Kansas: Its Interior and Exterior Life by Sara Robinson

K A N S A S .



FAR away amid childhood's sunny vales, pleasant memories bring back to me a quiet New England village not far from the noble Connecticut's sparkling waters. Situated upon an elevation, commanding an extensive view of the surrounding country in all directions, the Mt. Holyoke range upon the north-west, and Wilbraham mountains on the south, and being finely diversified with hill and dale, as an inland town its beauty of location can scarcely be equalled. The taste of its inhabitants was visible in the broad, finely shaded streets, and the long, wide common, where the whispering breezes toyed and laughed among the trees. Upon the eastern side of this beautiful green were the churches and town-hall, the lower rooms of which, for many years, had been used for school rooms; and here, especially, memories of bygone days cluster, -- memories of teachers and school friends long since passed away, others still living, few of whom I shall ever meet again. But most vividly of all comes before me the bright colored map, in green, red and yellow, upon which I daily learned my lessons, as to our whereabouts, and that of mankind generally, upon the face of the old earth. Very many were my speculations as to the appearance of one part of the country, laid down upon the map as the Great American Desert. There was mystery to me in its semi-circular lines in fine letters, "Great American Desert, inhabited only by savages and wild beasts," and much childish curiosity was excited thereby. Years came and went; and with them came the increase of wealth and power to the American people, and the progress of the age. As California became a portion of her dominions, gold was found in the bed of her rivers, and in the bosom of her soil. Thousands flocked thither from the whole country. The young and ardent from the Atlantic States, unused to toil and hardships, but eager in their search for gold, left all the comforts of home, and entered the lists. Men from the West, not quite so daintily raised, pressed onwards in the race, and together they sought this far-famed Eldorado. Some realized their anticipations, but many a loved and cherished one "fell and perished, weary with the march of life." Thousands reached the goal of their hopes, by a long passage around the Horn, some by a slow, vexatious crossing of the Isthmus; but thousands more took that route which promised most of health to the traveller, -- the one opened from Missouri overland to the Pacific shore, by the courageous, the enterprising, the adventurous Colonel Fremont. This, the finding of which through the mountains by unequalled energy, and endurance, and trials, and sufferings, which would have unnerved ordinary men, became now the general thoroughfare to Oregon and California. This newly opened highway led directly through the Indian Territory, known to my childhood as the "Great American Desert;" and many a one, looking upon its unrivalled and ever varying scenes of beauty, as his route for days lay over its beautiful rolling prairies, decked with the loveliest flowers in every shade of coloring, or camped under the noble trees by the bank of some swiftly flowing stream, felt strong desires for a home, where he could sit under his own vine and fig-tree, in a land like this. Many then resolved to find therein such home, when it should be thrown open to settlement. The face of this country is beautiful beyond all comparison. The prairies, though broad and expansive, stretching away miles in many places, seem never lonely or wearisome, being gently undulating, or more abruptly rolling; and, at the ascent of each new roll of land, the traveller finds himself in the midst of new loveliness. There are also high bluffs, usually at some little distance from the rivers, running through the entire length of the country, while ravines run from them to the rivers. These are, at some points, quite deep and difficult to cross, and, to a traveller unacquainted with the country, somewhat vexatious, especially where the prairie grass is as high as a person's head while seated in a carriage. There is little trouble, however, if travellers keep back from the water-courses, and near the high lands. These ravines are in many instances pictures of beauty, with tall, graceful trees, cotton-wood, black walnut, hickory, oak, elm and linwood, standing near while springs of pure cold water gush from the rock. The bluffs are a formation unknown in form and appearance, in any other portion of the West. At a little distance, a person could scarcely realize that art had not added her finishing touches to a work, which nature had made singularly beautiful. Many of the bluffs appear like the cultivated grounds about fine old residences within the Eastern States, terrace rising above terrace, with great regularity; while others look like forts in the distance. In the eastern part of the territory, most of the timber is upon the rivers and creeks, though there are in some places most delightful spots; high hills crowned with a heavy growth of trees, and deep vales where rippling waters gush amid a dense shade of flowering shrubbery; all reminding me of dear New England homes, where art and taste had labored long. Higher than the bluffs are natural mounds, which also have about them the look of art. They rise to such a height as to be seen at a great distance, and add peculiar beauty to the whole appearance of the country. From the summit of these the prospect is almost unlimited in extent, and unrivalled in beauty. The prairie for miles, with its gently undulating rolls, lies before the eye. Rivers, glistening in the sunlight, flow on between banks crowned with tall trees; -- beyond these, other high points arise. Trees are scattered here and there like old orchards, and cattle in large numbers are grazing upon the hillside, and in the valleys, giving to all the look of cultivation and home life. It is, indeed, difficult to realize that for thousands of years this country has been a waste, uncultivated and solitary, and that months only have elapsed since the white settler has sought here a home.


