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Kansas History - Autumn 2013

Kansas History, Autumn 2013(Vol. 36, No. 3)

Thomas Fox Averill, “Kansas Literature and Race”

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Like Kansas generally, which has a checkered history with respect to race and race relations, despite the celebratory free-state narrative that pervaded its published history for many years, “Kansas writers have always had, and rightfully, an ambivalence about race.” And “because of this ambiguous history,” observes Washburn University professor and noted Kansas author Tom Averill, “sensitive Kansas writers, African American and Anglo alike, have often been compelled to try to understand their state’s ambivalence about race.” From the literature on abolitionist John Brown and Brown v. Board of Education to the works of Langston Hughes, Frank Marshall Davis, and Gordon Parks to the films of Kevin Willmott and Averill’s own short story about segregation in Topeka, Professor Averill examines how Kansas authors have tried to come to terms with and understand the prevalence of racism in the “Free State.”

John Edgar Tidwell, “The Hard Kind of Courage: Labor and Art in the Works of Langston Hughes, Gordon Parks, and Frank Marshall Davis”

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“Writers of color seeking to emerge in a climate of condescension and outright repudiation,” such as existed in mid-twentieth-century America, required “a hard kind of courage,” explains University of Kansas professor J. Edgar Tidwell. “Knowing that the world of American art did not necessarily reify for them personal and aesthetic affirmation, they concluded that the strength to express their own artistic vision had to come from within, not without. In reaching this conclusion, they resolved to remain true to their own principles of aesthetic development, which meant defying partisan politics and resisting the need for critical approval, especially from those who did not understand their creations. Part of this new resolve was rooted in an engagement with the actual labor of art. It meant embracing the idea that great art is the result of a process of making, selecting, shaping, revisioning, and reworking. . . . While many outsiders have urged the notion that Kansas is hardly a land that has contributed significantly to the American cultural landscape and is little more than a Sahara of cultural development, a careful consideration of literary history reveals this claim to be specious and unsupported. Despite Kansas’s legacy as a region of contradictory, enigmatic, ambiguous, and arbitrary racial politics, three artists/writers of color emerged to represent arguably the best aesthetic production of this state: Langston Hughes, Gordon Parks, and Frank Marshall Davis. A brief exploration of the nature and function of their aesthetic labor in selected works reveals an abundant creative output that not only brings distinction to Kansas but also indicates achievements gained against overwhelming odds.”

Bob Beatty and Virgil W. Dean, editors, “‘Doing What Needed to Get Done, When It Needed to Get Done’: A Conversation with Former Governor Bill Graves”

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The fifth piece in our special series of articles based on the gubernatorial interviews first captured on video by Washburn University political scientist Bob Beatty in 2004, this conversation with former secretary of state and governor Bill Graves, explores issues such as transportation, mental health facilities and treatment, gun control and abortion, and the widening gulf between moderates and conservatives in the Kansas Republican Party. Graves, whose family operated a large trucking firm out of Salina, Kansas, changed career paths in the late 1970s when the business was sold,  and he entered public service with a job in the secretary of state’s office in 1980. When his boss, Secretary Jack Brier, left the job in 1986 to run for governor, Graves ran and won the race to be the state’s chief election officer, was reelected in 1990, and entered the gubernatorial contest in 1994. For the next eight years (1995–2003), Graves sought to govern the state in a non-confrontational manner—he was described by Topeka Capital-Journal writer Jim McLean in 2003 as “Bill Graves, the nice guy governor.” Graves believed this allowed him to work with legislators across the political spectrum, but nevertheless challenges from the right within his own party emerged more and more frequently, and Graves again charted a new course. Returning to his familial roots after leaving office, Bill Graves became president and CEO of the largest national trade association for the trucking industry, the American Trucking Associations, based in Arlington, Virginia, and stayed out of the Kansas political scene until 2012, adhering to his belief that “life would go on without Bill Graves.”       

