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Fellow-Citizens: It affords me peculiar pleasure to be with you today, and to discharge the duty assigned me of formally opening this great fair and festival. Under any circumstances it would be a pleasure to fulfill such an appointment, but, upon this occasion, it is doubly delightful. I wanted to come here, first, because I wished to see the material evidences of the marvelous growth and development of Southwestern Kansas; and, second, because I wanted to take off my hat, in the presence of the men and women who have wrought these miracles, and thank them, personally and in the name of the State, for doing what the most sanguine and enthusiastic Kansan never dreamed, ten years ago, could be done.

When I came to Kansas, now nearly thirty years ago, it was the universal belief of the people of the Territory that agricultural development was not possible west of the Blue and the Neosho. Ten or twelve years later, this line of possible productiveness was moved westward to the Republican and the Arkansas, and ten years ago it was advanced to the hundredth meridian. Beyond that, all said, crops could not be produced; the country was a good grazing region, but the idea of growing wheat, or corn, or any cereals, in the sterile and rainless counties of the western third of the State, was preposterous. Men were foolhardy, the prophets said, to attempt agricultural pursuits in the western third of the State. The soil was barren, the altitude too great, and the whole region was rainless.

Disregarding all these assertions, you people of the West came here. The loneliness and immensity of the plains had no terrors for you. You invaded their solitudes. You pushed the frontier steadily westward. You plowed and planted, digged and sowed. You were determined to conquer the land, by irrigation if necessary; by faith, and work, and courage, in any event. The invisible sentinels of danger and privation waited and watched every step of your advance, and the vastness and loneliness of the far-reaching prairies, always more melancholy than the ever-changing and always-murmuring woods, only intensified their terrors. But you came to stay, and you conquered. You saw the wilderness vanish; you conquered your own doubts and fears and inspired others with your hopefulness and courage; until at last every doubting Thomas was silenced, and the whole world realized the fact that here, on the western borders of Kansas, was as rich, as beautiful, and as productive a land as the sun, journeying from continent to continent, looks down upon and warms with his genial rays.

After the battle of Mission Ridge, Gen. Gordon Granger rode along the lines of his victorious soldiers, whose courage and enthusiasm had carried them, without orders, up the blazing heights, and said, substantially: “Here you are, but how did you get here? You were ordered to take the line of works at the foot of the Ridge, and you have taken those on its summit! You ought to have known you couldn’t take this position! You are here in defiance of all military rules, of tactics, and of orders, and I am going to have every one of you court-martialed!”

In very much the same spirit I say to you, people of Finney County and of the Southwest: “Here you are, in defiance of all predictions and hope! The prophets all said the western third of Kansas would never produce crops. Public sentiment agreed that this was a grazing country, unfit for general farming. Yet here you are, holding an agricultural fair, and exhibiting corn and wheat, oats and rye, potatoes and pumpkins, and everything else the farmers of any other section plant and harvest or gather. You have condemned the prophets! You have blotted the ‘Great American Desert’ from the map of the Continent! You have established gardens in the wilderness! You have confounded the scientists! And you should all be court-martialed!”

Your triumph over the adverse forces of nature is as marvelous and complete as was that won at Mission Ridge, and, as a Kansan, I rejoice over and am proud of it. There is something splendid in the march of civilization into and over an unpeopled land—something grander, even, than the advance of a victorious army. It is better to build up than to destroy—better to redeem a desert than to make one. The impulse which sent millions of men into the field to defend the honor of our flag will be celebrated, in song and story, as long as the world shall endure. The march of the armies of industry and peace across the plains, peopling their solitudes, conquering the wilderness, and forcing from a reluctant soil its fatness, is an achievement equally romantic and inspiring. And you, people of Western Kansas, are the heroes of this conquest—the leaders in this great victory of peace, no less renowned than those of war. I congratulate you on your unparalleled triumph; I come here to mingle my rejoicings with yours; to thank you sincerely and heartily for what you have done, and to express my confident belief that your success will be as permanent as it has been brilliant.

This is a great State. It is the heart of the American Continent. Its history is a romance of the most thrilling interest; its development has been without parallel in the record of American Commonwealths. It has absorbed, in its population, the best blood and brain of all the civilized nations of the earth. During a campaign of thirty years, waged by the peaceful forces of civilization on the prairies of Kansas, seventy-nine thousand square miles of territory have been planted in crops. Six hundred cities and towns dot the map of the State; nearly six thousand miles of rail are kept bright by the constant friction of a mighty commerce; property worth fully six hundred million dollars has been accumulated; seven thousand school houses welcome throngs of eager children; crops valued at over one hundred million dollars are annually harvested; and fully a million and a half of intelligent, enterprising and prosperous people have homes within the borders of this State. The black banners of industry float from thousands of mills and factories. Fields and meadows are rich with herds and flocks. The face of the land has been transformed with forests, orchards, and hedge-rows. Everywhere is growth, improvement, increase; everywhere are the evidences of culture, thrift, and enterprise; everywhere the promise of a larger, broader life, and a firmer, deeper faith in the greatness and glory of Kansas. Here is the Central State, the Sunflower State, the Soldier State, and within its borders prosperity and order, intelligence and sobriety, industry and enterprise, go hand in hand.

And we are yet at the threshold and in the morning of it all. Kansas is still in the bloom of her youth; she has only fairly commenced her great career. Loving Freedom and loyal to the core; believing in education and respecting law; striving to keep her young manhood sober, clean and healthy; never a feeble imitator, yet always willing to learn; not afraid to experiment, and always ready to lead; full of energy, courage and enthusiasm—this is the Kansas of our love and our faith, this the fair mistress of our hearts, to whom, adopting the language of Ruth to Naomi, we say: “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee, for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried.”
 

Address delivered at Garden City, at the opening of the Southwestern Exposition, October 12th, 1886.