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Kansas History - Winter 2006/2007

(Vol. 29, No. 4)

Winter 2006/2007 issue

Joseph B. Herring,"Selling the ‘Noble Savage’ Myth: George Catlin and the Iowa Indians in Europe, 1843-1845."

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While many Kansans might be familiar with the work of nineteenth century artist George Catlin, it is doubtful that they are also familiar with Catlin’s decision to tour Europe with a band of “wild Indians” and to promote “a mythical image of Native Americans for profit.” Historian Joseph B. Herring tells the story of Catlin and a group of Iowa Indians (who lived in what would be the present-day Kansas-Nebraska border along the Missouri River) trip through Europe. The Iowas who went to Europe did so with their own motivations. Like Catlin, they were interested in making a profit, and many were weary of the American customs that were entering their village. For a time, Catlin and his show were well received abroad, particularly by some members of the French upper class. However, audiences soon became disenchanted with the myth of the noble savage, and both Catlin and the Iowas returned home with little more than souvenirs to show for their long journey.

Brooke Speer Orr, "Mary Elizabeth Lease: Gendered Discourse and Populist Party Politics in Gilded Age America."

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One of most oft-repeated quotes attributed to Mary Elizabeth Lease is her directive to midwestern farmers “to raise less corn and more hell.” Whether or not she actually made that statement, Lease is remembered most for it; but this Gilded Age activist made an impact beyond her outspoken rhetoric, contributing significantly to the 1890s Populist movement. Dr. Brooke Speer Orr, who teaches history at Westfield State College in Massachusetts, offers insight into Lease's world, a world in which people routinely criticized her for "gender-role deviance." Newspapers of the time even went so far as to portray her as physically masculine and an unfit mother, simply because of her involvement in politics. "Mary Lease's Populist Party story particularly illustrates how gender conventions and the related complexities of class and ethnic identity shaped late-nineteenth-century American politics," argues Orr. Lease's story, told largely from newspaper accounts of her activities, is one that not only describes the important Populist movement, but also illustrates the "ongoing significance of gender ideology in American politics during the Gilded Age."

J. Samuel Walker,"An ‘Atomic Garbage Dump’ for Kansas: The Controversy over the Lyons Radioactive Waste Repository, 1970-1972."

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In the early 1970s, the small town of Lyons, Kansas, began appearing in the national news. The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was seriously considering the town's abandoned salt mine as a disposal site for "high-level radioactive waste materials" from weapon and energy production. As told by U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission historian J. Samuel Walker, the author of Three Mile Island: A Nuclear Crisis In Historical Perspective and other books on the history of nuclear energy, the Lyons story is one of growing opposition, voiced by many prominent Kansans who felt that the AEC had not put enough careful research into the suitability of the proposed site. Walker carefully considers the role of Republican Congressman Joe Skubitz in leading chorus of doubters, relying heavily on newspaper coverage from across Kansas. While some Kansans carefully considered the ways in which such a site might bring economic prosperity to the area, others, such as Governor Robert Docking, warned, "we do not want new industry in Kansas at the expense of our citizens' health and welfare." The debate grew increasingly bitter, and by the time the AEC found the proposed site in Lyons "technically unsuitable, it had lost the political support it needed."

Editor's Note

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Kansas Archaeology
edited by Robert J. Hoard and William E. Banks
xiii + 432 pages, photographs, tables, maps, appendix, references cited, the contributors, and index.
Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2006, cloth, $34.95.
Reviewed by Bob Blasing, area archeologist for the Oklahoma-Texas Area Office of the Bureau of Reclamation.

American Paper Son: A Chinese Immigrant in the Midwest
by Wayne Hung Wong, edited and with an introduction by Benson Tong
x + 162 pages, appendix, notes, index.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006, paper, $20.00.
Reviewed by William M. Tsutsui, professor of history and executive director of the Confucius Institute, University of Kansas, Lawrence.

Indians and Emigrants: Encounters on the Overland Trails
by Michael L. Tate
xxiv + 328 pages, notes, bibliography, index.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006, cloth $29.95.
Reviewed by Bob Keckeisen, Museum Director, Kansas Historical Society.

An Opportunity Lost: The Truman Administration and the Farm Policy Debate
by Virgil W. Dean
vii + 275 pages, notes, photos, bibliography, index.
Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006, cloth, $29.95.
Reviewed by C. Fred Williams, Professor of History, University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

American Confluence: The Missouri Frontier from Borderland to Border State
by Stephen Aron
x + 301 pages, figures, notes, index.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006, cloth, $29.95.
Reviewed by Ginette Aley, assistant professor of history, University of Southern Indiana, Evansville.

Elias Cornelius Boudinot: A Life on the Cherokee Border
by James W. Parins
252 pages, 6 photographs, notes, bibliography, index.
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006, cloth $60.00.
Reviewed by Daryl Morrison, head of special collections, general library, University of California, Davis.

A Texas Cowboy's Journal: Up the Trail to Kansas in 1868
by Jack Bailey; edited by David Dary
xlvii + 111 pages, photographs, illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006, cloth, $24.95.
Reviewed by Dave Webb, assistant director, Kansas Heritage Center, Dodge City.