Patricia Michaelis, “Quantrill’s Raid in Kansas Memory”

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With respect to Pat Michaelis’s essay, written for Kansas History to help commemorate the sesquicentennial of one of the Civil War’s most infamous events, “Kansas Memory” refers to the eyewitness accounts of a few Lawrencians who survived and wrote about the bloody raid, as well as to the Kansas Historical Society’s digital portal, Kansas Memory (kansasmemory.org), which was “designed to provide access to digitized copies of the Society’s rich holdings of primary source materials. Currently, Kansas Memory displays more than 350,000 images of letters, diaries, photographs, published and unpublished maps, and Kansas government records from the State Archives,” Dr. Michaelis notes. “Quantrill’s Raid in Kansas Memory” highlights a handful of the sources related to the 1863 massacre that are now available online, but this is only a sampling of the Quantrill materials held by the State Archives, and even those are only a fraction of the almost five hundred documents, photographs, and other materials related to the Civil War available on Kansas Memory. As Dr. Michaelis, long-time director of the State Archives Division, writes, such documents are “an excellent way to ‘get to know’ people from the past. . . . [They] convey the emotions of the people who experienced the death and destruction that occurred in Lawrence on August 21, 1863, and in dealing with the aftermath of that attack. The ongoing commemoration of the event illustrates how bonds were created among survivors of a particular tragic event. Kansas Memory is filled with such primary sources—letters, diaries, reminiscences, and photographs from all eras of Kansas history—that can help us understand the past from the perspective of people who recorded their daily lives and/or participated in momentous events.”


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Slavery in the American Republic: Developing the Federal Government, 1791–1861
by David F. Ericson
ix + 298 pages, appendixes, notes, index.
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2011, cloth $37.50.

Slavery in the American Republicchallenges the conventional view that slavery stymied American state development before the Civil War. Looking at five key policy areas—fugitive slave rendition, slave trade interdiction, African colonization, the slavery-related use of military force, and federal employment of slave labor—political scientist David F. Ericson traces the pathways by which the institution of slavery contributed to the development of the federal government.

Federal regulation of fugitive slave renditions furnishes the clearest instance of slavery positively affecting the development of the federal government. Congress coopted state and private resources to apprehend and secure fugitive slaves against rescue, extended national legal processes to displace state liberty laws, and provided criminal sanctions to restrain state and local officials who violated the “rights” of slaveholders. These were very similar to the enforcement provisions Congress consciously and conspicuously built into the Civil Rights Act of 1866 sixteen years later. There is considerable irony in the fact that the institutional structure eventually employed to protect freedmen from their former masters was first framed by their masters to keep them in bondage.

Ericson finds significant, if less impressive, effects in the other four policy areas. Federal efforts to interdict illegal slave trading occasioned a measure of growth in the naval power of the United States and constituted an early national effort at immigration control. Ericson concedes that the federal commitment to block the slave trade was minimal until 1858, when President James Buchanan’s administration finally equipped the Africa Squadron with adequate resources. But he points out that the belated development bore fruit when the squadron was called home three years later to interdict smugglers running the Union blockade of Confederate ports. Federal involvement in African colonization rendered even less show-stopping effects. In budgetary terms, the commitment of federal resources was sparse and largely borrowed from the already scant appropriations for slave trade interdiction. Institutionally, however, federal support of the African Colonization Society involved the government in an early form of public–private partnership that has since proliferated. Slavery also accounted for at least some significant expansion of the nation’s war-making powers, involving the federal government in military actions that not only entailed the exercise of raw coercive power but also served to establish the independence of the army from local constituencies (as in Bleeding Kansas) and vindicate the competence of the regular army vis-à-vis the state militias (as in the Second Seminole War). Finally, the federal government’s use of slave laborers contributed to the development of federal management practices and to bureaucratic autonomy. Because slave and free laborers frequently worked side by side,  management practices appropriate to slaves spilled over. Thus, Ericson writes, the “illiberal nature of the institution of slavery followed slaves into the federal workplace” (p. 161). At the same time, the desire of federal policy makers to keep federal employment of slave labor “on the periphery” resulted in a high level of autonomy for mid-level bureaucrats making day-to-day employment decisions (p. 160).

