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Kansas Historical Quarterly - Notes on the Writing of General Histories of Kansas, 5

The "Vanity" Histories

by James C. Malin

Winter 1955 (Vol. 21, No. 4), pages 617 to 643
Transcribed by John K. Matthews; digitized with permission of the Kansas Historical Society. This is the concluding article in a series by James Malin about Kansas histories. The article is in progress; only the Introduction and section III are complete at present. Note: The numbers in brackets are links to footnotes for this text.

I. Introduction

THE financing of history is always a problem, but the costs of local history, because of the limited audience of readers, makes its publication through conventional channels very nearly prohibitive. Some types of books using more or less of historical material may sell on the commercial market in a volume sufficient to pay for themselves. Highly popularized history, thrillers, or sensational fictionalized stories of several varieties, seldom are good history, and more often are not history at all. Of course, history may be subsidized, but that presents problems also. When interested parities provide the costs, they usually control the results.

The experience of Holloway and Wilder, related in earlier essays in this series, is the fate that overtook most projects of serious local history launched independently regardless of quality. In spite of the artificial enthusiasm about history during the centennial celebration agitation of 1875 and 1876, and all of the friendly publicity provided gratuitously by Wilder's fellow journalists, few of his friends and admirers proved their interest in Kansas history to the extent of the five dollar purchase price of the Annals of Kansas.

One method devised for financing local history was found in what is sometimes called "Vanity" histories, sometimes called subscription histories. The latter term is not exact, because Holloway had announced that his history was sold only on subscription. By that he meant only that it was marketed by agents or canvassers who sold it by personal house-to-house calls. His agents offered for sale, on its merits, a printed book. The procedure of the vanity histories was different. Whether a single volume or several volumes, such a project included two categories of material; history and biography. The feature of special interest here is the biographies. The persons included were not selected upon the basis of their importance to the area whose history was being presented but on the test of whether or not they placed an order for the history. With a few possible exceptions, the only biographical sketches included were those of contracting purchasers. The principal attraction offered to convince a prospect that he should place his order for the forthcoming history was that the purchaser would see his own biographical sketch in print. As a further inducement to appeal to his vanity, at an additional price, his portrait might appear also. On account of this feature, the derisive name "Mug Books" was often applied. So far as the history proper was concerned the purchaser was contracting only for a promised history, of unknown quality, to be delivered at some future date and to be paid for in full on or before delivery. Details about conditions and payments varied with the several projects. Whether the history would be of any value as history depended upon the reliability of the company promoting the enterprise. In any case, the outcome must be judged upon individual merits, but as highly speculative commercial ventures, the companies that produced them must of necessity place the profit motive first.

III. Andreas-Cutler
History of the State of Kansas


In 1891 N. L. Prentis chose to give the Andreas-Cutler History of the State of Kansas a facetious though complimentary notice in his Kansas City Star column. His story revealed that a substantial legend about the book had accumulated during the eight years since it was first published. After summarizing the main facts which emphasized the great size and cost of the work, Prentis continued humorously:

But when the book was ready and the publisher should have gathered in his sheaves, Kansas took a freak and suddenly landed on the great book with both feet. The frisky commonwealth turned on "Andreas's History of Kansas," just as she has turned on several "favorite sons," and on one occasion on a favorite political party. The agreed price of the book -- which it was well worth -- was $12. A country justice of the peace decided that it was worth $3, and the decision was heralded all over the state. But this was not last nor worst; somebody attached to the great work the name of "The Kansas Herd Book" and the joke "took." When anything is made ridiculous in Kansas its day is done. In Kansas men have been "pilloried," and "ventilated" and "nailed to the counter," and all that, but the man who is laughed at is lost. The state is a trifle wild on the question of fun. It is doubtful if in any other state a burlesque syllabus would have been preserved in the supreme court reports. At any rate it was moved and seconded that the biggest and most elaborate book ever published about Kansas be called the "Herd Book," and the motion carried.

In the loud guffaw that rolled over Kansas on the adoption of the motion the sale of the book by any publisher seems to have ceased . . . Justice travels with heavy shoes, but her arrival can be safely calculated upon. The merits and value of the book with the unlucky nickname are being recognized . . .

Prentis' reputation as a humorist and literary artist betrayed him in several ways. People came to expect him to be funny regardless of the occasion or subject, and he felt obliged not to disappoint his public. Also, his facility with words misled him into over-emphasis upon literary form. Under the impulsion of these drives, Prentis lost sight of the primary importance of accuracy in facts and interpretation. For contemporaries, what Prentis wrote so entertainingly, was accepted as true. In cold print, separated by two thirds of a century from the charm of the Prentis personality, there is reason to ask some questions, and to test his allegations against verifiable facts.


The History of the State of Kansas, or "Herd Book," was published by the Western Historical Company, of which Alfred Theodore Andreas (1839-1900) was proprietor. Andreas had embarked upon a formidable program of preparation and publication of state and other local history. This was in the early 1880's after some experience in a related field. His Western Historical Company was the outgrowth of the Andreas Atlas Company, which among other things had published in 1874 An Illustrated Historical Atlas of State of Minnesota, and in 1875 a similar one of Iowa. Also, he published several county histories of Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan. The first enterprise of the state history series was a History of the State of Nebraska . . . issued in 1882, a quarto book of 1,506 double-column pages in minion type, with notes and documents in nonpareil, a still smaller font. [10] The History of the State of Kansas . . . in 1883 came next, and then a History of Chicagoin three volumes in 1884-1886, a total of 2,304 pages using the same page format.

The editor in charge in the field and the principal author of the Nebraska enterprise was William G. Cutler. Upon completion of that work he was assigned to Kansas, arriving in Topeka during the first days of February, 1882, to organize his work. After some negotiations, the board of directors of the Kansas Historical Society, at a special meeting February 8, at which time Cutler presented his program, granted him permission to make use of the materials owned by the Society under such regulations as the secretary might direct. [11]

Cutler's staff of assistants mostly recruited in Kansas, but including his son, H. G. Cutler, was put to work under uniform instructions preparing county histories and interviewing subscribers for their biographical data. Cutler and his wife Mary, with some additional help, worked intensively from February to December, 1882, studying, taking notes from manuscripts, newspapers, and public documents assembled there, and in public offices in the Statehouse, and writing the general history of the territory and state of Kansas. The quantity of work done and the degree of thoroughness with which it was performed in approximately 11 months in Kansas was all but incredible. The task the Cutlers had performed in Nebraska had provided some background for their Kansas work, but so far as Kansas itself was concerned, in February, 1882, they had virtually started from scratch. Necessarily, working under such pressure over so short a time, they had little choice but to follow essentially the beaten paths. Time did not permit original thinking and the investigations essential to its verification even where the source materials calling for such revision were met at every turn.

