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Kansas History - Autumn 2008

(Vol. 31, No. 3)

Kansas History, Autumn 2008

Katie H. Armitage, "'Seeking a Home Where He Himself Is Free': African Americans Build a Community in Douglas County, Kansas."

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In the early 1860s several thousand enslaved blacks liberated themselves and followed the Union army to freedom in Kansas from Missouri, Arkansas, and Indian Territory, and because of its reputation for anti-slavery sentiment, many of these emigrants found their way to Douglas County. By the 1880s almost one-fourth of the county's population was African American-the black community included people such as David and Rebecca Brooks Harvey who established homes, opened businesses, and founded churches. The Harvey family, which plays a leading role in Lawrence historian Katie Armitage's study of community development, purchased land and sent three sons to the university and on to professional careers. The story of two generations of these and other Douglas County residents is told through family accounts, census records, and newspaper articles from both the black and white press. Although racial tensions increased during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, black leaders such as Charles Langston, John Waller, and, later, Dr. F. D. G. Harvey defended their community and parents sent their children to school, even in the face of increasing segregation. The struggle continued, and when this second generation matured the African American community as a whole still sought, as Langston Hughes would write, a home "where he himself is free."

Thomas Burnell Colbert, "'The Lion of the Land': James B. Weaver, Kansas, and the Oklahoma Lands, 1884-1890."

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In 1884 James B. Weaver, former congressman and Greenback Party candidate for president in 1880 (and future Populist candidate for president in 1892), won reelection to Congress from Iowa. The Kansas-based Boomer movement to open the Unassigned or Oklahoma Lands in Indian Territory to white homesteaders gained his immediate attention. In “The Lion of the Land,” Iowa historian Thomas Burnell Colbert, focuses on Weaver’s efforts to secure the opening of the disputed lands and the ties between Weaver and supporters of the Boomer movement in Kansas, particularly former Republican congressman Sidney Clarke and Boomer leader William L. Couch. Colbert also recounts Weaver’s endeavors in the establishment of Oklahoma City once the federal government allowed for settlement in the contested area. In the end, Weaver failed to accomplish his personal goals in Oklahoma, but his efforts in swaying Congress to open the Oklahoma lands can be considered his greatest achievement while in Congress. Consequently, in that context, he played a notable role in closing the frontier in the southern Great Plains and did so in cooperation especially with like-minded Kansans.

Steven Trout, "The Western Front Comes to Kansas: John Steuart Curry's The Return of Private Davis from the Argonne."

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Multiple influences and sources of inspiration helped shape John Steuart Curry’s The Return of Private Davis from the Argonne (1928–1940), the depiction of a Kansas soldier’s stateside reburial following World War I. First, there is the sad and ironic story of William L. Davis, Curry’s Winchester, Kansas, high-school friend, who was wounded on his very first night of frontline duty, the victim of hand-to-hand combat in an otherwise quiet sector of the Western Front. In addition, a tragedy in Curry’s family (the sudden death of his younger brother Paul), the artist’s exposure to World War I literature and public commemoration, and his support for isolationism all played a role in the painting’s evolution over a twelve-year period. Ultimately, explains Professor Steven Trout, department of English, Fort Hays State University, The Return of Private Davis from the Argonne reflects the sense of ambiguity that permeated American memory of World War I during the 1920s and 1930s. In addition, the painting warns against American involvement in a new European war waiting on the horizon.

Angie Gumm, "Looking for the Good in Garbage: Bill Compton Builds Wichita a Pyrolysis Plant"

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In the 1970s, the federal government funded several projects that promised to convert garbage into some kind of resource. Early in the decade Wichitan Bill Compton was inspired by the same idea. Once the oil crisis subsided and federal funds were cut, state and local governments abandoned the resource recovery of garbage and shifted their interest to recycling, which was cheaper and less controversial. Nevertheless, as historian Angie Gumm demonstrates, Bill Compton continued to look “for the good in garbage” and pursed his plan to build Wichita a pyrolysis plant, which could turn garbage into oil, carbon, and gas. Compton constructed his own batch plant in the early 1980s, and by 1993 he had built a pilot plant, making Wichita the only non-coastal city to have a pyrolysis plant. While telling Compton’s story, Gumm also examines the governmental policies, ideological divisions, and environmental and technological issues that have led to the abandonment of the resource recovery of garbage.