Book Notes

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The U.S. Army in the West, 1870-1880: Uniforms, Weapons, and Equipment. By Douglas C. McChristian. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006, xix + 315 pages, paper $24.95.)
The post-Civil War years were an eventful time for the U.S. military. The army was attempting not only to reunify itself but also to prepare for any conventional wars that might occur between the United States and the increasingly well-armed European powers. At the same time, the Indian campaigns in the West required much time and energy from those in the service. In The U.S. Army in the West, Douglas C. McChristian examines the years between 1870 and 1880, a period that is known as a decade of experimentation. By examining smaller topics such as uniforms, equipment, and small arms, McChristian is able to give his readers a clear idea of what life in the army might have been like. Over two hundred photographs add wonderful images to this already detail-rich volume. Montana: The Magazine of Western History calls this book "a landmark study that belongs in the library of every scholar, museum curator, and collector interested in the evolution of military policy and materiel."

Moonshine Harvest. By Don Hayen. (North Charleston, S.C.: BookSurge, 2006, 186 pages, paper $13.99.)
Although Moonshine Harvest is a work of fiction, readers of Kansas History will value this excitement-filled adventure set in post-World War II Kansas. The author, Don Hayen, was born and raised in Marion, Kansas, which serves as the basis for his fictional town of Afton; his memories of being a teenager during this historically significant time period are the foundation for this work. By cleverly using the murder of the town drunk as his central plot, Hayen is able to explore important issues such as political attitudes, fundamentalism, and bigotry through his characters. Both humorous and insightful, this novel can be enjoyed by everyone from young adults to those who actually recall the Truman era. In writing about small-town Kansas in the late 1940s, Hayen tries "to give the reader a feel for that time and place." For those Kansans who remember that time, Moonshine Harvest will be an enjoyable journey back to their early years; for those too young to remember, this book will be a pleasant look at what they missed.

By His Own Hand? The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis. Edited by John D. W. Guice. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006, xxi + 178 pages, cloth $24.95.)
The story of the expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark is well known to most Americans. But what many do not realize is that only a few years after the explorers' triumphant return, Lewis was found dead in Tennessee, felled by two gunshot wounds to the head. At the time, the incident was ruled a suicide, a judgment that was widely accepted by those close to Lewis. But since this tragedy in 1809, historians have wondered: Was this "suicide" actually a murder? By His Own Hand reassesses the evidence and places this controversial episode in its proper historical context. Four historians of the trans-Appalachian West contributed to this well-written volume, and they chose to follow the format of a postmortem court trial. Not only is this bizarre event examined from every angle, but readers will also learn more about the era in general. According to Landon Jones, author of William Clark and the Shaping of the West, "What is most tellingly revealed here is the paradoxical nature of life on the frontier during the Early Republic."

The Birth of Development: How the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Health Organization Changed the World, 1945-1965. By Amy L. S. Staples. (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 2006, xvi + 349 pages, cloth $55.00.)
Recent histories of foreign relations have argued that the Cold War was not just a battle between the democracies of the West and the evil Communists of the East but actually a North-South struggle over economic development. Historian Amy L. S. Staples carries this theme even further by examining the role of international organizations. By focusing on the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Health Organization, Staples makes it clear that these three organizations did attempt to increase programs in agricultural reform and public health and to aid general economic development. Staples convincingly argues that the goals of the individuals involved in these projects were actually more important than the results. Grounded in thorough archival research, The Birth of Development should appeal to readers of Kansas History not only because of its focus on agricultural issues but also because it places the past fifty years of American foreign policy in the proper historical context.

"Circumstances Are Destiny": An Antebellum Woman's Struggle to Define Sphere. By Tina Stewart Brakebill. (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 2006, xx + 255 pages, cloth $34.95.)
"Circumstances Are Destiny" is the study of Celestia Rice Colby, a middle-class, literate white woman living in northern Ohio during the Civil War era. Although not directly related to the history of Kansas, readers will learn much from Colby's experiences. By using Colby's own writings, as well as secondary sources, author Tina Stewart Brakebill allows us to see what life was like for a seemingly ordinary woman during the mid- to late-nineteenth century. However, Brakebill argues that Colby was actually unique because she was not satisfied with the typical destiny of women during this time. Rather than being content with her somewhat limited role as a wife and mother, Colby challenged ideas about conventional gender expectations. Anyone interested in nineteenth century women and gender relations or the Civil War era in general will find this work both useful and enjoyable.

The National Grasslands: A Guide to America's Undiscovered Treasures. By Francis Moul. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006, xiv + 185 pages, paper $19.95.)
Readers of both environmental and political history will appreciate this insightful analysis of the nation's grasslands. The accompanying photographs by Georg Joutras alone would make this book enjoyable for readers, but Francis Moul's in-depth study of the four million acres of America's grasslands make it essential reading as well. Moul places his environmental study in historical context as he explains how the establishment of the grasslands was actually an important part of the New Deal programs. He continues by elaborating on the history of the grasslands and also gives a regional guide to these areas. According to Dan O'Brien, author of Buffalo for the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch, "Francis Moul has written a book that has been neglected for a long time. The history of the national grasslands and their ecological and economic importance should be common knowledge for all Americans."

Volume 29 Index