In the general state history section a few biographies appeared. One group was the state governors since admission of Kansas as a state. Another group, 14 in number, were listed under the heading: "In Memoriam," most of whom were entitled to inclusion in any moderately extensive list of distinguished Kansans. The question that was disturbing was why some of these were chosen to the exclusion of others obviously more important. One more word is in order: Kansas was so young as were most of its leaders, that the majority were still present, and many were actively and acrimoniously disputing honors and credits. To make a selection for distinction among them was hazardous.

The theory of history under which the Andreas enterprises were operating and rationalizing their activities requires some attention. The word history as defined by "the acknowledged authorities, quite imperfectly defines the scope of an American history of to-day," is the dictum found in the preface to the Nebraska history. Among the reasons listed for the change in meaning were "the widespread dissemination of intelligence; the marvelous increase in printed records . . . ; the quick . . . growth of States," and the fact that under American conditions the whole history of a state might lie within the lifespan and memory of living persons, "to be subject to the hot and merciless criticism of the still living survivors, whose lives make the page."

More was involved in this definition than might be apparent, because it provided the transition to a justification of the role of biography, invoking the authority of Carlyle and Macaulay in support of the dictum that: "True history is biography."

In consequence, the Andreas creed was represented in the boast that:

We have undertaken, for the first time in the annals of literature, to cover the entire domain of history, and to publish a history of a Commonwealth, embracing its full scope as to time and detail . . . even down to the present time . . . Never before has a work of like magnitude been undertaken and performed. It combined the labor of more than a single life, and has required the investment of more capital than was ever before risked in a single literary enterprise of its kind in this country.

In conclusion emphasis was placed upon the fact that the county sketches were written by different authors under uniform instructions. This gave to them a status supplementary to the general state history although in bulk overshadowing it.

The Kansas history was similar in plan to the Nebraska history, but proved even more elaborate, 1,616 pages. Again the claim could be made that: "It is the most complete and exhaustive history of a single State ever published . . . as well as the most expensive, in the United States. But Kansas was represented as being a special case: "Kansas is richer in historic lore than any other region of the Great West. Its traditions go back to the time of the Montezumas and the Spanish conquest of Mexico." Included were the French, the Indian, and the America relations. Also, in the spirit of the day, the American Civil War was reviewed as a conflict between two types of American civilization: "In Kansas the war was begun; and there the first victories, presaging the full triumph of Liberty, were won." In telling this story, especially of the territorial period, "the editors were not embarrassed from lack of material so much as overwhelmed by a superabundance of conflicting and often untruthful accounts . . ." Andreas differentiated three principal categories. First,

each tale, as now read through the perspective of retreating time, shows most plainly the tinge of that subtle yet mischievous form of falsehood which comes from an unconscious perversion of facts on the part of the earnest writers. In addition to this, unscrupulous newspaper correspondents, instructed to write only for the northern or southern political markets, sent broadcast over the country, contradictory or false reports of every new phase of the exciting contest as it developed. [Third,] Many books on Kansas affairs were published during the territorial troubles, some of great merit and of rare historic value, as furnishing corroborative testimony; but of the whole. it is not believed that a single volume is now acknowledged as authoritative, or even approximately accurate, in a historic sense.

Against these adverse factors, however, Andreas enumerated "advantages" which he insisted "were not inconsiderable." First, Wilder's Annals of Kansas provided a chronology of events 1854-1875. Second, the Kansas Historical Society's materials on Kansas and the West was "more varied and complete . . . than can be found in the repository of any like society in the Great West." The co-operation of Secretary F. C. Adams was acknowledged. Next mentioned, were the Kansas State Library, the Biennial Reports of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture, and other state agencies, and for military history, the archives of the state adjutant general. Defects in the history, the readers were assured, derived from other considerations, and it "is only so far complete as to point the way to future historians."

The relation of the county histories and the biographies to the general history received more specific attention than in the preface to the Nebraska volume:

The County histories are supplementary. They have been written by historians who have visited each county, and are made up more directly from the remembrance of old residents, and less from documentary sources than is the general State history. They have been written by different authors, each having his peculiar style, but all working under one general supervision. No attempt has been made to force a correspondence or agreement between the statements concerning the same general occurrences as detailed in the general history and the sketches of the counties . . . Where differences appear they should he attributed to the different sources from which the information has been obtained, and treated as two honest versions of the same story, rather than reviewed as a proof of the unreliability of the whole work. In all cases the proof-sheets or manuscripts of the County histories have been submitted for revision and correction to old and reliable citizens of the County before going to press.

The subject of the biographies, was given special attention and theoretical justification, but without any admission that primarily they were limited to subscribers to the history. "The data from which they were written," Andreas insisted, had been "gathered from personal interviews with the subjects of the sketches, or from their immediate relatives." To insure accuracy, "the biographies of Kansans still living" were "submitted for revision . . . to those most interested . . . " He argued that they showed "what manner of men make up the population, from whence they came, and what experiences or circumstances drove, drifted or lured them thither . . . It matters little that many of them are poor, or that a few of them are rich." A history of Kansas, "containing no record of their lives, would be incomplete indeed." Of course, this fit into the Andreas theory of history, and of the manner in which American history differed from European -- a history of the people themselves in the whole of their range of interests. In a new state this meant that history dealt not only with the remote past, but was brought down in time to the present including the people whose stories were told by the biographies.

The arrangement of the biographical sketches of subscribers is important to an understanding of the adverse criticism at the time of publication. They followed in each case the historical sketch of the locality, city, town or township, with which the subscriber was identified. Thus the history of the locality and of the individual biographee were linked. That association was in accord with the Andreas theory of history and of the relation of biography to history.

It is clear that Andreas as publisher determined the policies and wrote the prefaces to both the Nebraska and the Kansas histories, explaining his point of view. Cutler's role was that of managing editor and chief author in charge of the execution of the writing program. In spite of these essential functions, Cutler's name did not appear on either book.


