The state of Kansas has always been one of a kind. Coronado's search for the Seven Cities brought him in 1541 to the land of the Quivera people (Wichita Indians), where he found neither gold nor silver.
Coronado stayed 25 days, then left. A century – perhaps a century and a half – passed before white men again appeared in this domain of the Plains Indians. French traders from Canada traveling among the Osage were probably the next visitors, but the
Frenchmen did not put down roots. American possession of present-day Kansas came about with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. In 1821, Kansas was separated from Missouri and for the next 33 years existed as an unorganized territory. Expeditions by Lewis and Clark, Zebulon Pike and Major Stephen H. Long established the misconception that Kansas was part of the “Great American Desert,” a useless wasteland. It was not until the cow arrived that America took a second look at Kansas.
In the years following the Border Wars, Kansas boomed –in part, because of the coming of the railroads, but also because of the great cattle drives to such cowboy towns as Great Bend, Hays, Dodge City and Abilene. An annual cattle drive would find as many as 300,000 head of cattle being moved to railroad centers for shipment into Kansas City.
The cowboy's life was seldom an easy one. A drover, 10 or 12 cowboys, a couple of horse wranglers and the “old woman” as they were called (the cook) would handle an average herd of 2,500 to 3,000 head. A good day's travel was 12 to 15 miles, then a stop for flapjacks. Night horses were saddled before the cowboys bedded down,
because of the threat that any little thing out of the ordinary could create a stampede of the herd at any given moment. Stormy nights with thunder and lightning were especially hazardous.
So, it was no small wonder that when they reached their destination, the cowboys were ready to “bust loose.” The cowboys were often paid at this point, which meant they had money in their pockets. Gunmen, gamblers and other fakers preyed on the cowboys and were usually looking for trouble and sometimes finding it – so those cow towns made an art out of finding capable frontier lawmen, who often created legends of their own.
Dodge City, the cowboy capital of the Southwest, had its Bat Masterson, who strolled the streets in a pearl gray bowler and diamond stickpin, twirling his cane like a city slicker from back East. Yet, those who reckoned Bat was slow on the draw with his six-shooters usually ended up in Boot Hill. One day Bat Masterson disappeared from Dodge, and when he was heard from again, he was helping his old friend Wyatt Earp cleaning out Tombstone, Arizona.
Abilene also had its celebrated marshal of the same dandified cut – Wild Bill Hickok, who walked its streets in a Prince Albert coat, checkered trousers and embroidered waistcoat. Yet, those troublemakers who doubted the efficiency of Wild Bill's fancy pearl-handled revolvers changed their minds on the day when the marshal drew on two murderers, fleeing in opposite directions, and brought them both down. Some say he only fired one shot, but that sounds a mite exaggerated.
A school established in 1874 at Larned had large red and yellow letters across the two front windows which spelled out S-A-L-O-O-N. The students sat on beer kegs, and the bar was the teacher’s desk.
The cattle boom had ebbed by 1885 and increasing numbers of homesteaders fenced the range lands and built their soddies.
Reference: “Our Fifty States,” by Earl Schenck Miers/
To reach Ted W. Stillwell send e-mail to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-895-3592