Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

The first writing inspired by the region comprised in the present State of Kansas was the journal of Pedro de Castaneda de Najera, who in 1541 accompanied the Spanish explorer Coronado on the latter's march through this region in search of the semi-legendary city or province of Quivira. In the three centuries between Coronado's futile quest and the early settlement of Kansas, the region was traversed by other explorers, some of whom notably, among the later travelers, Etienne Bourgmont, Lewis and Clark and their aide Patrick Gass, and Zebulon M. Pike have given us factual records of the region in their published journals.

 

When Kansas became a territory in 1854, the issue between Free Soil and pro-slavery settlers generated a conflict and a debate that raged for several years with the fierce intensity of a prairie fire. The Free Soil cause found its most eloquent literary expression in the writings and speeches of the great New England abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison, Wen-dell Phillips, and the poet Whittier. The latter's stirring song of "The Kansas Emigrants" was a rallying hymn for hundreds of New England emigrants, both on the westward march and in their new home. Note-worthy also were Whittier's bitterly satiric "Letter from a missionary of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, in Kansas, to a distinguished politician," his verses on the burial of Thomas Barber, shot December 6, 1855, near Lawrence, and the poem "For Righteousness' Sake" inscribed "to friends under arrest for treason against the slave power." Within the Territory itself, the only authentic literary note in the struggle was struck by Richard Realf, a gifted young English poet who emigrated to Kansas in 1857 and in the course of about a year's residence there contributed several ardent anti-slavery poems to various Kansas newspapers.

The first novel to be written with Kansas as a setting was Emerson Bennett's The Border Rover (1857), a blood-and-thunder narrative of heroic settlers and ferocious Indians. Ten years later appeared Evender C. Kennedy's Osseo, the Spectre Chieftain, a poem in eight cantos which has the distinction of being the first literary work produced by a permanent resident of Kansas. This was followed five years later by Annie Nelles' Ravenia, or The Outcast Redeemed. These extravagances reflected little of the actual Kansas scene and had small literary merit.

Historical and descriptive narratives were prominent in the output of Kansas writers during the last half of the nineteenth century. One of the earliest books in this field was Sara T. D. Robinson's Kansas: Its Interior and Exterior Life (1856). Mary E. Jackson turned to past events with The Spy of Osawatomie; or, The Mysterious Companions of Old John Brown (1881); and in his Gleanings from Western Prairies (1882), the Reverend W. E. Youngman recalled the experiences of a year spent on a frontier ranch in Kansas. Colonel Henry Inman, who had served at various Kansas army posts in the 1850's and 1860's, drew largely upon personal observation and experience in a long list of books written after he retired from the Army and settled down at Larned. With a biography of Senator James Henry Lane (1899), William E. Connelley began an extensive series of studies in Kansas history, biography, and ethnology, including a five-volume history of the State and its people.

One of the few Kansas writers preoccupied with the common life of his own time in the century's later decades was Edgar Watson Howe, editor and proprietor of the Atchison Globe from 1877 to 1911. His Story of a Country Town, after rejection by several publishers, was privately printed in 1883, and has since achieved a permanent place in American literature. It is a realistic picture of a small prairie town, with emphasis on the more somber phases of mid western life in the 1860's and 1870's. Howe retired from active newspaper work in 1911, devoting himself thenceforth to authorship, to travel, and (until 1933) to editing and publishing E. W. Howe's Monthly. From his home on "Potato Hill" near Atchison he put forth no fewer than twenty-five books, several of which are collections of travel letters. His frank autobiography, Plain People, appeared in 1929; and his last book, Final Conclusions, was published shortly before his death in 1937.

Despite the common concern with politics, prohibition, and real estate speculation in Kansas of the 1880's and 1890's, the muses were not wholly silent during this period. With his clever verse in both humorous and serious vein, Eugene F. Ware made the pseudonym of "Ironquill" familiar to an audience that extended far beyond the borders of his own State. Collected in book form, the Rhymes of Ironquill appeared in 1885, and an enlarged edition was published in 1899. Another popular purveyor of homespun philosophy in verse, Walt Mason, whose "prose poems" have long been a familiar syndicated feature in hundreds of American news-papers and have been reprinted in ten or a dozen volumes, began writing for the Atchison Globe in 1885. For many years after 1907, Mr. Mason was associated with William Allen White on the Emporia Gazette. In the last decade of the century, Charles Moreau Harger, then a youthful news-paper editor in Abilene, frequently turned his pen to poetry ; and Florence L. Snow of Neosho Falls wrote a collection of sonnets published under the title, The Lamp of Gold. The first literary appearance of William Allen White and Albert Bigelow Paine was made with their Rhymes by Two Friends (1893). But the outstanding poetic achievement of this period was a single poem by John J. Ingalls, who represented Kansas in the United States Senate from 1873 to 1891. His "Opportunity," written in 1891 and since reprinted in many standard anthologies, is considered by competent critics to be one of the finest sonnets in nineteenth century American literature.

