KANSAS may be associated with quaint, gingham-pinafore images from Little House on the Prairie and The Wizard of Oz, but the region was at one time known as “bleeding Kansas”. The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, which gave both territories the right to self-determination over slavery, led to fierce clashes between Free Staters and pro-slavery forces. Runaway slaves from the South were given passage through the area, aided by abolitionist John Brown, and Kansas eventually joined the Union as a free state.

After the Civil War, the mighty cattle drives from Texas made towns like Abilene, Wichita and Dodge City centres of the “Wild West”. The debauched, masculine image of the West, spawning such “heroes” as Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok, is challenged in Kansas, however, which along with being the first state to give women the vote in municipal elections, also boasts claims to having the nation’s first female mayor and senator. Despite all this, its politics have taken a decidedly conservative turn in recent years.

In 1874, Russian Mennonites brought the grain that was to transform the state into the bountiful “breadbasket” that now harvests much of the nation’s wheat. However, only in the west do miles of golden stalks sway in Kansas’s perennial prairie wind. The green and hilly northeast, patterned with woods and lakes, is home to the unattractive, industrial capital city of Topeka, vibrant college town of Lawrence and the dull suburbs of Kansas City (whose downtown lies across the state line in Missouri). The once-wicked cowtown of Dodge City is in the southwest, while Wichita, the state’s largest city, lies in the south-central area.

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