At the end of 1882 Cutler and his wife returned to the home office of the Andreas establishment in Chicago where the manuscript was put into final form, the type set, the proof read, and the book printed, the typesetting and printing being divided among three printing companies listed on the reverse of the title page. The final revision of the county histories during the early months of 1883 was done in co-operation with local people, although the efficiency of the operation varied with the personal equation. [12]

The task of delivering the Andreas history began in July and appears to have been completed during October or November, 1883. In the northeastern counties, the most heavily populated area, the first releases occurred simultaneously on or about July 25, notices occurring in the daily papers of Atchison, Leavenworth, Lawrence, and Topeka, July 25, 26, and 27 or soon thereafter. [13] The range of delivery expanded west, southwest, and south. In early September, deliveries were made in Bourbon, Riley, and McPherson counties; and by early October, in Crawford, Montgomery, and Sedgwick counties. By November 1, the job must have been practically complete.

In order to sample the reception given the Andreas history a spot-check has been made of 54 newspapers, representing nearly every county in the eastern one third of the state, but including also cities as far west as Salina, McPherson, and Wichita. After the range of delivery dates was established, the papers in question were surveyed for that period, July-October, inclusive. In the course of determining the range of delivery dates and of testing out special problems involved, several papers were studied for the whole of 1882, 1883, and part of 1884. Only 25 of the 54 papers noticed the publication of the history. Of these 25, four were neutral or noncommittal, eight were hostile, and 13 commended the enterprise as worth while although not every aspect of it. Regardless of the verdict on the history proper, the biographies of subscribers usually called forth some adverse remarks.

Appropriately, the feature of the book most commented upon was its size, it was "immense," and the most frequent comparison was with Webster's unabridged dictionary. In his Hiawatha World, August 9, Wilder named it "The Big History" and that name was the most widely adopted nickname among other reviewers, but also he referred to it as "an imperial volume" and this phrase had some following.

Of the four newspapers noticing the book that have been classified as noncommittal, or neutral, [14] the Leavenworth Times merely announced that it was being delivered; the Coffeyville Journal disqualified itself to judge the historical part but pronounced the biographies "a lot of gush," and not representative of its community; the Cherokee Sentinel printed only a paragraph reference to an allegation that the history of Cherokee was a reprint of the one compiled by the Sentinel the first of the year; and the Fort Scott Daily Monitor made no comment of its own but reprinted, August 11, a most favorable review by the Hiawatha World, erroneously credited to the Hiawatha Herald, and September 9, an extreme denunciation by "A Victim."

The North Topeka Times was the only one of the Topeka papers to condemn the Andreas History of Kansas: "A Fool and his money are soon parted . . . A 'History of the Humbugged' would be a more appropriate title." The editor recognized that "much of it is authentic," but he insisted also that "a good deal of it is the product of somebody's fertile imagination." The feature of the book that irked him most was the biographies of the subscribers. [15] Sol Miller of the Troy Kansas Chief had a grievance because he did not receive his copy paid for by advertising: "Besides, we gave their men the use of our files, and spent some time giving them information in person, and afterwards read and corrected a large amount of proof relating to this County." To the Chase County Leader: "The new history, of which so much was promised by the publishers, is not very satisfactory."

In downright denunciation, the letter of "A Victim" in the Fort Scott Daily Monitor, September 9, outdid the North Topeka Times:

MR. EDITOR: -- It is not sweet to be called a fool, nor nice to be looked upon as an idiot, but when, way down in his inmost soul a man knows he is both -- he feels, well, he feels just exactly as those feel who subscribed for the above named book. In an unlucky hour they signed their names and then the blessedness of forgetfulness kindly hid their liability until in an hour still more inauspicious was delivered the History of Kansas. This botched up mess of compilations, statistics, hideous photographs and ridiculous biographical sketches, in little type and poorly bound. This is what some crank recently called an "imperial volume." It is a bulky, cumbersome nuisance and a most humiliating monument to the assininity of the victims who thoughtlessly subscribed for what they supposed would be a valuable work. I feel rather free to express myself, for I am one of the unfortunates. Misery loves company and is not a bit lonely just now.

Indeed, it does seem that running through the American character is a vein of greenhornism that is ineradicable. Our New England fathers bought wooden nutmegs and basswood pumpkin seeds -- and we buy the history of Kansas. The book agent is a standing joke -- our eyeteeth were cut long ago -- we warn the unsophisticated to beware of him, we write jokes and read puns about him and look upon him as a fraud and a snare -- and yet we buy the history of Kansas.

Sometimes, after reading the last stanza of Burns' "Address to the Deil (sic)," I feel as if I could forgive the devil for most anything except for creating and scattering abroad the itinerant book agent. But since I have thought it over, I believe I can freely forgive him for that, if he will agree to forgive me for signing for the history of Kansas.



The Manhattan Republic recognized "much valuable historical reading matter" but insisted that the book was "too big to be handy," and that it would have been better if "consolidated one-half." E. W. Hoch, in the Marion Record, reported that "a sicker lot of book-buyers you never saw.

The two most notorious episodes came late in the season. At Manhattan, the Industrialist was a weekly paper published by the Kansas State College of Agriculture and edited by the faculty, E. M. Shelton, managing editor. At the head of the editorial column of the issue of September 22, and without any heading, appeared the following paragraph:

"The herd-book" is what the irreverent call the big history. But for the fact that every man wrote his own autobiography, we should have suspected, in looking over the pedigrees, that some of the remarkable careers here blocked out, must have given a thrill of astonishment, as well as joy, to the subjects of these biographical sketches.

Note should be made of the fact that Shelton did not claim that either he or his associates had originated the name. The inventor has not been identified, but, so far as the present investigation has been able to determine, the Industrialist was the first to make the term a matter of record in print. Nevertheless, the agricultural college animal breeding interests afforded a suggestive atmosphere for such a label and possibly also "the irreverent."

In reprinting September 28, the Industrialist paragraph, the Marion Record commented: "That big history business is creating a good deal of fun for the newspaper boys all along the line." Of the newspapers included in this survey, however, only one other picked up the "Herd Book" tag, [16] yet over the years it stuck. The second edition of Wilder's Annals of Kansas (1886) reported (p. 1,031) that the Andreas History of Kansas "soon comes to be called the 'Herd Book,' and the 'Stud Book'." Probably the Wilder perpetuation of the "tag" rather than the original printing in the Industrialist was responsible for its survival. Neither Wilder nor Prentis identified the origin, and the first printing of the term by the Industrialist was discovered in the present investigation only after a long search that lent realism to th proverbial quip about hunting for a needle in a haystack.

