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.Read More
Collegiate LAWRENCE lies on the Kansas River, roughly halfway between Kansas City and Topeka. Tree-lined streets, a welcoming historic downtown and an aura of artiness make it an appealing destination, with a cultural energy owed in part to the University of Kansas and a long liberal and intellectual history.
Founded by the New England Emigrant Aid Company in 1854, and a centre of Free State activities, Lawrence was the site of a violent Civil War skirmish in 1863, when it was set ablaze by Confederate guerillas. Rebuilding was quick, however, as evidenced by the limestone and brick buildings of today’s downtown, centred on Massachusetts Street and the KU campus, which stands on a steep, tree-covered grassy bank known as Mount Oread.
Portrayed in a handful of 1930s Westerns, DODGE CITY, about 150 miles west of Wichita, is perhaps the most famous of all America’s frontier towns. However, this wildest of Wild West cities had a relatively brief heyday, from 1875 until 1886. Established in 1872 along with the Santa Fe Railroad, which transported millions of buffalo hides, by 1875 the town of traders, trappers and hunters had to find a new economic base – the buffalo had been practically exterminated. The era of the great cattle drives was already underway and Dodge City became a den of iniquity where gambling, drinking and general lawlessness were the norm. Such wickedness led to gunfights galore, and the notorious Boot Hill cemetery (where villains were buried with their boots on) was kept busy by charismatic, if morally suspect, lawmen such as Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp.