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Kansas History - Spring 2011

Kansas History: A Journal of the Central PlainsSpecial Issue

Virgil W. Dean, "Kansas at 150."

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Kansans seem always to have been a self-reflective lot—sometimes boastful, other times self-conscious and defensive. Even before William Allen White coined his famous late-nineteenth-century question, “What’s the matter with Kansas?” early pundits wrestled with the issue in one form or another, and, since that time, some of our most influential native scholars and thinkers have sought to answer the enduring query. To help commemorate the sesquicentennial of Kansas statehood, this issue of Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains, “Kansas at 150,” will reframe the question and seek to approach the issues it raises from a different perspective. The special issue essays will explore the concept of historical or collective memory as it relates to the history and imagery of Kansas by reexamining some critical Kansas themes. In their own way, each author explores the concept of the “imagined community” to determine how it has and continues to shape and define what it means (or should mean) to be a Kansan in the twenty-first century.

Thomas D. Isern, “The Enterprise of Kansas History.”

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The enterprise of Kansas history is a democratic matter, explains Professor Isern in his special issue essay. In the telling of our story, amateurs and professionals meet on common ground. On the one hand, the amateurs (such as the people who founded and continue to sustain the Kansas Historical Society), if left to their own devices, tend to produce a history that is unduly self-congratulatory. They view their history through the eyes of lovers. The professionals, on the other hand (such as the professors of history who staff our state universities), squint at the same history through the eyes of critics. The best and most satisfying state history results when all contributing parties recognize that they are part of a common enterprise: the construction of a history of agency, complexity, and memory—the latter, memory, as treated by historians, is the recognition that our concern is the remembrance of the past, and not the past itself. Remembrance leads us toward an identity as Kansans on the order of that described by the scholar Benedict Anderson in his book, Imagined Communities. It leads us away from a preoccupation with the “image” of Kansas, as determined elsewhere, and toward a healthy consideration of the identity of Kansas, as we ourselves imagine it.

Rita G. Napier, “Origin Stories and Bleeding Kansas.”

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As we reflect on Kansas at 150 and look to the future, Professor Napier challenges us to reconsider the old “free-state narrative,” or “origin story,” and the sources upon which it is based—classics, such as Sara Robinson’s Kansas: Its Interior and Exterior Life. We must seek out and utilize “new” or underutilized documents such as the Kansas Claims, which Napier examines here, and consider the questions they raise. In answering these new questions we must avoid, however difficult, the old assumptions about Bleeding Kansas and see if a different, more complex Kansas identity emerges. The Bleeding Kansas story, which is an important part of that identity, is more complicated than the one passed down by Robinson and her husband Charles, and Napier rightly challenges us to include the “sack of Leavenworth” in our search for origins, along with the more discussed “sack of Lawrence.” We need to break loose from that old narrative and to create a story that integrates the men and women of Leavenworth and their resistance with that of Lawrence and other individuals and communities around the territory. The new narrative should depict the story of Bleeding Kansas more accurately and revise our understanding of the free-state movement in those vital days of 1856, as it also provides a different perspective on the proslavery party. Our objective, of course, is always a better understanding of this place we call Kansas.

James N. Leiker, “Imagining the Free State: A 150-Year History of a Contested Image.”

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As Kansans consider how they have "imagined" themselves over the last one hundred and fifty years, one preeminent discourse sure to arise is that of "the free-state narrative." Kansas has celebrated its tradition of opposing slavery and racism since the territorial period. Even the John Steuart Curry murals in the state capitol, depicting John Brown as a nineteenth-century Moses, speak to Kansans' fervent identification with freedom, abolitionism, and tolerance—all in contrast to their southern, less enlightened neighbor state. In his essay on this image, Professor Leiker addresses two sets of questions: First, outside of northeast Kansas, particularly Lawrence and Topeka, just how pervasive has this discourse been? What evidence exists that Goodland farmers or Baxter Springs miners ever identified with "the free state" or even know its meaning? Have historians who uncritically employ the discourse been ignorant of sub-regional differences? Secondly, how has the narrative influenced Kansans' actual attempts at justice? What role did the memory of the territorial and Civil War struggles play in the suffrage, Prohibition, civil rights, and antiwar movements? This article will not attempt to synthesize the history of those crusades; rather it will suggest that Kansans' imagined self-history as free-state warriors has affected their manifest history as political and social actors.

