Flint Hills, Alma, Wabaunsee County, KS, 2017
The Flint Hills of Kansas seep into your bones. Their beauty is subtle and quiet, found in the edges, the creases, the ravines and gullies filled with oak and walnut, cottonwood and elm, which contrast with the smooth contours of bluestem, Indian and switch grass. But it is a land of frustration. One becomes curtailed by its containment. Travelling the white gravel roads of chipped limestone (which remind me of the “white roads” of Tuscany), Kansans’ property rights laws limit you from wandering the Flint Hills as one ranch abuts against another, the roads bordered by strands of barbed wire forbidding you to cross over and wander.
Kansas is the axis of the United States, both geographically and social-politically. Beginning in 1825, the Kansa was a frontier land to forcibly relocate Indian tribes to, and through the Indian Removal Act of 1830 signed into law by Andrew Jackson, the Kansa officially became Indian Territory where Native American tribes from the east and the Great Lakes were evicted out of the U.S. The Potawatomi were one such tribe. In 1836, Jackson signed a treaty with the Potawatomi resulting in the loss of their lands in Indiana, eradicated and marched to the Kansa Indian Territory in what is known as the Potawatomi Trail of Death.
The other “Trail of Death,” the Oregon Trail, and the trail of commerce, the Santa Fe, both began just across the western border of the U.S. in Independence, Missouri, and then cut across the Kansa. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act became law allowing white settlers to migrate into the Kansas Territory. In order to receive support from southern Congressmen, Senator Stephen Douglas author of the act had replaced prohibition against slavery with a provision he called “popular sovereignty.” This act precipitated the start of the American Civil War through Bloody Kansas, a border war between pro-slavery Missourians and anti-slavery New Englanders who had emigrated to Kansas from becoming a slave state. Armed with Sharp rifles bought by Henry Ward Beecher, the abolitionist John Brown led the group from New Haven, Connecticut to the “New Haven of the West,” Wabaunsee, Kansas, named after Potawatomi Chief Wabaunsee. The rifles became known as “Beecher’s Bibles” and were inherited into the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church, a station for the Underground Railway.
On Jan. 29, 1861, Kansas was admitted into the Union as a free state. In 1862 the Homestead Act was signed into law. The act allowed immigrants to receive 160 acres of free land if they were willing to live on, cultivate and improve it. It also encouraged people to immigrate to and become citizens of the United States. Indian lands became public land, and Indians were once again forced from their land, and treaties became non-existent. The destiny of the United States was being made manifest.