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Kansas History - Summer 2018

Kansas History, Summer 2018(Volume 41, Number 2)

Dave Beyreis, “The Chaos of Conquest: The Bents and the Problem of American Expansion, 1846-1849”

The forces unleashed by Manifest Destiny and the U.S.-Mexican War helped destroy Bent, St. Vrain, and Company, the largest and most influential American trading enterprise in the Southern Plains.  Traditionally viewed as empire builders who paved the way for expansion, Dr. Beyreis, who teaches history and American government at Ursuline Academy of Dallas, demonstrates how Charles and William Bent and Ceran St. Vrain truly thrived in isolation from the power of the American state. They built their business on kinship ties with regional power players in New Mexico and among the Southern Cheyennes.  If American power and presence was limited, the firm thrived.  The war with Mexico and the Gold Rush ushered in dramatic changes in the Plains and Southwest Borderlands, as tens of thousands of emigrants flooded the Cheyenne and Comanche homelands, shooting buffalo, cutting timber, fouling camping grounds, and spreading disease.  In response, some bands began intensively raiding along the Santa Fe Trail, and Bent, St. Vrain, and Company’s trade withered under these stressful, chaotic circumstances.  By 1849, Charles Bent was dead, the company dissolved, and their fort on the Arkansas abandoned.  William Bent continued in the Indian trade into the 1850s, but the old days were gone, never to return.

 

Marilyn J. Gesch, “Wartime Policies on the Home Front and the Brief Career of an Early Kansas Aviator.”

Immigrant communities have long struggled with how to manage their ethnic heritage and their citizenship in a new country, particularly during times of war. During the Great War, 1914-1918, German-Americans became targets of governmental surveillance, and social attitudes toward immigrants, Germans in particular, started to shift. In Kansas, the U.S. attorney’s office encouraged diligent monitoring of Germans by county attorneys and local citizen groups. Kansas newspapers published the names of enemy aliens and celebrated government “round-ups” of the “Hun.” Anti-German bias led to individuals and communities tempering their German-ness and, at the same time, increasing their outward displays of support for the war. In this context, Professor Gesch of California Lutheran University examines the story of Topeka’s Bredel brothers as they travelled the path from local celebrities of aviation “firsts” to enemy aliens accused of conspiring against the government. While the Bredels’ encounters with the Bureau of Investigation were relatively brief, there were personal consequences for the entire family—including the end of a budding career in aviation for Hino Bredel.

Thom Rosenblum, “Liberty in the Line of Fire, the Topeka Anti-Draft Conspiracy During World War I”

“Liberty in the Line of Fire” details the arrest and trial of six Kansans and three Missourians charged with conspiring to interfere with the Selective Draft Act of 1917 by inducing men under a legal obligation to register to defy the law.  The charges, explains historian Thom Rosenblum, grew from a meeting held at the Topeka Unitarian Church on May 27, 1917.  Handbills distributed the week before proclaimed the purpose of the meeting to be to protest militarism and conscription and “any Despotic Act imposed on us by National Legislation.” In the midst of the government’s crusade to forge a national culture of patriotic volunteerism, words which had the potential, no matter how remote, to incite actions believed to be harmful to the war effort became punishable under a series of wartime laws enacted for that specific purpose.  “There is absolutely no twilight zone insofar as loyalty to the government is concerned,” an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Kansas warned.  Anything less than full-throated support of the war effort was viewed as aiding the enemy.  Prosecutors, judges, and juries, confronted with dissenters whose views in themselves were distasteful, imposed standards of their own, drawing a line making all opposition to the war, even the most innocuous utterances, subject to harsh penalties. “Liberty in the Line of Fire” illustrates that for Kansas socialists, labor radicals, pacifists, and German immigrants the home front quickly became a war zone.

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