WSU Podcast: Kansas celebrates its sesquicentennial
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You’re listening to the podcast edition of the Wichita State University audio newsline. Learn more about WSU — the home of Thinkers, Doers, Movers and Shockers — on the Web at wichita.edu.
In what might arguably be one of the more quiet milestone birthday celebrations in its history, Kansas has turned 150 years old this year. Jay Price, director of the public history program at Wichita State University, comments on the birth of the Sunflower State.
Price: “1861 set in motion the creation of Kansas as it is today. It begins our story in many ways.”
Long before Kansas became a state, Price says the area was predominantly Indian territory.
Price: “Before we were Bleeding Kansas, we were actually a part of Indian territory. And it’s important to remember that this was a place where various tribes met or were brought to as part of larger government policy.”
Just before the Civil War, the conflict between the pro- and anti-slavery forces earned the region the grim title of Bleeding Kansas.
Price: “I tend to think of Bleeding Kansas as a rivalry between the cities of the Missouri River, which lean South, places such as Leavenworth and Atchison, and those of the Kansas or Kaw River, such as Topeka and Lawrence, who tended to lean to the North.”
According to Price, before Kansas was granted statehood, much of the Kansas territory encompassed much of what is now Colorado.
Price: “The 150th allows us an opportunity to think about what might have been. In the territorial period, Kansas extended from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains, and places such as Pike’s Peak were actually in Kansas.”
Price says that geographically, Kansas is the part of the nation where everything comes together.
Price: “Kansas is that part of the nation where the north, the south, the east, the west, the Midwest and the Southwest, all meet. We share elements of all of those regions and yet we’re distinct from each of those regions as well.”
Wheat fields, oil-well derricks, herds of cattle and grain-storage elevators are chief features of the Kansas landscape. A leading wheat-growing state, Kansas also raises corn, sorghum, oats, barley, soybeans and potatoes. Kansas stands high in petroleum production and mines zinc, coal, salt and lead. It is also the nation’s leading producer of helium.
Kansas has changed a lot in 150 years. Wichita is one of the nation’s leading aircraft-manufacturing centers, ranking first in production of private aircraft, and Kansas City is an important transportation, milling and meat-packing center, but the state’s image continues to stay relatively unchanged, as Price explains.
Price: “In terms of image, we are a state of agriculture. We’re a state of small towns. And those are communities that very much help us in our local economy, but don’t always lend themselves to tourism.”
Although Kansas tourism pales in comparison to some states, Price says a lot of it has to do with logistics.
Price: “A lot of tourism is actually about logistics. It’s about finding things for people to do. It’s about providing opportunities for eating out. And it’s also providing opportunities, for example, to get out on to the land; for public land access as well is part of the story.”
As Kansas continues into the second half of its second century, it finds itself having to connect to visions and ideals from across the world.
Price: “They used to say as goes Kansas, so goes the nation. At one time, Kansas was the embodiment of what it meant to be American. Today in a global world, Kansas, as well as the Great Plains as a whole, is going to have to rethink what it means to be important on the global stage. Whether that means we’re going to be in high-tech or, as some have said, the Saudi Arabia of wind, that’s a story yet to be written.”
Thanks for listening. Until next time, this is Joe Kleinsasser for Wichita State University.