The soil for richness can be surpassed in no country. It is of a black color, with a sub-soil of clay and limestone basis. Vegetation is most luxuriant. The soil and climate are most admirably adapted to the raising of grains of every known variety. The growth of melons, cantaloupes, tomatoes, squashes, -- in fact, vegetables of all kinds, -- is wonderful. Western Missouri bears most excellent fruit of all kinds, apples of the best varieties, peaches, plums, grapes, etc. The soil and climate in Kansas being similar, a very few years will see the perfection of the same fruits throughout the country.

Wild fruits are abundant. Pawpaws, a fruit resembling somewhat a banana, are very sweet and luscious, in the estimation of some, while others think them quite unpalatable. The mandrake, or custard-apple, is a pleasant fruit, ripe in August, of the size and appearance of an egg-plum, medicinal also in its nature. The wild plum, cherry and mulberry, grow in many places. The plum is very good of itself, and, as a tree to graft upon, valuable. Gooseberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries, grow spontaneously. With a very little pains, the settlers in Kansas can soon surround themselves with all the fruits which require several years in New England to cultivate to any degree of perfection. Meat here, especially beef, is much nicer than beef fattened elsewhere. It is owing, probably, to the rapidity with which it fattens in this country. Beef of a year old in many instances is unequaled. Venison, prairie chickens, wild turkeys, rabbits, and squirrels, furnish dainties for the most fastidious epicure.


The climate is exceedingly lovely. With a clear, dry atmosphere, and gentle, health-giving breezes, it cannot be otherwise. The peculiar clearness of the atmosphere cannot be imagined by a non-resident. For miles here a person can clearly distinguish objects, which, at the same distance in any other part of this country, he could not see at all. The summers are long, and winters short.

The winters are usually very mild and open, with little snow, -- none falling in the night, save what the morrow's sun will quickly cause to disappear. So mild are they, that the cattle of the Indians, as those of the settlers in Western Missouri, feed the entire year in the prairies and river-bottoms. The Indians say that, once in about seven years, Kansas sees a cold and severe winter, with snows of a foot in depth. Two weeks of cold weather is called a severe winter. Then the spring-like weather comes in February, the earth begins to grow warm, and her fertile bosom ready to receive the care of the husbandman.

The winds of March and April are the most disagreeable outdoor arrangements in Kansas. It were quite useless for a person of little gravity, or strength, to attempt much progress in locomotion, when from out the halls of AEolus the winds have rushed untrammeled, and unrestrained. The breezes of summer, however, are most delightful. With the sun the wind rises, and makes such a difference in the actual effect of the temperature upon one's senses, as to lead to doubts as to the correctness of thermometers in this country. The mornings and evenings are always cool and pleasant, and one experiences nothing here of those summer nights, so common even in New England, where, between weariness occasioned by intense heat, and mosquitoes, no refreshing sleep will come. Very seldom are the nights, in Kansas, that blankets are not found an essential comfort. The rains are frequent, and copious. So far as my own experience goes, we have no more of a wet or dry season than in Massachusetts. Seldom a week passes in the summer without rain, often coming in most gentle showers in the night, unaccompanied by thunder and lightning; while, early in the spring especially, there is such display of electricity as one seldom sees. The whole heavens will be one perfect sea of flame, and thunder deafening in the continual roar, while the waters fall so abundantly, that they run in all directions, after the earth has filled its pores, like a miniature deluge. There is a sublimity, an awe-inspiring influence, in such displays of grandeur and power, as make the creature feel his nothingness, and that the Creator is indeed all, -- the great All-Father, All-wise, All-good, All-powerful. Days, like September days in New England, linger here until the old year has given place to the new; and the last of December has the genial breath, the pleasant sun, and glad look of early autumn. But the changes of weather come suddenly. One may be dreaming all the morning, influenced by the pleasant temperature around him, of the fair Italian land and, ere the sun finds its setting, may fancy himself nearing the pole. Yet in all these changes no one takes cold. There is something so invigorating in the atmosphere, so bracing, and the lungs have such play and action in it, that vigor is increased where health was before enjoyed; and in many a case, where the pulse was faint and low, and the invalid looked out upon life with little purpose and few aims, feeling that its limits were nearly reached, the roses of health have again bloomed, and the life-blood coursed joyously. For consumptives there can be no better country than this. In many instances, most material has been the change, and permanent the cure.

This country, covering an extent of surface larger than the thirteen Atlantic States, was, by an act of Congress approved March 6, 1820, forever sealed to freedom. This prohibition to slavery is most definitely expressed in these words:

"Sec. 8. Be it further enacted, That in all that territory ceded by France to the United States, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north 36 degrees 30 minutes of north latitude, not included within the limits of the state contemplated by this act, slavery and involuntary Servitude, otherwise than as the punishment of crimes, shall be, and is hereby, forever prohibited."

This country, than which the sun shines upon no fairer, with its mountains, prairies and valleys, lying midway between the north and south, east and west, in the very heart of the United States, was never to be cursed with the blackest of all villanies, the bitterest of all evils -- human slavery. The clanking of chains was never to create a discord in that harmony, where the wild bird sent forth its gushing lay for freedom, where the whispering breezes through the leafy wood caught up the music, echoing it amid the quivering leaves, and where all nature sang a continual song for freedom. But what has been the sequel? How has this act, entered into as a solemn compact before God and man, been regarded? The slave oligarchists looked with covetous eyes upon this fair region. They had gained, heretofore, whatever they had desired by craft, bribery, or threats; and the North, imbecile in many of its legislators, had acquiesced. They had gained new territory, for slavery extension, by the compromise of 1850, when New England's greatest senator sounded his own death-knell, and, in the passage of the Fugitive Slave Bill, had rendered the entire country slave-hunting ground. Had they not good reason, then, to hope by legislation to get Kansas too?