The lawsuit over payment for the Andreas History of Kansas occurred in Crawford county, November 1, 1883. The first hint of any difficulties of such a drastic nature that has been found was a note in the Chase County Leader, September 20, about the publisher of a history of St. Louis bringing suit against a subscriber who objected to biographies instead of a history of the city. The Leader believed, erroneously, that the publisher was Andreas. Such a suit was however, brought by a representative of Andreas in justice of the peace court (Justice J. P. Hamlin) in Pittsburg and heard November 1, the defendant being W. H. Larimore, a farmer and stockman. The Pittsburg Smelter November 3, reported that a number of prominent men were in the city on that case: "The boys are having plenty of fun over this history business." The verdict was not reported by that paper. The Girard Press, November 8 said: "The plaintiff got judgement (sic), but the jury assessed the value of the book at $3.00, which is quite a reduction from $12.50." [17]

The time has come now for an appraisal of the Prentis story of 1891. The two leading incidents related by him, but without date or place, did occur, the application of the "Herd Book" tag and the lawsuit. But what about the conclusions or interpretation of those facts? The Industrialist paragraph using the term "Herd Book" was not published until September 22. By that time the deliveries of the book had been completed in all the more populous counties. The Fort Scott Daily Monitor, September 12. reported completion in Bourbon county. The lawsuit occurred November 1, when deliveries were completed in most of the more distant counties. Even in Crawford county there were no reports of other "incidents." Prentis' allegation seems unwarranted, that as a result of these facts "the sale of the book by the publisher seems to have ceased. . ." Furthermore, there is no evidence that Kansas failed to appreciate with a fair degree of accuracy both the merits and weakness of "The Big History." Wilder's verdict in the Annals (1886, p. 1,031) was an ever-present reminder: "The completeness of the work is amazing. Without a full index, the true value of the history will be known only to the few who really read it." But the strictly contemporary record of reviewers who took the more favorable side must be given full consideration.

Although not chronologically first, Wilder's review is entitled to first place [18] In introducing "The Big History" August 9 he asserted that:

Nobody will ever read it through, but whoever wants to know anything and everything about Kansas will find it here. . . . The book can be compared to nothing but itself. It is all of Kansas, 200 miles wide and 400 miles long, and all here. We are overcome with wonder and give up the attempt to write a notice of such an imperial volume.

The following week confirmed the first impression: "No one can examine this work without admitting that it is the most complete history that we have." In adverse criticism, Wilder called attention to a Massachusetts state history in which each writer of a section in a co-operative work was

eminent in his department -- a real historian. . . . The object of that work is to make the best history, by the best men living at the time. The purpose of the Big History is to make money for the publishers. The biographies are put in to float the volume. And yet the publisher has not sought to distort history, to misrepresent or conceal facts . . . its real history could he condensed into one-tenth of the space and one-twentieth of the type, with no loss; with a real gain. That is what the real historian will do within twenty years, taking this book, and all of its predecessors, with the newspapers of the day, as his ample repository of facts.

Wilder was concerned about the anonymity of authorship and rendered his own verdict on where he thought credits belonged:

No credit is given in the Big, for any writer of the Big, and this is hardly fair. But the army of writers were doubtless well paid. We judge, from internal evidence, that the State history proper was written by Judge F. G. Adams and Col. S. S. Prouty, and two more competent men could not have been selected. The history of the Indian tribes, most admirably done, we credit to Adams. The Territorial Conflict is Prouty-Adams, the Erckmann-Chatrian, of the Big. The picture of Lane, and the great speech in Chicago, is Prouty's, of course, and is the first worthy laurel placed upon the tombstone of the Grim Chieftain by any Kansas writer. And yet Lane's Chicago triumph was only one of a hundred similar Jim Lane victories and ovations. Looking the matter all over we can understand very well why we were a "Lane" and not a "Robinson man" up to 1864 -- when we ratted, and went over to the Opposition.

Wilder's speculation about the authorship of the principal part of "The Big History" brought a prompt denial, August 17, from F. G. Adams, the letter being printed in full in the World, August 30:

You are not correct in your surmises . . . I did not . . . prepare any part of the book, and there is no writing of mine in it. [The authorship of the general history was credited to William G. Cutler, of Milwaukee, Wis.] By him or under his direction all investigations were made, and by him, according to the best of my information, most of the writing was done, though he was constantly assisted while here, by his wife, a lady of excellent literary ability. They resided here in Topeka, for about ten months, from February to December 1882. Mr. Cutler was assisted more or less by Colonel Prouty and J. C. Hebbard, who I think, assisted somewhat on the general history, as they, and many others did upon county and local work.

Credit for the planning and financing of the Kansas history project was given, of course, to A. T. Andreas, the publisher, who told Adams, upon his visit to Topeka July 19 that the cost was $90,000. Adams then summarized the story of the relations of Cutler with the Kansas Historical Society and himself in connection with the whole episode. When Cutler arrived in Topeka in February and first approached Adams the latter disapproved, but Adams should tell of this in his own way:

As it was to be a mere business enterprise, and the book necessarily to contain in part matter which would be of interest only to subscribers, the directors of the State Historical Society, when asked for the use of its library and materials in its preparation, looked upon the undertaking with disfavor and sought to discourage it. It was hoped that the materials collected by the Historical Society would be first used by some competent citizen of our own State in the preparation of a history of Kansas; of a book which would be free from the taint of commercial jobbery; . . . he was told very frankly that the Society did not wish the result of its labors to be used as he proposed, and that he could not expect any encouragement from the Society. Such effort as could be was immediately made to head him off by getting a Kansas man at such a work. Colonel Prouty was consulted, and urged to undertake it, as he of all other competent persons, seemed to have the leisure, and the requisite knowledge of book-making, and book-publishing. He gave the matter careful consideration and decided against it. A meeting of such of the directors of the Society as were in Topeka was held, and Mr. Cutler was invited to come before the meeting and explain his project, which he did. The following is the entry upon the records of the Society, concerning the meeting:

"After a consultation had in the Society's room, February 8, 1882, the following officers and members were present, namely: Gov. J. P. St. John, Hon. P. I. Bonebrake, Hon. James Smith, Hon. John Francis, Hon. F. P. Baker, Hon. T. D. Thacher, Hon. C. K. Holiday, Col. S. S. Prouty and the Secretary."