Bruce R. Kahler, “John A. Martin, Soldier State Visionary.”

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Historians have identified a diverse array of themes in the life of Kansas during its first half-century of statehood. The construction of a rail network, for example, provided the infrastructure for the development of towns and facilitated farm settlement, including the immigration of Easterners and Europeans who found Kansas fertile ground for the raising of corn and wheat. Kansas also became a burned over district for a variety of prohibitionist, populist, or progressive enthusiasms. But at least one important aspect of the state’s identity in this era has been neglected. Tens of thousands of its citizens knew Kansas as the great “Soldier State.” Many of the farmers and other settlers who came to the region soon after the Civil War were Union Army veterans and their families. Over the next several decades they and many of their friends created an extensive fabric of organizations and institutions as a way of expressing their gratitude to the boys in blue, who heroically saved the Union and liberated the slaves. Professor Kahler’s essay reviews this subculture but focuses on the meaning of the Soldier State for its most prominent citizen and chief advocate, John A. Martin, a journalist, founder of the Kansas Republican Party and the Kansas State Historical Society, and the state’s tenth governor. Martin was also a distinguished veteran himself and became a tireless champion of his comrades—their welfare and their memory.

Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, “Wholesome, Home-Baked Goodness: Kansas, the Wheat State.”

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The national imagination of a better life to be had in the “Garden of Eden” fueled westward movement into Kansas and ever since the state’s identity has been defined by agriculture. Less imaginary environmental threats tempered that image—in particular, natural disasters, such as drought, dust storms, and locusts that disturbed the agricultural order upon which Kansas based so much of its economy. For the nation as a whole, which has recognized the state’s agricultural identity as much in failure as in success, the image of agricultural Kansas persists in the face of economic enterprises that have broadened the state’s economic base. Although oil and gas development and aircraft production, among other non-agricultural enterprises, have greatly diversified the state economy, the prevailing national image is of the state’s amber waves of grain. The story of the Ise family and its struggles, for example, conjure up a comforting vision of what it means to be a part of the Wheat State. John Ise’s recollections in Sod and Stubble suggest that it means not only hard work for uncertain rewards, but also the striving of a family toward a common goal. And so, Kansas, the Wheat State, persists in the popular imagination, in spite of all the developments that have changed its shape in the last 150 years. In the experience of most modern Kansans, the Wheat State is an image much more than a reality. Professor Riney-Kehrberg’s essay examines the persistence of this understanding of the state and the degree to which it is relevant, useful, and accurate as Kansas celebrates its sesquicentennial.

Craig Miner, “A Place of Boom and Bust: Hard Times Come to Kansas.”

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“Kansas is a land of cycles and adjusting to these is part of being a Kansan,” wrote the late Kansas historian Craig Miner. In “A Place of Boom and Bust,” Professor Miner, who died in September 2010, examined the role of the cyclic in Kansas. Driven mostly by the extremes of weather and our central, and therefore spiritually ambiguous, location within the United States, Kansas history has alternated through recurring economic, social, and political cycles—wild swings that made the state famous for inconsistency, as well as for interesting and creative responses. The essay uses the boom and bust of the late 1880s, especially as it played out in Wichita, as a case study of sorts, and concludes “up times reflected the ebullient optimism of Kansans about the future of their state, while the down times tested patience and persistence. Some called overinvestment in the future greed or gullibility, but it seemed bred in the bone with those who stuck with the prairie and survived to prosper. One needed a long-term perspective, as the short-term turns could be extreme.” Kansans took pride in being “stickers” rather than “kickers” in the face of these cycles, and the true Kansan was the survivor who was strengthened by adversity, as our state motto suggests: Ad Astra per Aspera.

