19 famous people - and 2 animals - that spent time in Kansas

Author Truman Capote stands in the living room of the Clutter ranch house in 1967 where four members of the Kansas family were murdered in 1959. Capote’s account of the crime, “In Cold Blood,” was a best-seller. Capote declared his “nonfiction novel” was an advance in literature.
Author Truman Capote stands in the living room of the Clutter ranch house in 1967 where four members of the Kansas family were murdered in 1959. Capote’s account of the crime, “In Cold Blood,” was a best-seller. Capote declared his “nonfiction novel” was an advance in literature. File photo

There are many Kansans who grew up in the Sunflower State and went on to become famous historical figures – such as Atchison’s Amelia Earhart and Abilene’s Dwight D. Eisenhower.

And everyone knows about fiery abolitionist John Brown and the stories of aviation giants like Clyde Cessna, Lloyd Stearman and Walter and Olive Ann Beech.

But less known are the people who came to Kansas, lived here for a while and then went on to become famous in a variety of fields and endeavors.

Following are our 20 or so best picks for famous people – and nonpeople – who spent time in Kansas.

Let us know who you’d suggest.


George Armstrong Custer – From 1866 to 1871, Custer and his wife, Libby, were stationed at various encampments across Kansas. Custer was commissioned a lieutenant colonel and assigned to the 7th Cavalry Regiment based at Fort Riley. In 1867, following his first command of the Indian Wars, instead of remaining at Fort Wallace as ordered, Custer went AWOL to Fort Riley to be with his wife. He was court-martialed at Fort Leavenworth and suspended for one year.

Robert E. Lee – During the Civil War, Lee was the commanding general of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. But before the war, he was at both Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth for a brief time in November 1855 for court-martial duty.

Douglas MacArthur – MacArthur spent a few years in Kansas during his childhood. His father, Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur Jr., was stationed at Fort Leavenworth from 1886 to 1889. As an adult, MacArthur served at Fort Leavenworth beginning in February 1911. During World War II, he became Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in the Pacific.

George Patton – From 1913 to 1915, Patton was stationed at Fort Riley. He returned in 1923 for the Cavalry School advanced course and was director of instruction from 1937 to 1938. During World War II, Patton commanded the Seventh and Third armies.

Colin Powell – In 1982, when Powell was deputy commander at Fort Leavenworth, he was struck by the lack of recognition given to Buffalo soldiers, the nickname frontier-era Indians gave to African-American enlisted men. He was instrumental in getting the Buffalo Soldiers Monument dedicated at the fort on July 25, 1992.


Charles Lindbergh – Before he became “Lucky Lindy,” Lindbergh lived in Bird City in the far northwest corner of Kansas. He barnstormed in the Kansas farm town during the summer of 1922. As Lindbergh prepared to become the first person to fly nonstop alone across the Atlantic Ocean, he traveled to Wichita hoping to find financing for an airplane. Instead, he found nine St. Louis businessmen willing to help. His new plane became known as the “Spirit of St. Louis.”

Gen. Paul Tibbetts – During World War II, Tibbetts worked with Boeing Wichita and test flew B-29s. He was flying a B-29, the “Enola Gay,” when it dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. During the 1950s, Tibbetts spent almost three years at McConnell Air Force Base helping to oversee development of the B-47 Stratojet and modern air-to-air refueling.


Robert Ballard – Ballard has led more than 125 deep-sea expeditions, locating and exploring such sunken vessels as the Lusitania and the Titanic. His grandfather, Wichita police Detective William Ballard, was shot and killed in 1920, leaving his father, Chester Ballard, orphaned. Chester Ballard moved to Montana to homestead and, after a time, came back to the Wichita area, where he met and married Ballard’s mother. Robert Ballard was born in Wichita on June 30, 1942. During World War II, his family moved to Southern California.

Lewis and Clark – Kansas is one of 11 states explored by Lewis and Clark. They were first in Kansas from June 26 to July 10, 1804. July 4, 1804, was the first Independence Day celebrated west of the Mississippi, near present-day Atchison. Kansas contains 123 miles of the 3,700-mile Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

Francisco Vazquez de Coronado and Juan de Padilla – The Spanish conquistador came to Kansas in 1541 but never found his seven cities of gold. The expedition spent 25 days in Kansas, exploring and visiting the Quivira Indians, then left. After the expedition left, Padilla stayed behind. He is noted as the first Christian martyr in what would eventually become the United States of America.


Gutzom Borglum – He is best known as the man who sculpted Mount Rushmore. But before that, he attended St. Mary’s College in St. Mary’s in the early 1880s. He painted two landscape paintings for a Topeka livestock breeder, Erasmus Bennett, whose home in 1901 became the official residence for Kansas governors.

Frederic Remington – Depressed over his father’s death in 1880, a young Remington left his art studies at Yale University and came to Butler County, where he bought 160 acres of land. During 1883 and early 1884, Remington sketched and painted the characters and life he came to love. He left by spring of 1884 and returned to New York, where he began selling his sketches of the Old West.

Presidential connections

Abraham Lincoln – Lincoln, a presidential candidate, came to Kansas in December 1859. He spent nine days in Kansas, visiting several communities, including Atchison, Leavenworth and Troy. He would later say when asked about the West: “If I went West, I think I would go to Kansas.”

Harry Truman – He was among the 50,000 men who trained at Camp Funston at Fort Riley during World War I. He also worked briefly in the mailroom at the Kansas City Star and at the National Bank of Commerce in Kansas City. He was elected a county court judge in 1926, which began his political career. He was the nation’s 33rd president.


Truman Capote and Harper Lee – “In Cold Blood,” written by Capote, details the 1959 murders of the Clutter family. When Capote, a flamboyantly gay man from New York City, began working on his book, he invited Lee – shortly before “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published – to help him connect with rural Kansans.


George Washington Carver – In 1877, Carver moved to Fort Scott to attend school. He moved to Minneapolis, Kan., where he attended high school. In 1885, he applied to a Presbyterian college in Highland and was accepted – but then was refused admission when school officials discovered he was black. At the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he discovered more than 300 products that could be made from the peanut, including coffee, paper and milk.

Famous animals

Able – A rhesus monkey born in Independence at the Ralph Mitchell Zoo, she was the first American to travel in space. On May 28, 1959, Able soared nearly 300 miles above the Earth, at least two years before American astronauts. She died four days later from the effects of anesthesia when technicians tried to remove electrode sensors from her heart. Able was preserved and is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.

Lawrin – He is the only Kansas horse to have won the Kentucky Derby. Lawrin was born near Prairie Village in 1935. His owner was Herbert Woolf, heir to the Woolf Bros. clothing business. Lawrin was ridden in the Kentucky Derby by a then-unknown jockey, Eddie Arcaro.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner