Archive for Sunday, September 12, 2004

Tragic history of native peoples in eastern Kansas largely unmourned

September 12, 2004


The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 had vastly different effects on the native peoples of eastern Kansas and the European-American settlers to which it would open the gates to the area.

Among those welcomed were the Massachusetts abolitionists who founded Lawrence that same year.

The Act was both the first salvo in a soon-to-be-militarized fight over the issue of slavery, leading to Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War, and a means to the circumstances that almost completely uprooted native peoples of eastern Kansas.

Fueling that uprooting were racial discrimination and the desire for land.

The native peoples who had been forced to immigrate to Kansas from the eastern United States and the upper Midwest following the Indian Removal Act of 1830 came into conflict with European-Americans who also wanted the land, according to historian Dale Nimz.

The native peoples defended themselves in the struggle over property rights by saying they wanted to be citizens of Kansas when it became a state and they wanted their land surveyed so they'd have legal claim to it, he said.

"There were a number of treaties that ... were intended to allocate certain land to the immigrant Indians and then allow the rest of the land to be taken by these European-American settlers," Nimz said.

But the land promised to native peoples would not be theirs for long. Although they argued that they had built farms, raised livestock and worked successfully to be part of the new society, virtually no land was to be forthcoming for native peoples in Kansas territory, Nimz said.

One problem facing native peoples was that the Kansas-Nebraska Act transformed lands that had been promised to them into the first battleground for the war over slavery, said Dan Wildcat, professor of American Indian studies at Haskell Indian Nations University.

Thus, when the Civil War broke out, the safety of immigrant Indians was compromised, driving many of them south into Oklahoma Indian territory.

Compounding the problem of land ownership was discrimination, which played a key role in the denial of property rights to native peoples, who "weren't allowed to become part of the new society," Nimz said.

"It's a sad and tragic sort of series of events for native peoples," most of whom were forcibly removed to Oklahoma after Kansas achieved statehood, Wildcat said.

As the clash of the Civil War stilled, and young cities like Lawrence began to stretch their limbs, the much longer chapter in the area's history -- that of native peoples flourishing on the plains of eastern Kansas -- would come to a close, largely unmourned.

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