1541-1860: New worlds and Indian territory

01/29/2011 12:00 AM

08/05/2014 2:05 PM

It began as a tug-of-war between cultures and empires. Spain wanted us. France did, too. Neither empire considered the native tribes already on the soil.

In 1541, the year that Francisco Vasquez de Coronado traversed across Kansas, Quivira/Wichita villages dotted much of central Kansas, stretching along bluffs and ridges with creeks running nearby.

The Spanish conquistador was in search of the seven mythical cities of gold. He had heard tales that this land — that would one day become Kansas — was one with great riches.

He did not find them.

Instead, he would write the Plains are filled with such a quantity of cows (bison) "that it is impossible to number them."

It is a place, he said, where you can go miles without a landmark.

He claimed the land for Spain; his Catholic priests claimed it for Christianity. Over the next six decades, other expeditions followed, bringing with them horses, disease and religion.

The tug-of-war continued as the French built a fort and trading post near where Fort Leavenworth is now.

The two empires claimed and reclaimed the land until finally, in 1803, another country laid claim to Kansas — the United States. And even then, it wasn't until 1848 when all of Kansas was finally under the American flag.

Soon, there were explorers — Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Zebulon Pike, John Fremont all traveled the new territory.

There were trappers and frontiersmen who followed, priests and missionaries — even Daniel Boone's son came to the new land and brought with him the first Methodists.

The land became a crossroads of trails and cultures — a holding ground for dozens of Indian tribes, pushed onto the soil from other parts of the nation.

From 1854 through 1861, Kansas became the staging ground and the focal point for a nation struggling over the fundamental question: Could one race own another?

For seven years, the residents of the Kansas territory struggled over that question, earning the area the nickname "Bleeding Kansas."

In Kansas, there were fugitive slaves coming for freedom and slave catchers trying to kidnap them.

Kansas became linked to the Underground Railroad as abolitionists tried desperately to help the slaves and at the same time make a way of life for themselves.

Among those early Kansans was David Buffum, a free-stater, who was shot during a robbery on Sept. 16, 1856, while tending his fields near Lawrence. He refused to give up his horse to Charles Hays, a supporter of slavery.

As he lay dying from a gunshot wound to the stomach, Buffum uttered his last words, which underscored his commitment to the abolitionist movement:

"I am willing to die for the cause of freedom in Kansas."

On Jan. 29, 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state.

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