, defending their side of the war with unorthodox raids.

For many Arkansans the Federal Government /Hawks were demanding and abusive. As the war continued to linger longer, the Republican -dominated Federal Government kept requiring more of the southern states which continued to cripple them financially.

They also did not come through on many of their promises. They provided arms for the slaves. The Buzzards were a group of unconventional warriors whom we would compare to modern day guerillas. There were groups of men, recruiting other groups of men to fight on behalf of the Confederates, often in muddy, mountainous, wooded terrain.

They would often use bushwhacking methods that would be considered unconventional dastardly raids or ambushes. Some called them “border uffians”. The Buzzards were also the Native American Indians who mostly sided with the Union; however, many of them had slaves of their own and would also side with the Confederates.

And while many of us younger people have never heard the term “Between the hawk and the buzzard”, it makes a little sense. The hawk is like the big government looking after you, waiting for you to make a mistake and then it will sweep down and get you. The buzzards, on the other hand, are waiting for you to die or be killed so they can eliminate you.

Works Cited:
Coldsmith, Don. “The Emporia Gazette.” Jayhawkers and Border Ruffians. Emporia Gazette, 16 Mar. 2009. Web. 06 May 2012. .

Tamowieckyi, Scott. “”Between the Hawk and the Buzzard”” Dini Proquest., 5 Apr. 2012. Web.

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The Meaning of "Between the Hawk and the Buzzard". (2016, May 24). Retrieved February 24, 2019, from
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