The state of Kansas is located in the western part of the United States’ central region. It is generally considered to be a Midwestern state. It is also sometimes called a Plains state and can be classified as a West or Southwest state as well. It can be classified as part of all of those groups because of it’s unique location and its varied economy, climate, and topography, not to mention it settlement patterns.
Kansas features farms in some areas, while other areas are full of woodlands, hills, plains, and cities. The western part of the state is home to the High Plains, which almost look similar to some of the landscapes in New Mexico. On the other hand, the central part of the state is home to the Smoky Hills and the Flint Hills, which are range land areas like those in the western states.
Kansas became a state on January, 29, 1861. It is the 34th state to enter the Union. Although its capital city is Topeka, its biggest city is actually Wichita. The state of Kansas is named after the river of the same name. That got its name from the Native American Kansa people. The name translates to “people of the south wind.”
Kansas is commonly known as the Sunflower State, but can also be known as the Jayhawker or Jayhawk State. It is theorized that the term “Jayhawker” came about between 1861 and 1865, during the Civil War. Groups of guerillas took up using the name at that time. Later on, other military personnel in the state started using it as well. At some point, it turned into a name used to refer to all residents of the state as a whole.
The Kansa people, who were the inspiration for the state’s name, lived along various rivers in Kansas, including the Blue, Kansas, and Missouri rivers. Their homes were earth lodges constructed along the banks of those rivers. Although Kansas became a part of the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, it wasn’t considered to be a territory until 1854, when the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed. Seven years later, on January 29, 1861, it gained its statehood.
The area now known as Kansas was originally considered to be “Indian Territory” and various tribes were moved there from other areas, including Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois. The Osage and Kansa tribes gave up some of the land they had claim to in eastern Kansas in 1825, making way for other tribes to be brought in. Those tribes included: Shawnee, Kickapoo, Delaware, Wea, Piankeshaw
There were 19 established reservations in what is now know as Kansas, as of 1846. In 1824, the first Native American mission was established in the area. It was called Mission Neosho. In 1829, a Methodist Mission was established to minister to the Shawnee tribe.
When settlers began to develop homes in Kansas, expansion was only slightly influenced by the “pull of the west.” Most of the influence came from slavery disputes. Both anti-slavery and pro-slavery groups wanted to become the majority in the area. That caused both groups to try to settle in Kansas. So, researchers looking into early Kansas ancestral history should familiarize themselves with the slavery issues of the time.
In 1854, when the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, tensions in the Kansas region began to rise. That led to what was essentially an early version of the Civil War. As a result, Kansas Territory was given the nickname of “Bleeding Kansas.” Both the pro-slavery and the anti-slavery factions kept trying to gain the majority foothold in the area, leading to a lot of incidents of fraud.
One example of a fraud incident was the Kansas state census taken in 1855. That showed that the seventh district only had 53 voters living in it. However, three months after that census was taken, there were 253 votes cast in that district. That happened because between 200 and 300 Missouri residents entered the district the day before the election took place. They were equipped with multiple weapons and their goal was to make sure that new legislative members for the territory were elected who were pro-slavery. This sort of ballot box stuffing occurred many times, thanks to pro-slavery residents of Missouri.
The Wyandotte Constitution passed into law in 1859. It prohibited slavery. However, it wasn’t actually enforced until 1861, when Kansas became a state. When it gained its statehood, Kansas was a heavily Republican state. Around that time, lootings, burnings, and bushwhackings were common, as were murders. Multiple newspapers from Kansas and Missouri published stories of these events. Some were also covered in eastern papers, including the New York Tribune. The Reports of the Special Committee also included information on those events.
On August 30, 1855 the Kansas Territory legislature created its first act, which established 33 Kansas Territory counties. Later, they added two more counties, Washington and Marion. Then, a third act established Arapahoe County, which was located in what eventually became Colorado Territory.
After the Civil War ended there was rapid expansion in the prairie land sections of Kansas. Both the federal government and the railroads were giving out cheap land at that time and that trend continued until 1867. Many Yankees came to Kansas during that time, since only veterans of the Union army were eligible to take advantage of the Homestead Act.
There were multiple issues that made life difficult for settlers on the Kansas prairie. Some of them were: Fires, Droughts, Blizzards, Dust Storms, Grasshopper Plagues, Cyclones, Floods.
A common saying of settlers who gave up and left the area was “In God We Trusted; In, Kansas We Busted.” Many of them went back to the east. However, some stayed or came later on when establishing businesses, farms, and communities became easier.
Kansas Ethnic Group Research
Kansas History Databases and other Helpful Links
The websites below will provide state-specific details to those in search of information for Kansas genealogy work.