Hillis recreates historic journey; makes statement on Confederate battle flag
Thursday, September 30, 2004
By MATT SANDERS Statesman Staff Writer
Dexter’s only candidate for statewide office is a big supporter of state sovereignty. Running on the Constitution Party ticket for lieutenant governor, an important part of Bruce Hillis’ platform is stopping what he sees as the encroachment of the federal government in state business.
So it seems fitting that Hillis would use the Confederate battle flag, which was a symbol of state sovereignty in the Civil War, to make a point about how that issue remains relevant today.
On Sept. 19, the 140th anniversary of a Confederate raid aimed at retaking Missouri, Hillis started retracing the steps of those soldiers, walking 107 miles in one week from the Missouri-Arkansas border to the historic battlefield at Pilot Knob, Mo.
His arrival at Pilot Knob was on the anniversary of the battle and coincided with a re-enactment taking place there last Saturday.
"I think the symbolism is profound," said Hillis. "What my campaign is really all about is trying to alert the citizens of Missouri to the need for the state of Missouri to reclaim state sovereignty, to retake the state if you will."
The three pillars of Hillis’ campaign are what he calls the three R’s: Respect for Missouri history, restoration of state sovereignty and restraint of an activist judiciary.
Hillis’ companion on his long journey was his Confederate battle flag.
"I carried with me a Confederate battle flag to memorialize my great-grandfather and presented it to the re-enactors," said Hillis. "Part of that was to symbolize my protest to Gov. (Bob) Holden and his removal of the Confederate flags from Pilot Knob and Higginsville two years ago this January."
Director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Steve Mahfood ordered the flags taken down in response to comments made by U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt that the flag shouldn’t be flown "anywhere, anytime." A controversy ensued, and Holden refused to put the flags back up.
Hillis became involved as an advocate for putting the flag back up and implementing legislation to put a public board over Mahfood’s position to review such a decision. According to Hillis, the history of the flag and the Confederacy in Missouri is something that shouldn’t be forgotten.
"One of the tenets of my campaign is to respect our history," Hillis said. "History defines culture by connecting the past with the present to produce the future.
"When politicians and other groups denigrate our history, they not only denigrate or shame our ancestors, they actually effect how we view history so that changes our future culture."
Despite the impression that some may take from it, Hillis said his trip has nothing to do with racist attitudes.
"If they believe like that they need a little history lesson," Hillis said. "That flag was designed by soldiers in the field to keep them from coming under friendly fire. Just because everybody continues to shoot at it today for various reasons isn’t any less reason why we shouldn’t honor that flag as a memorial to those Confederate soldiers."
The walk had another purpose, as well. Besides making a political statement, Hillis was raising over $1,000 to put a narrative marker at the memorial to John Brooks Henderson, a U.S. Senator from Louisiana, Mo., who authored the 13th Amendment, which freed slaves in America.
And despite carrying such a controversial symbol, Hillis said he found a lot of support in an area where southern roots run deep.
"I had many offers of rides," said Hillis, "many honks and thumbs-up, and I gained a few blisters on the way."