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Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Kansas People
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Comforts of Life Receive Little Attention 

The seven Territorial years had brought freedom to Kansas, but the struggle had left the pioneers little time or strength for building better homes, improving their farms, or establishing public institutions. The energy that might have

 

A Dugout

accomplished these things had been given to fighting and to politics. When Kansas became a State, the people had almost as few of the comforts of life as when they first came to the Territory. A few of them had come with little idea of the hardships and privations of frontier life, and others had believed that such conditions would last but a short time. Many of these, of course, grew discouraged and returned to their eastern homes. But the great body of Kansas pioneers had come with the twofold purpose of securing homes and making a free state, and were not to be discouraged. They had come to stay.

In Pioneer Days

Conditions of Living During the '50's 

Frontier life is always hard, but it was made many times harder in Kansas by the years of strife and warfare. The inconveniences and hardships were especially severe outside the towns. In these days of railways and good roads, of the telegraph and the telephone, it is difficult to realize what life on the prairies meant in the '50's. Post offices and mail routes came slowly, and for many of the settlers a trip for mail and provisions meant a journey of two or three days, or even longer, with an ox team. Neighbors were often many miles apart. Nearly every one's supply of farming imple-merits was scanty, and to replace a broken ax might require a trip of from twenty-five to fifty miles. In the winter these journeys were often accompanied with danger and suffering. Streams were without bridges and many of the fords were deep and treacherous. Fences were few and roads were mere trails over the prairies, so when the blizzard swept across the country, piling its drifts of snow and obliterating every landmark, the unfortunate traveler was in great danger of losing his way. Getting a farm under cultivation was slow work at best. Since most of the settlers brought but little money with them they had to trust to raising a crop, and if sickness or drouth or raids made it impossible to raise the crop, want and suffering followed.

The privations, the sacrifices, and the loneliness of pioneer life fell most heavily on the women. Business and necessity brought the men together occasionally, but the pioneer woman in the isolation of her prairie home often saw no friendly face for months at a time. There was much sickness and death, especially among women and children, resulting from the combination of poor food, uncomfortable houses, homesickness, and excitement arising from the many dangers. The cost of transportation was so great that only the most necessary articles were brought from the East. Most furniture was home-made and cooking was done over an open fireplace. Corn bread and bacon with occasional game and wild fruits were the usual foods. In wet seasons there was much fever and ague. Sometimes a whole family would be sick at the same time, with no neighbors near enough to help and no physician within many miles.

The Drouth of 1859-'60 

Each year during the Territorial period the crops raised were barely sufficient to keep the people through the winter. There was no surplus at any time, and when the summer of 1859 brought a drouth, a famine resulted. Through all the hard struggle the people had believed that as soon as the strife and political difficulties were over, prosperity would come. However, with the dawning of peace in the Territory there came the most severe drouth that has ever been known in the West. It began in June, 1859, and from that time

A Sod House

until November, 1860, a period of more than sixteen months, not enough rain fell at any one time to wet the earth to a depth of more than two inches. Two light snows fell during the winter, but neither was heavy enough to cover the ground. The ground became so dry that it broke open in great cracks, wells and springs went dry, and the crops were a total failure.

Effect of the Drouth on Kansas Settlers 

There were 60,000 of them the drouth finally meant that they must receive help or starve. They had been able to fight border ruffians, but they could not fight starvation. After a year of the drouth they began to give up and go back East. During the fall of 1860 no fewer than 30,000 settlers abandoned their claims and the improvements that had been made at the expense of so much labor, and left Kansas. There were still 30,000 people here for whom charity was necessary. All this brought bitter disappointment to the people who had come to Kansas with high hopes and willing hands.

Aid Sent from the East 

As soon as the true condition of affairs was known in the East a movement was begun for the relief of the sufferers. Many states responded liberally, and immense quantities of provisions and clothes were sent here to be distributed. Hundreds of bushels of seed wheat were furnished. Besides all of the public help, many relatives and friends sent supplies to the pioneers. Nevertheless, there were many that winter who barely escaped starvation.

Drouth Retards Development of Kansas 

Great as was the suffering from disappointment and want, the drouth brought another evil; it threw Kansas back in its development. Not only had a third of the population left the Territory, but the accounts given by those who returned tended to discourage others from coming. The old stories about the "Great American Desert" were revived. Kansas was looked upon as a place of drouth and famine, and for several years the number of immigrants was much decreased.

Statehood Begins 

All this was taking place while the Wyandotte Constitution was being considered. Kansas was admitted as a State on January 29, 1861, at the close of the terrible drouth. Through the winter and spring of 1861 supplies continued to come in from other states, and included seeds for the spring planting. An excellent season followed. It might be thought that at last the Kansas settlers were to have an opportunity to cultivate their farms, build homes, and make their new State a place of peace and prosperity. But not so; Kansas was again to suffer from the troubles of the Nation. The opening of the Civil War was near.

Summary

The fighting and political strife of the Territorial period left the people little opportunity for building up the country. Statehood found frontier life but little improved. The early settlers came to secure homes and to make Kansas a free state, and were not easily discouraged. The drouth of 1859-'60 caused nearly a third of the 100,000 Kansas settlers to leave the Territory, and another third had to be given aid from the East. Immigration to Kansas was greatly decreased for a time. A good crop year followed, but Kansas had yet to pass through the Civil War before it could enjoy peace.

References

Andreas, History of Kansas, County Histories.

Cordley, Pioneering in Kansas.

Hunt, Kansas History for Children.

Historical Collections, vol. ix, pp. 33, 126; vol. xil, p. 353.

Mrs. Robinson, Kansas —Its Interior and Exterior Life.

Ropes, Six Months in Kansas.

Questions

1. What had been the chief interest of the Kansas people during the Territorial period? 

2. What were the chief reasons for people coming to Kansas? 

3. Discuss the conditions under which the pioneers lived, including travel, roads, bridges, fences, money, social life, houses, furniture, food, and health. 

4. Give an account of the drouth of 1859-'60. How long did it last? 

5. What was the population of Kansas in 1860? 

6. What was the effect of the drouth on Kansas? 

7. What have you read of pioneer conditions other than in this book? 

8. What have you learned about early Kansas conditions from talking with people? 

9. What new burden came with the beginning of statehood?

 

Source: A History of Kansas / Anna E. Arnold. pp.102-108

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