As I grew up in the mid-south, I learned this Nation's
history from the text books and conversations with my high school
history teacher. I came away with little or no knowledge of what
I now call the middle states, or plains states as I have heard
them called. While California, New York, and Texas spark images
of specific events, nothing came to mind for such places as
Kansas, Missouri or Arkansas. So when we arrived in Topeka, I
selected the Kansas Museum of History as a starting point. At the
front of the building, we were greeted by a beautiful statue of
Indian and Buffalo by Lumen Winter. We were soon wandering the
maze of displays working our way through the history of
this State, long before it was a state. The story of the Indian
populations was well done with lots of artifacts and structures.
One such example was the Pawnee earth lodge. This was more than a
home. Its form and use reflected the social and religious life
that gave the Pawnees an identity. The dome room symbolized their
universe. The entryway faced eastward to Morning Star, God of
Fire and War. Aligned to Evening Star, Goodness of life and
Fertility, the back of the lodge was reserved for sacred rituals.
There were many different displays covering a myriad of thoughts
and ideas about the development of the State. It would take far
more space than allocated to cover all the points of interest.
However I picked two that seemed to stand out in history. The
first were the tremulous years surrounding 1863. The Civil war was raging
and Kansas, as a territory, was neither slave nor free. There was
sympathy for both sides and tempers often ran short. Into this
mix, rode a terror of a man named William C. Quantrill. Riding
out of Missouri he staged raids against towns which held Northern
sympathies. Murders and robberies by Confederate raiders became
common during the Civil War. On August 21, 1863, one of the most
infamous acts of the Civil War occurred when Quantrill and 300
men attacked Lawrence, Kansas, at dawn. Within a few hours 150
people lay dead in the charred ruins of the city. Kansas response
was the formation of the loosely commanded Jay-Hawkers. A group
of volunteers who intended to eliminate the likes of Quantrill
and keep Kansas a "free state". Raids on Confederate
sympathizers were as vicious and deadly as any, and soon Kansas
became known as "Bleeding Kansas".
The scars from this conflict would last right up to the turn of the century when one of Kansas most infamous characters appeared. Charles Gloyd was not known to be a drunkard before he went into the army during the Civil War. He picked up the habit as many did while idle in camp. General George B. McClellen said "No one agent so much obstructs the army ... as the degrading vice of drunkenness". Abstinence would be worth 50,000 men to the army of the United States. In 1881, Kansas passed the Prohibition Act making the manufacture or consumption of alcohol illegal. For the next 20 years the law existed but was rarely enforced. Carry Gloyd, had tired of her drunken husband's condition. She tried in vain to remove him from his habit even to the point of enlisting his long time friends at the Masons to turn him away from the bottle. When she asked for their help in controlling his drinking they ignored her request. This instilled negative feelings about the Masons that lasted a lifetime. Carry had one daughter, Charlien. Although she must have loved her daughter, Carry had conflicting emotions about Charlien. Carry blamed her daughter's poor health on Charlien's being the result of a "drunken father and a distracted mother". When Carry took Charlien to doctors as far away as New York she also expressed great concern that Charlien was not a Christian. In her autobiography Carry wrote, "I often prayed for bodily affliction on her if that was what would make her love and serve God." Shortly there after Charles died. Carry had little time to mourn She was now the sole support of herself , her daughter and her mother-in-law. She turned to teaching , but 4 years later was laid off. Finding herself once more with no job and three mouths to feed, Carry turned to God. She prayed that God might direct her to a second husband who would be able to support her. The answer to Carry's prayers appeared in the person of David Nation. A minister, lawyer and newspaper man, he was 19 years her senior. It seemed a loving match at first but trouble made their life difficult. David was not successful at any of his occupations. Financial difficulties coupled with poor health, stressed the marriage. It was during this time that Carry Nation took on the challenge that would catapult her into the annals of history. It would seem that saloons were often among the first businesses in frontier towns. A common sight in many communities, they provided jobs and a place for social interaction. These saloons also were magnets for gambling, prostitution, and other illegal activities. For this reason they were targeted by reformers. Kansas' earliest recorded saloon-smashing was in Lawrence in 1856. Carry Nation was neither the first nor the last person to smash up a saloon. Soon Carry had taken up the cause and with righteous indignation went on a campaign of saloon smashing. Later she would write, "A woman is stripped of everything by them" (saloons), "her husband is torn from her; she is robbed of her sons, her home, her food, and her virtue ... Truly does the saloon make a woman bare of all things." Soon the picture of Carry Nation, dressed in black with ruffle scarf, a bible in one hand and an hatchet in the other were appearing in all the newspapers around Kansas. With a handful of dedicated followers she would force her way into saloon after saloon, smashing windows and chairs, raking bottles off the shelves and generally destroying the place. An invitation brought Carry to Enterprise, Kansas. She had met with little resistance up to this point. But in Enterprise the saloon owner's wife and other women fought back. Carry left town sporting a black eye cuts and abrasions, the saloon undamaged. The final act of vengeance came On January 26, 1901, when Carry Nation arrived in the capital city of Topeka. Her time here coincided with a meeting of the Kansas State Temperance Union. Although many KSTU menders disagreed with Nation's tactics, some joined Carry in smashing saloons in Topeka. They specifically targeted the Senate Saloon on Kansas Av., a favorite of legislators. It was a most colorful time in the State of Kansas.
There were many other stories in the museum. One I couldn't pass by was the display on the development of the telephone. As Laura made her living on one. The first telephone appeared in Kansas in 1877, one year after its introduction to the world. This switchboard served the small farm community of Walson, near Topeka from 1912 to 1959. In rural areas, switchboards were often located in the homes or businesses of telephone company managers. Many small Kansas companies competed with each other . As late as 1930, 366 separate telephone companies ran 738 exchanges. And thus my education on Kansas was complete for the day. The museum is well worth the trip.