Before the Kansas Jayhawks were a basketball team, they were a faction of ruffians who helped give the state its bloody reputation during the Civil War.
A series of events planned for the upcoming 14th annual Civil War on the Western Frontier aims to commemorate the role they played in American history.
“I think people probably, by and large, don't realize how nationally important what went on here in Kansas was before the Civil War and how big of a role we played in it,” said Maria Butler, community relations coordinator for the Lawrence Public Library.
Butler helped organize several of the Civil War events that will take place from Aug. 8-22 in Lawrence, Lecompton and the surrounding region. Events will include dramatic performances, lectures, living history reenactments and other activities designed to create an understanding and appreciation for the region’s history.
Kansas, and Lawrence in particular, were important players in events leading up to the Civil War.
“The Civil War started in Kansas and not many people know that,” said Kerry Altenbernd of the Black Jack Battlefield Trust. “Douglas County is the site of the true first battle of the Civil War, even though it took place five years before the official start. That makes this area very important.”
Altenbernd will portray John Brown as he gives a tour of Black Jack Battlefield in southeast Douglas County, a place many consider the first battle of the Civil War to have begun. The battlefield is about two miles east of Baldwin City, just south of U.S. Highway 54 on Douglas County East 2000 Road.
“It's never going to stop being a learning experience,” Altenbernd said of his role as John Brown. “Every time I read a different book I get a different perspective.”
Altenbernd, who also will perform at Watkins Museum, 1047 Mass., said the goal of all the events was to share knowledge with community members and to bring Kansas history alive.
“I think it’s important that Kansans themselves understand what their history is like,” Altenbernd said. “If you don’t understand your past or who you are, how can you go into the future?”
Another event, organized by Lawrence Parks and Recreation, aims to get children involved in history by helping them to build life-size, livable mud forts by the Kansas River.
Jo Ellis, recreation instruction supervisor for Lawrence Parks and Recreation said children and their parents would learn about how early settlers constructed housing.
“They go down by the river and actually build two (mud houses) themselves,” Ellis said. “They dig it out and use water from the river. The parents get in there too, helping and digging.”