Today's cutesy, gingham-pinafore image of KANSAS , associated with
Little House on the Prairie and The Wizard of Oz , is a far cry
indeed from the troubled history that made it known as "bleeding
Kansas." It took three hundred years after Coronado came in
search of gold in 1541 before pioneers established trails across
the region, and Kansas's bid for statehood in 1861 is often cited
as the catalyst for the Civil War. The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act,
which gave both territories the right to self-determination over
slavery, led to fierce clashes between Free Staters and pro-slavery
forces. Runaway slaves from the South were given passage through
the area, aided by abolitionist John Brown, and Kansas eventually
joined the Union as a free state.
After the war, the mighty cattle drives from Texas made towns
like Abilene, Wichita and Dodge City centers of the " Wild
West ." The debauched, male image of the West, spawning
such "heroes" as Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok, is,
however, challenged in Kansas, which as well as being the first
state to give women the vote in municipal elections, boasts the
nation's first female mayor and senator, as well as aviator Amelia
Earhart and the battling Prohibitionist Carry Nation.
In 1874, Russian Mennonites brought the grain that was to transform
the state into the bountiful "bread basket" that now
harvests most of the nation's wheat. However, only in the west
do miles of golden corn sway in Kansas's infamous gusty wind.
The green and hilly northeast, patterned with woods and lakes,
is home to the unattractive industrial city of Topeka, liberal
college town Lawrence , and the dull suburbs of Kansas City (though
downtown lies across the state line in Missouri). The wild and
sparse northwest is pioneer country, while the once-wicked cowtown
Dodge City is in the southwest. Wichita , the state's largest
city, lies in the south central area.