KS History – Group D

blogs about KS history

The Great American Desert October 22, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — mselby13 @ 3:41 pm

After the monumental Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the United States government sought to expand the country westward, sending various explorers and surveyors to make sense of the enormous, uncharted territory. While names like Lewis, Clark and Pike are generally the first to come to mind, one particular surveyor had an important stake in the lasting perception of Kansas.

Despite the numerous accounts of “treeless wastelands” or plains showing “not a stick of timber,” Stephen Long’s 1823 map labeling Kansas and it’s surroundings ‘The Great American Desert’ had far more drastic implications. Although the term desert could sometimes simply mean a region unfit for agriculture, much of the population took this claim far more literally. With settlers seeking sustainable living situations in the west, maps and reports like Stephen Long’s shape dthe reputation of Kansas during crucial immigration years, implying that what was actually fertile ground (largely due to one of the world’s largest underground aquifers, the Ogallala Aquifer) reeling with wild buffalo was somehow a sandy, desert comparable to the Sahara.

As the reports and rumors spread that Kansas was inhabitable, settlers responded overwhelmingly. Settlers heading westward often attempted to pass through the region as quickly as possible en route to better land farther west. Railroads benefitted from the belief that the land was commercially valueless. Also, the area became one of the last strongholds of independent American Indians.

Despite the reputation, people began settling the region by the mid 19th century and soon came to realize its agricultural possibilities. Still, the implications of Kansas being labeled ‘The Great American Desert’ will always bring up the question of how differently our state would look today had settlers known of it’s fertility.


Atchison, Kansas and the railroad

Filed under: Uncategorized — andyo53 @ 3:13 pm

Without a doubt the implementation of railroads was one of the most successful tools of Western expansion in the late 1800’s.  The railroad’s ability to provide long distance transportation for livestock, materials and personal travel revolutionized how the American West was settled.  Atchison, Kansas was the major hub of railroad activities in Kansas in the late 19th century and played a hugely significant role in developing  the city, Kansas and the West. 

Atchison, Kansas was founded in 1854 by people of Platte City, Missouri who crossed the Missouri River to begin a new townsite in the Kansas Territory.  The next year the Territorial Legislature recognized it as a town.  Atchison owes its much of its success to its convenient placement on the Missouri River.  Long before the rail lines were layed Atchison was a landing point for steamboats and freighters and a major site along many wagon trails leading to the Western states.  The town also became the headquarters of the U.S. Postal Service.

It was in the late 1850’s that Atchison turned its eyes upon participating in railroad, and with the help of $150,000 from Atchison investors, the Atchison, Topeka Railroad was chartered in 1859.  The next decade saw the construction and implementation of the railroad westward, and “Santa Fe” was added to the name in 1863.  The railway reached the border of Colorado in 1872 and was extended to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1880. In 1881 the ATSF line connected with the Southern Pacific line in New Mexico, thus making it the second  national transcontinental rail route. 

The city experienced a great economic boom between 1870 and 1890, making it one of the wealthiest cities in the entire region.  Not only a railroad town, Atchison also was one of the first banking centers in Kansas and boasted a large amount industry and agriculture.  Livestock transportion between towns like Wichita and Dodge City also provided the state with a great economic source.  While Atchison and Kansas boomed the railroad technology improved and the miles of rail grew by the thousands.  This growth eventually ended the era of covered wagon trails and made the West far more accessible, not doubt contributing greatly to the further exploration of the frontier and its settlement.  If the railroads had not been as successful as they were in that relatively short amount of time, the settlement of Western state would have been exponentially more difficult and no doubt taken much longer.

While all of this was beneficial across the nation to the government, private business of all kinds and settlement; railroads proved to be another punishing blow to the Indigenous People of the region who were trying desperately to maintain homeland and sovereignty.  This topic will be addressed in my next post.

-Andy White






Atchison, Kansas Website

Rails West


“Bloody Benders”

Filed under: Uncategorized — emosier4 @ 12:33 pm

BenderCabinIn the 1870s a family began to travel to the southeastern corner of Kansas and insights of building a new life.  They settled in Cherryvale, a very small town in Labette County. This family was the Benders. They were comprised of John Sr.; his wife; son, John Jr.; and daughter, Kate.  John Sr. chose a 160 acre section on a western slope of a mound that was directly located on the Osage Mission-Independence Trail, that operated from Independence to Fort Scott.  At the time the southeastern part was very dangerous.  Settlers were very easy prey for robbers and it was not uncommon for people to go missing.

The Benders build a small one-framed house and outfitted it furniture and supplies, which they divided these two rooms up with a huge canvas.  The front half they turned into an inn and a grocery store, where travelers from the nearby trail could stop and get supplies and rest. To all of the travelers and homesteaders the Benders appeared to be simply struggling homesteaders who worked hard for their earnings.

