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Kansas History - Autumn 2011

Kansas History, Autumn 2011(Vol. 34, No. 3)

James R. Beck, “Homesteading in Union Township, Clay County, Kansas, 1863–1889.”

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Although historians have frequently debated the efficacy of the Homestead Act of 1862, homesteading holds a special, romantic place in the popular culture of the American West; and there can be little doubt that the act’s generous provisions were a critical feature of the post-Civil War settlement period in central and western Kansas. As demonstrated by James R. Beck, homesteading was indeed central to the settlement of Union Township in Clay County. Beck’s detailed analysis of all homestead entries in this particular thirty-six-square-mile township reveals 159 homestead entries, of which 99 were completed. The remaining 60 were either commuted to cash (9) or cancelled by relinquishment or abandonment. Homesteaders in this township included immigrants from Europe and Canada, single men and women, widows, and a large representation of Union veterans of the late war. The first Union Township homestead settler entered his parcel in 1863 and the last homesteader to obtain a patent received it in 1889. “Homesteading in Union Township” explores the ways in which the process changed during those years, examines homestead cancellations, and seeks to evaluate the homestead law’s success or lack thereof in achieving its stated purpose: to secure homesteads to actual settlers on the public domain. In Union Township, Beck concludes, it did just that; thus, his case study “adds credence to a positive assessment of the Homestead Act of 1862.”

Benjamin W. Goossen, “‘Like a Brilliant Thread’: Gender and Vigilante Democracy in the Kansas Coal Field, 1921–1922.”

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In 1921 a rogue coal strike brought mine production in Kansas—the nation’s third largest producer of coal—to an uncertain halt. At a time when striking coal miners across the country fought armed skirmishes with hired guards, the women of the Kansas coal camps stepped in to prevent a similar escalation of violence in their own district, but also to keep strikebreakers from reopening closed Kansas mines. Over a three day period, thousands of women, many of whom were recent European immigrants, marched from mine to mine, defying the newly established Kansas Industrial Court as well as four companies of the Kansas National Guard. In “Like a Brilliant Thread,” Benjamin W. Goossen analyzes the women’s ideologically charged rhetoric and the national controversy they generated—from debates about American socialism to increasingly public roles for women. Focusing on the political dimensions of the march, Goossen argues that the women’s vigilantism constituted a radical and unorthodox form of democratic participation.

Mark A. Peterson, “The Kansas Roots of Arthur Allen Fletcher: The ‘Father of Affirmative Action.’”

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Arthur Allen Fletcher, who became known in later years as the “father of affirmative action,” was for one-quarter of his life a Kansan. The years from 1938 to 1959, argues Mark Peterson, associate professor of political science at Washburn University, were formative and greatly influenced the remainder of Fletcher’s life. The son of a Buffalo Soldier stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, Fletcher achieved high school athletic glory in Junction City; entered the military service upon graduation, as did so many members of “America’s Greatest Generation”; and returned from duty in the European Theater a wounded World War II veteran.  During the decade to follow, Fletcher earned a political science degree and Little All American honors as a Washburn University football player. He also entered Republican Party politics and government service as a member of Kansas Governor Fred Hall’s administration. Kansas gave Fletcher his start, despite the obstacles placed in the way of African Americans during the era. Fletcher went on to serve in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush administrations. During his service as an assistant cabinet secretary in the Nixon administration, Fletcher championed equal opportunity through affirmative action for racial minorities and went on in that and subsequent administrations to serve as a U.N. delegate, presidential advisor, and ultimately chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

In Memoriam


Kansas’s War: The Civil War in Documents
edited by Pearl T. Ponce
xvi + 267 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Athens: Ohio University Press, 2011, paper $18.65.
Reviewed by Brian Craig Miller, assistant professor of history, Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas.

Steamboats West: The 1859 American Fur Company Expedition
by Lawrence H. Larsen and Barbara J. Cottrell
256 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010, cloth $34.95.
Reviewed by William E. Foley, professor emeritus of history, University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg.

Understanding Missouri’s Constitutional Government
by Richard Fulton and Jerry Brekke
xii + 163 pages, notes, index.
Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2010, paper $19.95.
Reviewed by H. Edward Flentje, professor, Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas.

