Kansas (state, United States)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Kansas (state, United States)

Kansas (kăn´zəs), midwestern state occupying the center of the coterminous United States. It is bordered by Missouri (E), Oklahoma (S), Colorado (W), and Nebraska (N).

Facts and Figures

Area, 82,264 sq mi (213,064 sq km). Pop. (2010) 2,853,118, a 6.1% increase since the 2000 census. Capital, Topeka. Largest city, Wichita. Statehood, Jan. 29, 1861 (34th state). Highest pt., Mt. Sunflower, 4,039 ft (1,232 m); lowest pt., Verdigris River, 680 ft (207 m). Nickname, Sunflower State. Motto,Ad Astra per Aspera [To the stars through difficulties]. State bird, Western meadowlark. State flower, native sunflower. State tree, cottonwood. Abbr., Kans.; KS


Almost rectangular in shape and mostly part of the Great Plains, Kansas is famous for its seemingly endless fields of ripe golden wheat. The land rises more than 3,000 ft (914 m) from the eastern alluvial prairies of Kansas to its western semiarid high plains, which stretch toward the foothills of the Rocky Mts. The rise is so gradual, however, that it is imperceptible, although the terrains of the east and the west are markedly different. The state is drained by the Kansas and Arkansas rivers, both of which generally run from west to east.

The average annual rainfall of 27 in. (69 cm) is not evenly distributed: the eastern prairies receive up to 40 in. (102 cm) of rain, while the western plains average 17 in. (43 cm). Occasional dust storms plague farmers and ranchers in the west. The climate is continental, with wide extremes—cold winters with blizzards and hot summers with tornadoes. Floods also wreak havoc in the state; hence, flood-control projects, such as dams, reservoirs, and levees, are a major undertaking.

Topeka is the capital; other important cities are Wichita (the state's largest city), Lawrence, and Kansas City (adjoining Kansas City, Mo.). Points of historical interest include the boyhood home of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Eisenhower Library in Abilene. Medicine Lodge has the home of Carry Nation, who, at the turn of the 20th cent., waged war on the saloons. Fort Leavenworth is the site of a large federal penitentiary. The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is one of the few large tracts of virgin prairie in the United States.


Kansas is historically an agricultural state. Manufacturing and services have surpassed agriculture as income producers, but farming is still important to the state's economy, and Kansas follows only Texas and Montana in total agricultural acreage. The nation's top wheat grower, Kansas is also a leading producer of grain sorghum and corn. Hay, soybeans, and sunflowers are also major crops. Cattle and calves, however, constitute the single most valuable agricultural item. Meatpacking and dairy industries are major economic activities, and the Kansas City stockyards are among the nation's largest. Food processing ranked as the state's third largest industry in the 1990s.

The two leading industries are the manufacture of transportation equipment and industrial and computer machinery. Wichita is a center of the aircraft industry, producing chiefly private planes. Other important manufactures are petroleum and coal products and nonelectrical machinery. The state is a major producer of crude petroleum and has large reserves of natural gas and helium. Kansas was once part of a great shallow sea and has commercially valuable salt deposits.

Government and Higher Education

Government in Kansas is based on the constitution of 1859, adopted just before Kansas attained statehood. An elected governor serves a term of four years. The legislature has a senate with 40 members and a house of representatives with 125 members. Kansas is represented in the U.S. Congress by four representatives and two senators and has six electoral votes in presidential elections. The state has long been a Republican stronghold but has had some Democratic governors. Republican Bill P. Graves, elected in 1994 and reelected in 1998, was succeeded by Democrat Kathleen Sebelius, who also won (2002, 2006) two terms. Sebelius resigned in 2009 to become U.S. secretary of health and human services and was succeeded by Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, also a Democrat. Republican Sam Brownback was elected to the post in 2010 and reelected in 2014. He resigned in 2018, and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer succeeded him.

Institutions of higher learning include the Univ. of Kansas, at Lawrence; Kansas State Univ., at Manhattan; Wichita State Univ., at Wichita; and Washburn Univ. of Topeka, at Topeka.


