Before there was Bo, before there was Woody, before there was The Big House, The Horseshoe or even football itself, the rivalry between Michigan and Ohio was as intense as
It all got started as a lot of feuds get started; over money. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 gave Toledo with its lucrative Maumee Bay region to Michigan. When Ohio became a state in 1803, some politician not paying attention, or maybe paying attention, included Toledo into the State known as Ohio.
Nobody paid much attention until Michigan began their own bid for statehood in 1833 and started thinking about the taxes they could collect. Just the thought of the Maumee waterways was making the politicians on both sides spout a Pavlovian drool.
The drool quickly morphed into a crazed, rabid Old Yeller mouth foaming. Don’t come between a politician and money. Just lock them up in the corn crib, get another dog.
Things deteriorated as things always do over money and ego. Ohio Governor Robert Lucas was adamant in his refusal to negotiate. He marked his territory by naming the county where Toledo was located after himself.
Michigan’s “Boy Governor” 24-year-old Stevens T. Mason fought back by making it a criminal offense for Ohioans to execute any official business in the Toledo Strip (now part of Lucas County), with a punishment of a $1,000 fine and/or a maximum of five years of hard labor.
Mistaking hubris for God’s touch, both sides declared war on the other. Ohio’s legislature established a military budget of $300,000. Not to be outdone, Michigan countered with a war allocation of $315,000. On March 31, 1835, Governor Lucas led 600 armed troops to Perrysburg, just south of Toledo. Shortly afterward, ward, Mason marched an army of 1,000 to the center of the city.
The Toledo Gazette described the Michigan soldiers as “composed of the lowest and most miserable dregs of the community … low drunken frequenters of grog shops, who had been hired at a dollar a day.” The nasty barbs continued.
The only “battle” was “The Battle of Phillip’s Corners.” A Michigan militia came across some Ohio surveyors, fired a few shots over their heads, and took a few prisoners.
The only bloodshed came in July 1835 when Michigan’s Deputy Sheriff Joseph Wood paid a visit to the Ohio partisan, Major Benjamin Stickney, with an arrest warrant rant in hand. Stickney, with his three sons by his side, became violent, and Wood demanded that they all be taken into custody. That didn’t sit well with Two Stickney (yes, his real first name is “Two”), who had warned Wood earlier, “The day you set foot in Toledo, your life will be in danger.” While being arrested, Two Stickney grabbed a knife and jabbed it into the sheriff.
President Andrew Jackson was taking it all in with the impatience of a parent with kids squabbling over Skittles at the checkout. This was going to stop, right now. He signed legislation that would permit Michigan to become a state, but only after striking a deal giving Toledo to Ohio in exchange for 75 percent of the western Upper Peninsula, which was then part of Wisconsin.
Michigan didn’t want the UP initially because it didn’t appear as lucrative as the Maumee River and bay area. It’s always about money. And Michigan being strapped financially had to become a state to get federal funding. If they wanted money for the Mitten, they had to accept the deal.
Yes, Ohio won, but Michigan had the last laugh. The Upper Peninsula was later discovered to be rich in timber, copper, and iron ore which bolstered the state’s economy by billions, far beyond what anyone could have imagined.
By the way, thank you Wisconsin for not fussing.
The grudge between the two states lingered and was passed down until people didn’t remember exactly why they didn’t get along. And when a college football game was played fifty years after the initial war, Michiganders knew they hated Ohioans and visa versa, even if they didn’t know why. The game carried heavy historical significance.
There are lots more in-depth details but this isn’t a history lesson as much as it is a history lesion; a wound that won’t heal. Today instead of land masses, the animosity between The Wolverine State and Buckeye State is played out over our surrogate’s ability to move an inflated pigskin over fake grass in front of printed and even painted fanatics. Millions of people are riveted by this most famous of all collegiate rivalries. We may not want to admit it, but we like a good fight.