William Allen White, long editor of the Emporia Gazette and best known of contemporary Kansas writers, came suddenly into national prominence in 1896 with the publication of a newspaper editorial entitled "What's the Matter with Kansas?" In the same year he put forth his first independent book, The Real Issue and Other Stories. This was followed by The Court of Boyville (1899), a keen depiction of the adolescent American male; Stratagems and Spoils (1901); and In Our Town (1906), which first displayed his unusual ability for portraying typical small-town life. His most important full-length novels are A Certain Rich Man (1909) and In the Heart of a Fool (1918). In later years, he turned definitely to the field of public affairs with such books as Politics: The Citizen's Business (1924), Woodrow Wilson (1924), Cahin Coolidge (1925), and Masks in a Pageant (1928), the last a series of character studies of political leaders whom the author had known more or less intimately. Mr. White's neglect, during the last two decades, of the no-table creative talent evidenced in his earlier books has been often deplored. "Had it not been for his uncontrolled urge to be a man of action," remarks W. G. Clugston, a Kansas commentator, "he might have been not only Kansas' first man of letters but also one of America's outstanding creative artists."

In the same year that William Allen White attained national fame with a newspaper editorial, the Reverend Charles M. Sheldon of Topeka sprang into equal prominence with a religious novel entitled In His Steps, which deals with the theme of what Jesus might do if confronted with the problems of a business man in a small midwestern city. Although this book had world wide circulation, a defective copyright deprived Doctor Sheldon of royalties. He has subsequently written more than thirty novels, most of which were read serially to his congregation before publication.

Second only to Doctor Sheldon among Kansas novelists with respect to prolific output is Mrs. Margaret Hill McCarter, who has made generous use in her books of material from the State's history. Beginning in 1903 with The Cottonwood's Story, the list of her writings comprises more than a dozen titles, perhaps the best known of which are The Price of the Prairies (1910), a story of Civil War Kansas, and A Wall of Men (1912), a romance of the Free Soil struggle. The lights and shadows of Kansas life in the opening decades of the present century are skilfully limned by Dell H. Munger in Wind before the Dawn (1914), a realistic tale of prairie farm life. Of somewhat similar character is Dust (1921), by Mr. and Mrs. E. Haldeman-Julius, who are also the authors of a later novel entitled Violence.

Two of the State's most distinguished writers seem to have bequeathed much of their literary ability to a second generation. Mateel Howe Farnham, daughter of E. W. Howe, was awarded the first prize of $10,000 in Dodd, Mead & Company's 1927 fiction contest for her novel entitled Rebellion; and William L. White, son of "the sage of Emporia," has recently created a sensation in Kansas literary and political circles with his first novel, What People Said (1938), the plot of which has to do with a financial scandal that rocked the State in 1933. Mrs. Farnham, by the way, is not the only Kansas author who has won the Dodd, Mead & Company prize; in 1933 it went to Mrs. L. M. Alexander of Baldwin for her novel, Candy.

Sunflowers, privately printed by Willard Wattles in 1914, is the earliest among several anthologies of Kansas poetry. It made a brave showing for the prairie muse with such selections as Ingalls' "Opportunity," W. H. Carruth's "Each in His Own Tongue," Eugene F. Ware's "John Brown" and "Three States," Ellen P. Allerton's "Walls of Corn," Harry Kemp's "A Wheat Field Phantasy," Wattles' "Carrie Nation" and "Challenge to Youth," Sol Miller's "Pawpaws Ripe," and Charles L. Edson's "My Sage-Brush Girl" with its fine lines:

I know who wielded the flaming sword that drove my tribe before me

Into the dusty desert wide, where all the flowers are dead;

Know why we met in a rainless land when the dream of dreams came

o'er me; We were the disinherited kin of the lords of meat and bread.