Whether the book succeeds in establishing its thesis is contingent on the burden of proof it faces. Insofar as Ericson seeks to establish the counterfactual claim that the federal government would not have developed these capacities to the same extent in the absence of slavery, his success is dubious. But the counterfactual test sets the bar unnecessarily high. Ericson’s argument clearly does succeed insofar as he seeks to “enrich” the narrative of early American state development by dispensing with oversimplified generalizations about slavery stifling the growth of the federal government. Ericson consistently demonstrates that in several key policy areas, the American state frequently grew on account of the institution of slavery and often at the behest of slaveholders. And though Ericson’s thesis is not altogether novel—he professedly owes a great deal to the work of the late historian Don Fehrenbacher, whose posthumously published opus Ericson calls “magisterial” (p. viii)—he makes an important contribution by going beyond the “public face” of federal policy to examine the “subterranean processes of policy formation, implementation, and legitimation that undergird state development” (p. 15). Slavery in the American Republic thus fills a significant lacuna in the literature and furnishes scholars of politics and history with an insightful guide to oft-neglected documentary evidence.

Reviewed by Matthew S. Brogdon, assistant professor of political science, University of Texas at San Antonio.

Prigg v. Pennsylvania: Slavery, the Supreme Court, and the Ambivalent Constitution
by H. Robert Baker
xii + 202 pages, bibliographical essay, index.
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, Landmark Law Cases and American Society, 2012, paper $16.95.

Reviewed by John Fliter, associate professor of political science, Kansas State University, Manhattan.

The Essential West: Collected Essays
by Elliott West
xiii + 328 pages, illustrations, notes, index.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012, cloth $29.95.

Reviewed by David Nesheim, assistant professor of history, Chadron State College, Nebraska.

The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic
by Barbara A. Gannon
xiv + 282 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011, cloth $39.95.

Reviewed by John W. McKerley, independent scholar, Fairfield, Iowa.

“If You Were Only White”: The Life of Leroy “Satchel” Paige
by Donald Spivey
xxv + 347 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2012, cloth $29.95.

Reviewed by Jon Wefald, president emeritus, Kansas State University, Manhattan.


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The Big Divide: A Travel Guide to Historic and Civil War Sites in the Missouri–Kansas Border Region. By Diane Eickhoff and Aaron Barnhart. (Kansas City, Kans.: Quindaro Press, 2013, x + 249 pages, paper $17.95.)

Historian Diane Eickhoff and journalist Aaron Barnhart wrote the Big Divide in order to help Kansans and Missourians gain a deeper understanding of their shared and often contentious history. Unlike a typical travel guide, the Big Divide is organized thematically rather than geographically. The themes of the nine chapters cover a vast chronology from “First People” to “Trails West” to “Guerrilla War.” Each chapter begins with a narrative that places its sites in broad historical context and is followed by site descriptions and reviews. Sites range from Kansas City’s famous Nelson Atkins Museum of Art to the obscure Wildcat Glades of Joplin, Missouri. Even locals may be surprised at the significant history just around the corner.

Kansas County Seat Conflicts: The Elections, the Feuds, and the Wars. By Robert Collins. (Andover, Kans.: self-published, 2013, 199 pages, paper $12.50.)

Reflecting the frenzied state of affairs that dominated Kansas’s post–Civil War settlement process and the tenuousness of newly established frontier towns, promoters sought any advantage to insure or at least enhance their town’s chances for long-term survival and success. Thus, as Andover, Kansas, author Robert Collins makes clear, rival communities in more than half of the state’s 105 counties contested and in some cases did battle for the political prize that almost guaranteed survival if not economic prosperity: the county seat designation. Collins, the author of many books of fiction and non-fiction, including Kansas history, chronicles this story—the often told phenomenon of the “county seat war”—as it unfolded during the Sunflower State’s (and territory’s) first four decades, from Leavenworth and Linn Counties in the east to Stevens and Logan Counties in the west.