Adams stated the object of the meeting and Cutler presented his plans. After deliberation the decision was made and entered in the minutes of the board of directors as of February 8, 1882. Adams related that: "It was informally decided that Mr. Cutler should be given access to the library of the Society in such a manner, and under such restrictions as the Secretary might determine." [19] In accord with this permission the library was opened freely to Cutler who promised that the work would be well done, "and the promise, it seems to me, has been amply fulfilled." Adams testified that of course he took an interest in what was being done, but no compensation had ever been offered or received for his time taken by the project.

The Atchison Champion, John A. Martin, editor, wrote: "There can be no complaint on the score of quantity" because it was "certainly one of the largest volumes ever printed in the English language." He pointed out that the general state history occupied about 300 pages, the county histories and the biographies accounted for the remainder:

The feature of the book which will be most criticised (sic) -- and read -- is the biographical, containing sketches longer or shorter, of Kansas citizens, some well known; . . . and others unknown. But the sketches have, many of them, genuine historical value, and the others are of interest to individuals and families, and will have [value] in the future to the historian, the seeker in the field of geneology (sic), and others.

And in conclusion, applying to both the general history and the county histories and the biographies: " . . . this book . . is of great value, and, in that respect it is a happy disappointment."

The verdict of the Topeka Capital was that:

The completeness and accuracy of the book will be a pleasant surprise to the subscribers. The editor, Mr. Andreas, has fulfilled every promise he made his subscribers, and given them the most comprehensive history of Kansas ever made of a State in one book. . . . The book is unlike most histories . . . gotten up to sell by subscription, in being really a meritorious work. . . The matter it contains is of value to-day and will continue to be of increasing interest for its historical and biographical data for generations to come.

The Topeka Commonwealth said: "Its contents, which will of course be criticized, are carefully compiled, great attention having been paid, apparently, to genuine history." The Lawrence Daily Kansas Herald, said: "So far as the work goes it is grand . . . Yet as an authentic history it is sadly lacking in many points." Especially the Herald objected to the biographies. The Emporia News thought it "will undoubtedly be consulted almost as much as Wilder's Annals." The Hiawatha World insisted that: "The book can be compared to nothing but itself. It is all of Kansas, 200 miles wide and 400 miles long, and all here. We are overcome with wonder and give up the attempt to write a notice of such an imperial volume." All of these evaluations were printed during the last days of July and the first days of August, 1883, and all were by major Kansas dailies and weeklies.

Political partisanship was not conspicuous in the reactions to "The Big History." A letter to the editor of the Marion Democrat, signed "Patriot," had possible political implications. He quoted Wilder's World review on one point: "Many matters are fully and correctly brought out in the Big that have not been well understood before, and the chief of these are the Pottawatomie murders." Instead of undertaking to justify John Brown as most admirers had done after the Townsley confession of December, 1879, "Patriot" spoke his Democratic mind: "At last men are beginning to admit that 'Old John Brown' instead of being a christian (sic) and a patriot, was a thief and a murderer. John Brown did this diabolical work. And yet men refer to him as a saint." This was giving the Andreas history an approval not exactly in the orthodox vein, but nevertheless the minority of otherwise minded in Kansas found something of merit in the cracks shown in the monolithic structure of antislavery-abolition Kansas historiography.

Among the later reviews the McPherson Republican pointed out that: "Unlike most works of the kind, there is not a bit of padding or stuffing in it. No thick leads, wide margins, blank pages, and spongy paper to make a little matter fill a big book." The immense labor involved in the county histories was emphasized: "the force engaged in gathering the facts seems to have ransacked the country pretty thoroughly." In conclusion it was said that: "the work has been done well and faithfully. The value of this history to the Kansan who takes pride in his state, is beyond estimation."

The Republican went beyond the scope of comment usual to these review notices. One point made was that:

The book has also another peculiar value. It preserves in permanent form the history of events which hitherto have never been recorded. Kansas is a peculiar state. She has had her share of announcements, proclamations and other performances common to what may be styled, statesmanship on paper. But here the people have gone further. With the early Kansan, thinking was followed by acting and often so quickly that it was not easy to tell which came first. A real or fancied grievance, an indignation meeting, a raid, a fight, that was the way in early times. But the participants in these affairs never troubled themselves with writing. . . . Kansas may be grateful that before these memories have perished from earth, they have been gathered and recorded."

The writer did not assume that history as found in such a book was final: "That all of this matter is not equally important is true, but this book will be a treasure house for future historians." In one respect the Republican was more discriminative than most people of that day who would have agreed with Andreas about the relation of Kansas to the American Civil War: "In Kansas the war was begun . . . " Instead, the Republican observed: "What influence Kansas has had on national affairs cannot be estimated at present . . . To those who in the future years shall attempt the task, this book will be of inestimable value."

After a first look at "The Big Book," weight 14 pounds, the Girard Press admitted that it was too long to read in the time available, so the editor did not commit himself on its literary merits: "The state history, we notice, contains much that has not heretofore been collected, and is valuable, at least, in furnishing data that will be of value to the student." He was troubled by the biographies. The Girard Herald admitted that when the agent called and outlined the scope of the history he thought it "too collossal (sic), would take too much time, means and research, and altogether . . . too much like the many dreams that are discussed by impracticable people . . ." But when the agent delivered the book:

Imagine our surprise [that it was] in no way inferior to the declaration of purposes. . . . That it is a perfect piece of work, such as could be gotten up by the same parties after ten years labor instead of eighteen months, only, we would not have inferred, but we do not hesitate to say that the work done in that time by the author, agents, printers, binders is well done./


The editor regretted the limited edition because he wished that it might be accessible to "every boy growing up in Kansas." Apparently girls didn't count in such a context!

One of the strangest aspects of the review notices of the Andreas history was the generally favorable judgments on the physical aspects of the book, the department where experienced printers have been not only qualified to speak, but sensitive as a matter of professional pride. With few exceptions the paper and binding were commended. In perspective those were the two most serious physical defects of the book. A wood-pulp paper was used and the binding was totally inadequate for a 14-pound volume. As of the mid-20th century only a relatively few surviving copies can be rebound successfully because the paper is too brittle.