James E. Sherow, “Kansans and Their Environment: 150 Years of Ambivalence.”

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While often at the forefront of wildlife preservation, Kansans at the same time have engaged in habitat destruction that has threatened several species, and one must admit to the prevalence in the state of a care/abuse approach toward the environment. They have waxed poetic, Professor Sherow observes, about the beauty of the prairies while plowing under nearly every vestige of wild grassland and blocking the creation of a national grassland park in the state. Similarly, outdoor enthusiasts clamor for access to Kansas’s scenic rivers, but only three Kansas waterways can be legally plied by canoe. And although farming has always been a mainstay of the economy, the Dust Bowl and the state’s polluted streams beg the question of just how well Kansans have worked to sustain and replenish the very resources of land and water that have provided their livelihoods during the last 150 years. In “Kansans and Their Environment,” Professor Sherow convincingly argues that the state’s embrace of a market culture mentality fuels its ambivalent attitude toward the environment. To this end he paraphrases that famous Kansas editor William Allen White: “If here today, I could imagine [the Sage of Emporia] writing that while our values seem set on turning the land into commodity first and foremost, our sunsets ‘gorgeous in color and form [remain] hidden from us.’ Our prairies are ‘as mysterious and moody as the sea in their loveliness, yet we graze them and plow them and mark them with roads’ and cannot hike or camp on them. Our creeks and rivers wind through beautiful hills and valleys, and yet we cannot canoe their public waters.”

Thomas Fox Averill, “Flyover Country: Images of Kansas.”

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“Kansas is in that great middle part of the United States that many people call ‘flyover country,’” writes Professor Tom Averill, and as a result, most people know very little about the place. “Instead, Kansas, like so many other states at the heart of the country, is mostly an abstraction. Abstractions, of course, invite and support stereotypes.” In more recent years, those stereotypes have led to negative images in the popular mind or culture, and Kansas often is a “metaphor for obscurity.” At the same time, our state is also characterized as “a heartland,” a place reflective of and vital to the needs and desires of the whole. But this too is an abstraction based on a “false argument,” explains Professor Averill: “I prefer to live a life that is not ruled by the abstract. Like William Stafford, I want to live by ‘real things.’ Unfortunately, our lives, our imaginations, are pinched into the narrow thinking of cultural image generated by our weakened self-perception and the ignorant expectations of the vast majority of Americans, who only fly over Kansas.” Images of this type can be “deadly for those of us who live here, who are grounded here,” and “we must negotiate a new way of thinking about ourselves and our country. We must let them fly over while we stand with our feet in the mud and our hearts in the land, sturdy and ordinary, experts on ourselves. If we can do that, maybe other Americans can learn to do it, too, and find themselves grounded in the places where they live.”

In Memoriam


Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West, 1845–1910
by David M. Emmons
vii + 472 pages, notes, bibliography, index.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010, cloth $34.95.
Reviewed by Timothy Walch, director, Hoover Presidential Library, West Branch, Iowa.

Urban Farming in the West: A New Deal Experiment in Subsistence Homesteads
by Robert Carriker
xii + 239 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2010, cloth $50.00.
Reviewed by Peter Fearon, professor of history, University of Leicester, United Kingdom.

And Hell Followed With It: Life and Death in a Kansas Tornado
by Bonar Menninger
xi + 327 pages, photos, illustrations, maps, notes.
Austin, Tex.: Emerald Book Co., 2010, cloth, $24.95.
Reviewed by Roy Bird, director, Kansas Center for the Book, State Library of Kansas, Topeka.

