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Kansas History - Forthcoming issue

Volume 43

Winter 2020-2021

Isaias J. McCaffery, “Before the Powwow: Native American Dance as Spectacle in Early Kansas, 1855-1910.”

This paper explores the history of public Native dance exhibitions in Kansas prior to the rise of modern, twentieth-century powwows. Incoming white settlers brought with them a curiosity regarding Indigenous dance when territorial Kansas was established, and the early ad hoc hiring of Native dancers quickly flowered into dozens of organized community performances after the Civil War. With advertising, these generated huge crowds. Curious spectators filled the coffers of local businesses and railroads in the same way that a modern convention can boost a city’s economy. The dances provoked a powerful mixture of both attraction and revulsion; the spectacle of so much exposed flesh shocked Victorian era critics who lamented the repeated violation of prevailing codes of decency. White audiences enjoyed standing in judgement of cultures deemed to be inferior, and contemporary accounts of performances were often harsh and condescending, even when exhibitions proved to be great financial successes. The dances also confirmed the conquered status of the dancers, who now appeared to operate under white control and direction. Exploding that assumption, on multiple occasions Natives demonstrated their continuing independence and agency by curtailing or canceling events when the terms and conditions proved unacceptable.

Hollie Marquess, “The Frontier Demi-monde: Prostitution in Early Hays City, 1867-1883.”

Hays City, Kansas, founded in 1867, became a bustling Western frontier town due to its location on the Eastern Division terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad and position near a military post, Fort Hays. Prostitutes, often among the first arrivals to Western frontier towns, played an integral role in the social and economic livelihood of Hays City. Sex work brought necessary commerce to the town and helped to support other aspects of Hays City nightlife, like gambling dens and saloons. Though respectable employment was largely closed to women in the West, prostitutes in Hays City maintained a mutually beneficial relationship with the town, at least initially. As Volga Germans settled in the area, though, family farming began to replace nightlife as the economic center of the county. As this happened, attitudes toward prostitution in Hays City shifted, and citizens were less tolerant of the presence of sex work. By examining court documents, census records, and newspaper accounts, historian Hollie Marquess, Fort Hays State University, explores the contributions of prostitutes to Hays City in its infancy.

Julia R. Myers, “A New Chronology of the Development of John Steuart Curry’s Murals for the Rotunda of the Kansas State Capitol.”

John Steuart Curry’s Kansas State Capitol murals, the Tragic Prelude, with its terrifying image of John Brown, and Kansas Pastoral, are well-known to Kansans. Less well-known is the fact that Curry intended to connect these two murals in the second floor’s east and west corridors with eight scenes in the Rotunda between them. The entire mural cycle for the corridors and the Rotunda was to be a “historical allegory,” in Curry’s words, telling the story of Kansas from the coming of Francisco Coronado in 1541 to the ideal prosperous farms of the future. Various studies for the Rotunda murals are known, including ones in the Spencer Museum of Art and others that remain unlocated. As this article shows, these studies integrated ideas from his first two plans to tell a more comprehensive story of Kansas history. Unfortunately, the legislature refused to allow Curry to paint the Rotunda murals, leaving the Tragic Prelude and Kansas Pastoral as the inexplicably disconnected fragments that stand today.