The Billy the Kid Reader
edited by Frederick Nolan
xvi + 384 pages, illustrations, notes, index.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007, cloth $29.95.
Reviewed by Roy Bird, director, Kansas Center for the Book at the State Library of Kansas.

The Grasslands of the United States: An Environmental History
by James E. Sherow
xiv + 389 pages, chronology, bibliography, index.
Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, Nature and Human Society Series, 2007, cloth $85.00.
Reviewed by John Herron, assistant professor, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Survival of Rural America: Small Victories and Bitter Harvests
by Richard E. Wood
xvii + 223 pages, illustrations, maps, notes, index.
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008, cloth $34.95.
Reviewed by Tom Schmiedeler, professor of geography, Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas.

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William Clark: Indian Diplomat
by Jay H. Buckley
xx + 320 pages, illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008, cloth $29.95.
Reviewed by Michael L. Tate, professor of history and Native American studies, University of Nebraska-Omaha.

The Chouteaus: First Family of the Fur Trade
by Stan Hoig
xii + 337 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2008, cloth $29.95.
Reviewed by Stephen Warren, assistant professor of history, Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Kansas City, America's Crossroads: Essays from the Missouri Historical Review, 1906-2006
edited by Diane Mutti Burke and John Herron
viii + 304 pages, illustrations, notes, index.
Columbia: The State Historical Society of Missouri, 2007, paper $30.00, cloth $40.00.
Reviewed by Virgil W. Dean, editor, Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains.

Reframing Scopes: Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs from the Trial of the Century
by Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette
xvi + 172 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008, cloth $45.00.
Reviewed by Julie Scott, curriculum coordinator, Upward Bound Math Science, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas.

Afterimages: A Family Memoir
by Carol Ascher
236 pages, illustrations, notes.
Teaneck, N.J.: Holmes & Meier, 2008, cloth $24.00.
Reviewed by Thomas Fox Averill, professor of English and writer-in-residence, Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas.

Book Notes

Truman's Whistle-Stop Campaign. By Steven R. Goldzwig. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2008, xii + 147 pages, cloth $34.95, paper $17.95.)

As we approach the end of perhaps the longest presidential campaign in U.S. history, readers might be advised to look back sixty years to that storied 1948 whistle-stop campaign, featuring Harry S. Truman, the incumbent, who had been counted out by the pundits months before the polls even opened. In Truman's Whistle-Stop Campaign, Steven Goldzwig, who teaches communications studies at Marquette University, examines some themes familiar to all students of the "Man from Independence," but aims "to lend additional insight into presidential stump speaking in the conduct of a national presidential campaign" and "seeks a clear interpretation and evaluation of Truman's rhetorical efforts as he barnstormed the country by rail" (p. ix). Goldzwig's analysis covers the campaign's well-planned political and rhetorical strategy, the late spring's "non-political" western tour (or "shakedown cruise," as Truman adviser Kenneth Hechler later called it), and the decisive whistle-stop campaign in the fall.

Farmers "Making Good": The Development of Abernathy District, Saskatchewan, 1880-1920. By Lyle Dick. 2nd edition. (Calgary, Alberta: University of Calgary Press, 2008, xxxii + 303 pages, paper $34.95.)

Originally published in 1989 by the Canadian Park Service, this second edition of Canadian historian Lyle Dick's award-winning study of eastern Saskatchewan's Abernathy District deserves the attention of all those interested in the development of agriculture on the prairies and plains of North America. Farmers "Making Good" is a study very much in tune with the "new rural history" of U.S. historians Allan G. Bogue, Robert Swierenga, and others and is a "microhistory" of western Canadian settlement, which "employed systematic research methods, especially quantification, and focused on detailed treatments of such topics as the impact of land policies and markets on prairie agriculture, the economic development of local communities, and the study of social relationships, family, and kinship ties" (p. xx-xxi) in one newly settled province. This important study underscores the common experiences and challenges some of the myths connected to the settlement process that characterize its history on both sides of the Canadian-U.S. border.

