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Kansas History - Summer 2002

(Vol. 25, No. 2)

Kansas History, Summer 2002 Julie Courtwright, "'A Goblin That Drives Her Insane': Sara Robinson and the History Wars of Kansas, 1894-1911."

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Like Mrs. George Armstrong (Elizabeth) Custer and some other women (i.e., widows) with famous husbands, Mrs. Charles (Sara T. D.) Robinson seemingly spent much of her later years fostering and guarding her husbands historical legacy. Dr. Charles Robinson was one of Kansas's first Euro-American settlers, a leader of the free-state movement, and the state's first governor; Sara Robinson herself played a prominent role in the birthing of Kansas and in the recording of its often controversial history. Thus, as Courtwright demonstrates in this intriguing article, it should not be surprising that Kansans engaged in a "history war" of sorts and that Mrs. Robinson was in the middle of it. "Through her incessant letter writing and book distribution, and in conjunction with her supporters and opponents, [she] helped shape the public's perception of Kansas territorial history. Her views reverberated throughout the twentieth century and still influence students of Kansas history today."

Albert N. Hamscher, "'Scant Excuse for the Headstone': The Memorial-Park Cemetery in Kansas."

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As Professor Hamscher, Department of History, Kansas State University, observes, "cemeteries are a valuable source for investigating a broad range of subjects concerning the collective values and attitudes of generations past." Many scholars over the years have recognized this fact, and the literature on this and the more general subject of "death and dying" is extensive, for both the United States and Europe. But with the exception of a couple of Kansas History articles-one by Cathy Ambler, Winter 1992-1993; the other by Nancy J. Volkman, Summer 1987-"Kansas literally remains terra incognita with respect to the serious study of its cemeteries." Hamscher's article calls attention to this and the fact that Kansas cemeteries offer great possibities for future research, while seeking "to fill a significant gap in the existing literature"-the mid-twentieth-century movement toward the memorial-park type cemetery. Hamscher believes "the memorial-park cemetery offers tangible evidence of important changes in American attitudes toward death and the role played by the dead in the world of the living."

Roger D. Cunningham. "Welcoming 'Pa' on the Kaw: Kansas's 'Colored' Militia and the 1864 Price Raid."

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Reflecting the prejudices of the day in Kansas and elsewhere, Kansas's militia law excluded African Americans from service.Thus, when Governor Thomas Carney first called up the state's militia to aid in the defense of the state in the fall of 1864, the call did not include blacks; when the true nature of the threat became clear, however, General Samuel R. Curtis took control, declared martial law on October 10, and expanded the call to include "all men, white and black, between the ages of eighteen and sixty to 'arm and attach themselves to some of the organizations of troops, for temporary military service." As a result, a thousand black Kansans were given the opportunity to help defend their new home from Confederate General Sterling ("Pap" or "Pa") Price's invasion force, at that time rapidly approaching the Kansas City area. In this superbly researched article, Roger D. Cunningham, whose fine study of "Douglas's Battery" appeared in the Winter 2000-2001 issue of Kansas History, recalls "the actions of these proud black Kansans-most of them newly freed slaves-who were willing to fight for their freedom, thereby proving to one and all that they were more than worthy of the civil rights that had been unjustly withheld from them."

Thomas Fox Averill, "Kansas Literature, A Review Essay."

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This, the fourth essay in the journal's "Review Essay" series, focuses on the literary and cultural history of Kansas. Professor Averill, who has himself contribute much to our rich, if neglected, literary heritage, reminds us that "our literature has a direct bearing on our understanding of who we are as a people" and creates a valuable template for all of us who wish to seriously discover long-forgotten but fine Kansas authors. Averill discusses the difficulty of finding and defining Kansas literature, and stumbling blocks to the study of that literature (parochialism, historical research and interpretation, women and minorities, readability, and the "false" document), but he also concludes that "for the past thirty years, the climate has been good, the soil rich, and the fertile field of literary studies has seen much harvest." This last point is good news. For, as more and more historians also are discovering, "Literature helps us understand the relationship between the real and the imagined. And, at the same time, literature enhances both the place and our imaginative connection to it. Kansas literature exists somewhere between."


(The following books and collections are reviewed in full in our print version.)

Handbook of North American Indians
Volume 13: Plains
Volume editor: Raymond J. DeMallie; General editor: William Sturtevant
xvi + 1360 pages (2 vols.), preface, introduction, illustrations, bibliography, index.
Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 2001, cloth, $101.00.

Reviewed by Timothy Weston, highway archeologist, Kansas Historical Society, Topeka.

Our Town on the Plains: J. J. Pennell's Photographs of Junction City, Kansas, 1893-1922
by James R. Shortridge; introductory essay by John Pultz
xii + 242 pages, photographs, maps, notes, bibliography, index.
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000, $29.95.

Reviewed by Sue Zschoche, associate professor of history, Kansas State University, Manhattan.

Cher Oncle, Cher Papa: The Letters of Francois and Berenice Chouteau
by Dorothy Brandt Marra, transl. byMarie-Laure Dionne Pal, ed. by David Boutros
xiii + 304 pages, appendixes, notes, bibliography, illustrations, index.
Kansas City, Mo.:Western Historical Manuscript Collection; Kansas City, 2001, paper $24.95.

Reviewed by William E. Lass, professor of history (emeritus), Minnesota State University, Mankato.

General Crook and the Western Frontier
by Charles M. Robinson III
xix + 386 pages, illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001, cloth $39.95.

