Kansas entered the Union as a free state on January 29, 1861. About two hundred years earlier the French Jesuit priests, Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, were among the region’s earliest European explorers. A map drawn by Marquette in 1673 indicated that the Kanza, Ouchage (Osage), and Paneassa (Pawnee) tribes dominated the area that would become Kansas.
The United States acquired Kansas in 1803 from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase. During its early years as a U.S. possession, the area was part of Indian Territory and was used by the federal government to relocate tribal peoples. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act External allowed the residents to decide if theirs would be a free or slave state.
Both North and South sent settlers to the territory, giving rise to the sobriquet “Bleeding Kansas” External as violence erupted out of ideological differences regarding slavery. Learn more about the historical context of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in “Conflict of Abolition and Slavery” and more about the experience of African-Americans in Kansas in “Nicodemus, Kansas“, two features in the online exhibition The African-American Mosaic.
A fairly continuous plain, Kansas rises in elevation from 700 feet in the southeast to 4,000 feet at its western border. Mr. Botsford, interviewed on December 27, 1938, for the WPA Federal Writers’ Project, recalled his first experience of gazing out across the Kansas plain:
I wasn’t there but a little while when I went to help a feller shingle a roof. It was about eight o’clock in the mornin’, and I was sittin’ there on the roof just lookin’ out at those miles and miles of prairies, and way off in the distance I see somethin’ about the size of a cigar standin’ up on the horizon. It didn’t seem to get no bigger and after I watched it a while I says to the feller, ‘Look at that thing out there, don’t it look funny.’ He looked where I was pointin’ and he says ‘Know what that is? That’s the freight train comin’ in.’ Well, we worked all mornin’ and we went in and was eatin’ dinner when we heard that train pull into the depot.
“Mr. Botsford on Travel—Kansas,” December 27, 1938. Interviewer, Francis Donovan. American Life Histories: Manuscripts for the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940
“Oh, They Told Me Out in Kansas,” George Vinton Graham, vocals and guitar, December 7, 1938. California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties, 1938-1940
While writers were gathering stories of American lives during the Great Depression, Sidney Robertson Cowell was recording songs for the WPA California Folk Music Project. A few days prior to Mr. Botsford’s interview, Cowell had recorded George Vinton Graham in California performing “Oh, They Told Me Out in Kansas.” Search the American Memory collection California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties, 1938-1940 on Kansas to find this and other recordings.
The collection, Quilts and Quiltmaking in America, 1978-1996 contains photographs of award-winning quilts from every state in the Union. Search on Kansas to view these treasures.
- To find more items in the collections related to this state, search across the collections on Kansas. The search will retrieve many items, including some related to Kansas City, Missouri.
- Maps of the cities Atchison, Great Bend, Kansas City, Lawrence, Leavenworth, and Topeka may be found in the Cities and Towns section of Map Collections (1500-Present). Follow the instructions presented with the map to zoom in on houses, bridges, paddle wheelers and much more in fine and accurate detail. Find out more about one of the creators of these panoramic maps by visiting the Today in History feature on Albert Ruger.
- Panoramic Maps 1847-1929 — maps also known as bird’s-eye views, perspective maps, and aero views, are nonphotographic representations of cities portrayed as if viewed from above at an oblique angle. Browse by geographic location and click on Kansas for maps of various cities in that state.
- France in America is a bilingual digital library presented by the Library of Congress and the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Search on keywords Marquette and Joliet for documents relating to exploration and settlement of the continental United States beginning in the sixteenth century.
- An 1899 film entitled the Advance of Kansas Volunteers at Caloocan (in the Philippines) is available in Inventing Entertainment: The Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies. This collection features motion pictures, sound recordings and a variety of other materials produced around the turn of the twentieth century—products of Edison’s inventions and industries.
- Perhaps Dorothy Gale is the most famous personality ever to come out of Kansas. To learn a little more, see the Today in History feature on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
- Search The American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870, 1920 on wizard of oz for items on that musical extravaganza. The online exhibit The Wizard of Oz: An American Fairy Tale provides a wealth of information on L. Frank Baum, stage and film productions of “The Wizard of Oz,” artifacts, and more.
- Additional primary resources related to Kansas are available online through The Kansas Collection External.