Early Inhabitants, Exploration, and Relocations

When the Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado visited (1541) the Kansas area in his search for Quivira, a fabled kingdom of riches, the area was occupied by various Native American groups of the Plains descent, notably the Kansa, the Wichita and the Pawnee. Another Spanish explorer, Juan de Oñate, penetrated the region in 1601. A result of Spanish entry into the region was the introduction of the horse, which revolutionized the life of the Native Americans. While not actually exploring the Kansas area, Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, claimed (c.1682) for France all territory drained by the Mississippi River, including Kansas.

French traders and Native Americans had a great deal of contact during most of the 18th cent. By the Treaty of Paris of 1763 ending the French and Indian Wars, France ceded the territory of W Louisiana (including Kansas) to Spain. In 1800, Spain secretly retroceded the territory to France, from whom the United States acquired it in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The region was little known, however, and subsequent explorations to include Kansas were the Lewis and Clark expedition (1803–6), the Arkansas River journey of Zebulon M. Pike in 1806, and the scientific expedition of Stephen H. Long in 1819.

Most of the territory that eventually became Kansas was in an area known as the "Great American Desert," considered unsuitable for U.S. settlement because of its apparent barrenness. In the 1830s the region was designated a permanent home for Native Americans, and northern and eastern tribes were relocated there. Forts were constructed for frontier defense and for the protection of the growing trade along the Santa Fe Trail, which crossed Kansas. Fort Leavenworth was established in 1827, Fort Scott in 1842, and Fort Riley in 1853.

Pro- and Antislavery Factions

Kansas, at this time mainly a region to be crossed on the way to California and Oregon, was organized as a territory in 1854. Its settlement, however, was spurred not so much by natural westward expansion as by the determination of both proslavery and antislavery factions to achieve a majority population in the territory. The struggle between the factions was further complicated by conflict over the location of a transcontinental railroad, with proponents of a central route (rather than a southern route) eager to resolve the slavery issue in the area and promote settlement.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), an attempted compromise on the extension of slavery, repealed the Missouri Compromise and reopened the issue of extending slavery north of lat. 36°30′ by providing for popular sovereignty in Kansas and Nebraska, allowing settlers of territories to decide the matter themselves. Meanwhile, the Emigrant Aid Company was organized in Massachusetts to foster antislavery immigration to Kansas, and proslavery interests in Missouri and throughout the South took counteraction. Towns were established by each faction—Lawrence and Topeka by the free-staters and Leavenworth and Atchison by the proslavery settlers.

Soon all the problems attendant upon organizing a territory for statehood became subsidiary to the single issue of slavery. The first elections in 1854 and 1855 were won by the proslavery group; armed Missourians intimidated voters and election officials and stuffed the ballot boxes. Andrew H. Reeder was appointed the first territorial governor in 1854. The first territorial legislature ousted (1855) all free-state members, secured the removal of Gov. Reeder, established the capital in Lecompton, and adopted proslavery statutes. In retaliation the abolitionists set up a rival government at Topeka in Oct., 1855.

The Wakarusa War and Bleeding Kansas

Violence soon came to the territory. The murder of a free-state man in Nov., 1855, led to the so-called Wakarusa War, a bloodless series of encounters along the Wakarusa River. The intervention of the new governor, Wilson Shannon, kept proslavery men from attacking Lawrence. However, civil war ultimately turned the territory into "bleeding Kansas." On May 21, 1856, proslavery groups and armed Missourians known as "Border Ruffians" raided Lawrence. A few days later a band led by the abolitionist crusader John Brown murdered five proslavery men in the Pottawatamie massacre. Guerrilla warfare between free-state men called Jayhawkers and proslavery bands—both sides abetted by desperadoes and opportunists—terrorized the land. After a new governor, John W. Geary, persuaded a large group of "Border Ruffians" to return to Missouri, the violence subsided.

The Lecompton legislature met in 1857 to make preparations for convening a constitutional convention. Gov. Geary resigned after it became clear that free elections would not be held to approve a new constitution. Robert J. Walker was appointed governor, and a convention held at Lecompton drafted a constitution. Only that part of the resulting proslavery constitution dealing with slavery was submitted to the electorate, and the question was drafted to favor the proslavery group. Free-state men refused to participate in the election with the result that the constitution was overwhelmingly approved.

Despite the dubious validity of the Lecompton constitution, President James Buchanan recommended (1858) that Congress accept it and approve statehood for the territory. Instead, Congress returned it for another territorial vote. The proslavery group boycotted the election, and the constitution was rejected. Lawrence became de facto capital of the troubled territory until after the Wyandotte constitution (framed in 1859 and totally forbidding slavery) was accepted by Congress. The Kansas conflict and the question of statehood for the territory became a national issue and figured in the 1860 Republican party platform.

