William Allen White said, “ When anything is going to happen in this country, it happens first in Kansas.”
When becoming a state, Kansas was born like many babes with cries, tears, and blood. In fact, Kansas was known then as Bleeding Kansas. The contentious issue was whether Kansas would come into the Union as a free or slave state, and both sides of the issue were lobbying, with guns and torture, to persuade the state to vote their way.
Growing up, I heard a lot of stories about those bad guys across the border in Missouri. Now that I live across the border, I hear a little more about the cruelties of the Jayhawkers. The fact is, there were plenty of horrors practiced on both sides of the border.
But in grade school I didn’t think much about the Border Wars. I just enjoyed learning about Kansas facts like the state bird is a yellow breasted Meadowlark, the state flower is the sunflower, and the state tree is the cottonwood. I still remember one of those January PTA programs where we children were lined up on a small curtained stage to present our Kansas Play. We had worked for weeks cutting yellow construction paper petals for sunflower masks, practicing the state song Home on the Range, and learning our speaking parts about the Kansa Indians, how the term Jayhawk was born (someone who shouts their opinions like a jay and fights like a hawk) or how the Neosho River got its name.
Kansas has given the world athletes as in Wilt Chamberlin, movie stars like Hattie McDaniel (Gone with the Wind), TV stars like Kirstie Alley, professional clowns (Emmett Kelly), astronauts, presidents and the inventor of basketball. The writing world has benefited from such Kansas authors and poets as Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, William Inge, and Gordon Parks.
Next year, Kansas will turn 150 years old. I clearly remember when Kansas turned 100, and it was a year long celebration. Everyone dressed up in long “centennial dresses”. My Granny made me a long calico dress and prairie bonnet for parades and such. Men dressed like pioneers or Kansas characters. I am sure the state will celebrate again next year when Kansas celebrates its sesquicentennial, a 150 years since achieving statehood. Until then, Happy 149th birthday, Kansas!