Kansas State Study

KansasWide prairies, endless sky, and storms worse than a toddler with a tin drum, it’s a Kansas State Study!

The Kansas state motto is “Ad astra per aspera” To the stars through difficulties, which seems fitting given the history of the state.


Our knowledge of the history of Kansas, like the rest of the western hemisphere, is very recent.  When Europeans got to the plains there were Indian tribes there.  In Kansas was a tribe called the Kansa and that is where the state’s name comes from.  Who was there before the Kansa?  We do not know.

Besides the Kansa there were the Wichita (guess where Wichita, Kansas got its name), Osage, and Pawnee tribes.  These tribes, like others of the plains, hunted buffalo as their main food.  The vast prairie land in the middle of the United States, from the Rockies in the west to the Mississippi in the east and from the southern deserts reaching way up into Canada, was filled with these grazing animals.  The tribes lived in buffalo hide tepees, following herds from place to place.

A Kansa man

In 1541 the first European arrived in Kansas.  He was Francisco Coronado, a Spanish explorer looking for cities of gold.  There weren’t any in Kansas and Coronado left.

In 1682 France claimed the land, trapped it and traded on it,  but they never settled it.

In 1803 the United States bought the land from Napoleon of France, who had some very expensive European wars to run.

In 1804 Lewis and Clark explored Kansas.  Soon after this the growing nation was demanding more land . . . No, Americans didn’t want Kansas.  It was dry, flat, and treeless.  They wanted land in the east and to get it they shoved Eastern Indian tribes off it and sent them to Kansas.

Western Kansas, a painting by Albert Bierstadt.

In 1821 the Santa Fe trail opened and it passed through Kansas.  In the 1840s the Oregon Trail passed through northern Kansas as well.  Many of the folks going through Kansas thought it looked like pretty good farm land.  They begged the US government to allow white settlers on this land that had been set aside for Indians.  The Indians had to go.  This time they were sent to Oklahoma, apparently even less desirable than Kansas.  Settlers poured into Kansas for the free land.

By the 1850s Kansas was looking like it might become a state and a big bloody controversy over slavery surrounded its admittance to the Union.  Some people wanted Kansas to become a free state while others wanted it to be slave.  They killed each other over it in the prelude to the Civil War.  Kansas finally entered as a free state in 1861.  Over 20,000 Kansans fought in the Civil War, including a couple thousand blacks.

The next big crisis for Kansas was the Depression.  Thousands of people lost their farms when a drought persisted for years, turning vast stretches of the prairie into dust.

Wheat is one of the main crops in Kansas. Here you see a storm brewing over this field. Photo by James Watkins. CC license, Wikimedia.


Map Exploration

Print out the Kansas Map.  Using a student atlas, plot and label the ten largest cities.  How can you use the key in your student atlas to figure out which cities are the largest?  Also label and mark on your map the resources of Kansas, again using your student atlas.

Kansas web

Fabulous Facts About Kansas

  • The state capital is Topeka (which means “good place to dig potatoes”).
  • Kansas’s nickname is the sunflower state because sunflowers grow wild on the wide open prairies.
  • The state song is “Home on the Range” which is far better than average as state songs go.
  • In the early days of settlement there were entire cities built of sod on the treeless land that just melted into the plain.
  • You wouldn’t think it, but Kansas was once under the sea.  Fossils of sea creatures have been  found there.
  • Kansas is part of Tornado alley, the worst and most frequent tornado storms int eh world happen right there.
  • Kansas has a mountain.  Sort of.  It’s called Mt. Sunflower and is slightly higher than the surrounding land.  Okay, okay not by any stretch of the imagination should this be called Mount anything. . . I guess they felt bad about not having a mountain.
This is Mount Sunflower. If you squint and tilt your head just a little you can see the mountain . . . never mind, not even then does this resemble anything like a mountain. Photo by N0YKG, CC license, Wikimedia.


  • Bake some whole wheat bread.  Kansas grass land is excellent for growing the grass called wheat as well.  1/5 th of the U.S. wheat is grown in Kansas . . . in fact so much wheat is grown that we can’t even eat it all.  Find out what happens to the surplus.
  • Make a sock puppet prairie dog.  Just hot glue felt ears and googly eyes onto an old sock (brown would be nice).  Read a book about prairie dogs.
  • Make a tornado in a bottle.
  • Read the original Wizard of OZ or  Little House on the Prairie, both take place in Kansas.
  • Discussion: Why did white settlers and the government think it was okay to push the Indians wherever they wanted?
  • Discussion: Americans conquered the Indian tribes and the Indian tribes conquered other tribes before them and so on back and back. Does land always belong to the strongest or is there another way?

Additional Layers

  • The Supreme Court case “Brown vs. the Board of Education” regarding desegregation of schools was over a girl from Topeka who wanted to attend a better white school that was closer to her home.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower was from Abilene, KS
  • Dodge City and Abilene were cowboy towns in the late 1800’s.  Some famous sheriffs, outlaws and gunfights were there.
  • The Crayola Crayon company is based in Winfield, Kansas.
  • Learn more about tornadoes and why there are so many on the Great Plains
  • In different parts of the world grasslands go by different names.  Search out the various names.
  • Kansas is pretty dry. That’s why there are not more trees. Kansas farmers and cities rely on aquifers for the water supply. Take a field trip to your water supply to see where it comes from.
  • Did you ever wonder where helium for balloons comes from?  Neither did we until we read that Kansas is the leading producer of helium in the US.  Find out more.

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