Kansas became a state in 1861, with the capital at Topeka. Charles Robinson was the first governor and James H. Lane, an active free-stater during the 1850s, one of the U.S. Senators. In the Civil War, Kansas fought with the North and suffered the highest rate of fatal casualties of any state in the Union. Confederate William C. Quantrill and his guerrilla band burned Lawrence in 1863.

Life on the Prairie

With peace came the development of the prairie lands. The construction of railroads made cow towns such as Abilene and Dodge City, with their cowboys, saloons, and frontier marshals, the shipping point for large herds of cattle driven overland from Texas. The buffalo herds disappeared (some buffalo still roam in state parks and game preserves), and cattle took their place. Pioneer homesteaders, adjusting to life on the timberless prairie and living in sod houses, suffered privation. In 1874, Mennonite emigrants from Russia brought the Turkey Red variety of winter wheat to Kansas. This wheat was instrumental in making Kansas the Wheat State as winter wheat replaced spring wheat on an ever-increasing scale. Corn, too, soon became a major cash crop.

Agricultural production was periodically disrupted by national depressions and natural disasters. Repeated and prolonged droughts accompanied by dust storms, occasional grasshopper invasions, and floods all caused severe economic dislocation. Mortgages often weighed heavily on farmers, and discontent was expressed in farmer support of radical farm organizations and third-party movements, such as the Granger movement, Greenback party, and Populist party. Tax relief, better regulation of interest rates, and curbs on the power of railroads were sought by these organizations. Twice in the 1890s, Populist-Democrats were elected to the governorship.

As conditions improved, Kansas returned largely to its allegiance to the Republican party and gained a reputation as a conservative stronghold with a bent for moral reform, indicated in the state's strong support of prohibition; laws against the sale of liquor remained on the books in Kansas from 1880 to 1949. Over the years the use of improved agricultural methods and machines increased crop yield. Irrigation proved practicable in some areas, and winter wheat and alfalfa could be cultivated in dry regions.

Wars and Depression

Wheat production greatly expanded during World War I, but the end of the war brought financial difficulties. During the 1920s and 30s, Kansas was faced with labor unrest and the economic hardships of the depression. As part of the Dust Bowl, Kansas sustained serious land erosion during the long drought of the 1930s. Erosion led to the implementation of conservation and reclamation projects, particularly in the northern and western parts of the state. In 1924 an effort of the Ku Klux Klan to gain political control was fought by William Allen White, editor of the Emporia Gazette, who supported many liberal causes. Alfred M. Landon, elected governor in 1932, was one of the few Republican candidates in the country to win election in the midst of the sweeping Democratic victory that year. He was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate in 1936.

During World War II agriculture thrived and industry expanded rapidly. The food-processing industry grew substantially, the cement industry enjoyed a major revival, and the aircraft industry boomed. After the war agricultural prosperity once again declined when the state was hit by a severe drought and grasshopper invasion in 1948. Prosperity returned briefly during the Korean War, but afterward farm surpluses and insufficient world markets combined to make the state's tremendous agricultural ability part of the national "farm problem."

Modern Kansas

Kansas has become increasingly industrialized and urbanized, and industrial production has surpassed farm production in economic importance. Flood damage in the state, especially after a major flood in 1951, spurred the construction of dams (such as the Tuttle Creek, Milford, and Wilson dams) on major Kansas rivers, and their reservoirs have vastly increased water recreational facilities for Kansans. Since the 1970s, Kansas has become increasingly more urban and suburban. Accordingly, the economy has shifted its emphasis to finance and service industries located in and around the major urban centers.


See P. Gates, Fifty Million Acres: Conflicts over Kansas Land Policy, 1854–1890 (1954); R. S. Brownlee, Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy (1960); W. T. Nugent, The Tolerant Populists (1963); J. R. Cook, The Border and the Buffalo (1967); C. C. Howes, This Place Called Kansas (1984); H. E. Socolofsky and H. Self, Historical Atlas of Kansas (2d rev. ed. 1989); R. Richmond, Kansas: A Land of Contrasts (3d ed. 1989).

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