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The first churchman of whom there is any authentic record in the region now known as Kansas was a Franciscan friar, Father Juan de Padilla, who accompanied Coronado's expedition to Quivira in 1541. He returned to Mexico with the expedition, but journeyed back to spread Christianity among the Plains Indian tribes. It is said that he was murdered by the Quivirans because of his decision to leave them and preach to another tribe. According to some accounts, however, the martyred friar was murdered by his own men.

Almost three centuries elapsed between the death of Father Padilla and any organized efforts to establish the Christian religion in Kansas. In 1822 the Bishop of New Orleans appointed Father Charles de la Croix as a missionary to the Osage. He is known to have visited the Osages living along the Neosho River, and on May 5, 1822, he performed the first recorded baptism in Kansas that of Antoine Chouteau, a five-year-old half-breed child. Three missions were built among the Osage by the Presbyterian Church in the early 1820's.

In 1830 the Reverend Thomas Johnson, as representative of the Methodist Church, founded Shawnee Mission (see Tour 4), the largest and most influential religious outpost in the State. Soon afterward the Baptists and the Friends established missions a few miles west of Shawnee. In 1836 the Roman Catholic Church successfully established a mission among the Kickapoo, in what is now Leavenworth County.

When the first settlers began to arrive, in the early 1850's, nine missions had established churches, schools, and dwellings in the prairie wilderness. Almost a score of others had come and gone in the quarter-century preceding settlement.

With the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, which created the Kansas Territory and left to residents the disposition of slavery within its borders, a wave of anti-slavery sentiment swept many New Englanders into Kansas. The church press was scathing in its denunciation of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. Ministers throughout New England appealed eloquently before their congregations to "take up the torch of freedom for bleeding Kansas." Northern ministers and churches cooperated with the promoters of the New England Emigrant Aid Company in organizing emigration to the Territory.

Thus the slavery issue was bound up with the development of religious groups. The first great movement of emigrants began in the spring of 1854. Members of the New England Company founded Lawrence, the first Free State town in the Territory. The Reverend S. Y. Lum held church services when the town was nothing more than a cluster of camps on the river bank, and ten weeks after settlement began he organized in a hay house (a tentlike structure of poles thatched with wild grass) the first church for white people in Kansas. This organization survives today as the Plymouth Congregational Church.

In addition to the New England Emigrant Aid Company, a number of individual church groups supported abolitionist colonies in the early 1850's. Most widely known of these was the Beecher Bible and Rifle Colony, sponsored by the Congregational minister, Henry Ward Beecher, and so named because Beecher presented each man with a Bible and a rifle "to defend his faith and his ideas of freedom." The colony founded the Free State town of Wabausnee and the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church (see Tour 3), still in existence.

Another Congregational group was the "Kansas Band," consisting of four ardent young abolitionists Richard Cordley, Sylvester Storrs, Grosvenor Morse, and Rosewell Parker. Graduates of Andover Theological Seminary, they came to Kansas in 1856 to become leaders in the fight for freedom. As pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church in Lawrence, Cordley became known throughout the Territory as the "abolition preacher." He escaped death by fleeing across the river when Quantrill and his men sacked and burned the town of Lawrence in 1863.

The Ottawa Baptist Mission in Franklin County also became a stronghold for Free Staters in the late 1850's, and churches in the Free State towns of Topeka, Big Springs, Osawatomie, and Manhattan gave freely of money and supplies to aid the cause.

With the close of the Civil War and the end of the struggle over slavery, the church became the center of community life in Kansas. From humble beginnings in dugouts, hay houses, or the open prairie, it developed with the growth of settlement. In communities where there were no ministers, residents gathered to read the Bible and sing hymns on Sunday; and on isolated claims, women often set the Sabbath day apart in thoughtful observance.

It was during these later decades of the century that Kansas, with its broad acres of unclaimed land, became a mecca for European colonists in search of religious freedom or of homes.

In the early 1870's, approximately 400 families of Mennonites (about 1,900 persons) migrated to Kansas from southern Russia and settled in Reno, Harvey, Marion, and McPherson Counties. With prosperous churches scattered over the region, their sect numbered approximately n,-ooo(unclear) members, according to the latest U. S. Census figures (Religious Bodies: 1926). German-Russians who came to Kansas from the lower Volga region at about the same time, and settled on the rolling plains country of Rush and Ellis Counties, were chiefly Roman Catholics. They established their own villages and, with much labor and sacrifice, erected large stone churches with colored windows and carved interiors, which rise from the prairie, their spires visible for miles (see Tour 3). The settlers gave their best to the church, even depriving their families of necessities to do so.

Although not drawn to Kansas by a desire for personal or religious freedom, as were the immigrants from Russia, colonies of Swedish Lutherans settled in McPherson and Saline Counties in the 1860's and 1870's. Lindsborg is today the center of Lutheranism in the State.