The prediction of John A. Martin may be taken as the means of introducing some consideration of the problem presented by the biographies in "The Big History": "The feature of the book which will be most criticized -- and read -- is the biographical . . ." The unanimity of the reviewers, both those hostile to the project and those appreciative of the general history, leaves no room for disagreement with Martin on that point. But merely to denounce the printing of the biographical sketches of the subscribers did not then and does not in perspective meet adequately the challenge involved. A number of contemporaries recognized the unpleasant facts and said as much.

Less objection would have been aroused apparently had subscription not been the sole criterion for inclusion of biographies in the county section. Apparently few would have objected to the inclusion of the subscribers as such providing others had been selected upon some reasonable standard of merit for the state as a whole or for the counties as a whole. The North Topeka Times asserted that:

It is well enough to write the biography of every early settler, and of prominent men of the state, and to embellish the book with their faces. They made the history of Kansas and we love to read of them, and look at their pictures. But we protest against making up such a book, of promiscuous biographies of anybody who would pay for it, leaving out of the work so many prominent and worthy names and calling it a "History of Kansas."

The omissions irked the Lawrence Herald which stated the matter thus: "unfortunately very many men whose lives formed a prominent part of the history of Kansas were not subscribers . . ."

The objections of the Wyandotte Gazette and of the Chase County Leader were based also upon the wording of some of the biographical sketches which converted them into advertising. After analyzing the composition of the group in the Coffeyville section, the Journal of that place insisted that they were not representative of the community.

Two papers came nearer than the others to stating the issues adequately. The Girard Press, as did several others, asserted that the biographies were written by the subjects themselves. Possibly some of them were, but the usual formula was that the subjects supplied the data which was written or revised by the editors and submitted for approval. Some were modest, said the Press, "but some have given the histories of their families (real or imaginary) from the time of the revolution, and boiled over in gushing eulogy of their own attainments. This is the disgusting part of the book -- but as this was the publisher's source of profit, could not well be avoided in a work of this kind." The Atchison Champion was quoted as saying: "We really cannot understand what the critics expected. The biographies are as full and accurate as the parties contributing them would give." [20]

None of the reviewers distinguished clearly the two-fold character of the problem of biography involved. First, some provision should have been made for selection of nonliving persons for biographical mention upon a basis of merit. Second, besides the subscribers, some categories of living persons could have been included. That no provision was made for persons no longer living was the omission that was hardest to understand or defend. Strictly speaking there was no possible jjustification. That omission violated the theory of history and biography formulated by Andreas himself, and laid him open to the cynical accusation so often leveled at all subscription or vanity histories of this sort, that they were purely commercial ventures operated solely for profit.

Pertaining to the limitations of the second group, the living persons, to subscribers there is an aspect that should be suggested for serious consideration. In any study of the structure and characteristics of a given society, criteria of selection must be set up. As every person in the state or county could not be described, a sampling technique must be adopted. Without rationalizing it as such, had not willingness to subscribe to a promised but unwritten history, on the assurance of a canvasser acting for an unknown publisher, achieved a fair sample of one sort of cross section of the total population of Kansas? Did not a similar principle operate also in explaining acceptance of political and social panaceas as well as patent medicines and book agents? If one were to be completely candid, just how far did this criterion deviate from the representative or average citizen of Kansas or any other state?


On August 8, 1883, soon after receiving his personal copy of the History of Kansas, F. C. Adams wrote to Cutler reporting that he had tested it out for reference:

It contains a vast store of information. If it contains errors, I have yet to find them. I speak of the general history and may say the same of the local history, so far as I have examined . . . those sections with whose history I am more familiar. In regard to the general work, I know of the methodical and laborious care with which you and your excellent lady pursued your investigations. The arrangement and putting in print of your work is not less admirable. [21]/


Seeing a copy of Adams' letter to Wilder about authorship, Cutler wrote Adams, September 13:

I merely want to thank you for the very truthful and frank letter which appeared in Wilder's paper of the 20th ult. You did what you could to put me and yourself right. Now, if you think it valuable, in a historic sense, to have deposited in your archives the list of writers of the "Big History," I will send you the whole thing. Of course, you can see that the reliability of the different parts of the "Big" must depend somewhat on its authorship, and, I consequently thought you, if nobody else, might desire to know exactly who wrote the book. . . . I managed, in writing the history of Kansas, to get more than a passing interest in your work. It is plain that the history of the State is not yet written. The biographical portion -- really the most important, has scarcely been touched. The great bulk of what appears in "The Big" as Wilder calls it, should be put into good school history form. Nobody could do that better than you and Wilder. Then, the Annals should be continued, and the second volume would, I think, sell largely and make the first invaluable. To you, I suggest that you use my history for the future rather than for the past. Note each error as you discover it, so that whoever looks at the book may see the latest -- not only history as compiled by me, but every revision and correction that you can make. In that way, it seems to me, you might make the over bulky volume valuable. . .

In acknowledging Cutler's letter, September 17, as would be expected, Adams replied: "I shall be very glad to receive from you for our archives a list of the writers of the Big History. It will be very valuable, and always of interest as a part of the literary history of the State." Later in the same letter, Adams expressed his thanks for the suggestion about "noting corrections, if any need be, in the text of your history; also as to the school history. I shall heed both suggestions." [22]

Following an exchange of letters in January, 1884, relative to the nondelivery of a copy of the history to a niece, Adams added a personal note to his letter of January 25: "The best critics speak well of your book. In every instance of adverse criticism so far as I remember, it has come from those whose biographies were left out. This is human nature of course." [23]

A decade of silence was broken by Adams who wrote Cutler inquiring about authorship. Difficult to understand is the apparent lapse of memory on the part of Adams about the earlier correspondence on that subject and his failure to refresh his memory by consulting his letter files. Adams' letter was dated May 5, 1894, and Cutler, then in the wool business, replied May 8:

