At the end of the Civil War, Kansas was the state that beckoned.
People migrated to Kansas to start their lives over on the untamed prairie and in new towns and cities.
On Thursday, Kansas will celebrate the 154th anniversary of its statehood.
On Jan. 29, 1861, Kansas entered the Union opposing slavery. It was known for fiery abolitionist John Brown, who first gained national attention during the turbulent seven-year territorial period.
Four years later, in 1865, the Civil War ended. Some estimates indicate more than 100,000 Union Civil War veterans claimed Kansas as their home state by the mid-1880s.
In the years just before the war and after it, five things forever shaped, fueled and changed Kansas.
A look back as Kansas turns 154.
In 1867, the Union Pacific Railroad, Eastern Division — renamed the Kansas Pacific – built the first railroad across Kansas, running east and west.
A few years later, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe built its railroad across the state. The federal government granted almost four million acres in Kansas for the development of the two railroads.
“I’d put the development of railroads at the top of the list,” said Leo Oliva, Kansas historian and author. “The whole two-thirds of the state wouldn’t have happened without the railroad. It made and broke towns and provided transportation that helped the state grow agriculturally.”
The argument can also be raised that the development of the railroads helped put pressure on the federal government to push American Indian tribes from Kansas, hasten the slaughter of the buffalo and fuel the cattle industry in the state, Oliva said.
Ridding the Great Plains of the buffalo was more than a simple act of conquering the wilderness. It required removing not only the animals but the people of the prairie. As many as 90 tribes were moved from Kansas..
The 1870s brought droves of settlers to Kansas — particularly Civil War veterans, freed slaves and people seeking religious freedom.
To acquire land under the Homestead Act of 1862, a person only had to pay a $10 filing fee, live on the land for five years and cultivate and improve it.
Civil War veterans could homestead and “prove up” their land in less time by subtracting the number of years they were in service. For instance, if a veteran served three years in the war, he could own the land in two years time.
So many Civil War veterans came to Kansas after the war, Kansas earned the national nickname of “Soldier State.”
On the treeless plains, families built dugouts and sod houses. They laid out the neat squares of land that became farms and townships.
The Homestead Act has been called one of the most important pieces of legislation in the United States. From it, Kansas gained its diverse roots.
German-Russian Mennonites settled in Marion, Harvey, Reno, McPherson and Barton counties. German-Russian Catholics settled in Ellis and Rush counties. Swedish Lutherans settled in Lindsborg. Bohemians settled in Ellsworth and Wilson counties.
At the end of the Civil War, Kansas was an open horizon, with a colorful mix of cultures and technology taking shape.
The Kansas Pacific Railroad had just completed construction of a long-distance line across the state, extending the national railroad network.
And a genre known as the American cowboy was emerging from small, dusty towns across the prairie.
The East Coast was faced with a beef shortage at the end of the war. Steamships could carry only a small number of cattle, and railroads had yet to reach Texas, where more than 5 million longhorns roamed, free to whoever claimed them.
How to get the $3 to $4 steers in Texas to the $30- to $40-a-head market on the East Coast was a problem. Joseph McCoy, an Illinois livestock trader, had the insight in 1867 to solve it.
On Sept. 5, 1867, the first load of cattle to be shipped via rail left Abilene. This positioned Kansas as a leader in the beef industry — first as the place where Texas cattle were driven to be shipped to the East, then as a producer of quality beef from shorthorn cattle and Herefords.
“Cattle drives were the economic generator that could not be matched by anything else,” said Jim Gray, Kansas cowboy historian and rancher. “It created these wild and vibrant end-of-the-trail cattle towns that made Kansas the focus for the American cattle industry for 15 years.”
Abilene, Newton, Wichita, Caldwell, Ellsworth and Dodge City all were fueled by the drives.
“Whole towns served as marketing centers,” Gray said. “More cattle were bought and sold over whiskey in the saloon and in hotel rooms across towns.
“The cattle had a great influence in how towns were developed and many founding fathers recognized that.”
Land Grant College Act
Also known as the Morrill Act of 1862, the Land Grant College Act enabled Congress to provide grants of land for the establishment of colleges.
Kansas State Agricultural College – now Kansas State University in Manhattan – was the first operational college in the nation created through the Morrill Act. It opened in the fall of 1863.
The college’s emphasis was not only to provide the latest methods in farming. Experiment and research stations were established throughout the state as well as county extension departments.
The college also helped pioneer the field of home economics and was one of the first in the nation to offer printing and journalism courses.
“If it were not for the experiment stations and extension departments, I don’t think Kansas would look anything like it does today,” said Bonnie Lynn-Sherow, director of the Chapman Center for Rural Studies at K-State. “I see thousands of students whose family traditions go back to the land-grant college.”
An Illinois farmer, Joseph Glidden is credited with patenting a form of barbed wire in 1874.
By the 1880s, there were a handful of Kansans patented barbed wire designs. With names such as Harbaugh's Torn Ribbon, Beerbower's Two Point, Hyde's Spur Wheel and Raile's Fence Signal, the gnarled wire soon divided the prairie into tidy squares that helped keep predators out and livestock in.
“A lot of people think it was the farmers who were the first to put up barbed wire,” Gray said. “But it was the ranchers.
“Cattlemen put up the wire to initially keep the cattle from drifting off. They’d put them up on the southern and eastern borders of a ranch because the winds, in the winter, would blow from the northwest.”
Barbed wire not only changed the open range, it changed old trails, Oliva said.
“As farmers settled and built fences, they’d go in section lines and it became impossible to travel the old trails,” he said.
In addition, Gray said, “the fences allowed the idea of private property to take hold. We went from open range to grids of section lines across Kansas.
“It was considered a form of civilization.”
Statewide Kansas Day events
11 a.m. Thursday, State Capitol Visitor Center. Visitors are invited for a piece of Kansas Day birthday cake.
2 p.m. Saturday, Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, 204 S. Main. A musical celebration by the Prairie Rose Rangers, the Crowsons and the Home Rangers celebrating statehood.
11 a.m. Saturday, Bethel College’s Kauffman Museum, 2801 N. Main St., North Newton. Ann Birney, a Kansas history interpreter from Admire, will perform “Amelia Earhart, Live!”
Noon to 1 p.m., a Kansas Day brunch at the college cafeteria. Cost is $6.75 for adults; $4 for children ages 5 and older.
1 to 4 p.m. at Kauffman Museum. Activities include a program on automotive restoration from McPherson College; a presentation on the importance of the horse and dog to American Indian culture. In addition there will be special displays and activities, old-fashioned schoolyard games for visitors and – weather permitting –wagon rides.
1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Smoky Hill Museum, 211 W. Iron, Salina. Museum open house includes churning butter and shelling corn activities. Visitors can make and take home crafts and enjoy a piece of birthday cake.