Published: Jan/Feb 2004

Above A John Steuart Curry painting of abolitionist John Brown in the Kansas State Capitol. Jeffrey Hobson photo

Below: The renovated Santa Fe Depot in Atchison serves as a visitors center. Atchison Area Chamber of Commerce photo

Kansas Chautauqua brings state’s turbulent history to life
W hen the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened up the Kansas Territory for white settlement in 1854 and gave settlers the right to vote on whether the territory would enter the Union as a free or slave state, the region became a battleground for the issues and ideas that eventually engulfed the nation.

To learn more about that turbulent and important period, the Kansas Humanities Council is presenting Kansas Chautauqua this summer. In this living history event, called “Bleeding Kansas: Where the Civil War Began,” re-enactors will portray six historical figures who will speak about their lives and how their decisions affected the Kansas Territory and the very foundation of the country.

Held under an old-fashioned tent, the chautauqua will be presented in four Kansas communities in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the Kansas Territory. The chautauqua dates and locations include:

• June 4–8 at Heritage Park in Junction City. It is being sponsored by the Junction City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Call 1-800-528-2489 or visit online at for more information.

• June 11–15 at the Prairie Museum of Art and History in Colby. It is being sponsored by the Colby Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Call 1-800-611-8835 or click on for more information.

• June 18–22 at the Fort Scott National Historic Site in Fort Scott. It is being sponsored by Bourbon County Arts Council and the Fort Scott National Historic Site
Call (620) 223-0310, 1-800-245-3678 or click on for information.

• June 25–29 in South Park in Lawrence. It is being sponsored by the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Call 1-888-529-5267 or click on for information. •
–Patsy Bell Hobson

The historical figures portrayed at Bleeding Kansas Chautauqua will include, from left, John Brown, Clarina Nichols, Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, David Atchison and Frederick Douglass. Jeffrey Hobson photo

Before You Go
For more information before your Kansas adventure, contact:

• The Kansas State Historical Society, (785) 272-8681 or

• Kansas Travel and Tourism, 1-800-2KANSAS (800-252-6727) or

To plan your Kansas trip, stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides.

Prairie History
In honor of the Kansas Territory’s sesquicentennial in 2004, cities across the state will hold festivals and events to celebrate their rich heritage.

By Patsy Bell Hobson

Most birthday celebrations usually grow shorter with age, but Kansas is defying that natural law. There’s a big party on the prairie throughout the year in honor of the Kansas Territory’s 150th anniversary.

In addition to the statewide celebrations, several communities formed during the Kansas Territory will celebrate their sesquicentennials.

Statewide chautauqua

The crown jewel of the Territorial Sesquicentennial celebration is the 2004 Bleeding Kansas Chautauqua. For five days and nights, four Kansas communities will present education and entertainment under an old-fashioned tent in the park.

“Bleeding Kansas: Where the Civil War Began” will feature the portrayals of six historical figures: John Brown, David Atchison, Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Clarina Nichols and Frederick Douglass. They will tell in their own words how their lives and actions affected the Kansas Territory and America’s future. (See related story.) The Bleeding Kansas Chautauqua, presented by the Kansas Humanities Council, will include youth programs, elderhostels, territorial music, Underground Railroad sites and even a partial re-enactment of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

More than Amelia

This beautiful and historic railroad and river town knows how to throw a birthday party.

The best way to get an overview of Atchison is to begin with a narrated trolley tour starting at the historic Santa Fe Depot. Tours are offered May through October. The newly renovated depot also houses the visitors’ center, and the Atchison County Historical Society museum offers a friendly introduction to a charming city.

Atchison is proud of its native daughter, aviatrix Amelia Earhart. She is honored everywhere, including the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum; The Amelia Earhart Earthwork, a one-acre crop art work created by nationally recognized artist Stan Herd; and the International Forest of Friendship, a beautiful park comprised of trees representing all 50 states and more than 35 foreign countries.

The Atchison sesquicentennial party is June 13–20 and will include riverboat rides, a melodrama premier, parade, ice cream social and multi-church choirs and worship services. Join the contests, including: Deafy Boular memorial bricklaying contest, golf ball drive across the wide Missouri river, black powder turkey shoot, biggest liar contest and best whistle contest. What’s being billed as the biggest birthday cake in Kansas is also part of the fun.

Call 1-800-234-1854 or visit online at

The first city of Kansas

Leavenworth is the first city in Kansas, founded in 1854. It served as the springboard for the settlement of the rest of the state and the support base for the opening of the West. Built largely to support the fort and the settlers heading west, the city’s Historic Wayside Tours commemorate notable events and locations in the community.

Walk or drive to the waysides, which are interactive displays located around the city. Short recorded narratives about historic sites and images of significant people, structures or events highlight the tour.

Fort Leavenworth has devoted more than 170 years of service to the nation. At the fort, see the Buffalo Soldier Monument, Berlin Wall monument, Santa Fe and Oregon Trail cuts and the national cemetery. You need photo identification to enter the fort.

Discovery Days, July 1–4, will celebrate Leavenworth’s sesquicentennial with a party, parade, re-enactments and a traveling art exhibit featuring American Indian works.

Contact Leavenworth Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-844-4114 or (913) 682-4113,

Free state fortress

Lawrence tours start at the Visitor Information Center in the Union Pacific depot at the corner of North Second and Locust streets. As you watch the film, “Lawrence: Free State Fortress,” you can hear and feel the city’s past and present as nearby trains rumble by.

The best way to enjoy Lawrence’s great shopping and dining is to park and walk down pedestrian-friendly Massachusetts Street. A wide variety of multi-use trails are available in Lawrence for bicyclists, walkers and nature lovers. Pick up free, self-guided driving, walking or biking tour maps at the visitor information center.

The University of Kansas is in the center of town. Visit the beautiful Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics on KU’s west campus. Truly a college town, Lawrence also is home to Haskell Indian Nations University, the country’s oldest inter-tribal university. The new Haskell Cultural Center has exhibits from the school’s archival collections.

Contact the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-888-LAWKANS (888-529-5267) or

Territorial capital

On your trip to Lawrence or Topeka, stop in historic Lecompton and view the Territorial Capitol-Lane Museum, as well as Constitutional Hall. The three floors of the history-packed museum include rare treasures found only in larger museums and private collections.

June 26 is the Territorial Capital Festival in Lecompton. For details, contact the museum at (785) 887-6148, or visit the Web site

The prairie capitol

The crowning landmark in Topeka is the Kansas State Capitol. Free weekday guided tours highlight the famous John Steuart Curry murals, including one of John Brown.

To catch a glimpse of Topeka in the 1800s, visit Historic Ward-Meade Park. The park includes the Ward-Meade Home, a one-room schoolhouse, livery stable, Santa Fe railway depot and church. The Potwin Drug Store serves lunch and ice cream at the old- fashioned soda fountain and houses a turn-of-the-century physician’s office, dental office and pharmacy.

he Kansas History Center affords a chance to prepare for your sesquicentennial visit. An exhibit recalls the Territorial sesquicentennial, April 2 through Oct. 1. The exhibit will include artifacts such as John Brown’s Pike, used against the U.S. arsenal at Harper’s Ferry; the Abbott Howitzer, captured during the sacking of Lawrence; and a shackle cut from a slave’s leg.

Come any time for a taste of American history, or come for the cake as Kansas Territory celebrates its 150th birthday in 2004. There’s always a celebration going on somewhere in Kansas.

Patsy Bell Hobson is a new contributor from Liberty, Mo.

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