Sitting Bull, Prisoner of War
by Dennis C. Pope
xii + 187 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2008, paper $16.95
Reviewed by Robert D. Miller, PhD candidate, Department of History, University of California, Riverside.

Slavery, Civil War, and Salvation: African American Slaves and Christianity, 1830–1870
by Daniel L. Fountain
xiv + 159 pages, notes, bibliography, index.
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009, cloth $36.00.
Reviewed by Gary R. Entz, adjunct instructor, Nicolet Area Technical College, Rhinelander, Wisconsin.

Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America
by Eric Jay Dolin
xviii + 443 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2010, cloth $29.95.
Reviewed by Ginette Aley, Carey Fellow, Department of History, Kansas State University, Manhattan.

On The Battlefield of Memory: The First World War and American Remembrance, 1919–1941
by Steven Trout
xxvi + 304 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010, cloth $48.50, e-book $38.00.
Reviewed by Deborah C. Kidwell, Air Force Historical Studies Office, Washington, D.C.

The Pony Express Trail: Yesterday and Today
by William E. Hill
xxviii + 321 pages, illustrations, notes, index.
Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Press, 2010, paper $18.95.
Reviewed by Bob Knecht, archivist, Kansas Historical Society, Topeka.


Flora and Fauna of the Civil War: An Environmental Reference Guide. By Kelby Ouchley. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010, xii + 259 pages, cloth $29.95.)

In this unique and useful contribution to Civil War historiography, Kelby Ouchley, for many years a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, draws on the vast array of soldier letters, diaries, and journals to create Flora and Fauna of the Civil War, “a blend of traditional and natural history” that seeks “to portray the roles and uses of many wild plants and animals during the American Civil War” and “to examine how people, soldiers and citizens alike, thought about wild flora and fauna in a time of epic historical events” (pp. 1–2). No Kansas examples seem to have been included, but soldiers from the nearby states of Missouri, Arkansas, and Iowa are quoted, often with comments and observations of creatures and environments that must have seemed terribly exotic. From Louisiana, for example, an Iowa private wrote: “Porpoises are frequently seen plunging about the bayou. They seem to be huge monsters ten or twelve feet long and five or six feet wide and are perfectly harmless” (p. 140).

Buffington Brothers World War I Letters, August 1917 through April 1919: 35th Division—139th Infantry—M Company, From Cottonwood Falls, Kansas to Commercy, France. Edited by Robert O. Buffington. ([St. Louis, Mo.:] Mira Digital Publishing, 2010, 294 pages, paper $19.95.)

Privately published in a large format volume, the letters, photographs, and other items reproduced here reflect on the First World War experiences of the editor’s father, Walter Buffington, Walter’s two brothers, Charlie and Harry, and their sister, Margaret Ellen Buffington (Speek). The brothers, all born in Chase County, decided to join the Kansas National Guard just weeks after the United States entered the European war, in part, at least, so they could do their wartime service together; their service began in camp at Marion, from where the first letter was addressed on August 10, 1917, and included training in Oklahoma and duty with the American Expeditionary Force in France for almost a year—May 1918 to April 1919.

Waconda Springs: From Legend to Lake. By Brenda Jo Schultz. (Beloit, Kans.: Box S Printing, 2010, 115 pages, paper $30.00.)

Of spiritual significance to generations of American Indians, the legendary mineral springs in north central Kansas became a popular resort for those seeking a cure for whatever ailed them in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Waconda Springs, with its natural beauty, history, and sanitarium and health spa, attracted hundreds of tourists annually until mid-century, when the Solomon River was dammed and Waconda Lake Reservoir consumed the site of the resort and the historic springs. Waconda Springs: From Legend to Lake tells the story mostly with reprinted newspaper articles spanning more than a century.

Tracing the Santa Fe Trail: Today’s Views, Yesterday’s Voices. By Ronald J. Dulle. (Missoula, Mont.: Mountain Press, 2011, 195 pages, paper $22.00.)