Columns of Vengeance: Soldiers, Sioux, and the Punitive Expeditions, 1863–1864. By Paul N. Beck. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, xiv + 314 pages, cloth $34.95.)

The brutal Dakota War of 1862, which left hundreds of the white settlers of Minnesota and the northern plains dead, caused the federal government to launch a series of punitive expeditions against the Sioux. Paul Beck adds new layers to our understanding of the Punitive Expeditions by examining them in the broader context of the Civil War. Using the diaries and manuscript collections of common soldiers, Columns of Vengeance is peppered with fascinating accounts of battles, military life, and glimpses into the participants’ innermost thoughts. Providing Sioux perspectives as well, Beck details the destructive social and political effects that the Dakota War and the Punitive Expeditions had on the Santees, Lakota, and Yanktonais.

The Best Specimen of a Tyrant: The Ambitious Dr. Abraham Van Norstrand and the Wisconsin Insane Hospital. By Thomas Doherty. (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2013, xii + 331 pages, paper $20.00.)

First published in 2007 and the winner of the 2008 Wisconsin Historical Society’s Book Award of Merit, The Best Specimen of a Tyrant is the well-written and thoroughly researched history of one midwestern state’s mid-nineteenth-century experience with the so-called “Hospital Movement,” which had a pervasive influence on the treatment of the mentally ill in the United States. It seems that in most places, including Kansas, where the state’s original constitution provided for the establishment of an institution “for the benefit of the insane,” the history of these large institutions was checkered at best. Launched during a wave of reform zeal, time after time these hospitals were ultimately discredited with tales of neglect and abuse. This “rise and fall” story, which focuses on the Wisconsin Insane Hospital’s director, Dr. Abraham Van Norstrand, “typifies the clash between great expectations and hard choices that have bedeviled public metal hospitals from the beginning” (back cover).  

Dead Towns of Central and Western Kansas: A Collection of Stories from The Hutchison News. By Amy Bickel. (Newton, Kans.: Mennonite Press, 2012, 96 pages, paper $14.95.)

Dead Towns is a compilation of journalist Amy Bickel’s weekly investigational series of the same name, which first appeared in the Hutchison News in 2010. Crisscrossing thorough twenty-four counties, the volume reveals “stories about treachery, desperation, strength, and hope” (p. 3). Bickel investigates the locations, beginnings, and decline of sixty-one once booming Kansas towns. Many of these cities failed due to the harsh reality of the western Kansas environment or overly competitive economies; others are in various stages of decline and contain only very small populations residing in weather-beaten farm homes. Although many of the towns discussed are now noticeable only by their remaining limestone foundations, Bickel provides turn-by-turn directions so that weekend adventurers and lost-town researchers can locate them easily.

Milk Money: Cash, Cows, and the Death of the American Dairy Farm. By Kirk Kardashian. (Durham: University of New Hampshire Press, 2012, 253 pages, cloth $27.95.)

Milk Money is an economic and geographic study of the dairy industry, the people behind it, and the cows that provide the product. Kirk Kardashian investigates the changing tide of milk production in Vermont and the nation as a whole, finding that the industry no longer backs small, family operations and instead underwrites a system of corporate-owned megafarms in the American southwest. Because the number of family-owned dairies in the past sixty years has dropped by 88 percent while annual per-cow milk yield has increased 700 percent, the industry is now ruthlessly geared toward efficiency and away from animal welfare. Although the book centers on the daily struggles small dairy operations face, it also examines the industry as a whole and explains the economics of overproduction, federal price stabilization measures, and the USDA’s effort to standardize the product.