One Man’s Kansas

Topeka Capital-Journal
Jan. 24, 1986.

Since Kansas Day is upon us again, since the state is 125 years old, and since it was many years ago that we offered our last review of Kansas history, it is time we went over it again and updated it where possible.

Needless to say, the Kansas native sons and daughters of, of whom I am not one, have not endorsed this account of the state’s history. But what do they know?

To begin at the beginning, it is believed now that Kansas was discovered by a roving band of Republicans who were looking for a couple of safe U.S. Senate seats. They settled in, and ruled the state up until a few years ago.

What happened then, and what the future may hold, has led to a new Republican Battle cry in the state: “How many of them bleeping Dockings are there anyways?”

The first famous Kansan was Doctor John R. Brinkley, but he admitted he got here accidentally when he was deliberately given some faulty road information at a filling station in Tulsa.

The doc never forgot somebody had made a goat of him, and he spent the rest of his life trying to get even.

One of the leading figures in early Kansas history was Josephus R. “Skin” Flint, who deserted from the army and fled here after telling General Custer, “them Indians is friendly.”

Before he died, old “Skin” asked that he be buried in the hills near Salina where it was free, and they became known as Old Skinflints Hills. Historians later shortened the name at the request of a newspaper columnist named Peggy.

Speaking of Salina, it was named after two gunfighters who killed each other over whether the town should be named for Sal or Ina, a pair of dance hall girls. My dad, who was born in Miltonvale, once said he saw the fight, but stoutly denied he knew either girl.

How Topeka came into being is interesting. Cyrus K. Holliday, as the ads say, founded a railroad, a bank and a town. Critics of Topeka say Cyrus should have quit while he was ahead.

Actually, Cyrus already had named the railroad the Atchison, Santa Fe, So he had to put a town named Topeka somewhere along the line. It was cheaper than changing all those baggage tags.

So he picked a spot so close to Kansas City that it never would get decent airline service and said, “This is the place.” Topeka, incidentally, is an Indian name meaning “No parking.”

Around Topeka there are a number of Indian burial mounds, dedicated to the eternal sleep of the early tribes who roamed the area looking for deer. Now there is a modern edifice dedicated to eternal sleep. It is called City Hall.

The largest city in Kansas is Wichita, and one of the reasons is its aircraft industry. The airplane builders originally wanted to build their factories in Topeka, But the city commission of the time looked at their plans and said, “If God had meant for men to fly, he would have given them wings.”

This commendable conservatism has marked the progress of the city ever since.

There have been many famous athletes in Kansas history. Walter Johnson made it to Washington playing baseball, and John Riggins made it to Washington playing football. Alf Landon almost made it to Washington playing politics, but he couldn’t hit the curveball.

Jess Willard, the famous heavyweight champion, fought Jack Dempsey in Havana and is accused by some of taking the count while shading the sun from his eyes. I don’t believe that. I think he was looking at his watch to see if it was time for another steroid and forgot to get up.

There’s no question that our most famous athlete is Riggins. If you don’t believe me, just ask Sandy, baby, of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Our women have been prominent. Carrie Nation saw “Lost Weekend” on the late movie one night and was so inspired she tried to dry up everything but the Kaw River Carrie-out beer cartons are named for her.

Kansas politics have been dull. Nobody can remember who the last Republican governor was, and nobody can predict when there will be another one. Noting that there are more registered Republicans than Democrats, famous Kansas editor William Allen White said: “It proves some people can screw up a free lunch.”

Kansas also is famous for Quantrill’s Raiders, a gang noted for mean dispositions and inflexible attitudes. Their direct descendants now work in county courthouses all over the country.

Our most famous vacation spot is Cheyenne Bottoms, named for Indians who used to swim there. Our most famous spa, glorious massage, was closed last year by the Sedgwick County vice squad.

For the complete volume of this history, contact your Historical Society. Don’t tell them I sent you.


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