A View of Kansas, Part One

Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley

In the same June 29, 1854 issue where Horace Greeley printed Abelard Guthrie’s accusations against David Rice Atchison, he printed other news of Kansas. The latter, originally printed in the Chicago Democratic Press, gives an interesting view of Kansas in the summer of 1854. The correspondent traveled up the Kansas River 120 miles, so he knew a fair stretch of it from his own eyes. He begins by advertising the land’s virtues, always a good way to entice people to come:

the soil is very rich and productive and the country exceedingly beautiful. Along the river extending for a few miles on each side the country is densely timbered, and so also are the borders of the small streams which empty into the river from either side. On leaving the margins of the streams the country is high rolling prairie. The soil is good, but the want of timber and water will be found a serious drawback to the rapid settlement of that portion of the Territory. The climate while he was there was bracing and healthy, but those who reside in this country, complain that it is very fluctuating and changeable.

Though not perfect, Kansas had good lands. Wouldn’t you come help save it from slavery and take your slice of the American dream?

The Shawnee Indians own the territory on the south side of the Kansas for some two hundred miles west of the Missouri. Our informant says they are very considerably advanced in civilization, and that he was very comfortably entertained while traveling among them. They devote their attention to agriculture and many of them have large and very fine farms.

Too often, American Indians just fall out of historical accounts. We imagine the plains as empty. If we imagine Indians at all, they live farther west and roam about. Indians running their own farms and otherwise behaving largely like the white settlers we imagine venturing off into empty land to put it to use come across as a foreign concept, with the possible exception of the Cherokee. That says more about us than them. Nineteenth century Americans moving into Indian lands knew better.

Those Shawnee

appear not a little uneasy and restless under the passage of the Territorial bill. Many of them have been cherishing the hope that ere long they would be endowed by Congress with the rights of citizenship. They dress, live and act like white people, and declare their determination not to sell their lands on any consideration whatever.

The Delaware, on the other side of the river, lived similarly. The Democratic Press’ informant, however, pronounced them

not so intelligent and as far advanced in civilization as the Shawnees.

So far as white settlement went, confusion reigned. Though the lands stood open to white settlement per the Kansas-Nebraska Act:

Indian title tot he lands is not yet extinguished, and when our friend left Fort Leavenworth the United States Marshal was engaged with a posse driving the squatters and emigrants out of the territory. Many, however, were pushing onward beyond the Fort to the borders of the great plains, where they hoped to be beyond the reach of the Marshal.  The country is not yet open to settlement, and cannot be till the Indian title is extinguished, This will no doubt be effected as rapidly as possible; but the philanthropist will ask where can the poor Indians go? That questions suggests sad and solemn reflections.

Indeed it did. The Shawnee reservation in Kansas shrank in 1854 and was split into individual plots in 1858. Some Shawnee fought in the Civil War and hoped their service would bring them restored property. They found instead that homesteaders had occupied much of it in their absence. Some of them later ended up in Oklahoma, where they joined the Cherokee tribe and remained recognized solely as a part of it until 2000.

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