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The decades after the Civil War


Smoky Hill
Smoky Hill

The decades after the Civil War were the most intensive period of settlement in the history of Kansas. Between 1860 and 1890 the population of Kansas increased from about 100,000 to 1.4 million. The population growth between 1870 and 1890 exceeded population growth in the following 80 years.

Before the Civil War almost all white settlement took place in eastern Kansas, where growing corn and vegetables and raising livestock were the main economic activities. Toward the end of the Civil War and immediately after, the U.S. Army built five new military posts in western Kansas to protect travelers on the Smoky Hill and the Santa Fe trails from the Plains peoples who raided settlers and communities in retaliation for continuing white settlement and corrupt treaty negotiations.

Attacks and counterattacks followed, and massacres in other states were revenged in Kansas. As settlement slowly moved west and railroad construction resumed, the army moved to defeat the native peoples to protect settlers and rail workers. Military occupation of the posts—Forts Hays, Harker, Dodge, Zarah, and Wallace—ended in the early 1880s; the U.S. Army had defeated and removed almost all Native Americans by 1878. In the late 1870s and the 1880s many farmers migrated to central and western Kansas. Many of them took land for homesteads from the government or purchased land from the federally subsidized railroads. Many came from the Mississippi River valley but many also emigrated from central and northern Europe. Unused to conditions on the plains, especially the lack of water and timber, farmers found life difficult. Settlers also had to contend with sporadic Native American raids until 1878 and with occasional droughts, blizzards, and plagues of grasshoppers, called locusts.

In the face of these difficulties thousands of settlers abandoned their farms after only a few years and moved to other parts of the country.

Those that remained, however, adapted to the plains environment. They adopted drought-resistant crops and new agricultural techniques, such as moisture-conserving tilling. They used sod for building houses, and buffalo and cow manure for fuel. Windmills brought water up from deep wells, and in the 1880s farmers began using irrigation in western Kansas. In increasing numbers the plains farmers cultivated drought-resistant strains of wheat developed from Turkey Red, a wheat that immigrants from southern Russia had introduced in Kansas in 1874. The climatic conditions of central and western Kansas suited these wheat strains, and wheat production increased. By the early 20th century wheat had replaced corn as the state’s most important crop.

The growth of ranching and farming during the last few decades of the 19th century stimulated the state’s flour-milling and meat-packing industries, principally in eastern Kansas. In addition, a mining industry developed, based on the state’s deposits of coal, oil, lead, salt, and other minerals. "Kansas" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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