Reviewed by Leo E. Oliva, editor of the Santa Fe Trail Association quarterly Wagon Tracks, Woodston, Kans.

The Virtues of Vengeance
by Peter A. French
xii + 248 pages, notes, index.
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001, cloth $29.95.

Reviewed by Bryan M. Jack, doctoral candidate, American Studies, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri.

Hidden Worlds: Revisiting the Mennonite Migrants of the 1870s
by Royden Loewen
x + 139 pages, notes, maps, photographs, bibliography, index.
North Newton, Kans.: Bethel College, 2001, paper, $15.00.

Reviewed by David A. Haury, associate director, Kansas Historical Society.


Inside the Fighting First: Papers of a Nebraska Private in the Philippine War.
Edited by Thomas Solevad Nielsen.
(Blair, Nebr.: Lur Publications, 2001. xiii + 188 pages. Paper $19.95.)

Like the "Fighting Twentieth" Kansas regiment led by the indomitable Fred Funston, the "Fighting First" Nebraska enlisted young men to fight the Spanish in 1898 but ultimately found itself in a desperate conflict with Filipino insurgents. "This book encompasses the story of one American volunteer," writes historian Matthew Plowman in the volume's introduction, "Private Henry O. Thompson, who left his [Danish] farming community of St. Edward, Nebraska, to see the American West and participate in the war in the Pacific." Private Thompson's experience, as conveyed through his complete diary and the letters he wrote home, are quite similar to those of many a Twentieth Kansas "boy" and thus should be of special interest to readers of Kansas History.

Looking for History on Highway 14.
By John E. Miller.
(Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 2001. xix + 254 pages. Paper $17.95.)

First published by Iowa State University Press in 1993, Looking for History on Highway 14 is a South Dakota story, but Miller's underlining theme or thesis has much relevance for Kansas and thus should be of considerable interest to readers of Kansas History. It is not a guidebook for travelers along this particular route; it is, as the author writes in a new introduction for this paperback edition, "an effort to capture some of the spirit and essence of small-town life. . . . the focus always remains on the towns along the highway, originally the route of the Chicago and North Western Railway." From Elkton, Brookings, Arlington, and De Smet (Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little Town on the Prairie") in the east, through Pierre and Fort Pierre in the center, to Wall and Mount Rushmore in the west, Miller tells a significant story on several levels, demonstrating that the history of small-town, rural America "should be written down, because it is interesting in itself and because the present is a transitional period in which the fate of these small towns [and many more like them throughout the region] lies in the balance."

Angels of Freedom.
By Martha J. Parker, edited by Christine Reinhard.
(Topeka, Kans.: Chapman Publishers, 1999. x + 199 pages. $??)

With a preface by the late Richard B. Sheridan, a widely known economic historian and the author of several important Kansas History articles on African Americans and Kansas, Angels of Freedom contains numerous biographical essays about people with some connection to the "underground railroad" in western Douglas County-people such as Joseph Gardner, Augustus Wattles, and Henry and Francis Hiatt. Their stories are interesting and important because, as Professor Sheridan notes, it was here, in this rural area (the Bloomington-Clinton community), that "the Underground Railroad continued to operate during the period of 'Bleeding Kansas' without serious impairment." Here "the population was overwhelmingly of antislavery and Free State persuasion," and here "they banded together in voluntary protective associations against their enemies."

Pioneers of the Prairie: From the Century Farms of Marshall County.
By Lois Cohorst.
(Manhattan, Kans.: Ag Press, 2001. xvii + 413 pages. Cloth $40.00.)

This generously illustrated, large format volume consists of fifty-five biographical sketches (or family histories) of Marshall County's late nineteenth-century settlers based in large part on the records and stories compiled by the county's "Century Farmers." Each farm is represented on its own township map, and many of the sketches include photographs of family groups, individuals, schools, churches, agricultural activities, and more. The volume includes a glossary of commonly used and, for the most part, familiar terms but no index or source notes other than the names of family informants.

Danes in America: Danish-American Lutheranism from 1860 to 1908.
By Peder Kjølhede, Peter Sorensen Vig, and Ivar Marius Hansen.
(Blair, Nebr.: Lur Publications, 2001. xx + 186 pages. Paper $22.50.)

Taken from the two-volume study Danes in America, published in 1908 and 1916 and translated from Danish to English, Danish-American Lutheranism from 1860 to 1908 is the first volume in a series. It "treats the difficult and at times turbulent events surrounding the formation of Danish Lutheranism in America," and, according to the editor, "correct[s] the misconception that Peter S. Vig was the author and/or editor" of the original work. Vig (1854-1929), perhaps the most significant Danish American history scholar and writer, did make important contributions to the first volume, but so did a number of other "pioneering Danish-American historians" and, writes Peter L. Peterson, "thus the decision of Lur Publications to translate and publish some of these early works is a most welcome one." Although Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas are of most importance in the Synod's story, the congregation at Denmark, Kansas, receives some attention.

Religion in the Modern American West.
By Ferenc Morton Szasz.
(Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2002. xviii + 249 pages. Paper, $19.95.)

In his review of the first edition of Ferenc Morton Szasz's study (Kansas History, Summer 2001), Timothy Walch, director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, called Religion in the Modern American West "the first major survey of organized religion in the West from the late nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth century." He found it to be "clear and precise," as well as "even-handed" and "well organized." Not surprisingly, Szasz found religion to be an important theme in the West that "will flourish" during the present century even though ours has become "clearly a secular society."