When Kansas territory was opened for white settlement on May 30, 1854, a
bitter contest developed over the slavery question. Established the
following December, Topeka, 25 miles ahead favored the Free-State cause
even though the territorial government was at first Pro-slavery.
Rebelling Free Staters attempted to set up a rival legislature in Topeka
in 1856. Acting for President Franklin Pierce came Col. E. V. Sumner
with five companies of U.S. dragoons and two cannons specially loaded
for legislators. Lawmakers understood the message and adjourned
reluctantly, but Topeka got even. When the city named its first streets
for Presidents, Pierce was omitted.
Free Staters eventually won out and Kansas became a state January 29,
1861, with Topeka the capital. The Statehouse, started in 1866, was
completed in 1903. Topeka is known throughout the world for the
contributions of the Menninger Foundation to mental health. South of the
city the Topeka Army Air Field (later Forbes Air Force Base) was a
processing center in World War II for B-17, B-24 and B-29 aircraft and
crews. From a few miles west of Topeka to Lawrence, I-70 generally
follows a main route of the Oregon-California trail, traveled from the
1830's to 1860 by thousands of emigrants, in hundreds of wagon trains.