Two later anthologies are Contemporary Kansas Poetry (1927), edited by Helen Rhoda Hoopes, and Kansas Poets (1935), edited by Henry Harrison. Many of the selections in these volumes originally appeared in The Harp, a magazine of verse established at Larned in 1925 by Dr. Israel Newman. Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Wallace assumed its management in 1926, with May Williams Ward as editor, and it continued under these auspices until its demise in 1932. Its editor received the Poetry Society of America award in 1937 for her Dust Bowl sequence.

Esther Clark Hill, who assisted Willard Wattles in preparing the first anthology of Kansas poetry, had several volumes of verse to her credit at the time of her death in 1932. In Whitelaw Saunders' What Laughing God? published by the Poetry Society of Kansas in 1936, and Kenneth Porter's The High Plains (1938), the collected work of two gifted Kansas poets has been given permanent form.

Contemporary Kansas literature, according to Nelson Antrim Crawford, is what might be expected "of a State with the population of Kansas, its geographical position, and its recent history." And he adds: "I for one should be glad if Kansas literature would take off its cap and gown and hood and be frankly drunk with the juice of art." In truth, much of that literature has emanated from writers of pronounced academic background and is invested with a pronounced classroom sobriety. But happily Mr. Crawford's own work is characterized by no spirit of dusty scholarship. After serving for several years as head of the department of journalism at Kansas State College, he has since given most of his time to writing and editing. His "Carrying of the Ghost" won the Kansas poetry award in 1920, and among his novels are A Man of Learning (1928) and Unhappy Wind (1930) the former a sharp satire on the American educator.

Neither can any taint of acute academicism be rightfully attributed to the work of William Herbert Carruth, for more than thirty years profes-sor of modern languages and literature at the University of Kansas. In addition to much professional work as writer and editor, Professor Car-ruth found time to compile a two-volume anthology of Kansas in Litera-ture (1900) and to create such books of general interest as Letters to American Boys (1907), Each in His Own Tongue and Other Poems (1909), and Verse Writing (1917). With the single exception of Ingalls' "Opportunity," no poem by a Kansas author has been so widely and frequently quoted as "Each in His Own Tongue," which begins:

A Fire-Mist and a planet,

A crystal and a cell, A jelly-fish and a saurian,

And caves where the cave-men dwell; Then a sense of law and beauty,

And a face turned from the clod, Some call it Evolution,

And others call it God.

Numerous others besides Professor Carruth have helped to make the university at Lawrence a notable center of activity in scholarly and creative writing, although only a few can be mentioned here. Frank W. Blackmar, dean of the Graduate School for many years after 1896, has a long list of historical and sociological studies to his credit, including The Story of Human Progress (1896), a History of Higher Education in Kansas (1900), and Life of Charles Robinson, First Governor of Kansas (1902); he also edited the Cyclopedia of History of Kansas. Frank H. Hodder, chosen head of the department of history and political science in 1908, is author of The Civil Government of Kansas (1895) and Outlines of American History (1911), and editor of Audubon's Western Journal (1905). While occupying a prominent post in the history department from 1902 to 1916, Carl L. Becker published Political Parties in the Province of New York, 1760-1775 (1908), Kansas (1910), and Beginnings of the American People (1915). Selden L. Whitcomb, in the department of comparative literature, has published four volumes of original verse, in addition to The Study of a Novel (1905), Autumn Notes in Iowa (1914), and other prose works. Margaret Lynn, professor of English literature, has to her credit Stepdaughter of the Prairie (1914) and Free Soil (1920), the latter a compelling narrative of the struggle between abolitionist and proslavery forces in territorial Kansas. More recently, Alfred M. Lee, in the department of journalism, has published an account of The Daily Newspaper in America (1937); and John Ise, in the department of economics, has produced Sod and Stubble (1937), a story of pioneer days in Kansas.

Of past and present faculty members at Kansas State College, Nelson A. Crawford has previously been mentioned in these notes. Charles Elkins Rogers, head of the department of journalism, is the author of Journalistic Vocations (1931); and Fred A. Shannon of the history department has written The Organization and Administration of the Union Army, 1861 1865, which won a Pulitzer prize for the best piece of American historical research work in 1929, and An Economic History of the People of the United States (1935).

