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Kansas History - Autumn 2005

(Vol. 28, No. 3)

Kansas History, Autumn 2005

Aram Goudsouzian, "'Can Basketball Survive Chamberlain?': The Kansas Years of Wilt the Stilt."

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Basketball fans throughout the nation know something of the Wilt Chamberlin story or legend, and they might even recall the "disappointment that plagued his tumultuous tenure at Kansas from 1955 to 1958." But few really have considered the complexities of that story, expertly elucidated here by Professor Aram Goudsouzian, Department of History, University of Memphis. Throughout his relatively brief stay in Lawrence, writes Dr. Goudsouzian, "Chamberlain stood at the center of upheavals at the University of Kansas: his presence inspired national controversy, and he personally helped effect the racial desegregation of Lawrence. Yet Chamberlain was a considerably more complicated figure than an integrationist pioneer in the mold of Jackie Robinson. He was a national icon, but one defined as much by failure as success. His size, ability, and race threatened the established patterns of college basketball. During his Kansas years, then, Wilt Chamberlain foreshadowed the changing landscapes of American sports and race relations."

Marilyn Irvin Holt, "Children's Health and the Campaign for Better Babies."

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Closely linked to the Progressive Era's emphasis on public health in general, the movement to improve the health and welfare of the nation's children gained momentum in rural states such as Kansas the 1910s. Representative of the era's grand reform initiatives, the "Better Baby clinics and contests" became popular and important events on the Plains. Although "relics of the past" that may now appear as "simplistic solution to the daunting challenge of bringing a better state of health to America's children," Marilyn Holt shows that for thousands of Kansas children these "health clinics provided something they had never had---a medical examination." In addition, "the focus on Better Babies spilled over into projects and programs that went far beyond weighing and measuring children. The clinics, as well as related programs, laid a foundation for the ways parents and the general public thought about preventive medicine, health care for children, and creating healthier environments for the youngest of Kansans."

Dave Peavler, "Drawing the Color Line in Kansas City: The Creation of Sumner High School."

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Kansas became a free state in 1861, but it also was a "Jim Crow" state, in fact (de facto) if not, for the most part, in law (de jure), and during the early twentieth century it became even more so. Many have pointed to the "paradox" that was Kansas, during its first 100 years, where racial attitudes were "neither consistent nor monolithic." To illuminate this fact, historian Dave Peavler offers a detailed exploration of the early twentieth-century campaign to create a segregated high school in Kansas City, Kansas. "The campaign," writes Peavler, "reveals that an overwhelming majority of the city's white residents favored the expansion of segregation. The caution and detachment displayed by those who favored the separation, however, suggests that the racial mores of these Kansans were unique in comparison to other regions. Although race was the real issue, even the most ardent supporters of the Kansas City campaign publicly denied their own prejudice . . . insisting that separation would benefit students of both races." Of course, the African American "community clearly understood the intent of the plan and the consequences for their children" and "organized an extraordinary [albeit unsuccessful] resistance movement that utilized the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the state government."

James R. Shortridge, "Regional Image and Sense of Place in Kansas. Review Essay"

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At least since Coronado-so the story goes-had the guide who lead him to the region executed, image has concerned the inhabitants and potential inhabitants of this place we now call Kansas. More recently journalist Thomas Frank has revisited the old question, What's the Matter with Kansas?, in order to comment on conservatisms apparent triumph over "the Heart of America." For a variety of reasons, Kansas-America "double distilled," as Carl Becker characterized it nearly 100 years ago-was the perfect foil. In his engaging contribution to our review essay series, cultural geographer James R. Shortridge examines the literature and explores "the importance of place-based symbols and myth" in the development of Kansas. Scholars have long argued that "Such imagery . . . influences outsiders in their decisions where to visit or to establish new businesses. It also affects how local residents perceive themselves and their role within a broader society," writes Professor Shortridge. "Many scholars, including those in this series of review essays, have touched upon Kansas imagery and its meaning, but only a few address the subject directly."

Book Reviews

Oceans of Kansas: A Natural History of the Western Interior Sea
by Michael J. Everhart
xiv + 322 pages, photographs, drawings, notes, index.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005, cloth $39.95.
Reviewed by Rex Buchanan, associate director for public outreach, Kansas Geological Survey, University of Kansas.

Exploding the Western: Myths of Empire on the Postmodern Frontier
by Sara L. Spurgeon
x + 168 pages, notes, index.
College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2005, cloth $40.00, paper $17.95.
Reviewed by Brad D. Lookingbill, associate professor of history, Columbia College of Missouri.

On the Great Plains: Agriculture and Environment
by Geoff Cunfer
xii + 240, appendix, notes, bibliography, index.
College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2005, paper $28.00; cloth $55.00.
Reviewed by Karl Brooks, assistant professor of history and environmental studies, University of Kansas.

Bleed, Blister, and Purge: A History of Medicine on the American Frontier
by Volney Steele
v + 392 pages, photographs, glossary, notes, bibliography, index.
Missoula, Mont.: Mountain Press Publishing Co., 2005, paper $15.00.
Reviewed by C. Fred Williams, professor of history, University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Collapse at Meuse-Argonne: The Failure of the Missouri-Kansas Division
by Robert H. Ferrell
xi + 160 pages, maps, notes, essay on sources, index.
Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004, cloth $29.95.
Reviewed by Theodore A. Wilson, professor of history, University of Kansas.

What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America
by Thomas Frank
x + 306 pages, illustration, notes, index.
New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004, cloth $24.00.
Reviewed by James E. Sherow, associate professor of history, Kansas State University.