Ferdinand Hayden: A Young Scientist in the Great West 1853–1855
by Fritiof M. Fryxell
xxii + 281 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Rock Island, Ill.: Augustana Historical Society, 2010, cloth $19.95.
Reviewed by Rex Buchanan, interim director, Kansas Geological Survey, Lawrence.

The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause”
edited by James W. Loewen and Edward H. Sebesta
xiv + 424 pages, illustrations, notes, index.
Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010, paper $25.00.
Reviewed by Paul K. Stuewe, history teacher, Blue Valley West High School, Overland Park, Kansas.

Brothers to the Buffalo Soldiers: Perspectives on African American Militia and Volunteers, 1865–1917
edited by Bruce A. Glasrud
x + 246 pages, notes, bibliography, index.
Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011, cloth $39.95.<
Reviewed by Ben Wynne, associate professor of history, Gainesville State College, Oakwood, Georgia.

Norwegian American Women: Migration, Communities, and Identities
edited by Betty A. Bergland and Lori Ann Lahlum
xii + 356 pages, illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index.
St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2011, paper $24.95.
Reviewed by Mary Knarr, assistant professor of history, Concordia University, Seward, Nebraska.

The Forgotten Generation: American Children and World War II
by Lisa L. Ossian
xviii + 174 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011, paper $29.95.
Reviewed by Megan Birk, assistant professor of history, University of Texas Pan American, Edinburg, Texas.

Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America
by James Marten
xii + 339 pages, illustrations, endnotes, bibliography, index.
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011, cloth $39.95.
Reviewed by Aaron Astor, assistant professor of history, Maryville College, Maryville, Tennessee.

Civil War Senator: William Pitt Fessenden and the Fight to Save the American Republic
by Robert J. Cook
xii + 316 pages, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2011, cloth $48.00.
Reviewed by Virgil W. Dean, editor, Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains, Kansas Historical Society.

On Slavery’s Border: Missouri’s Small Slaveholding Households, 1815–1865
by Diane Mutti Burke
xviii + 413 pages, illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index.
Athens: University Press of Georgia, Early American Places Series, 2010, cloth $69.95, paper $24.95.
Reviewed by Bruce Mactavish, assistant professor of history, Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas.

Book Notes

The Incredible Story of Ephraim Nute: Scandal, Bloodshed and Unitarianism on the American Frontier. By Bobbie Groth. (Boston, Mass.: Skinner House Books, 2011, xii + 387 pages, paper $16.00.)

By all accounts, Ephraim Nute’s Bleeding Kansas era story is truly “incredible” and the Reverend Nute was himself an incredible man. “His life was a dynamic thread in the tapestry of the fledgling Unitarian movement, pioneer emigration, the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, the soldier’s homes of the Sanitary Commissions, the birth and growth of frontier newspapers, and the origins of higher education in the West” (p. ix), writes the author, Bobbie Groth, who is also a great-great-granddaughter. Nute came first to Lawrence, K.T., in the spring of 1855, and his often harrowing experiences, which included service as chaplain for the First Regiment Kansas Volunteers from 1861 to 1864, are told here through the generous use of his and others letters, many of which were first published in the contemporary eastern press.

The People of the River’s Mouth: In Search of the Missouria Indians.By Michael Dickey. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011, xvi + 159 pages, paper $19.95.)

Once a dominant force in what would become the Louisiana Territory, the Missouria nation numbered only a few hundred when the Corps of Discovery set out from St. Louis in 1804 and surprisingly little is known of its history today. The author, the historic site administrator for Missouri’s Division of State Parks, utilized a wide variety of sources (listed at the back, but not noted throughout) and contacts among the Otoe-Missouria tribe of Oklahoma to fill the gap by, according to the book’s back cover, “shed[ding] light on an overlooked aspect of Missouri’s past and piece[ing] together the history of these influential Native Americans in an engaging, readable volume.”

Congress and Harry S. Truman: A Conflicted Legacy. Edited by Donald A. Ritchie. (Kirksville, Mo.: Truman State University Press, 2011, xlvi + 209 pages, paper $28.95.)

