The first humans inhabit the area now known as Kansas.
The native peoples of Kansas depend upon bison hunting and the cultivation of corn, squash, and beans. As the population grows, they construct villages and trade with tribes from other regions, particularly the Pueblo in the Southwest. By the time Europeans arrive, the tribes living in the area include the Pawnee, Kansa, Wichita, and Apache.
1541–1799 EARLY EUROPEAN EXPLORATION AND SETTLEMENT
Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado marches north from Mexico in search of "Quivira," a rich country in the northwest. He reaches a village near present-day Lindsborg, Kansas, but the Quivira people (later known as the Wichita) are not wealthy as Coronado expected and he soon leaves the area. His expedition introduces the horse to Native Americans, radically altering their lifestyle and the plains.
Father Juan de Padilla, a priest who accompanied Coronado, returns to Kansas in hope of bringing Christianity to Native Americans. He is killed by Natives and is soon recognized as the first Christian martyr in America.
French trader and explorer Etienne Veniard de Bourgmont leads an expedition into present-day Atchison and Doniphan counties to establish trade relations with the Native Americans of the Platte River region.
French-Canadians Pierre and Paul Mallet lead a party of French traders through Kansas while looking for a route from the Missouri River area to New Mexico.
(November 3) France cedes the territory of Kansas to Spain, but French fur traders remain in the area.
1800–1849 WESTWARD EXPANSION
Napoleon Bonaparte of France forces Spain to return the Louisiana Territory (which includes Kansas) to France.
The U.S. gains Kansas with the Louisiana Purchase. President Thomas Jefferson agrees to the purchase price of 78 million francs ($15,000,000) from French head of state Napoleon Bonaparte. The purchase is lauded by supporters and savaged by critics of President Jefferson. It more than doubles the size of the United States and is a defining moment in the expansion of U.S. territory.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition explores the Louisiana Territory. Explorers William Clark and Meriwether Lewis depart on a journey to reach the Pacific and return to Missouri River three years later. In June and July, the expedition makes camp at several points in the Leavenworth area on the Kansas side of the Mississippi River.
American lieutenant Zebulon Pike crosses the Kansas area on a westward expedition. He identifies the region as the "Great American Desert" on his maps.
The United States and Spain sign the Adams-Onis Treaty. In return for Florida, the U.S. agrees to Spanish claims to land west of the Mississippi River, thus surrendering its own claim to the southwestern region of Kansas.
Mexico achieves its independence from Spain, and the area in southwestern Kansas becomes part of the new nation of Mexico.
The U.S. government sets aside the area that will become most of Kansas as "Indian Territory," closing it to settlement by whites. The Shawnee are the first Native Americans moved to the territory in 1825, followed by the Kansa (Kaw), Osage, and Delaware. By the 1850s momentum builds to reclaim the land the U.S. government had promised "permanently" to Native Americans.
The federal government negotiates treaties with the Kansa and Osaga tribes, pledging to cede some of the Kansa-Osage lands to the Natives.
Situated on the Missouri River’s right bank of Salt Creek, Fort Leavenworth is established as an army post to protect the western frontier and travelers on the Santa Fe Trail.
The first settlement at the present day site of Kansas City, Kansas, is established.
Numbering about 90,000, pioneers pass through Kansas on their way to California in search of making their fortune in the Gold Rush.
1850–1900 THE STATE OF KANSAS
(May 30) Congress passes the Kansas-Nebraska act to establish the two separate territories. The incorporation of popular sovereignty makes the territories’ residents, not the federal government, responsible for deciding the question of slavery. It also repeals the Missouri Compromise and opens the north to the practice.
The New England Emigrant Aid Society is created to colonize Kansas with Northern abolitionists, with the ultimate objective of making it a free state.
The U.S. government negotiates new treaties with Native Americans that return to the government all but a fraction of the land that had been granted to Natives "forever" in the 1820s.
(March 30) On the date of the election of the Kansas Territorial Legislature, Missourians known as "Border Ruffians" stream across the border to fill the ballot boxes with votes in favor of pro-slavery candidates. As a result, the first official legislature is overwhelmingly composed of such delegates.
(August 30) The Battle of Osawatomie. Approximately 250 pro-slavery Missourians attack a settlement of roughly 40 residents in Osawatomie. All but four homes are destroyed.
The Last Chance Store opens in Council Grove, representing the "last chance" for those headed west on the Santa Fe Trail to stock up on supplies.
(January 29) Kansas becomes the 34th state admitted to the Union. It is admitted as a free state after several years of feuding and debate regarding the issue of slavery.
Kansas women are given the right to vote in school elections, far earlier than most states.
The Civil War begins. The U.S. War Department decrees that Kansas and Tennessee will be canvassed for volunteers to the Union Army. Over 20,000 Kansans will have served by the end of the war. The state suffers the highest mortality rate in the Union.
The Union Pacific Eastern Division, later renamed the Kansas Pacific, begins construction on its main railroad line westward from Kansas City. The railroad is also used to ship cattle eastward.
(October 25) Kansas’ only major Civil War engagement, the Battle of Mine Creek, takes place in Linn County. Twenty-five thousand men battle, and the resulting Union victory stops the Confederate invasion into Kansas.
(October) Actually a set of three treaties, the Medicine Lodge Treaty is negotiated between the U.S. and the Kiowa, Apache, Cheyenne, Comanche, and Arapaho at Medicine Lodge Creek. (Medicine Lodge is a sacred area for the Plains Native Americans, and the tribes share a lodge on the banks of the river.) The treaties allow for white settlements in the area, open it to railroad use, and fix the southern boundary of Kansas. They also limit Native Americans to only inhabiting land south of the Kansas state line.
