in Kansas City
Ideas and topics using Kansas City area resources (in no particular order)
The California and Oregon trails
Perhaps the most obvious topic for regional study with the trails beginning in our area and so many thousands of people coming to and through on their way west. Something that is sometimes overlooked is that many of these same people also came back.
The Santa Fe Trade
Beginning in 1821, the Santa Fe traders traveled down the trail to Mexico to exchange goods.
Mormon migration to and from Jackson County
In the early 1830s thousands of members of the Latter Days Saints (the Mormons), under the leadership of Joseph Smith, came to Jackson County to establish their home and church. Within a few year resentment from other residents forced the Mormons to move north to Clay and Daviss Counties, and then escape to Illinois when the Governor of Missouri declared war on them.
The RLDS return to Jackson County
Years after their predecessors had left Jackson County, a branch of the Mormon Church, returned to settle in our area. The Reformed Latter Days Saints are a major religious force in Independence, Missouri, today.
The Black migrations to the Kansas City area, including the Exodusters
Black people have moved into the Kansas City area at several points in our history, beginning with those brought in as slaves, and continuing until today. A point of particular movement was the 1880 when Blacks of the South were attracted to Kansas with promises of free land. Many of the Exodusters came through the Kansas City area, and when the promises did not come true, returned here to live.
The various ethnic groups which settle in the region
Many ethnic groups come to live in the Kansas Cities: the Irish, Germans, Belgians, Croatian, Serbian, Italian, Mexican, Swedish, and others migrated to the Midwest as early as the 1820s and 1830s. Many of these groups quickly assimilated into the mainstream, though some remains of their diverse cultures are still with us. Also, new groups, such as the Vietnamese, have settled in our area since the 1970s.
The impact of the Railroads in attracting people to the Midwest
Railroad companies played a major role in town building in the Midwest and in offering to come and buy land.
Street railways and the development of neighborhoods and suburbs
Moving people around in an urban community is still a major concern of city planners. Before the automobile, most people lived close to their work or use public transportation -- the street railway system. Moreover, interurban lines -- short distant railroads -- linked KC to cities like St. Joseph or Lawrence making it easier to live, work, and shop in different places.
Highways as conduits of movement in the region
When the interstate highway system was begun in the 1950, it was intended as a means of connecting out laying communities to downtown. The goal was to make it easier to come into the city. What was not considered was that it also made it easier to get out of the city.
The culture of suburbs
Much as been made of the way American society has changed because of the emergence of the suburbs. Some historians have suggested that this time parallels the 1890s when it first occurred that more people lived in cities and towns than on the farm. The historian Fredrick Jackson Turner called it the end of the American Frontier.
Sister Cities of local communities
Communities, like people, exchange ideas and cultures. One of the ways this has happened is through formal relationships like Sister Cities. KC has many sister cities, but the first was Seville, Spain.
The Americanization/naturalization movements
Americans become Americans in two ways -- we are born to it, or we are naturalized. At various time in our past it has been either more or less easy to be naturalized. Moreover, there were questions about how an individual or group could most easily merge into the mainstream society. Organizations were formed to give training to new immigrants in English and other aspect of the American culture as a way to "Americanize" them.
Dislocation of people during the Civil War -- Order #11
War always dislocated people. In our area, one of the most important experiences was the Border Wars between Kansas and Missouri, and the Civil War which followed. Homes were burned, people killed for nearly 10 years. One act highlighted the period -- Order #11 was a military directive issued in 1864 that required all Southern sympathizers to be removed from Jackson, Cass, and Benton Counties.
Reaction to foreign born Americans during Word War I
W.W.I was a bitter struggle which had broad impact on the American homefront. One was the reaction of distrust toward citizens and others who come from the Axis nations. Families and companies changed their names to hide their ancestry. Aliens, particularly Germans born individuals, were registered and tracked by the government.
Immigrant Indians moved from east of the Mississippi to Kansas
Not all the Indian tribes in Kansas are native to this area. In fact, many of the tribes associated with our region did not come here until after the 1830s. And many were again removed in the 1850s to lands in Oklahoma. The Shawnee, Wyandotte, Sak and Fox, and Delaware, all had homes east of the Mississippi which they gave up by treaty to move to Indian territory.
French/White migration up the Missouri River
The first white men to live in our area came in the 1780s. More permanent settlement began after 1810 when the French voyagers come to trade the the Indians and trap fur baring animals in local streams and in the waters further west. Some brought their wives and children to the frontier whiles others took Indian brides. A few stayed as new white settlements, such as Kansas City, were established. Many, however, moved with the Indians on to newer frontiers as the fur trade dwindled and the towns grew.
The New England Emigrant Aid Society
There was a sharp increase in interest in the West with the passage of the Nebraska-Kansas Act in 1854. The issue of slavery in the new territories stirred some people to move to Kansas to settle and vote to insure that the new state would be a free-state. The New England Emigrant Aid Society was one of several organizations which promoted and supported people to move west from the Northern states. Kansas City served as the gateway for many of these people who settled in Lawrence and Topeka.
Steamboats on the Missouri River were a primary means for goods and people to travel west. They also served a the link to friends and families whose letters were carried by the boats.
