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Kansas History - Summer 2012

Kansas History, Summer 2012(Vol. 35, No. 2)

R. Alton Lee, “The Populist Dream of a ‘Wrong Way’ Transcontinental.”

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Among the Populist Party’s many prudent policy initiatives was the so-called “wrong way” or north-south “transcontinental” railroad, which the reformers envisioned bisecting the Great Plains, routing produce to ports on the Gulf of Mexico and breaking the railroad shipping monopoly enjoyed by the nation’s east-west transcontinental railroads. Kansas Populists played a major role in this endeavor to expand governmental powers, a move they hoped would assist the helpless and downtrodden, lower property taxes, cheapen the currency, raise farm prices, fight monopolies, and reform railroads. Although the Gulf and Interstate Railroad ultimately failed, the goal to build an alternative transcontinental railroad was an attack on what Populists viewed as a monopoly controlling their vital farm-to-market system. In addition, Populists sought to expand their foreign markets through cheaper transportation rates. The project eventually stalled and disintegrated over the question of how to fund construction, but the story, as told here by R. Alton Lee, professor emeritus, University of South Dakota, is an important and fascinating one.

Lorraine Madway, “Documenting Struggle and Resilience: The Federal Writers’ Project Records for Kansas.”

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The records of the Federal Writers’ Project for Kansas housed in Special Collections at Wichita State University Libraries document one of the most successful cultural experiments in the history of the New Deal. Operating in Kansas from 1935 until 1942, the project hired men and women on relief who demonstrated proficiency as writers and researchers and could ultimately document the state’s past and present. Specific topics included local history, geography, agriculture, industry, archaeology, conservation, art, music, and education, as well as scenic automobile tours. Some of the records became the basis for Kansas: A Guide to the Sunflower State, published in 1939. According to Dr. Lorraine Madway, curator of Special Collections and university archivist, however, most of the collection materials were omitted from the state guide. They are still, she argues, a valuable resource for today’s researcher. The voices of more than a hundred writers and the hundreds of people interviewed in these records reveal what mattered to ordinary Kansans who were looking at their past and present at a time of political, economic, and cultural transition that was forged by crisis yet filled with opportunity.

David Vail, “Kill That Thistle: Rogue Sprayers, Bootlegged Chemicals, Wicked Weeds, and the Kansas Chemical Laws, 1945–1980.”

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Scholars have largely assessed America’s chemical history by focusing on the regulations and politics of pesticides. Many of these works focused on the post-World War II debates over DDT, the social activism that Rachel Carson inspired with her 1962 book Silent Spring, and the growing oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1970s. Historian David Vail, however, provides an alternate story by examining how farmers, agricultural pilots, and Kansas experts constructed a chemical-risk standard much earlier in the postwar era that attempted to balance economic goals with the health of their fields and communities. Part of this standard focused on chemical toxicity while another part addressed a nonhuman form of “poisonous injury” that came from pests, primarily weeds. A third vector of contamination came from rogue sprayers and chemical bootleggers. In addition to Dr. Vail’s examination of the agricultural, technological, and environmental changes that pesticides, pests, and producers brought to mid-twentieth-century Kansas farming, he also provides new insights into the long overlooked history of aerial application and the state’s contribution to that industry’s postwar evolution.

Letter to the Editors


Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862–1867
by William A. Dobak
xviii + 553 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Washington, DC: Center of Military History, United States Army, Army Historical Series, 2011, cloth $58.00, paper $38.00.
Reviewed by Brian Dirck, professor of history, Anderson University, Anderson, Indiana.

Homesickness: An American History
by Susan J. Matt
xii + 343 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, cloth $29.95.
Reviewed by Jon Lauck, historian and author, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The Northern Cheyenne Exodus in History and Memory
by James N. Leiker and Ramon Powers
xiv + 258 pages, illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2011, cloth $34.95.
Reviewed by Michael L. Tate, professor of history and Native American studies, University of Nebraska at Omaha.

John Brown Still Lives! America’s Long Reckoning with Violence, Equality, and Change
by R. Blakeslee Gilpin
xiii + 279 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011, cloth $30.00.
Reviewed by Kristen Tegtmeier Oertel, Mary Frances Barnard Associate Professor in Nineteenth-Century American History, University of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Prairie Fire: A Great Plains History
by Julie Courtwright
xiv + 274 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2011, cloth $29.95.
Reviewed by Sterling Evans, Louise Welsh Chair Oklahoma, Southern Plains, and Borderlands History, University of Oklahoma, Norman.

Ned Wynkoop and the Lonely Road from Sand Creek
by Louis Kraft
xviii + 334 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2011, cloth $34.95.
Reviewed by Catharine R. Franklin, independent scholar, Hyattsville, Maryland.

Price’s Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri
by Mark A. Lause
x + 264 pages, illustrations, notes, index.
Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011, cloth $29.95.
Reviewed by William Garrett Piston, professor of history, Missouri State University, Springfield.

Main Street Public Library: Community Places and Reading Spaces in the Rural Heartland, 1876–1956
by Wayne A. Wiegand
xiv + 244 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, Iowa and the Midwest Experience, 2011, paper $25.95.
Reviewed by Daryl Morrison, head of Special Collections, University of California, Davis.


Kansas Then & Now. By Monroe Dodd, with new photography by Jean Dodd and Monroe Dodd. (Kansas City, Mo.: Kansas City Star Books, 2012, 280 pages, paper $26.95.)

From Atchison and Lawrence in the 1850s to Greensburg and Manhattan in 1970s, Kansas Then & Now shows us where we have been and where we have come during the last 150 years through several hundred nicely reproduced historic photographs, juxtaposed with images of those same locations today. Not surprisingly, the “then and now” contrast is often stark. In some the rephotography reveals an empty field or roadside where once there was a hopeful and expectant frontier main street; in others we see how “progress” has dramatically changed the face of a community by redeveloping what must have been a defining feature of the original place; and in still others we find scenes that look surprisingly unchanged by time.

