As early as 1541 a company of Spanish soldiers under the command of Francisco de Coronado, and directed by Indian guides, made their way from the lower valley of the Pecos River to a point on the Missouri River where the city of Atchison, Kansas, now stands. The expedition was made in search of gold; but on reaching the Missouri River, then known as the Teucarea, the company, footsore and discouraged on account of their long, fruitless march over the dreary, sandy desert, besought their commander to lead them back to Mexico, whence they had formerly come. After killing the Indian guides, who had led the Spaniards over the trackless wastes, to get them away from the Pecos Valley, and to wear them out in hunger and thirst, the little company retraced its course toward the South, but not until Coronado had given the name Canzes to that part of the country which lies between the Arkansas and the Missouri rivers. This was 363 years ago. The country was named after the dominant tribe of Indians then inhabiting it, and through a series of modifications it was later known as Kansas.
In 1762 France, having discovered and claimed what was later known as Louisiana, ceded it to Spain; but on March 21, 1801, it was ceded back to France. On April 30, 1803, the United States purchased it from France, in consideration of the payment of $15,000,000. It included practically all the country drained by the Mississippi River; but it did not include that part of the present State of Kansas which lies west of the 100th degree of west longitude and south of the Arkansas River. This was acquired by the United States from the republic of Texas in the year 1850.
At the time of the Louisiana purchase, in 1803, Kansas was almost entirely unknown, except among the Indian tribes which wandered over what was vaguely known as "The Great American Desert," lying between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains. In 1806 the United States fitted out an expedition at St. Louis, and the next year General Pike took command and led it westwardly through Missouri and Southern Kansas. Besides the soldiers of the command, there was a company of geographers. Three years were taken up in the exploration; but even then no well formed idea was obtained of the true character of the country, in respect to its mineral resources and the adaptability of its soils for agricultural purposes. In 1810 General Pike, who had explored as far west as the Great Divide, and as far south as the Rio Grande, reported to the Secretary of War, and, among other things, he said: "These vast plains of the Western Hemisphere may, in time become equally celebrated with the sandy deserts of Africa; for in various places on my route I saw tracts of many leagues where the wind had thrown up the sands in all the fanciful forms of the ocean's rolling waves, and on them not a speck of vegetation existed. * * * Our citizens, so prone to wandering and extending themselves on the frontier, will, through necessity, be constrained to limit their extent, in the West, to the borders of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, while they leave the prairies, incapable of cultivation, to the wandering and uncivilized aborigines of the country. It appears to me to be possible to introduce only a limited population, and that even this must be confined to the banks of the Kaw, the Platte and the Arkansas rivers." That was 94 years ago. What a change has been wrought in the intervening time! How "westward the course of empire" has taken its way! What would General Pike say now, if he could see "The Great American Desert?"
In 1819-20 Major Long was sent West on an exploring expedition; and his report to the Secretary of War, like that of General Pike, did not seem designed to "induce immigration" into these parts. Speaking of the region now comprised within the boundaries of Nebraska and Kansas, he said: "It is a region destined, by the barrenness of its soil and its inhospitable climate, as well as by other physical disadvantages, to be the abode of perpetual desolation." And the Secretary of War at that time, gloomily commenting on the report of Major Long, said: "From the minute account given in the narrative of the expedition, of the particular features of this region, it will be perceived to bear a manifest resemblance to the desert of Sahara."
From the time of which I have last written, up to about the year 1840, very little progress was made toward bringing this region within the zone of civilization, it being believed to be destined always as the home of savage Indians and the wild animals which roamed its valleys, hills and graceless plains. Here the ground owl, the rattlesnake, the prairie dog, the coyote, the deer, the elk and the buffalo had their haunts, and it was believed that they would always remain, disturbed only now and then by the wandering tribes of Indians, whose fixed habits shut out every thought of permanency of habitation. Shortly after this, the Mexican War agitation became so intense as to break out in hostility, and when the war was over, in 1848, bringing to the possession of the United States that territory then including California, the newly discovered gold fields of the Western slope aroused the people of the Middle and Eastern States, and vast numbers of them went thither by whatever way offered the easiest ingress. Beginning about the year 1849, almost innumerable caravans were fitted out at different points on the Missouri River, to take their course "across the plains," as it was spoken of in those day. This was practically the beginning of the settlement of Kansas; for some of those who had intended to go on to California, when they saw the goodly land in Eastern Kansas, turned aside in their purposes and settled among the Indians along the larger streams, where wood and water could be found. These were joined later by others from the East, and thus the settlements were enlarged little by little, as time went on.