On the 14th of December, 1853, Mr. Dodge, of Iowa, asked leave to introduce a bill to organize the Territory of Nebraska, which was finally referred to the Committee on Territories. This was a simple territorial bill, in no way undertaking to touch the compromise of 1820, the prohibition of slavery in the territory. This bill was opposed by Atchison, Vice-President of the United States, as well as by other southern men. On the 4th of January, 1854, Mr. Douglas, of Illinois, as chairman of the Committee on Territories, reported this bill back to the Senate, with various amendments, accompanied by a special report.

The whole country was moved at the prospect of such an outrage as this bill proposed -- the annulling of a sacred compact, the breaking of a plighted faith. How, through all that long season of discussion upon the bill, more than three months, every freedom-loving heart was moved to hope this great wrong might not be committed! How every honest feeling was stirred at the eloquent words of Chase, Giddings, Sumner, Seward, Hale, and all our noble men in Congress, who battled mightily against this evil! We can never forget what indignation fired the veins of all lovers of God and men, as the wires brought news of the indignity offered to New England's three thousand protesting clergymen, and what shame mantled the cheek of many to remember that the Benedict Arnold of the age should have been born of any woman in a beautiful, thriving town nestled amid the Green Mountains. Well will the North remember how the womanly element mingled its influence to stay this current of evil; how the protests with many thousands of names poured in through all the avenues of communication to the capital. Woman's heart was touched; all the deep sympathies of her nature were stirred; and, while hourly she prayed that no new field of suffering and woe should be opened for her down-trodden and oppressed sister, she acted too, and, through the melting snows of early spring, each woman in many towns was called upon for her signature, by one of her own sex. Could she see this great country -- only a little less in extent than Italy, France, and Spain, together -- thrown open to the foul inroads of slavery, so that no woman with black blood in her veins could be a welcome inmate of her father's house, feel safe in the protection of a husband's love, or, in caressing the children God gave her, call them her own, and make no effort in their behalf? No. It was not thus, thank God! Men felt, and women felt. Notwithstanding all that was done, and all that was felt, the bill, odious in the sight of God and hateful to man, was passed. Mr. Sumner made his final protest, for himself and the New England clergy, against slavery in Kansas and Nebraska, upon the night of the final passage of the Nebraska and Kansas Bill, May 25, 1854. After a most stormy and contentious debate, on Sunday morning the bill was passed. The slave power was again triumphant. A consolidated despotism was striving to crush out every aspiration for truth, for goodness, for freedom, from every free-born soul. Southern men argued that by this new compromise the agitation in our country would cease, and peace be restored. How has it been? Civil feud, strife, and continual agitation, have been the result in all communities. The "crime against Kansas" consummated in Congress, the infraction of solemn obligations, has been acted over in frauds upon the ballot-box in Kansas, and has been the occasion of robberies, murders, civil war, in her fair borders.

When, at that dark midnight hour, the bill was passed, the final blow was struck, seemingly the knell for the burial of Liberty was sounded. But there was light also in the hour, in the deed. There could no more be sown in common ground the seeds of harmony and good-will. The hosts of freedom must marshal their forces, and draw their lines against the lines of slavery, and each man fight courageously on the accepted issue. It was the death of all compromises too.

From this period, the passage of the bill, and the throwing open of the territory to settlement upon the principles of "squatter sovereignty," let us note carefully the whole coarse of those men, who so strenuously urged its passage, and see to what extreme measures, bringing untold sufferings upon the innocent people of Kansas, they have resorted, to bring about their first design -- that of making Kansas a slave state. As early as the spring of 1854, Stringfellow, and other men of like caliber in Western Missouri, founded secret societies, called Blue Lodges, Friends' Societies, etc. Their members were sworn, upon peril of their lives, to make Kansas a slave state. There were published accounts of meetings held in several towns in Western Missouri, with most fiery resolutions, denouncing northern men, offering large rewards for the heads of some, and explicitly avowing their purpose of settling the territory with pro-slavery men, and keeping all others out. In May, at a meeting held in Westport, one of the principal speakers continually interlarded his harangue from the court-house steps with "Ball to the muzzle, knife to the hilt!" "Damn the abolitionists!" "we'll put them all in the Missouri river." Two gentlemen from Massachusetts, who traveled in Western Missouri in June and July, 1854, saw Mr. Stringfellow on their way up the river. He was continually reiterating, with horrid oaths, that "Kansas would and should be a slave state," and "no abolitionist should be allowed to live in the territory; " that "if he had the power, he would hang every abolitionist in the country, and every man north of Mason and Dixon line was an abolitionist;" that "every means should be used to drive free state men from the territory."

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