Quick Reference to Kansas: Lost—Found—Missing Towns and Places with Selected Trivia and Truths, 3 volumes. By Melvin D. Bruntzel. (Belleville, Kans.: self-published, 2010.)

This remarkable publication, comprised of three volumes including a fully cross-referenced index of all Kansas township names, is the work of amateur historian Melvin Bruntzel of Rossville, Kansas. After several decades traveling and working for the State of Kansas, Bruntzel compiled this comprehensive catalog, which even includes names from the original surveys and those no longer used, after research in the records of the Kansas Historical Society archives, the Topeka Public Library, and many other research centers. Meticulously organized and referenced, this work will be of immeasurable value to local historical societies and libraries, county and city governments, and the living residents and descendants of Kansas’s nine thousand “lost, found, and missing” places.

The Great Plains Guide to Custer: 85 Forts, Fights & Other Sites. By Jeff Barnes. (Mechanicsburg, Penn.: Stackpole Books, 2012, xiv + 242 pages, paper $19.95.)

The Great Plains Guide to Custer, by the author of Forts of the Northern Great Plains, is a travel guide for George Armstrong Custer haunts. Organized chronologically, it offers helpful information about each location as it was before, during, and after Custer’s appearance. Much of the post-Civil War Custer saga unfolds in Kansas and Nebraska, of course, and thus the book focuses on Custer’s middle period, both geographically and chronologically. The author, a former newspaperman living in Omaha, includes sites associated with the infamous Hancock campaign of April 1867; the “Custer House” at Fort Riley; Forts Hays and Leavenworth; and Kansas University’s Natural History Museum, final resting place of Comanche, the cavalry horse that survived the “Last Stand” at Little Bighorn.

Birger Sandzén on Art, Music and Transcendence. By James M. Kaplan. (Chicago, Ill.: Nordic Studies Press, 2010, 191 pages, paper $19.95.)

Artist Birger Sandzén landed in Lindsborg, Kansas, by accident, after stumbling across a book by Bethany College founder and fellow Swede, Carl Swensson. In 1894 Sandzén wrote Swensson for a job and was offered a two-year contract; in 1946 Sandzén retired from Bethany, having taught art, language, and music there for fifty-two years. Here Sandzén aficionado James Kaplan examines the artist’s paintings and prints, but also his lesser-known literary endeavors. In books and articles on art and travel, Sandzén described the experiences that shaped the landscapes he painted of Kansas’s Smoky Hill River Valley and the American Southwest. He also displayed a charming wit and dogged commitment to cultivating art collectors, especially those who helped living artists “buy butter and bread and beefsteak and a lot of other things that an artist’s stomach longs for and needs just like other stomachs. In the long run the artists can’t live in castles in the air. They’re too chilly in the winter” (p. 43).

Radiating Like a Stone: Wichita Women and the 1970s Feminist Movement. Compiled and edited by Myrne Roe. (Wichita, Kans.: Watermark Press, 2011, xx + 300 pages, paper $20.00.)

In this volume Myrne Roe has collected the remembrances of seventy-nine women who participated in the feminist movement in Wichita during the 1970s. The title of the book springs from a poem, “On Vicki’s Porch,” written by Anita Skeen, a former professor at Wichita State University. Roe’s motive for this project was to inform a younger generation of women about the ways “the women’s movement 40 years ago had made countless positive differences in the lives” of activists lobbying to promote women’s issues in the 1970s and today (p. viii). This volume amply demonstrates as much, and also stands as a testament to Roe’s hard work fighting for equity in the workplace and social equality in general. The firsthand accounts included also illuminate the motivations and achievements of the broader women’s rights movement in the modern United States.

Letters to Alice: Birth of the Kleberg-King Ranch Dynasty. Edited and annotated by Jane Clements Monday and Frances Brannen Vick. (College Station, Tex.: Texas A&M University Press, 2012, 192 pages, cloth $29.95.)

The small cache of poignant love letters from Robert Justus Kleberg to Alice Gertrudis King preserved in this volume represents the “only extant collection” of correspondence between any Texas cattle baron and his wife (dust jacket). The editors, who previously published an award-winning study of the cattle empire of Petra Vela and Mifflin Kenedy (2007), weave the Kleberg letters into a chronicle of ranching expansion. Documenting a “Victorian” courtship set in the dust-soaked Texas brush country of the 1880s (p. xiii), this carefully annotated collection is a narrative of human commitment and endurance. The letters span from 1884 to 1887 and record the details of a courtship and early marriage beset by obstacles and tragedy. Yet the tender words of Robert Kleberg to his “dear little heart” also document the growth of a cattle dynasty. The editors provide many photographs and line drawings.

Sgt. of the Guard at Nuremberg. By Jim Sharp. (Manhattan, Kans.: Ag Press, 2012, 136 pages, paper $19.95.)

Morris County, Kansas, native Jim Sharp supervised First Infantry Division guards who watched over the Nazi defendants during the main Nuremberg trial of 1945–1946. Sharp reviews the trial from start to finish and offers fascinating recollections about everything from the guards’ orders to cell life to his success in securing signatures from many of the famous but surprisingly ordinary looking prisoners, who included Hitler’s chosen successors Herman Göering and the “wild and weird” Rudolph Hess (p. 84). The final chapter touches on the lasting historical significance of the Nuremberg trials: they were a crucial moment in the development of international law but nonetheless encouraged the view that only a few evil leaders were responsible for the horrors of Nazism.