Your letter of May 5 has just reached me, and I am glad you appreciate the historical work we did. I can only testify to your full cooperation and help, after we knew each other. You remember that, quite early, you tried to head me off -- but, the cordial way in which you and your daughter treated us afterwards, and the warm friendship which followed, leaves that, to me, only as a joke, to laugh at.
My wife died 3 yrs ago. I leave to day, for a Western trip, on wool business, so far personal.
In regard to your inquiries regarding the history of Kansas:
(1) I was the Editor in Chief, with head-quarters at Topeka --
(2) The entire body of the STATE HISTORY was written by myself and wife. Also all the biographies of historical characters like John Brown, Lane, Robinson and others.
My wife, MARY W. CUTLER, wrote the early history, including that of the Indians; Coronado &c. She was a better, and, I think a more conscientious writer of history than I could ever be.
The county and town histories, which were subordinate, were written by, perhaps, a dozen different writers; all their manuscripts being revised, before sent to press, by myself and wife.
My son, H. G. Cutler, was at Leavenworth, Atchison, and Wyandotte.
S. S. PROUTY wrote the County, perhaps more than one, south of Topeka, where he formerly lived, and gave us much valuable information of his early days in Kansas, which was digested by us, and went into the general history;
MR. J. C. HEBBARD assisted in several county histories, and, I think, wrote one or two entire, and sent me the copy, after I returned to Chicago. He was most excellent help to me, also, in gathering local statistics and historic facts about the county in which Topeka is (I have no map by me, and don't remember the name of the county). There was another Kansas man, who knew something about the Indian fights out west: I forget his name, who I hired to write a county out where he seemed acquainted.
I think the A. T. Andreas pay-roll would give you the author of every county history. I have written all that comes to my mind, with no written data to which I can refer. --
I send my warmest regards to you & daughter. If you ever have a World's Fair in Topeka, and I visit it, I shall see you, if you are alive. . ./


In a postscript Cutler reminded Adams: "Soon after the History was published I sent you [a] list of writers on it. It is probably put away in some pigeon-hole." On the authority of this notation the present writer had the co-operation of the staff of the Kansas Historical Society in a futile search for the missing list of writers.

In his acknowledgment of July 8, Adams again revealed a striking deficiency in observation or in memory. He thanked Cutler for the information about:

the authorship of the different portions of your great history of Kansas, 1883. . . I did not know, however, of the full part taken in your work by your wife. I did observe that she was a most patient and attentive helper, but I so little cultivated an acquaintance with her, and saw so little of your work in your rooms that I would not know of the important and valuable help which your wife rendered, and which you so gratefully seem to remember. I look upon the period of your work here with pleasant remembrance. You did a good work. Your great book is a collection of the materials of Kansas history which will be consulted to the latest day. [24]

Little additional information about authorship of the county histories has been collected, but more will be found from time to time in the newspaper files of the several counties. In addition to Atchison, Leavenworth, and Wyandotte counties, the son, H. G. Cutler, assisted in McPherson county, accompanied by Robert P. Dey. [25] The Marion Graphic, April 27, 1883, credited the writing of that county to Hubbard [Hebbard ?]. Sol Miller's contribution on proof reading, etc., has been mentioned for Doniphan county, and similarly revision by H. Miles Moore for Leavenworth county. James Hanway contributed to the Franklin county history.


The contemporary reviews of "The Big History" were quite general in substance. Few Kansas editors of 1883 possessed the knowledge of the details of Kansas history sufficient to have undertaken specific criticism. Except for a few points, even Wilder did not undertake to evaluate particular facts and interpretations. At no time since then has anyone assumed the task of detailed examination. Such a project is scarcely appropriate now, but some rather general commentary is in order for two reasons. First, because the perspective of nearly three quarters of a century affords a basis for testing the soundness of Cutler's work. Second, in spite of 70-odd years, no single book or even limited number of books are available which displace it altogether. For the period really covered, the Andreas-Cutler history, with all its shortcomings, is still the least objectionable longer book available.

Of the shorter books, L. W. Spring's Kansas, The Prelude to the War for the Union (Boston, 1885) still holds a similar qualified position. [26]

By the end of 1882 when Cutler and his wife completed their sojourn in Topeka, the Kansas Historical Society had made substantial progress in collecting historical materials of all kinds, but especially newspapers, manuscripts, and public documents, both state and national. From the first three Biennial Reports of the Society, covering the years 1877-1883, it is possible to reconstruct quite accurately just what was actually available to the Cutlers at that time. For example, the Society had received the following collections of manuscripts, either substantially complete or major installments of what are now found in those groups under the following names: Eli Thayer, Thaddeus Hyatt, George L. Stevens, Thomas H. Webb, W. B. Taylor,James Hanway, Isaac McCoy, Robert Simerwell, John G. Pratt, Joel K. Goodin, James B. Abbott, S. N. Wood, James Montgomery, John Brown, James M. McFarland, and William Clark.

The Cutlers were the first to make use of these resources for systematic historical purposes, and they used them intelligently. As has been said earlier, in general Cutler followed substantially the traditional framework, but at this point the additional observation is in order, that he filled it in from these new materials in an authentic fashion that gave to Kansas history a substance not formerly present.

The preliminary material in the Andreas-Cutler history dealing with the setting of Kansas history, based upon the inadequate knowledge available in 1882, has been superceded almost altogether. Recent geological knowledge is available in the publications of the State Geological Survey of Kansas, but of particular relevance here is John C. Frye and A. Byron Leonard, Pleistocene Geology of Kansas (1952). The geographical picture in modern form is found in Walter H. Schoewe, "The Geography of Kansas." [27] The anthropological and archeological background of the prairie and plains between the Mississippi river and the Rocky mountains may be most effectively introduced for Kansas readers by the work of Waldo R. Wedel. [28]

The Coronado story has undergone several transformations since Cutler wrote, using the J. H. Simpson version as his guide. 'The most recent revaluation is that of H. E. Bolton, Coronado, Knight of Pueblos and Plains (New York, 1949).

The ecological setting of the grassland and the manner in which the Eastern American forest men met this environment, which was strange to them, receives attention in several works by the present writer. [29]

The writing of the history of the United States has changed substantially since Cutler wrote his section on the national background of Kansas. That revision as it related to Kansas history owes much to the work of Frank Heywood Hodder (1860-1935), a professor at the University of Kansas, 1891-1935. [30] Focusing his reinterpretation of American history upon the career of Stephen A. Douglas, Hodder showed that his controlling interest was the organization of Western territory "as an indispensable necessity to the development of the country." Douglas sensed the revolutionary importance of steam railroads to the interior communications of a large continental landmass such as the United States, and urged the construction of a railroad to the Pacific ocean by a central route. The accomplishment of that objective required the organization and settlement of the Indian country along the route. Douglas campaigned for those objectives from 1844 to 1854. Also, Douglas advocated local self-government and co-operation of states in regional affairs as an offset to the growing tendency toward national centralization of power. He insisted that popular government was grounded in the locality. These principles provided the background for the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, with its "Popular Sovereignty" clause, and for Douglas these principles, not slavery, were the real issues of the day. [31] The newer point of view applied to the administrations of Pierce and Buchanan, 1853-1861, is treated best in Roy F. Nichols, Franklin Pierce (Philadelphia and London, 1931), and The Disruption of American Democracy (New York, 1948).

