Kansas is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. It is named after the Kansas River which flows through it, which in turn was named after the Kansa Native American tribe, which inhabited the area. The tribe's name (natively kką:ze) is often said to mean "people of the wind" or "people of the south wind," although this was probably not the term's original meaning. Residents of Kansas are called "Kansans." For thousands of years what is now Kansas was home to numerous and diverse Native American tribes. Tribes in the Eastern part of the state generally lived in villages along the river valleys. Tribes in the Western part of the state were semi-nomadic and hunted large herds of bison. Kansas was first settled by European Americans in the 1830s, but the pace of settlement accelerated in the 1850s, in the midst of political wars over the slavery issue.
When officially opened to settlement by the U.S. government in 1854, abolitionist Free-Staters from New England and pro-slavery settlers from neighboring Missouri rushed to the territory to determine if Kansas would become a free state or a slave state. Thus, the area was a hotbed of violence and chaos in its early days as these forces collided, and was known as Bleeding Kansas. The abolitionists eventually prevailed and on January 29, 1861, Kansas entered the Union as a free state. After the Civil War, the population of Kansas grew rapidly, when waves of immigrants turned the prairie into farmland. Today, Kansas is one of the most productive agricultural states, producing high yields of wheat, sorghum and sunflowers. Kansas is the 15th most extensive and the 33rd most populous of the 50 United States.
For millennia, the land that is currently Kansas was inhabited by Native Americans. The first European to set foot in present-day Kansas was Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, who explored the area in 1541. In 1803, most of modern Kansas was secured by the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Southwest Kansas, however, was still a part of Spain, Mexico and the Republic of Texas until the conclusion of the Mexican-American War in 1848. From 1812 to 1821, Kansas was part of the Missouri Territory. The Santa Fe Trail traversed Kansas from 1821 to 1880, transporting manufactured goods from Missouri and silver and furs from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Wagon ruts from the trail are still visible in the prairie today.
In 1827, Fort Leavenworth became the first permanent settlement of white Americans in the future state. The Kansas–Nebraska Act became law on May 30, 1854, establishing the U.S. territories of Nebraska and Kansas, and opening the area to broader settlement by whites. Kansas Territory stretched all the way to the Continental Divide and included the sites of present-day Denver, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo.
Missouri and Arkansas sent settlers into Kansas all along its eastern border. These settlers attempted to sway votes in favor of slavery. The secondary settlement of Americans in Kansas Territory were abolitionists from Massachusetts and other Free-Staters, who attempted to stop the spread of slavery from neighboring Missouri. Directly presaging the American Civil War, these forces collided, entering into skirmishes that earned the territory the name of Bleeding Kansas.
Kansas was admitted to the United States as a slave-free state on January 29, 1861, making it the 34th state to enter the Union. By that time the violence in Kansas had largely subsided. But, during the Civil War, on August 21, 1863, William Quantrill led several hundred men on a raid into Lawrence, destroying much of the city and killing nearly 200 people. He was roundly condemned by both the conventional Confederate military and the partisan rangers commissioned by the Missouri legislature. His application to that body for a commission was flatly rejected due to his pre-war criminal record.
After the Civil War, many veterans constructed homesteads in Kansas. Many African Americans also looked to Kansas as the land of "John Brown" and, led by freedmen like Benjamin "Pap" Singleton, began establishing black colonies in the state. Leaving southern states in the late 1870s because of increasing discrimination, they became known as Exodusters.
At the same time, the Chisholm Trail was opened and the Wild West-era commenced in Kansas. Wild Bill Hickok was a deputy marshal at Fort Riley and a marshal at Hays and Abilene. Dodge City was another wild cowboy town, and both Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp worked as lawmen in the town. In one year alone, 8 million head of cattle from Texas boarded trains in Dodge City bound for the East, earning Dodge the nickname "Queen of the Cowtowns."
In part as a response to the violence perpetrated by cowboys, on February 19, 1881 Kansas became the first U.S. state to adopt a Constitutional amendment prohibiting all alcoholic beverages.
Note: Most of present-day Kansas was included in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, forming part of Louisiana and then Missouri Territory. Kansas Territory was organized in 1854, and included part of present-day Colorado. Kansas was admitted as a State on January 29, 1861 with essentially its present boundaries. Census coverage of Kansas began in 1860 and included the whole State by 1880. The 1860 census reported Kansas and Colorado Territory in terms of their 1861 boundaries.. Total for 1860 excludes the portion of Kansas Territory that became part of Colorado Territory in 1861. Total for 1890 includes 66 non-Indians on Indian reservations in Brown and Jackson Counties and 7 Indians in prison, not reported by county.
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
Ancestry.com has the following Kansas vital record collections:
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
Outstanding guide to Kansas family history and genealogy (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Birth, marriage, and death records, wills, deeds, county records, archives, Bible records, cemeteries, churches, censuses, directories, immigration lists, naturalizations, maps, history, newspapers, and societies.