Today in History

Today in History: January 29


Aerial view of Topeka, KS
Bird's Eye View of the City of Topeka, Kansas,
drawn by Albert Ruger, 1869.
Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929

Kansas entered the Union as a free state on January 29, 1861. About two hundred years earlier the French Jesuit priests, Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, were among the region's earliest European explorers. A map drawn by Marquette in 1673 indicated that the Kanza, Ouchage (Osage), and Paneassa (Pawnee) tribes dominated the area that would become Kansas.

The United States acquired Kansas in 1803 from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase. During its early years as a U.S. possession, the area was part of Indian Territory and was used by the federal government to relocate tribal peoples. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed the residents to decide if theirs would be a free or slave state.

Work Horses
Work Horses Near Junction City, Kansas,
John Vachon, photographer, circa 1939-1943.
America from teh Great Depression to World War II: Color Photographs from the FSA/OW, 1938-1944

Both North and South sent settlers to the territory, giving rise to the sobriquet "Bleeding Kansas" (external link) as violence erupted out of ideological differences regarding slavery. Learn more about the historical context of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in "Conflict of Abolition and Slavery" and more about the experience of African-Americans in Kansas in "Nicodemus, Kansas", two features in the online exhibition The African-American Mosaic.

A fairly continuous plain, Kansas rises in elevation from 700 feet in the southeast to 4,000 feet at its western border. Mr. Botsford, interviewed on December 27, 1938, for the WPA Federal Writers' Project, recalled his first experience of gazing out across the Kansas plain:

I wasn't there but a little while when I went to help a feller shingle a roof. It was about eight o'clock in the mornin', and I was sittin' there on the roof just lookin' out at those miles and miles of prairies, and way off in the distance I see somethin' about the size of a cigar standin' up on the horizon. It didn't seem to get no bigger and after I watched it a while I says to the feller, 'Look at that thing out there, don't it look funny.' He looked where I was pointin' and he says 'Know what that is? That's the freight train comin' in.' Well, we worked all mornin' and we went in and was eatin' dinner when we heard that train pull into the depot.

"Mr. Botsford on Travel—Kansas,"
December 27, 1938.
Interviewer, Francis Donovan
American Life Histories: Manuscripts for the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940

"Oh, They Told Me Out in Kansas,"
George Vinton Graham, vocals and guitar,
December 7, 1938.
California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties, 1938-1940

Real Audio format

wav format, 1800 Kb

While writers were gathering stories of American lives during the Great Depression, Sidney Robertson Cowell was recording songs for the WPA California Folk Music Project. A few days prior to Mr. Botsford's interview, Cowell had recorded George Vinton Graham in California performing "Oh, They Told Me Out in Kansas." Search the American Memory collection California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties, 1938-1940 on Kansas to find this and other recordings.

A travelogue quilt
1994 Kansas State Winner; Stars Over the USA: A Travelogue Quilt [detail],
Vivian Singer, quiltmaker, August 21, 1993.
Quilts and Quiltmaking in America, 1978-1996

The collection, Quilts and Quiltmaking in America, 1978-1996 contains photographs of award-winning quilts from every state in the Union. Search on Kansas to view these treasures.