Kansas history proper, as differentiated from background, began in the Cutler book at page 81. The story was told in a factual manner, with the liberal reprinting of original documents or extracts from them, and with the minimum of personal interpretation. In accordance with the prevailing point of view the territorial story was told almost exclusively from the Free-State side. Leavenworth, for instance, was sacrificed to Lawrence even for the Free-State story. The convention era of 1855 during which the Free-State party and the Topeka statehood movement were launched ignored important factors. This story needs revision to recognize the role of J. Butler Chapman, J. H. Stringfellow, Josiah Miller, and R. H. Elliott. Also the Topeka Constitution needs re-evaluation. [32]

The Lecompton Constitution movement and the English bill have been reinterpreted by F. H. Hodder, showing that the bribery story is untenable. [33] The admission of Kansas into the Union and the organization of the state government under Charles Robinson as governor, is told in modern form in G. R. Gaeddert, The Birth of Kansas (Topeka, 1940). The John Brown story is told in Malin, John Brown and the Legend of Fifty-six, based upon altogether new manuscript material as the point of departure from the traditional factual structure of the activities of Brown. In this new context the Pottawatomie massacre was political assassination.


10. These are the type sizes specified by the Daily Kansas State Journal, Topeka, July 27, 1883, in its review of the Kansas history, which was in the same format. In current 20th century terms these would be approximately, if not the exact equivalents of, six point and eight point. Both were set solid without leading.
11. "Proceedings" of the board of directors, K. S. H. S., "Record A," pp. 56, 57.
12. Sol Miller in the Troy Kansas Chief, August 23, 1883, described his participation. The revision by H. Miles Moore of the Leavenworth county history was acknowledged p. 420, Footnote.
13. The Leavenworth Times July 24, announced it was being delivered but did not review it. The Topeka Daily Capital, July 20, announced that A. T. Andreas had visited Topeka August 19, and that F. G. Adams, at the Kansas Historical Society, had received notice that the history was ready.
14. Leavenworth Daily Times, July 24; Fort Scott Daily Monitor, August 11, September 9; Coffeyville Journal, October 13; Cherokee Sentinel, January 18, 1884.
15. North Topeka Times,. August 3, 1883. The other newspapers that condemned the book were the Wyandotte Gazette, August 10; The Weekly Kansas Chief, Troy, August 23; the Cottonvood Falls Chase County Leader, August 30; the Manhattan Republic, September 14; the Marion Record, September 21; the Manhattan Industrialist, September 22; and The Smelter, Pittsburg, November 3, 1883.>
16. Chase County Leader, Cottonwood Falls, October 25. 1883, January 3, 1884. The Topeka papers, the Capital, the State Journal, and the Commonwealth did not pick up the term.
17. The Smelter, Pittsburg, November 17, 1883, reprinted the Press paragraph. and so did the Chase County Leader, January 3. 1884. Larimore's biography is found in the history, p. 1,125.;
18. Atchison Daily Champion, July 25; Topeka Daily Capital, July 26; Topeka Daily Commonwealth, July 26; Topeka Daily State Journal, July 27; Emporia Weekly News, August 2; Hiawatha World, August 9, 16; Junction City Union, August 25; Lawrence Daily Kansas Herald, August 1; Marion County Democrat, Marion. August 30; McPherson Republican, September 6; Girard Press, October 11; Girard Herald, October 11; Wichita Beacon, October 17, 1883.
19. The official action is recorded in "Record A," "Proceedings" of the board of directors, K. S. H. S., pp. 56, 57.
20. Chase County Leader, October 25, 1883.  >
21. Extract from K. S. H. S., "Outgoing Correspondence," v. 7, pp. 468. 409.
22. Ibid., v. 8, p. 29.  
23. Ibid., v. 8, p. 308.  >
24. Ibid., v. 38, p. 324.  
25. McPherson Independent, November 22, 1882.  
26. Spring's book has been placed in its historic perspective in Malin, John Brown and the Legend of Fifty-six, chs. 19, 20.  
27. In three parts (four installments), Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, Lawrence, v. 51, pp. 253-288; v. 52, pp. 261-333; v. 54, pp. 263-329; v. 56, pp. 131-190.  
28. Waldo R. Wedel, "Some Problems and Prospects in Kansas Prehistory", The Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 7, pp. 115-132; "Prehistory and Environment in the Central Great Plains," Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, v. 50. pp. 1-18; "Environment and Native Subsistence Economics in the Central Great Plains," Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, v. 101, No. 3; "Culture Chronology in the Central Great Plains." American Antiquity, Salt Lake City, v. 12, pp. 148-155.  
29. Malin, The Grassland of North America: Prolegomena to Its History (Lawrence: The author, 1946); Grassland Historical Studies . . . ; volume I, Geography and Geology (Lawrence: The author, 1950); Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas (Lawrence: The University of Kansas Press, 1944). The first chapters of the last named book were first published in The Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 11, pp. 370-398; v. 12, pp. 58-91, 158-189.  
30.The Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 5, pp. 115-121; v. 8, pp. 227-237.  
31. For a further development of these principles, see James C. Malin, The Nebraska Question, 1852-1854 (Lawrence: The author, 1954).  
32. Cf., the short statement on these points in the first essay in this series, The Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 21, pp. 205-210. A longer version is in James C. Malin, "The Topeka Statehood Movement Reconsidered: Origins," in Territorial Kansas: Studies Commemorating the Centennial (Lawrence: The University of Kansas Publications, Social Science Studies, 1954). Other essays in this volume, Territorial Kansas, each by a different author, deal with topics that received scant if any attention from Cutler.  
33. F. H. Hodder, "Some Aspects of the English Bill for the Admission of Kansas." Collections of the K. S. H. S., v. 10, pp. 224-232.