Kansas was first populated by the native people known as the Paleo-Indians. The state got its name from the Kansa or “Kaw” tribes that lived there. Other native groups lived in the area, too, including the Arapaho, Comanche, Kiowa, and Pawnee.
In 1682, Robert Cavelier de La Salle, a Frenchman, claimed the land for his country. It stayed under French rule until it was sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. As U.S. territory grew, thousands of settlers used trails through Kansas as they traveled west. Forts were built along the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails to keep the travelers safe, and people started to make their homes nearby.
In 1853, Fort Riley was built to protect the settlers traveling along the trails. A few years later, in 1866, General George Armstrong Custer organized the 7th Cavalry at the fort. Custer is famous for the attack he led on the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes in 1876 at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Kansas was still not an official state – the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 made it a territory. After Congress passed the law, citizens started arguing over slavery. Abolitionists wanted to outlaw slavery in the territory, while so-called “Border Ruffians” wanted to keep it. Fights broke out between the two groups, and so he area became known as “Bleeding Kansas.”
Kansas became the 34th state to join the Union on January 29, 1861. When the Civil War broke out soon after, it fought on the side of the North against slavery. It had the highest number of casualties compared to any other state in the Union.
After the war, the people settled back into the life of ranching and cowboys, with cattle towns popping up across the land. Just like a scene from a wild west movie, gunfights were common and the times were dangerous. Citizens looked for help in the form of famous lawmen such as Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickock to help protect them and to keep the peace.
Kansas later became part of the setting and inspiration for L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy’s famous words, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”