Famine and discontent with a repressive government lead large numbers of Swedes to enter the region; they become the third-largest immigrant group in Kansas.
Many Italians immigrate to the coal-mining region of southeast Kansas.
The Santa Fe Railroad arrives in Wichita, and it subsequently becomes a boomtown.
The grasshopper invasion devastates corn crops in Kansas, and many farmers lose nearly everything. Aid in the form of clothes, provisions, and money comes from the East to help families get through the winter.
The First United Methodist Church in Hutchinson is built during the time of the grasshopper plagues. The grasshoppers arrive during construction, but the pastor continues with the work. As a result, thousands of grasshoppers are mixed into the mortar of the original building’s foundation.
After a wave of immigration from pacifist German and Russian Mennonites, the Kansas legislature amends its state militia law, allowing anyone who objects to military service on religious grounds to obtain release.
Most buffalo in Kansas have been destroyed. The growing market for hides and meat in the East reduces the once massive herds to an endangered species.
Kansas voters amend the state constitution to prohibit the manufacture, sale, or gift of all forms of liquor. Kansas is the first state to pass such an amendment. To this day Kansas has never ratified the 21st Amendment, which ended nationwide prohibition in 1934.
Dodge City becomes the "Cowboy Capital" of the West. Inhabited mainly by cattle drivers, railroad workers, and soldiers, the town is infamous for lawlessness, gambling, and gun slinging.
The era of the great cattle drives ends when the Kansas legislature forbids the importation of Texas cattle between March and December, the season for the long drives. The legislation comes about due to the sharp increase of a tick-borne cattle disease called "Texas Fever."
Kansas women are given the right to vote in municipal elections.
Argonia’s Susannah Medora Salter becomes the first female mayor in the U.S.
While drilling a well, Sam Blanchard strikes salt in Hutchinson. By 1888 almost a dozen salt plants are in operation in the town, which is built on some of the world’s greatest underground salt deposits.
1900–1929 EARLY 20TH CENTURY
Mexicans come to the state to work as laborers for the railroad companies. They are last ethnic group to enter Kansas in large numbers.
Partially set in Kansas, L. Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is published. A film adaptation is made in 1939 and becomes a cultural phenomenon. Kansas soon becomes synonymous with windswept farmland, tornadoes, "Dorothy" and "Toto," and the mantra, "There’s no place like home."
Women prohibitionists smash 12 saloons in Kansas. The prohibition movement appeals to many women as it allows them a means of political expression at a time when they still cannot vote. Carry Nation becomes famous for entering Kansas establishments and attacking the bars with a hatchet.
Kansas grants women the right to vote eight years before passage of the 19th Amendment.
An influenza epidemic begins in the spring in Kansas and spreads to military camps throughout the U.S. Ultimately the epidemic kills more people than World War I.
World War I creates a boom in agriculture, and thousands of previously uncultivated acres in Kansas are planted with wheat. The acres will lay fallow during the recession of the 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s.
(June 16) Kansas becomes the fourth state to ratify the 19th Amendment, granting women across the nation the right to vote.
Drought and dust storms throughout the Great Plains give rise to the "Dust Bowl."
(April 14) A major sandstorm ravages the Midwest, virtually turning day into night. Dubbed "Black Sunday," it is the worst storm of the almost decade-long Dust Bowl era.
World War II creates an increased demand for food, and prices for Kansas farm products begin to rise.
(July) A German prisoner of war camp is built in Concordia. The camp is home to over 5,000 prisoners during the war, who are used as farm labor.
On behalf of their children, 13 Topeka parents file a class action suit against the Topeka Board of Education calling for the school district to reverse its policy of racial segregation. The district court rules in favor of the board, citing the U.S. Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson and its "separate but equal" ruling as legal precedent. Ultimately the case, sponsored by the NAACP, is appealed to the Supreme Court itself.
With the landmark Brown v. the Board of Educationjudgment, the Supreme Court overturns Plessy v. Ferguson,effectively abolishing school segregation throughout the entire country. While several tumultuous incidents in other states accompany the process of integration, no such demonstrations or incidents occur in Kansas.
The second-largest wheat crop in history brings cash receipts of over one billion dollars to Kansas farmers and ranchers.
(June 18) Topeka is hit by a F5 tornado, which kills 17 people and injures 550. Over an 11-day span, 59 tornadoes are confirmed; the Topeka tornado remains one of the costliest in history.
Nancy Landon Kassebaum becomes the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate for a full term not elected to the office previously held by her husband or to fill out a deceased husband’s term.
(July 11) The Great Flood of 1993 deluges Kansas. Causing $15 billion in damages, it is one of the most costly and devastating floods in U.S. history.
Kansas produces a record 492.2 million bushels of wheat, enough to make 35.9 billion loaves of bread.
Click to enlarge an image
1000 BCE: Silver Pawnee hair comb, present day
1000 BCE: Kansa tribe land map, with modern state boarders in background
1800: Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne
1804: Map of Lewis and Clark's expedition
1827: Artillery Battery at Fort Leavenworth, photo 19th centry
1854: Map of the Kansas–Nebraska Act overview
1854: Map of Kansas Territory Changes
1854: New England Emigrant Aid Company sign
1849: Gold prospectors in western Kansas Territory
1855: Preston Brooks attacking Charles Sumner in the U.S. Senate