Why are we here? Recruiting to Lawrence & Kansas

| 2015 Q4 | story by Patricia A. Michaelis, Ph.D.   | images/posters from the Kansas State Historical Society,

This will not be a metaphysical discussion of the mysteries of the universe. Rather, it will be a more practical look at why we end up where we do in a geographical sense, specifically in Kansas and Lawrence.

Native Americans lived in the area that became Kansas long before the United States acquired the land through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Tribes living in eastern Kansas included the Wichita, Kansa, Osage and Pawnee. During the first half of the 19th century, white men continued to settle in the areas west of the Mississippi River but east of the Missouri River. As this happened, Native American tribes were relocated to the land purchased in the Louisiana Purchase. After voluntary efforts failed, Congress provided for Indian “removal” from the Upper Midwest. The tribes that were moved to Kansas during the 1820s through the 1840s included the Sac and Fox, Iowa, Kickapoo, Delaware, Shawnee, Ottawa, Potawatomie, Chippewa, Miami and Wyandot. These tribes were later forced to relocate to Indian Territory, which consisted of most of present day Oklahoma. The influence of these tribes is reflected in a number of Kansas place names.

Kansas Territory was opened for settlement in 1854. In this period prior to the Civil War, free-state supporters and pro-slavery advocates were competing to settle in Kansas, as it would upset the balance of power between free and slave states when it entered the union. Lawrence, Kansas, was initially settled through the efforts of an antislavery organization called the New England Emigrant Aid Company, organized in Massachusetts by Amos Lawrence, Eli Thayer and Thomas Webb. The first group of settlers reached Kansas City on July 28, 1854. They agreed to move on to a settlement named Wakarusa, and the emigrants camped on Mount Oread on August 1. They decided to relocate there, and the town was eventually renamed Lawrence. The Free State Hotel, one of the largest buildings in the young community, generally flew the American flag. It was destroyed during Quantrill’s Raid in 1863 but was quickly rebuilt.

However, settlement efforts in Lawrence and the rest of Kansas were put on hold with the coming of the Civil War. Kansas entered the union in 1861 as a free state after the slave states seceded from the union, and there was no opposition to its admission in Congress.

After the end of the Civil War, a number of events helped promote settlement in Kansas and the remainder of the unpopulated Midwest. The Homestead Act was one way settlers acquired land in Kansas and other parts of the West. President Abraham Lincoln signed it into law on May 20, 1862. Under its provisions, settlers could claim 160 acres of public land by paying a small filing fee and receiving two options for getting title to the land: If they lived on the 160 acres for five continuous years, built a residence and grew crops, they could then file for their deed for the property. Or they could purchase the land from the government for $1.25 per acre after living on the land for six months, building a home and starting to grow crops. The head of a household, any one over 21 years old and immigrants intending to become citizens were eligible to file for a homestead

under the Homestead Act. In 1864, the law was amended to allow a soldier with two years of service to acquire land after a one year residency. This provision brought a number of Civil War veterans to Kansas. By 1900, the Homestead Act led to the distribution of 80 million acres of public land throughout the West.

Railroads also brought settlers to Kansas. To promote the expansion of the railroad, the federal government passed the Pacific Railroad Acts, which gave public lands to railroad companies in exchange for building tracks in specific locations. As railroads expanded into new territory, people believed settlers would follow and the value of land in that area would increase. The land could then be sold, and the railroad company would profit. The federal government assumed any money made by the railroad would help finance further expansion of the tracks. In Kansas, railroad companies were given one-sixth of the land in our state. More than 80 railroads received land in Kansas, but the most prominent in the area were the Kansas Pacific Railroad (later the Union Pacific) and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. Both had land departments that publicized the availability of land and worked to recruit settlers. The Santa Fe even had a foreign division that played a significant role in encouraging Mennonites and other Volga Germans to Kansas.

Comments are closed.