Kansas, The Sunflower State

Geodetic center of the continent and geographic center of the 48 contiguous States, Kansas has for centuries been the hub of major travel routes. The network of Indian trails that Coronado and his men found in the Kansas prairie in 1541 did not distract them from their search for the City of Cold, but these later became the Chisholm, Sante Fe, and Oregon Trails, and the routes of the Pony Express and the railroads-the paths that brought civilization to Kansas and beyond, and made Kansas the Crossroads of the West.

Kansas did not undergo change without turmoil. In gaining statehood, Kansas endured its own civil war years before the Civil War began. The Kansas-Nebraska Act left it to the citizens of these new territories to decide if either would be slave or free. After this Act was passed, in 1854, both abolitionists and pro-slavery forces swarmed into Kansas, and raids and killings brought “bleeding Kansas” to national attention. Both pro-slavery and free constitutions were prepared-and contested-before Kansas finally entered the Union as a free State.

With the railroads came rapid growth. From Texas, huge cattle herds were driven to “cow towns” on the railroad like Abiline and Dodge City, and farmers were lured by the railroad’s offers of cheap land. Mennonites from Russia brought to the fertile prairie the hardy Red Turkey wheat seed the germ of what is now the nation,s largest wheat crop. Other crops-corn, soybeans and rye–and huge cattle ranches, have made agriculture for many years Kansas’ principal industry.

In the past thirty years manufacturing has become increasingly important with products ranging from farm equipment to airplanes: over half the private aircraft built in the world are made in Wichita, the largest city. The State is also a rich source of minerals-oil, coal, gypsum and helium, plus the world’s largest known gas fields (at Hugoton), and the world’s greatest salt deposits (at Hutchinson). Modern Kansas has an enviable record for developing programs for health and welfare, and the Menninger Foundation in Topeka is world renowned for its contribution to mental health.