The political history of Kansas dates back to 1850, when the subject of slavery took on the intense form of agitation which led to its overthrow. It was in this year that the Missouri Compromise was really abrogated. From that time on it became constantly more apparent that the question could never be settled satisfactorily through legislation; and the admission of Kansas into the Union, as a pro-slavery State, or as an anti-slavery State, was looked to as the test of the power and management of the two sectional factions. The New England States had experimented with slavery, and, not finding it profitable, they had become profoundly convinced that the institution was morally wrong; the South had tried it, and, finding it profitable, found no difficulty at all in showing that it was of divine origin, and therefore, scripturally right. Senator J. J. Ingalls, the most scholarly man that ever represented Kansas in the United States Senate, and himself a native of Massachusetts, said that the people of the New England States never became conscientious on the subject of slavery until it ceased to be profitable in that section of the country. The North was envious of the South's prosperity; but their envy was equaled if not surpassed by the intense prejudice fostered and nourished in the hearts of the Southern people. Persons who recall those d ays can never forget the rise and progress of the "irrespressible[sic] conflict;" and those conversant with public affairs at that time, and who kept up with the current events, easily recall the efforts of the great American statesmen to arrive at an amicable settlement of the sectional dispute which had agitated the people since the year 1820, and which was now fast becoming the chief alarm of the nation. Kansas was the focus upon which the mind of the people, North and South, was so intensely centered; but four years afterward, May 30, 1854, when Franklin Pierce, president of the United States, signed the act, entitled, "An Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas," debate of the great question ceased to be fruitful of any effect toward a reconcilation[sic]. Then began a series of "troublous times," which did not end until the issues of the War of the Rebellion were settled at Appomattox, April 9, 1865.
The first Territorial Governor of Kansas was Andrew H. Reeder, of Easton, Pennsylvania, appointed by President Pierce, June 29, 1854. He arrived at Leavensworth, Kansas, on the steamer "Polar Star," October 7, 1854, and immediately took up the duties of the office, having been sworn in as Governor by Justice Daniel, of the Supreme Court of the United States, at Washington, D. C., July 7th of that year. He was an ardent Democrat, and he was in sympathy with the pro-slavery efforts then being strongly made; but before he finished his course on Kansas soil he as strenuously and as ably supported the plans and operations for making it a free State. Not at all times being in full accord with the Legislature, which was pronounced in its pro-slavery sentiments, and being often misrepresented to President Pierce by wily politicians, his lot was such as brought him nothing but worry and constant antagonism. As Governor he was removed by the President, July 28, 1855. He was officially notified on the 31st of July and on August 15th he notified the Legislature of the fact. He was succeeded by Wilson Shannon, who was commissioned Governor of the Territory of Kansas, August 10, 1855, and he arrived at Shawnee Mission, then the capital, September 3d. He had been four years the Governor of Ohio; was Minister to Mexico under Tyler's administration, and was a member of Congress from Ohio in 1852-54. He resigned the governorship of the Territory, August 21, 1856, and on that day he received official notice that he had been removed, and that John W. Geary had been appointed his successor. Geary resigned March 4, 1857; and on March 10th President Buchanan appointed Robert J. Walker, of Pennsylvania. He was a son of Judge Walker, of the United States Supreme Court. He had been a United States Senator from Mississippi and was Secretary of the Treasury during Polk's administration. Governor Walker arrived at Leavenworth May 25, 1857, and left the following day for Lecompton, then the capital. His was a short, stormy term; for on December 7th, of the same year, he handed in his resignation, being led to do so on account of the disturbed condition of public affairs in the Territory, in the midst of which there was no prospect of peace or final settlement. John W. Denver, who had been acting Governor from the time of the resignation of Governor Walker, received his appointment as Governor March 15, 1858. He resigned October 10th, of the same year, and on November 19th Samuel Medary was appointed. He continued in office until December 17, 1860, when he resigned, and was succeeded by George M. Beebe, who was sworn in as acting Governor, and who continued in office until the inauguration of the State government, February 9, 1861. The frequent and often dramatically sudden changes in the governorship of the Territory may be taken as indicating the turbulent condition of public affairs, a condition which, as if descending by heredity, is yet shown in the easily disturbed political relations of the people. It is probable that no other State in the Union has such a heritage.
