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All About Kansas: Land of Sunflowers, Tornadoes & a Lucky Tree

by | Oct 27, 2022 | All About States

In 1932, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean was born in Kansas. Do you know her name? She’s Amelia Earhart. Some people called her the “Queen of the Air”. (Read more about her in the “Tell me more” section below!) Can you imagine what it would be like to fly across the ocean by yourself?

Kansas is shaped like a rectangle, almost twice as long as it is wide. The state is bordered by Nebraska to the north, Missouri to the east, Oklahoma to the south and Colorado to the west.  The state has vast plains but isn’t all flat. The Missouri River flows between Kansas and the state of Missouri. 

Kansas is nicknamed the Sunflower State because many sunflowers grow wild here. It’s also the most centrally located of the 48 (contiguous) states. It lies halfway between Canada and Mexico. However, when you consider all 50 US states (which then include Alaska and Hawaii), the geographical center moves to South Dakota.

The first people settled here more than 12,000 years ago. Thousands of years later, Native American tribes, including the Kansa, Osage, Pawnee, Kiowa and Comanche, lived on the land. Many hunted buffalo as their main source of food. But, when the Europeans arrived, they brought horses, which was a game changer for Native American tribes. Horses made buffalo hunting much easier and it became an even bigger part of their lives and culture.

What really happened…

  • The first European to arrive in Kansas was Spanish explorer Francisco de Coronado in 1541. He was searching for gold as luck would have it, but didn’t find any. 
  • In 1682, Frenchman René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle arrived and claimed control of the land for France. Throughout the 1700s and early 1800s only a few Europeans visited the region, mostly to trade for furs with Native American tribes.
  • In 1803, the United States purchased Kansas from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The following year, American explorers Lewis and Clark traveled through this land on their way out west to map out the territory.
  • In the mid-1800s, hundreds of thousands of settlers traveled through Kansas on their way out west. Two of the most popular trails, the Santa Fe Trail and the Oregon Trail, passed through this state.
  • In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed. It allowed people living in Kansas and Nebraska to vote on whether or not to outlaw slavery. That tension helped lead to the Civil War in 1861, when Kansas became a state.
  • In 1859, slavery was outlawed.
  • Thousands of men from Kansas fought in the Union Army during the Civil War. Only several battles happened in the state, such as the Lawrence Massacre, the Battle of Baxter Springs, and the Battle of Marais de Cygnes.
  • During the 1930s, Kansas was hit by a massive drought and a series of dust storms called the Dust Bowl.
  • In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in the schools was unconstitutional, otherwise known as the landmark civil rights case: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. It was based on a nine-year-old girl who was turned away from an all-white school in 1951.

Stuff you should know…

  • After the Civil War, outlaws terrorized people living in Dodge City, Abilene and Wichita. Three famous lawmen tried to bring peace to the Kansas frontier. Do you know their names? They were Wyatt Earp in Dodge City, Wild Bill Hickok in Abilene and Bar Masterton in Wichita.
  • The geodetic center of North America is in this state. That’s the point from which the size and shape of Earth can be determined.
  • The state’s name comes from Kansa, a Native American tribe that lived along the Kansas River. It means “People of the South Wind”.  
  • Some Kansans call themselves Jayhawkers. Before and during the Civil War, Jayhawkers were bands of robbers who rustled livestock and stole property on both sides of the state line between Kansas and Missouri. They were also members of an antislavery group in both states. The Jayhawk was a mythical bird that tormented other birds. 
  • Kansas sits in the heart of Tornado Alley, which extends from central Texas north through Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. Tornado Alley is the part of this country that has the most frequent and violent tornadoes. Since 1950, the state has experienced 4,746 tornadoes. After Texas, Kansas has the second most tornadoes in the country, followed by Oklahoma.

Crazy, funny, or just plain weird…

  • On Highway KS-96, there is a  special 100-year-old cottonwood tree. People pay tribute to it as they drive by. No matter which direction they’re headed, they honk at the tree, mostly for good luck. Most cottonwoods at this age die from the inside out and fall down when there are strong winds, prairie fire, lightning, or heavy rain and ice. But not this tree, which has earned several nicknames over the years: Lucky Tree, Wishing Tree, Honking Tree, or simply: “that old tree on K96”.
  • In 2013, a woman in Salina was taking a bathroom break during a circus act when she came face-to-face with Leah, an escaped tiger. Somehow, Leah managed to sneak into the women’s bathroom. But the woman stayed calm, didn’t scream or even panic. Leah was also calm. Maybe she just had to use the bathroom. Leah didn’t attack or hurt the woman and was captured safely. What would you do if you were face-to-face with a tiger?
  • Strataca is an underground salt museum in Hutchinson that’s 650 feet beneath the earth. It’s part of a working salt mine. The salt was formed about 275 million years ago.

Tell me more…

  • Almost nine-tenths of the land in Kansas is used for farming. The most abundant crop is wheat. Do you know what key foods contain wheat? Wheat is used to make bread, pasta and pastry, things that you probably eat every day.
  • Born in Atchison, Kansas, Amelia Earhart earned her pilot’s license in 1923. Five years later in 1928, she was selected to be part of a flight across the Atlantic Ocean. She made history in 1932 when she crossed the Atlantic alone and made history for a second time when she made the first solo flight from California to Hawaii in 1935. But in 1937, Earhart and her plane disappeared when she tried to fly around the world. To this day, no one knows what happened to her.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the US, was raised in Abilene, Kansas.  He was the supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, became a five-star general (the highest US Army rank) and was then elected President in 1952. He helped end the Korean War and approved the creation of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration).

Are you from Kansas? Have you visited this state? If you have any other unique stories or fun facts about it, please email your information to: info@adventuresofmo.com – we may share this on our social media pages and on our website!