Among non-academic writers on subjects of specialized interest, one of the most prominent has been George P. Morehouse, whose published works include The Kama, or Kaw, Indians and Their History (1908), An Historic Trail (1909), Padilla, the Priest of the Plains (1915), Prehistoric Man in Kansas (1917), and Archaeology of Kansas (1918). William Y. Murphy, for many years editor and proprietor of the Hutchinson News, has written a volume on The Near East (1913), in addition to two books of travel sketches. Gustav N. Malm of Lindsborg, artist as well as writer, is the author of Charley Johnson: A Study of the Swedish Immigrant (1909), as well as of a play entitled Harute (1919). Paul Jones, newspaper publisher of Lyons, in his Quivira (1929) and Coronado and Quivira (1937), supports the thesis that the ancient city sought by Coronado in 1541 centered about the present town site of Lyons. Dr. Karl Menninger, a well-known psychiatrist of Topeka, has reached a wide popular audience with his books on The Human Mind (1930) and Man against Himself (1938).

Though work of serious import has taken an increasingly prominent place in the literature of recent years, entertainment for young and old is still the primary purpose of many Kansas authors. Especially prolific in this field have been Thomas C. Hinkle, who specializes in animal stories for children ; James William Earp, whose tales of railroad life are familiar to readers of the popular magazines ; and Edna Becker, who has published several volumes of stories and verse for younger readers. In the realm of detective fiction, Kirke Mechem's Frame for Murder was a 1935 selection of the "Crime Club." Entertainment and edification are happily mingled in Arthur E. Hertzler's The Horse and Buggy Doctor, which describes the author's experiences as a country doctor in Kansas.

The list of writers who have been residents of Kansas for a time, but whose literary reputations were gained elsewhere, contains several prominent names. Frank Harris, noted Irish- American journalist and author, attended the University of Kansas in the early 1870*5, and later worked on a ranch in the Flint Hills country an experience described in his book, My Reminiscences as a Cowboy (1930). Kate Stephens, from 1879 to 1885 professor of Greek at the University of Kansas, later wrote Delphic Kansas (1911), Life at Laurel Town: In Anglo Saxon Kansas (1920), and In a State University of the Middle West, besides several books of more general appeal. Dorothy Canfield Fisher, novelist and essayist, was born at Lawrence, where her father was a member of the university faculty. Albert Bigelow Paine, friend, biographer, and literary executor of Mark Twain and the author of many books in various fields, lived for a while in Fort Scott and has further association with the State through his collaboration with William Allen White in Rhymes by Two Friends (1893). Florence Finch Kelly acquired both bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Kansas in the early i88o's, and her first book, With Hoops of Steel (1900), is a story of the cattle country. The poets Harry Kemp and Claude McKay also studied at the university; Kemp afterward worked as a harvest-hand in the Kansas wheat fields, and a number of his poems have to do with the Kansas scene. Langston Hughes, equally prominent with McKay among present-day Negro poets, spent part of his boyhood in the "Mud Town" quarter of Topeka, and later lived in Lawrence. Still another Negro writer of verse, Frank Marshall Davis, was a student at Kansas State College. Meridel Le Sueur is an expatriate Kansan whose short stories have frequently appeared' in prominent American magazines; her Corn Village, an unflattering sketch of a small Kansas town, aroused no little discussion upon its appearance in Scribner's Magazine a few years ago.

A notable landmark in the State's literary history is the Kansas Magazine, which began publication in January 1872. William H. Carruth wrote in 1900: "It would strain the resources of rhetoric to express the mingled feelings of wonder and pride with which this literary meteor was viewed by the people of the State." In its brief career of less than two years, under the successive editorship of Capt. Henry King and James W. Steele, this first Kansas Magazine did some excellent pioneer work in cultivating a regional literature. The contributions of Henry King, designated "the first Kansas storyteller" by William Allen White, depicted the real estate "boomers" and young Civil War veterans then entering the State. The short stories that James Steele wrote for the magazine under his own and the pen name of "Deane Monahan" were later collected in a book called Sons of the Border (1873). Contributors from outside the State included Walt Whitman, John Hay, and James Redpath.

Steele revived the Kansas Magazine in 1886, but again gave it up two years later; and a periodical appeared under the same name from 1909 to 1912. It was once more revived in 1933, and is now issued annually under the editorship of Charles E. Rogers and Helen Hostetter of Kansas State College.