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.

Bird’s Eye View of the City of Topeka, the Capital of Kansas 1869. Drawn by A. Ruger; Chicago: Chicago Lithographing Co., 1869. Panoramic Maps. Geography & Map Division

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.

Work Horses Near Junction City, Kansas. John Vachon, photographer, [1942 or 1943]. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

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. Art Botsford, interviewed on December 27, 1938, for the collection American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940, 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,” Art Botsford, Interviewee; Francis Donovan, Interviewer; Thomaston, Conn., December 27, 1938. American Life Histories: Manuscripts for the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940. Manuscript Division

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 recorded George Vinton Graham in California performing “Oh, They Told Me Out in Kansas.” Search the collection California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties using the term Kansas to find this and other recordings.

1994 Kansas State Winner; Stars Over the USA: A Travelogue Quilt. Vivian R. Singer, quiltmaker; Iola, Kansas, December 1, 1992-August 21, 1993. Quilts and Quiltmaking in America, 1978 to 1996. American Folklife Center

The collection Quilts and Quiltmaking in America, 1978 to 1996 contains photographs of award-winning quilts from every state in the Union. Search on the term Kansas to view these treasures.

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