This seventh volume in the Truman Legacy Series, like the previous six that cover National Security, Civil Rights, Israel, Native Americans, the Environment, and Immigration, is based on the papers presented at a Truman Legacy Symposium, this one held in May 2009, at Key West, Florida. It is edited by the historian of the U.S. Senate, Donald A. Ritchie, who contributes a fine introductory essay and includes a foreword by historian and Senator George S. McGovern and essays by eight Truman and Truman era scholars, most notably, perhaps, Alonzo L. Hamby and Susan M. Hartman. As did the previous six volumes, volume seven features a contribution by Ken Hechler, a Columbia PhD who served as a special assistant to President Truman, and a useful graphic essay of relevant documents and photographs based on the holdings of the Truman Library.

The Better Brother: Tom & George Custer and the Battle for the American West. By Roy Bird. (Nashville, Tenn.: Turner Publishing Company, 2011, xvi + 293 pages, paper $19.95.)

The Better Brother, by notable Kansas author Roy Bird, is a new and expanded edition of the author’s earlier biography, In His Brother’s Shadow: The Life of Thomas Ward Custer, which was reviewed in the autumn 2003 issue of Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains. Although “overshadowed” by his more famous elder brother, George Armstrong Custer, Tom Custer played an important if only supporting role in the formulation of the Custer legacy. Bird noted that there was some sibling rivalry, of course, but in the final analysis “Tom idolized George.” The younger brother “lived his whole life in his brother’s shadow,” and appropriately, “at their end on a Montana battlefield, Tom abandoned his troop of the Seventh Cavalry to die beside his brother” (pp. xiii–xiv, 251).

Dakota Dawn: The Decisive First Week of the Sioux Uprising, August 17–24, 1862.By Gregory F. Michno. (El Dorado Hills, Calif.: Savas Beatie, 2011, xxxii + 442 pages, paper $32.95.)

Nicely packaged with several fine maps and modern and historic photographs, Dakota Dawn analyzes in great detail the opening days of the Dakota Uprising of 1862, which had repercussions throughout the Great Plains during the years immediately to follow. As Michno, a prolific writer about Plains Indian wars, concludes, “it is not politically correct today to portray white settlers as victims,” but in this case they were. Hundreds were killed and wounded and most did not “deserve their fates,” but neither did the Dakotas who suffered through “years of poor treatment . . . that pushed them over the edge into violence. Innocent people on both sides were victims. The Western Indian Wars were essentially guerrilla wars, and the losers were not the warriors and soldiers. It is in the Indian villages and the frontier settlements where the tragedy of the Indian Wars is found” (pp. 393–94).

Gentlemen on the Prairie: Victorians in Pioneer Iowa. By Curtis Harnack. (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2011, viii + 254 pages, paper $24.00.)

We Have All Gone Away. By Curtis Harnack. (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2011, 188 pages, paper $19.95.)

The Attic: A Memoir. By Curtis Harnack. (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2011, viii + 192 pages, paper $19.95.)

These three volumes tell pieces of the story of Le Mars, Iowa, as it was at three different moments in time. The first, Gentlemen on the Prairie (originally published in 1985), outlines the “colorful immigration venture” begun by a young Englishman, William B. Close, and his three brothers in the 1870s and 1880s, which gave rise to a colony of some five hundred upper-class Englishmen, not in line to inherit land on their home soil, settling in Le Mars, Iowa, and, later, Pipestone, Minnesota (p. vii). These homesteaders were not interested, by and large, in American citizenship, but rather in becoming landed gentry in a place that had land to offer, although by the 1890s the challenges of supporting such a lifestyle outside England—the lack of a landless underclass to work the estates and of female companions with which to raise heirs—became evident and the Close Colony collapsed. Le Mars had other residents, of course, and author Curtis Harnack became one of them during one of the town’s hard times. In his memoir We Have All Gone Away (originally published in 1973) he tells of growing up on a nearby farm during the Great Depression, and in the sequel The Attic (originally published in 1993) the author returns to his family farm to shift through generations of papers and photos and reflect on the farm’s past and its uncertain future.