Churches and Missionaries
Churches have always played a role in defining the structures of society in America. Many churches in the mid-nineteenth century sponsored missionaries who came to our area to preach and convert. Several important missionary schools were founded to work with the Indians in the area, such as the Shawnee Methodist Mission in Fairway, Kansas. But others also were here, including the Catholics, Quakers, and Baptists.
The Jewish Community in Kansas City
Jews have been part of the Kansas City community from nearly its beginning. But those they were a part, they were at the same time, in some ways, very much apart from it. Like many ethnic groups they maintained their own schools and neighborhoods clustered close to their synagogue. Those this has changed through the years, there is still a clear concentration of families of the Jewish faith who had migrated first from an area in mid-town to south Kansas City, Missouri, and now to Johnson County, Kansas. With them has migrated their organizations and institutions, such as the Jewish Community Center.
German schooling methods
Ideas travel too, often carried by people who move to new setting, but also by those who return to other placed to learn. Such was the case in the late nineteenth century with educators adopted the new ideas of the German school system for American classrooms.
The reach of the newspapers
Communities are defined by many things, but one of the most important is by share values and ideas. These things are often communicated by the local newspapers.
Metis people -- mixed bloods in both the white and Native American societies
When two cultures meet, many things are exchange. Among those are relationships among individuals which may result in children of mixed blood. The French word for 'half-breeds' is Metis which generally referred to the French-Indian people.
Floods, drought, and disease -- the effects of natural disasters on migration
Disasters of many kinds have caused people to move. The Missouri and the Kansas Rivers have flooded repeatedly during the time men have inhabited their banks changing patterns of population and occupation. In the early 19th century the fear of Cholera caused whole towns, such as Kansas City, to be desired during certain times of the year. Poor crop yields such as during the Great Depression caused many families to abandon their farms and move to the cities looking for work.
Segregation of neighborhoods and communities
Related to migration is the issue of where and how groups settle when they come into a community. Sometimes the place is determined for them, such as when sections of a town are restricted to only a certain class, race, or religion. Sometimes the choice of settlement is made of the migrant. As an example, new immigrants to Kansas City often took up residence near family and friends who had come here before them. Also, limited resources often determined where people lived. As they found jobs and could afford it they moved to other parts of the city. Kansas City's west side has always been a place for immigrants to settle. In the 19th century the Irish lived there, but as they became more affluent, they sold their home to the newly migrating Swedes. In turn the Swedes sold to the Mexican immigrants in the early 20th century. A similar pattern existed in the Northeast part of Kansas City where first the Italians, and now the Vietnamese have settled.
Wheat and corn
Kansas City's hinterland -- that region to which the city's goods and services reach -- has always been to the west and southwest. This is the great plains of farms in Kansas and Oklahoma. Agricultural goods flow through Kansas City and on to the rest of the world. The Board of Trade which trades grain, has always been one of the most busy and important in the world. The good soil attracted people to our region, but the 'migration' of our grain is another part of the story.
Among the various aspects of slavery is the both the institution of slavery, and the people enslaved moved into the new lands. The Missouri Compromise gave legal definition to how and where slavery would reach. So did the Nebraska-Kansas Act. But on a more personal level, how did the slaves end up in Missouri on a particular farm or belonging to a particular master. Slaves were sold, but they were also traded and inherited. Slaves moved with their masters as they migrated west.
Businesses that served migration
Rail roads, real estate companies, factories -- these are but a few of the businesses who brought immigrants in, found them homes, and gave them jobs. Sometimes there was an active recruiting of the new settlers, such as when the railroad platted towns and advertised land along their lines. Sometimes the businesses were reactive, taking advantage of the flow of new labor and money. The stores and blacksmith shops in Independence and Westport got rich selling goods to the migrating hordes going to California and Oregon.
Enterprise is often the first motive for moving to new lands. The English, Spanish, French, and later Americans, all turned west to exploit the natural research there. Among the first and most important was the fur trade, which in fact was the reason for many of our cities and towns, including Kansas City, to be founded. The trade involved the movement of people, of ideas, of cultures, and also goods.
Slavery brought African-Americans to our region, but sometimes the slaves chose another path. Quiveria had been an Indian town built by the migrating Wyandotte Indians. But its most important role in history was as a doorway for the escaping slaves to enter the Underground Railroad.
Cattle and meat-packing
The Stockyards was the second largest in the nation with cows and pigs coming here to be sold, slaughtered, and shipped to the rest of the nation, and the world. There are many stories about the cattle drives which brought the cows to the Kansas rail heads, such as Abilene and Dodge City
The idea of the West
Even before the sectionalism of the Civil War, there as a feeling that the Trans-Mississippi West was a different experience which bred a different kind of person -- the Western Man. Later in the century, the historian Fredrick Jackson Turner, would take up this idea and suggest that the frontier was what made America unique. Part of this had to do with the ability of people to move out and away with their old homes and ways and start life new.
© WHMC-KC, University of Missouri
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Western Historical Manuscript Collection-Kansas City
(816) 235-1543 WHMCKC@umkc.edu