The Santa Fe Trail as it looks today is shown in this collection of 180 photographic essays made by an artist whose work has focused on the history of the overland route that winds between Missouri and New Mexico. “Every picture tells a story,” historian Leo Oliva notes in his foreword, “and Dulle provides the story behind each photograph” (p. ix). Locations in Kansas make up a large portion of the book, as they did the trail, including the swale left by the Missouri River dock at Fort Leavenworth, the crumbling walls of the Last Chance store at Council Grove, and the wagon wheel marks known as Ralph’s Ruts, near Chase.

Mattie: Wyatt Earp’s Secret Second Wife. By E. C. (Ted) Meyers. (Blaine, Wash.: Hancock House Publishers, 2010, 188 pages, paper $19.95.)

Although Wyatt Earp died famous, his “secret” second wife, Celia Ann “Mattie” Blaylock, “died broken-hearted, lonely, forlorn, unloved and unwanted in a grubby little house in a grimy, dying town” (p. 22). E. C. Meyers follows Mattie, from 1868 when she fled her childhood home and took up the “sporting life,” to the seventeen years she spent as Earp’s wife, through to her death in 1888 from a seemingly intentional overdose of laudanum and whiskey. Despite Earp’s being the stuff of Kansas legend, Mattie, who met and married the gunslinger in Fort Scott in 1871, “made no lasting mark on history” (p. 22), thanks in part to the efforts of Earp and his third wife, Josephine “Sadie” Marcus, to expunge her from his record.

North American Wildland Plants, Second Edition: A Field Guide. By James Stubbendieck, Stephan L. Hatch, and Neal M. Bryan. Illustrated by Angie Fox, Kelly L. Rhodes Hays, Bellamy Parks Jansen, and Debra Meier. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011, xv + 496 pages, paper $35.00.)

This listing of two hundred of the most important North American wildland plants, be they especially abundant, desirable, or poisonous, is meant as a reference guide for those with little botanical knowledge as well as natural resource professionals. The detailed illustrations, lists of characteristics, and distribution maps all assist in the identification of the featured plants in the field. The notations of the plants’ historic, food, and medicinal uses may be of particular interest to readers of Kansas History and, in the case of western ragweed, of allergy sufferers: its leaves “were steeped by some Native Americans and used as a treatment for sore eyes” (p. 269).

Augusta’s Journal. Volume 1: The Founding of El Dorado, K.T. 1857. By Marjorie L. Crump and Ralph E. Crump. (Bloomington, Ind.: Authorhouse, 2008, xvii + 321, cloth $17.99.)

Augusta’s Journal. Volume 2: The First Year in the Life of El Dorado, K.T. 1858. By Marjorie L. Crump and Ralph E. Crump. (Bloomington, Ind.: Authorhouse, 2009, vii + 323, cloth $22.99.)

Augusta’s Journal. Volume 3: El Dorado, K.T. January 1859 to July 1860. By Marjorie L. Crump and Ralph E. Crump. (Bloomington, Ind.: Authorhouse, 2009, xii + 326, cloth $19.99.)

Augusta’s Journal. Volume 4: Colorado 1860 to 1914. By Marjorie L. Crump and Ralph E. Crump. (Bloomington, Ind.: Authorhouse, 2009, xxvi + 351, cloth $28.49.)

The first three volumes in this set of journals written by Augusta Stewart, the great-grandmother of author Marjorie Crump, detail the everyday life of a young woman whose family migrated from Michigan to Kansas Territory to support the abolitionist cause in the lead up to the Civil War. The family helped to found El Dorado, from which Augusta observed and recorded the struggle over slavery. The fourth volume focuses on Augusta’s move west, first to Colorado and then, following a new gold strike, to Montana Territory. Although the introductory materials in these volumes could have benefited from more careful editing, the journals themselves offer an engaging eyewitness account of a particularly tumultuous moment in Kansas history.