This year marks the 145th anniversary of when the Charles Ingalls family – Ma, Pa, Mary, Laura and little Carrie – homesteaded near Independence.
The family settled in the southeastern corner of Kansas, drawn by the Homestead Act of 1862, which offered 160 acres of “free land” to settlers who would farm and live on it for five years.
Laura Ingalls Wilder later wrote down her childhood experiences. Her stories chronicling frontier life of the late 19th century became one of the most beloved series of children’s books. Although she wrote nine books, the one about her family’s time in Kansas, “Little House on the Prairie,” is the best known.
This year also marks other milestones in Kansas history. Among significant anniversaries:
• Fossils: Benjamin Franklin Mudge, the first state geologist for Kansas, conducted a geological survey of Kansas in 1864. He found salt in central Kansas, coal in the southeastern corner and fossils in western Kansas. His discoveries help fuel rival paleontologists Othniel C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope as they oversaw fossil collecting crews scouring western and central Kansas for specimens to take back east as part of the “Bone Wars.”
140th• Immigration: More than 15,000 Mennonites came to the United States from Russia between 1874 and 1884; of those, 5,000 settled in Kansas. They formed communites at Goessel, Inman, Buhler, Moundridge and elsewhere in central Kansas.
• Grasshopper invasion: Sedgwick County residents woke to clouds of swarming grasshoppers on Aug. 5, 1874. There was an incessant buzzing, crackling and rasping sound, similar to the sound a prairie fire makes. The ground was 2 to 3 inches deep in grasshoppers, and it shone like silver dollars in the sun.
• Mentholatum: Wichitan A.A. Hyde experiments with making a menthol-based salve on his kitchen stove in 1889. Hyde’s Mentholatum is soon marketed as the “Little Nurse for Little Ills.”
• Public health: Kansas became the first state to outlaw the public drinking cup in 1909 as part of a public health push led by Samuel Crumbine. He also became known for his “Don’t Spit on the Sidewalk” and “Swat the Fly” campaigns.
• Politics: Kansan Charles Curtis served as vice president under President Herbert Hoover from 1929 to 1933. Curtis was the first native-born Kansan and the first American Indian to serve in the Senate.
• Liquor: Kansas voters refused to allow alcohol to be sold within the state’s boundaries in 1934; the rest of the nation lifted prohibition in 1933.
• Movies: Hattie McDaniel, who spent her childhood in Wichita, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1939 for her portrayal of Mammy in “Gone With The Wind.”
• Liquor: The first truck load of legal liquor arrived in Kansas on July 8, 1949, after the state’s voters repealed prohibition in 1948.
• Desegregation: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Brown family in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education in 1954, saying separate but equal is inherently unequal and that children cannot be separated in public schools based on race. It is a landmark ruling in the civil rights movement.
• Space travel: Able, a monkey born at the Ralph Mitchell Zoo in Independence successfully returned to Earth on May 28, 1959, after being launched into outer space on board the Jupiter AM-18.
• Sculpture: The Keeper of the Plains sculpture by Blackbear Bosin was dedicated May, 18, 1974, at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers in Wichita.
• Health:A Wichita man died of AIDS, the first such death in Kansas.
• Tornado: An F4 tornado hit Haysville and Wichita on May 3, 1999, causing five deaths and many injuries.