Kansas was admitted into the Union January 29, 1861, and it may be said of the people who had become permanent residents upon its soil, that they were in a proper frame of mind to join hands with the other free-soil States in the great war which was just then about to break upon the country. Forensic debate and all other efforts amicably to adjust and settle the bitter, sectional prejudices of the people had fallen short of the desired aim. A majority of the people of the United States had become set against slavery; the institution was destined to pass away; but the methods and measures for setting it aside involved questions which could not be settled other than by the arbitrament of arms.
Following the close of the war, there was a tremendous immigration into Kansas from the Middle States, attracted hither through the well advertised opportunities which it offered for securing rural homes, as well as for building cities, constructing railroads and for the varied pursuits which follow such achievements. No other section of the entire country was ever even half so well advertised as Kansas has been much of such advertising being true, much of it false. Senator Ingalls once said that Kansas is a land of the sharpest contradictions and antagonisms ever known in human experience; the hottest, the coldest; the wettest, the driest; the most fruitful, the most barren; the most to be desired and the least to be sought. Here the best and purest aspirations have been fostered and sustained; here homes have been built and fortunes made, and here, too, lie the buried hopes of many whose expectations were turned into disappointment, whose toil and labor were in vain and whose morning cheer and gladness were overshadowed and suppressed through the gloom which came on before the middle of the day.
Politically, Kansas is the enigma of the age; and in this respect it may be likened unto those volcanic districts of the earth which are subject to frequent and disastrous upheavals, and where none but such as are inured to the dread which constant danger inspires will dare to live. Hither many political adventurers came in the early days, probably expecting to gather large returns from the new field. Some of them, after a short and stormy sojourn, returned whence they came, and the bones of many others, whose daring and hardihood were equaled only by the cunning and craftiness which they employed, lie bleaching in the soil of the land which they essayed to rule. In a partisan way the State has always been, normally, Republican; but at times the party has been cut from its moorings and cast adrift upon a rough, tempestuous sea, a condition due largely to the grasping greed of political leaders and to the official corruption of those placed in charge of public affairs. But the people are growing in conservatism, and when the old-guard politicians pass away, and some of the younger ones shall be required to know more of statecraft and economics, there will be a settling into safer channels and the care of public interests will be in better hands.
Of those now living in the State of Kansas, it may be truthfully said that they are "a peculiar people." They will endure more hardships, suffer more wrongs, surmount greater difficulties and undergo more privations than any other people in this broad land. Chinch-bugs, grasshoppers, hot winds, drouths[sic] and floods have been enough to depopulate the State, if inhabited by a less hardy people. To these, sufficient of themselves to deter next to the most determined, the burden of taxes, borne for the purpose of paying off public bonds, and private mortgages of all kinds, once supposed to concern every man, came as supplementary hardships and vexations; but the people have lived through all of these, and they are today comparatively prosperous. The pests come less frequently, drouths[sic] are not so severe, bonds are being paid and the voice of the sheriff is rarely heard in the land; the passing of these being d ue almost entirely to the indomitable courage and perseverance of the hardy sons of toil who have borne the burden and heat of the day and are now enjoying the fruits of their labor. These things have not been done through stupidity nor through the direction of blind judgment; they have been achieved through intelligence and good understanding; for in practical knowledge and in ability to get the best results in what they undertake, the people hold the highest place. Proportionately to the number of inhabitants, it is said, without contradiction, that Kansas takes and reads more newspapers than any other State; that it has more pupils in the common schools and more students in its higher institutions, and that fewer of its people are idle and non-helpful in the ordinary pursuits of life. There is a common level upon which the people move, and there is a free fellowship which has come down from the earlier days, bringing with it the easy manners which are characteristic of communities unaffected by castes and sharp social distinctions.
Go to Chapter 2
Go to table of contents
Go to 1904 index