In case you didn't realize, January 29 marks the 150th anniversary of the statehood of Kansas. To commemorate Kansas Day, this week's post is devoted to the story of the state. If you are a member of the Dickinson County Historical Society, you may have already read this, since it was printed in our recent newsletter. Nevertheless, enjoy!
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the statehood of Kansas. Just a few years before becoming a state, the area that became Kansas went through a major transformation as communities grew and as the state government became established.
Primarily, the people seen in the Kansas region prior to 1854 were travelers passing through, traders, soldiers, missionaries, and Native Americans. For several years explorers such as Zebulon Pike, Stephen Long, and John Frémont passed through, and trails such as the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails promoted trade and expansion in the land west of Kansas. People were coming to Kansas, but not to live there. Several Native American tribes were forced onto the land due to the Indian Removal Act of 1830. For several years, Kansas was considered an Indian Territory, and therefore was uninhabitable for settlers moving west.
In May 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska act opened Kansas and Nebraska as United States territories. Also important to Kansas’ future, this bill allowed for settlers of a territory to determine if their state would enter the union as a free or slave state. At the time of this bill’s creation, many assumed Kansas would become a slave state since neighboring Missouri was one.
Communities quickly began to grow throughout the Kansas territory. Notably for the area that would become Dickinson County, George Freeman became the first settler of Dickinson County in 1855, and in 1857 Mr. and Mrs. Timothy Hersey organized a little town named Abilene along the bank of Mud Creek.
Even though Kansas was not close to gaining statehood, the discussion of whether Kansas would allow slavery instantly became a topic of discussion. Antislavery groups from the east sent people to Kansas soon after it became a territory. Several proslavery individuals moved to the territory as well. Relations between these two groups began peacefully, but problems quickly arose.
On more than one occasion, Border Ruffians from Missouri illegally voted in Kansas elections for proslavery candidates. In an 1855 election, 6,307 men voted even though there were only 2,905 eligible Kansas men of voting age (women were not allowed to vote at this time).
Blood began to be shed on both sides. In 1856, the Free State headquarters in Lawrence was attacked. Two newspaper offices were destroyed, and several stores were looted by a proslavery group. Later that same year, Free-Stater John Brown and his men killed five proslavery supporters in Franklin County. This event would infamously be known as the Pottawatomie Creek Massacre. Attacks like these continued to happen for quite some time. Even after Kansas gained statehood, William Quantrill and his men attacked Lawrence in 1863, burning many buildings to the ground and killing almost every person in sight. With violence such as this occurring as early as 1856, one could argue that the Civil War actually began in Kansas. With tension rising and attacks occurring more and more, it is easy to see why the territory and state were known as Bleeding Kansas during this time period.
In July 1859, the fourth constitutional convention of Kansas met in Wyandotte (now part of Kansas City). Here, delegates completed the Kansas constitution and approved Kansas entering the union as a free state. Later that year a provisional state government was elected. However, the Kansas constitution was not approved by the United States Senate since it would mean Kansas would be a free state. With many proslavery senators against this, Kansas statehood was delayed for over a year.
In January 1861, the South seceded from the union, and the Kansas bill was quickly passed by the remaining congress. On January 29, 1861 the bill was signed by outgoing President James Buchanan, and Kansas became a state. There was a great deal of celebration, but with the Civil War on the horizon, there was also a great deal of uncertainty of what would happen to Kansas and the rest of the United States in the future.