Mrs. Bender claimed that she could speak with the “dead” and declared that she could cast charms and wicked spells. The family members had to fear her for that she ran the household. Daughter Kate was the friendliest out the family and very beautiful. She often proclaimed she was a healer and a psychic.  She gave lectures of spiritualism and conducted séances. Kate and her brother attended Sunday school and were gladly accepted into the community.

In 1871, the Benders opened store and inn.  Many travelers, who were carrying frequently large sums of cash, began to go missing around the same time the Benders first opened their doors. Friends and family members of the missing travelers began to look for them and could only trace them as far as Big Hill Country in southeastern Kansas.

In March 1873, one of the disappearing travelers was William York, who was a well-known local doctor. He was visiting family in Fort Scott and headed home on horseback and was never seen again. When he did not return home, his wife began to contact his brothers. The farthest they could trace his appearance was to the Bender Inn.  The family did admit that Dr. York had stopped in but he soon went on his way.

In early May, a young man noticed that the Bender Inn appeared to be abandoned.  As he examined the homestead he realized that they family had been gone for some time. The only things that remained were three hammers, a knife, a German Bible, and a clock with a compartment containing jewelry.

The local residents began to examine the homestead and discovered a trap door in the home that lead to a cellar whose floor wasBenderPropertyDigging covered with dried pools of blood. They also discovered well-cultivated orchard that contained graves of the Benders’ victims.  The back of the victims’ skulls were smashed and their throats slashed.  In total, the locals discovered eleven bodies.

After an investigation the travelers who were able to escaped described being forced to sit at a table with their back against the canvas curtain.  Investigators assumed that Kate distracted the visitors while one of the family members hit the travelers on the back of the head with a hammer.  The Benders then dropped the body into the cellar and sliced their throat to ensure death, and later buried the body in the orchard.  The Kansas’ governor issued a 2,000 dollar reward for the Benders, but to no avail.  The stories of the “bloody Benders” still live on and even to this day no one knows to what actually happened to the family.

Eric Mosier

Biographical information drawn from:

McDowell, J.E. “Bender Knife.” Kansas State Historical Society . Unavailable. http://www.kshs.org/cool2/benderknife.htm (accessed 10 21, 2009).

Weiser, Kathy. “The Bloody Benders of Labette County.” Legends of America. September 2006. http://www.legendsofamerica.com/OZ-Benders.html (accessed 10 21, 2009).


Annie Diggs October 21, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — tfern24 @ 11:43 pm

Annie (Le Porte) Diggs

Annie Diggs

Annie Diggs, Kansas Memory

Annie Diggs was born in 1848 in Canada. While young she moved to New Jersey and later to Lawrence Kansas, where she married Alvin Diggs. Her nickname was “Little Annie,” here in Kansas. Annie Diggs is known for her involvement in the temperance and women’s suffrage movement. Her involvement in the Unitarian Church in Lawrence sparked a feeling of responsibility to this movement.

In 1882, Her and her husband began a newspaper called the “Kansas Liberal.” By 1890 she became an associate editor of the Alliance Advocate, which was a leading reformist paper at that time. In relation to our topic this week, we know her most from joining the Farmer’s Alliance that we all know led to the Populist Party. She later served on the Populist National Committee. Diggs believed that the Democratic Party and the Populist Party should merge. A quote from Annie Diggs about the Kansas Farmers’ Alliance meetings where populists arrived, she claimed they were, “more like religious revivals than like unto any ever before known in the realm of politics.”

All the while Diggs was still juggling her involvement for women’s suffrage, and wanted women’s voting rights. She did this by serving in the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association. Diggs was appointed state librarian of Kansas in 1898 as well as the president of Kansas Press Women in 1905. Although Diggs did not stay in Kansas, she still had a lasting impact.

Example of Poster for Women's Suffrage Meetings

Example of Poster for Women's Suffrage Meetings

Bouncing off the lecture of the Populist movement, I chose to focus on Annie Diggs. She interested me because of her involvement in the populist movement and at the same time women’s rights. The two together are both extremely valuable things in History, and for one woman to balance the both of those shows her strength and knowledge in politics relating to men and women. It brings back the idea that Kansas,  the movements, and people involved were valuable to the entire nation. Although voting for women did not occur until the 1920s, the motion started way earlier on, and Annie Diggs was involved in such a powerful movement.  It is nice to know that women such as Annie Diggs had a role in Kansas History, and especially in the politics of Kansas.

-Tracy Fernandez

Biographical information drawn from:


Info on Annie Diggs and the Essay of Populism



Lady Bountiful

Filed under: Uncategorized — melon19 @ 6:04 pm

KU has been lucky to receive gifts of money and land since its early days. To date, no donation can match the one from Elizabeth Miller Watkins.

eliza picture Elizabeth was born in the year Kansas became a state. She moved to Lawrence when she was eleven. Though she dreamed of being able to attend classes in Old Fraser Hall, this did not happen. Her father grew ill and at age 15 she dropped out of school to work at Watkins Bank (now the Watkins Museum on 11th and Mass). There she met, and eventually wed, Jabez Watkins. Jabez was considered one of the wealthiest men in the West.

