Kansas state flag

         Kansas  Day

"When Kansans received the word that the president had signed the admission bill [admitting Kansas as a state], January 29, 1861, they stood on street corners and cheered, they danced, they sang, and they fired cannon to signal their joy. One editor wrote, 'We are citizens of the United States once more -- partners in 'Hail Columbia,' 'Yankee Doodle,' the stars and stripes, the Declaration of Independence, and the Fourth of July!' Another added, 'Hurrah for us, we ourselves! Hurrah for the New Star! And three times three again for the NEW STATE OF KANSAS!'"
        --Robert W. Richmond, Kansas: A Land of Contrasts (1974)

Maybe it was just the natural optimism of those Kansans that caused such an enthusiastic celebration, or perhaps it was because they had struggled so hard, and against such opposition, to create an independent state and leave their territorial days behind. Certainly the road to statehood was not easy. As Kirk Mecham noted in his 1936 article in Progress in Kansas, a publication of the Kansas State Chamber of Commerce (now the Chamber of Commerce and Industry):

"Kansas Day this year is the 75th anniversary of the admission of the state to the Union. In that three-quarters of a century Kansas has had to turn to the stars through many difficulties, but with the exception of the Civil War years her troubles have been few compared with the bloody months that preceded statehood.
     "The Wyandotte constitution, under which the state was admitted, was the culmination of five years of strife between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces. Three other constitutions had been written, wrangled over and finally defeated, and it had to wait nearly a year and a half for approval. The convention began work July 5, 1859, and adjourned July 29. On October 4, the constitution was ratified by a vote of the people, and two officers and members of the legislature were elected."

Still, it would be another year and a half before Kansas was admitted to the Union:

"On the 11th of April, 1860, the House of Representatives voted to admit Kansas, but twice the Senate defeated motions to consider the bill. Finally, on January 21, 1861, several Southern senators having seceded, it passed by a vote of 36 to 16, and on the 29th it was signed by President Buchanan."

Small wonder that Kansans celebrated the occasion so joyously! The territorial days were finally over, and they at long last had the power to determine their own affairs, on equal footing with other States of the Union.

Kansas Day continues this spirit of celebration every January 29th, and this year, the 136th anniversary of Kansas' birth as a State of the Union, we thought we'd join in at Voices with an assortment of excerpts from KanColl works, providing a variety of views of this unique State:

Sara Robinson, in Kansas: Its Interior and Exterior Life (1856):

"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."

Thomas Wells, in a letter from Kansas back home to New England (June 21, 1856, page 169):

"Just now we are getting along finely Both of us enjoy excellent health, you would hardly know either of us. We are strong and hearty, in good flesh and burnt as black as Indians. Our corn field and garden looks well except that the grasshoppers have eaten up some things that we planted in the beds. Although every thing was planted very late, we already begin to get things from the garden -- shall have peas fit to pick in a week or ten ds....

     "As yet all is peaceable where we are, but we know not how long it will remain so, yet it seems that the present state of things cannot last long or if it does there will be civil war between the whole North and South and then we shall be as well off here as elsewhere.
     "We can but hope however that these troubles will soon ease, and we trust that Christians in the east will unite their prayers with ours to the great Ruler of the Universe for a return of peace and prosperity to this part of our country and for the removal from our midst of that great evil which has caused so much disturbance -- American Slavery.
     "The prairies look beautifully now, and you do not know how I wish father could come out here and spend two or three weeks, at least, with us. It would do him good, and I really believe he would want to move out here immediately."

Dr. John H. Gihon in Geary and Kansas (1857):

"The only portion of the territory that possesses any peculiar value for agricultural purposes, is the eastern district, extending from the northern to the southern boundary, and varying from one hundred to two hundred miles westward from the Missouri line. This district is remarkable for the exquisite beauty of its scenery, and the unrivalled fertility of its soil. It is a high rolling prairie, covered in the summer months with tall grass, sprinkled with an immense variety of beautiful flowers, and over which the eye has an unbroken prospect for many miles in extent.
    "The soil is a rich black loam, several feet deep, with a porous clay subsoil, resting upon a limestone basis, and is capable of producing hemp, maize, wheat, and all the grains, vegetables and fruits common to temperate regions, in vast abundance and in great perfection.
    "Timber is confined exclusively to the margins of the numerous rivers and creeks, along the smaller of which it consists chiefly of stunted oaks, cotton-wood, &c., insignificant in quantity and of but little value. But the banks of the Kansas, Osage, Arkansas, Wakarusa, and other of the more important streams, are lined with wide strips of forest, embracing large quantities of heavy and valuable timber, among which are found white and black oak, walnut, hickory, elm, ash, sycamore, maple, cotton-wood, and other useful varieties."

Letter to Edward Beedle from Richard Smith (1870):

"Ed, this state is settling faster than any other ever has and the quicker you come the more chance you have got to pick. If you calculate to come here to stay, fetch your family along with you. There are no Indians nearer than 50 to 75 miles of me. I believe you think Kansas is out of the world but believe me it is right in the center and God Almighty was in one of His pleasantest moods when he made it."

Milton Beach in Autobiography of a Common Man (from the section on Kansas in about 1915):

"Getting back to Clinton. At the country store you could buy anything from sugar to coal oil. When you go to a store nowadays, of course, you push a cart around, look over the vegetables and packaged goods, and pick out what looks good to you. At the Clinton store at that time, you stepped up to the counter and told the grocer you wanted five pounds of sugar, ten pounds of flour, or whatever. The grocer went and got it and brought it to the counter for you. The sugar, flour and a lot of other things came in bulk in barrels. Crackers and cookies came in cartons about eighteen inches by eighteen inches, and when you asked for a nickel's worth, the grocer would reach in and take them out by the hands full.
    "There was a dock across the front of the store so wagons and trucks could back up to it and load or unload barrels and big boxes. The customers had to take the steps up to the dock to get in the front door.
    "The school had all grades from first to eighth all in one room. There would be 30 or 40 kids, but of course in some instances there would be no children of the age to fill some of the grades. They came from farms all around the countryside. Many rode horses to school. There was only one teacher, and she would go from grade to grade during the day asking the children in each grade to recite their lessons. Everybody else in the room would usually listen unless their attention was drawn to a neighbor writing a note or sticking the hair of a girl in front of him in the inkwell.
    "The teacher each year would come from Lawrence or some other city. She would get her room and board from a farm nearby and probably be paid $50.00 a month or less.
    "My first recollection of the first grade was getting my hands slapped with a ruler for whispering to my buddy, Walter Kampschroeder. There was a fence around the school yard with an iron rail at the top. One of the favorite recess sports of the older boys during the cold winter months was to talk a younger unsuspecting kid to stick his tongue on the iron rail. His tongue would immediately stick there, causing much distress to the kid and much merriment to the perpetrators."

Kansas has had her trials and tribulations, and her people have not been perfect; but Kansas has also has much to be proud of, and is certainly one of the most beautiful states in the Union. There is an old story about a young woman returning home on the train from college, and as the train crossed into the Sunflower State, she turned to the window and sighed happily, "Dear old Kansas!" That still happens today, in different places and different ways, with the people who know and love this State for what she is. Happy birthday, Kansas!

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