Kansas Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Within Kansas, slightly northwest of Lebanon, is the geographical center of the forty-eight contiguous states.

History of Kansas

Within Kansas, slightly northwest of Lebanon, is the geographical center of the forty-eight contiguous states. The Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado first ventured into the area in 1541 seeking gold. Native Americans had occupied the region since prehistoric times, possibly as early as 14,000 b.c.e. The Pawnee, Osage, Wichita, and Kansa Indians lived there during the early Spanish exploration. They were mostly hunters and farmers living along the Kansas River.

Later members of some seminomadic tribes, mainly the Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Comanche, also dwelled in the area. After 1830, however, the federal government forcibly moved many Native Americans from eastern tribes into the territory it had acquired through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Among the tribes whose members were relocated were the Cherokee, Miami, Potawatomi, Ottawa, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Delaware, and Shawnee. In all, about thirty tribes were assigned to Kansas for relocation.

French and American Settlement

The French moved into the area after the Spanish had been defeated by the Pawnee Indians in Nebraska. In the early 1700’s, the French, attracted by the fur trade, built a trading post and military outpost, Fort Cavagnial, near present-day Leavenworth.

With the Louisiana Purchase, American exploration began. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out to explore the newly acquired area, which included all but a small part of southwestern Kansas bought in 1850 from Texas.

These explorers were followed in 1806 by Zebulon Pike, who made an east-west journey across the territory. As the eastern United States began to be developed, the federal government was under pressure to claim Native American lands for development. Relocating American Indians to the West provided the government with a convenient solution to a difficult problem. The Native Americans who were relocated are usually referred to as the emigrant tribes.

Between 1827 and 1853, Kansas was inhabited mostly by Indians. Some thirty-four thousand Indians from over thirty tribes and only fifteen hundred white inhabitants, mostly missionaries and the personnel that maintained the government forts constructed at Leavenworth, Fort Scott, and Fort Riley, lived there.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

So great was the incursion of European settlers to the area after 1854 that the Native Americans who lived there, both original dwellers and the emigrant tribes, were removed from the state and settled elsewhere. In 1854 Kansas was created as a territory in the western part of what had previously been called the Missouri Territory. The early borders of the rectangular-shaped territory were much as they are today. Kansas is bounded by Missouri on the east and Colorado on the west. To the north, the boundary is Nebraska, and the southern border is Oklahoma. The only natural boundary is in the northeast, where the Missouri River constitutes part of the state line.

Soon after Kansas gained territorial status, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which replaced the Missouri Compromise, opened the territory to settlement. Under the terms of this act, citizens of a territory decided whether it would be slave or free, whereas under the Missouri Compromise, an artificial balance between slave and free states was imposed.

Opinions were strongly divided about which choice Kansas should make. Its neighboring state, Missouri, had slaves. Nebraska opted to be free, but proslavery sentiment was strong in Kansas. When the issue came to a vote, hundreds of land-hungry people who had come to Kansas stuffed the ballot boxes.

Kansas was plunged into controversy between the proslavery and antislavery forces. Abolitionists were recruited to come to Kansas from New England and make it a free state. Abolitionist John Brown led the Pottawatomie Massacre in May of 1856. In 1863 an angry proslavery mob, led by William Clarke Quantrill, attacked Lawrence, Kansas, killing around 150 of its citizens.

Moving Toward Statehood

With the proslavery and antislavery forces fighting against each other, both sides drew up constitutions, neither of them acceptable to the United States Congress. Finally, in 1859, the antislavery Wyandotte Constitution was approved. This cleared the way for Kansas to achieve statehood on January 29, 1861, just as many southern states were seceding from the Union. Kansas was the thirty-fourth state admitted to the Union.

The Homestead Act of 1862

Following passage of the Homestead Act of 1862, Kansas grew rapidly. Under the terms of this act, upon the payment of a ten-dollar filing fee, heads of family or anyone over twenty-one years old could receive 160 acres of government land, which they would own if they lived on it for five years and improved the property. This opportunity was a magnet that drew thousands of easterners to Kansas.

The railroads that served the area received large land grants, chunks of which they sold to the early settlers. The Union Pacific Railroad began operating in Kansas in 1857, the Atchison and Topeka Railroad was chartered in 1859, and the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas line soon followed. Eventually twelve railroads operated on more than six thousand miles of track in Kansas.

The Kansas Economy

Because of the nature of its founding, Kansas was originally a rural state concentrating heavily on agriculture. During the Civil War, it sided with the North, and many of its citizens joined the Union army. Shortly after the war, cow towns began to develop in Kansas. These were towns that had railway connections, notably Abilene, Dodge City, Ellsworth, and Wichita.

Texas at this time had no railroad service, so until the mid-1880’s, when rail service became available, Texan cattle ranchers drove their herds across Oklahoma to the railroad towns of Kansas, from which they were shipped to other destinations.

Eastern Kansas was settled early, but soon other settlers moved into the central and western regions, as far as Great Bend near the Colorado border. A diverse population developed as Europeans from Russia, Germany, Bohemia, France, England, and Italy came to the state, which also had a sizable African American population, being one of the free states that attracted freed slaves following the Civil War in what was called the “Exoduster movement.”

Kansas, with a growing season of about 150 days in its northern reaches and more than 200 days in the southeast, is hospitable to agriculture. The rainfall ranges from sixteen inches annually in the west to more than forty inches in the east, although droughts are a frequent problem. In the early to mid-1930’s, the dust bowls of Kansas and Oklahoma put many farmers out of business.

The state constructed more than twenty large reservoirs to control flooding, provide drinking water, and afford irrigation to farmers. Also, early Russian immigrants into Kansas brought with them a drought-resistant strain of wheat, Turkey Red, which is grown extensively in the state.

Although Kansas was originally rural, it increasingly moved toward manufacturing, commerce, and service occupations, causing a population shift to urban areas. Of its more than six hundred incorporated cites, fifty have populations exceeding five thousand. Nevertheless, more than two-thirds of the total 1990 population of about 2.5 million lived in urban areas.

Besides its agricultural and cattle industries, Kansas has a thriving aircraft industry centered in Wichita, where both private planes and commercial aircraft are produced by such companies as Boeing and Cessna. One of the nation’s leading mental hospitals, the Menninger Neuropsychiatric Clinic, is located in Topeka. Kansas also has impressive oil reserves, as well as natural gas, coal, lead, salt, and zinc.

Kansas Conservatism

Kansas has traditionally been a conservative state, largely a Republican stronghold, although it has strong Populist leanings as well and has elected Populists as governors and representatives. It gave a moderate, Nancy Landon Kassebaum, three terms in the United States Senate.

In 1880 the state adopted prohibition and essentially remained a dry state. In 1899, Kansan Carry Nation single-handedly undertook the enforcement of Kansas’s prohibition law by destroying saloons with her renowned axe.

Kansas Economy in the 1900’s

The economy of Kansas had a significant resurgence during World War I, when the price of wheat escalated, bringing considerable money into the state’s economy. The economy grew until the 1930’s, when a drought that continued for several years devastated wheat farming.

The financial woes of the 1930’s did not end until World War II again stimulated the economy and brought considerable industry into the state. The road building in the state during and after World War II resulted in one of the best road systems in the country. Kansas is served by 125 public and 250 private airports that provide excellent commercial air transport and encourage private ownership of airplanes.

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