Interior Places. By Lisa Knopp. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008, x + 289 pages, paper $21.95.)

In this collection of essays, representing various genres of nonfiction, including memoir, biography, and travel and natural history writing, associate professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Omaha Lisa Knopp offers readers an exploration of "how one perceives or knows an interior place, how one might be changed by being within, how being within informs one's experience of being without" (p. 8). In these engagingly written pieces Knopp describes the people and places of Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio, and, in one essay on the famous flyer Amelia Earhart, Atchison, Kansas. Her recounting of a visit to the aviatrix's birthplace, interspersed with town history and an account of Earhart's equal dedication to flying and serving the urban poor (the latter manifest in her work with the settlement house movement of the early twentieth century), demonstrates Knopp's method of looking closely at geographical spaces as windows upon more interior places.

Drawing Battle Lines: The Map Testimony of Custer's Last Fight. By Michael N. Donahue. (El Segundo, Calif.: Upton and Sons, Battle of the Little Big Horn Series 8, 2008, 413 pages, cloth $55.00.)

Michael Donahue, chairman of the Temple College art department, has worked as an historical interpreter and park ranger at the Little Bighorn National Monument in Montana for eighteen summers. During that time he has collected maps drawn by participants in the battle and, later, by second-generation researchers who personally interviewed eyewitnesses to Custer's Last Stand. His work has resulted in "a comprehensive pictorial view of the battle" (p. 9) and the publication of many maps that have previously been tucked away in libraries and archives across the county. Donahue provides a biographical sketch and portrait (when available) of each contributing cartographer, as well as detailed analyses of the maps based on his comparison of their depictions and the terrain on which the battle was fought. The maps are chronologically arranged within four categories-soldier, warrior, civilian, and miscellaneous-and a handful are reproduced in color.

Oklahoma Rough Rider: Billy McGinty's Own Story. Edited by Jim Fulbright and Albert Stehno. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008, xiii + 218 pages, paper $19.95.)

William M. "Billy" McGinty (1871-1961), born in Mercer County, Missouri, and raised in Cowley and Clark counties in Kansas, was by age fourteen a bronc buster in Dodge City and spent his teens and twenties traveling the West working as a ranch hand. After the USS Maine was sunk in Havana, Cuba, in 1898 and war with Spain looked inevitable, McGinty volunteered for the First U.S. Calvary and became a horsebreaker in Roosevelt's Rough Rider regiment. Nearly forty years later McGinty wrote about his service "in what turned out to be one of the rare, firsthand accounts by a front-line soldier" from the Spanish-American War (p. ix). Oklahoma Rough Rider contains McGinty's recollections from the years 1898 until 1901, when he served in the military and later performed in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. This volume also includes the editors' narrative of McGinty's post-war escapades, including his headlining and, later, promotion of cowboy bands.

At Sword's Point, Part 1: A Documentary History of the Utah War to 1858. By William P. MacKinnon. (Norman, Okla.: Arthur H. Clark, Kingdom in the West: The Mormons and the American Frontier 10, 2008, 546 pages, cloth $45.00.)

At Sword's Point tells of the nation's "first 'civil war'" (p. 11), fought between President James Buchanan and Utah Territory Governor, and second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Brigham Young, from May 1857 until July 1858. Using mostly unpublished firsthand accounts from those on both sides of the conflict, William MacKinnon presents a detailed study of this little-known but significant war, "a campaign that ultimately pitted nearly one-third of the U.S. Army against . . . arguably America's largest, most experienced militia" (p. 35). Readers of Kansas History will be especially interested in the wartime roles played by William Clarke Quantrill, Civil War sacker of Lawrence, and Charles R. Morehead, one-time mayor of Leavenworth, as well as by the suggestion of one of Buchanan's advisors that "an Anti-Mormon Crusade" could serve as a diversion by which the nation might "forget Kansas" (p. 123).