Twelve years after being married, Jabez passed away and Elizabeth inherited an estate around $2.4 million. She deeply believed in the education of women. Since she herself had been denied the opportunity due to poverty, she decided to help others. In 1926 Watkins Scholarship Hall opened. In the beginning it was a place where forty-nine women could live and eat for free. Elizabeth’s desire for the women who lived there was that they would never need to pay more than a few dollars per month. To help ensure this, a trust fund was set up. Today it totals well over $3 million.

KUWatkinsScholHallMarch2006With Watkins Hall so successful, Elizabeth decided to open Miller Hall in 1936. The two halls were for the women who “walk up the hill.”  In addition, Elizabeth also funded the building of the Watkins Health Center (now Twente Hall). She left a trust fund for its upkeep as well.

When she passed away in 1939, she left the majority of her remaining possessions to KU. Her home, known as the Outlook, was donated and is currently used as the Chancellor’s residence. To the Endowment Association, Elizabeth left 25,000 acres of land that even today is bringing money in for the University.

It is incredible to sit back and reflect on everything that Elizabeth has given all KU students. Her gifts doubled the size of the Lawrence and Kansas City campuses, provided the chimes in the campanille, built Danforth Chapel, funded research grants and much more.

I do not believe it is too big of a statement to say that we are all in at least some debt to Elizabeth Miller Watkins. I, for one, am very grateful.

–Madeline Johnson

Text Sources:

“History of Watkins Memorial Health Center,” Student Health, http://www.studenthealth.ku.edu/information/history_wmhc.shtml (accessed October 21, 2009).

“Elizabeth Miller Watkins Memorial Scholarship,” Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, http://www.gkccf.org/…/NEW_EMWScholAppOcto8for2009AppFnl.pdf (accessed October 21, 2009).

Photograph Sources:

“Elizabeth Miller Watkins.” Photo. Elizabeth Miller Watkins 21 Oct. 2009. <groups.ku.edu/~miller/website/eliza.htm>.

“Watkins Scholarship Hall.” Photo. Watkins ScholHall March 2006 21 Oct. 2009. <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KUWatkinsScholHallMarch2006.jpg>


Abilene, KS: Cattle Trades & Crime October 19, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — janae25 @ 10:06 pm


Abilene, KS is a moderate city in Dickerson County, with a population of 6,835.* Known for being the home of the famous President Dwight D. Eisenhower, it is often overlooked for its initial claim to fame.

In 1861, Abilene, KS was founded. It started as a small prairie village along the Smoky Hill Trail. During the first six years after being founded, the town offered little resemblance to a city. All of that changed when a man by the name of Joseph McCoy came into town. He had a vision of Abilene becoming a robust town, full of cattle and trade. He soon started promoting Abilene to anyone and everyone, stating that it was the perfect place to start a business.

During the 1860s-1880s, cattle trails became very popular in the Midwest regions of the United States. Joseph McCoy ventured that cattle trades would be successful in Abilene, and soon started creating an easy trade market with cattle dealers in Texas. In 1867, McCoy’s Great Western Stockyards started taking in Texas cattle. Abilene was towards the end of the cattle trails and became a popular headquarter for cattle trades.

However, the good times in Abilene did not last long. In spring of 1868, the town’s population became overcrowded with businessmen, gamblers, gunmen, and brothels. There was no law enforcement, therefore the free for alls that occurred between the crooks and brothels continued throughout the streets. The July edition of the Topeka Commonwealth declared, “At this writing Hell is now in session in Abilene.”** Until the fall of 1869, the continuation of Texas cattle trades and unlawful activities continued in Abilene.

Around 1870, the city of Abilene tried to gain law and orderly conduct in the town. The first sheriff and deputy created a town jail and a “no gun” law. Later, two men were hired from St. Louis to gain civil conduct, but after surveying the town, they disappeared and were never heard from again.

Not long after this, the city of Abilene appointed Marshal Smith as sheriff. He was able to create some peace, but unfortunately, that November he was ambushed and killed, along with his deputy. The city leaders were distraught and unsure of what to do next. They searched for someone to fill Marshal Smith’s shoes, and stumbled upon Wild Bill Hickok. He was a noted government scout and gunman. Hickok did a fabulous job of maintaining order in Abilene.

The fall of 1871 led the slowing of the cattle trade in Abilene. Soon after, Abilene reverted back to a quiet town, that is, until our 34th President was elected.

The cattle trades and crime found in Abilene are often overlooked in Kansas’s history. I never learned about any of this prior to this class, and I found it really interesting. I thought that cattle were always in Kansas. It is very interesting to discover that they were in fact moved here! For education majors, this could be interesting to add to your curriculum while giving lessons on Kansas day, instead of doing another lesson on the state flower.



Picture from: http://www.historyonthenet.com/American_West/images/abilene.jpg