Peacekeeping on the Plains: Army Operations in Bleeding Kansas
by Tony R. Mullis
xvii + 250 pages, photographs, illustrations, maps, selected bibliography, index.
Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004, cloth $44.95.
Reviewed by William D. Young, professor of history, Maple Woods Community College, Kansas City, Missouri.

All Aboard for Santa Fe: Railway: Promotion of the Southwest, 1890s to the 1930s
by Victoria E. Dye
163 pages, notes, appendices, bibliography, index.
University of New Mexico Press, 2005, cloth $24.95.
Reviewed by H. Roger Grant, professor emeritus, Clemson University.

Book Notes

Santa Fe Locomotive 132: A Q-125 Remembrance of the "Cyrus K. Holliday."
By Richard E. Scholz, edited by Larry E. Brasher. (David City, Neb.: South Platte Press, 2005. 56 pages, paper $19.95.)
Readers of Kansas History and members of the Kansas Historical Society will be especially interested in this attractive little publication, which tells the fascinating story of the 125-year-old locomotive. Now, of course, the centerpiece of the Kansas Museum of History's permanent exhibits gallery, the Cyrus K. Holliday has had a long and storied career, and many wonderful photographs, including several that capture the 1980s restoration project, here enhance its narrative history.

The Union on Trial: The Political Journals of William Barclay Napton, 1829-1883.
Edited by Christopher Phillips and Jason L. Pendleton. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005. xx + 631 pages, cloth $49.95.)
A journalist, lawyer, and justice on the state supreme court of Missouri when secession and war rocked the nation in 1860-1861, William Barclay Napton left an impressive historical paper trail, a portion of which is expertly edited here (excerpts from five bound journal volumes; unfortunately, a sixth volume covering 1858-1862 was destroyed) with an emphasis on the antebellum and Civil War years. This impressive volume begins with a fine seventy-seven-page biographical essay, and the subsequent journal material contains much of interest to readers of Kansas History. As early as May 1857, for example, Napton laments the probability that Kansas "is destined to be a free state," a development that he fears could easily cause "the hemp growers and the tobacco planters in the central counties [to] take alarm and gradually retire to the South and Missouri stand alongside of Illinois and Kansas as a free state."

Nebraska: An Illustrated History, Second Edition.
By Frederick C. Luebke. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. xxiv + 416 pages, paper $24.95.)
First published a decade ago, Nebraska: An Illustrated History is now available as a handsome paperback, revised and updated by its author, the noted University of Nebraska historian Frederick C. Luebke, Charles J. Mach Distinguished Professor Emeritus. This Bison Books edition contains five maps and 286 black and white photographs, mostly from the rich collections of the Nebraska State Historical Society.

The Nature of Nebraska: Ecology and Biodiversity.
By Paul A. Johnsgard. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. xxiii + 402 pages, paper $17.95.)
University of Nebraska professor of biology emeritus Paul Johnsgard first published The Nature of Nebraska, which introduces the reader to Nebraska's "incredible biodiversity," in 2001. This Bison Books edition contains the original fifty-six useful illustrations of the region's flora and fauna and fourteen maps. Professor Johnsgard is the author of many other books, including the recently published Prairie Dog Empire: A Saga of the Shortgrass Prairie (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005).
Impertinences: Selected Writings of Elia Peattie, a Journalist in the Gilded Age. Edited by Susanne George Bloomfield. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. xx + 335 pages, paper $20.00.)
A prolific writer of editorials, columns, and short stories, Elia Peattie (1862-1935) spent nearly a decade (1888-1896) in Omaha, Nebraska, raising a family and contributing to the Omaha World-Herald-these writings, on political, social, and cultural issues and subjects, are the main focus of Impertinences. The editor, Susanne George Bloomfield, a professor of English at the University of Nebraska, also offers an interesting biography of Peattie and an extensive bibliography of her published work.

Historical Gazetteer of the United States.
By Paul T. Hellmann. (New York: Taylor & Francis/Routeledge, 2004. xvii + 865 pages, index, cloth $150.00.)
The "vital statistics" and some historical facts about all fifty states, and many of their larger cities and towns as well as the District of Columbia, are presented in this large reference volume. In the fifteen pages devoted to Kansas, one will discover that the Kansas Pacific reached Abilene in 1867, northeast of El Dorado a lake of the same name was built in 1981, Jetmore originally was named "Buckner," the Franklin County courthouse was built in Ottawa in 1893, and Yates Center was incorporated as a city in 1884.

Along the Edge of Daylight: Photographic Travels from Nebraska and the Great Plains.
By Georg Joutras. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. 144 pages, cloth $45.00.)
All residents and would-be residents of the Great Plains, whether or not they happen to be from Nebraska, will easily identify with and delight in this collection of 117 color landscape and wildlife portraits by Lincoln photographer Georg Joutras. It is "a portfolio of photographs taken over the last two decade" that captures the region's beauty and, writes Joutras, "celebrate the magnificence of the earth, the rejuvenating calm and serenity of the wilds, the unique and interesting behavior of nature's creatures, and the pristine places that have experienced limited interaction with civilization."

The Real Calvin Coolidge #18.
By Jerry L. Wallace and the Coolidge Memorial Foundation. (Plymouth Notch, Vt.: Coolidge Memorial Foundation, 2005. 64 pages, paper $6.00.)
The eighteenth issue in the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation's publication series is mostly devoted to historian Jerry L. Wallace's description of Vice President (later president) Coolidge's involvement with Kansas City's Liberty Memorial, a monument dedicated to the veterans of the Great War. Coolidge was in Kansas City for the site dedication, November 1, 1921, and for the memorial's dedication on laying of the cornerstone on November 11, 1926.