A Time Of Change:The 1880’s and 1890’s Kansas
As history cascades through an hourglass, the changing, developmental hands of time are shrouded throughout American history. This ever-changing hourglass of time is reflected in the process of maturation undertaken by western America in the late nineteenth century. Change, as defined by Oxford’s Dictionary, is “To make or become different through alteration or modification.” The notion of change is essential when attempting to unwind the economic make-up of Kansas in the 1880’s and 1890’s. Popular culture often reveres the American cowboy, which has led him to become the predominate figure in America’s “westering” experience (Savage, p3). However, by 1880 the cowboy had become a mythical figure rather than a presence in western life. The era of the cowboy roaming the Great Plains had past and farmers now sought to become the culturally dominant figure and force in the American West. Unlike the cowboys, farmers were able to evolved, organizing and establishing the Populist Party. The farmers’ newly formed political organization provided them with a voice, which mandated western reform. Furthermore, the populist ideas spread quickly and dominated western thought in the 1880’s and 1890’s. The period of the 1880’s and 1890’s marked the end of the American cowboy and gave farmers a political stronghold that would forever impact the modernization of the West.
Although early nineteenth century Kansas was vast in territory, the land was mostly unpopulated. This cheap abundant land along with the dream of a better life lured farmers from the east to start their lives in Kansas. Many people were driven to pack their belongings and start their westward bound journey. Floyd Benjamin Streeter, whose parents were pioneer settlers in Kansas, recounts that, “Young people, wanting a start in life, and older folks, dissatisfied with things in the East, loaded a few possessions into covered wagons and started for the Kaw where they took up claims or bought railroad land” (Streeter, 195). Clifford L. Lord quotes a family who journeyed from New York to Kansas in 1850, “We personally have had a good deal more than our average share of…trouble, but that is over now, and the next time it will be probably some one else’s turn. We feel now tolerably comfortable…and happy” (Lords, 10). The farmers were delighted to work their own land, while reaping its’ benefits. However, the seemingly bright future of the Kansas farmer was somewhat clouded by the emergence of the cowboy.
The annexation of Texas to the United States gave rise to the American cowboy. As the cattle business began to spread over a greater portion of the west, so too did the cattle drives. For example, a cow worth $4.00 in Texas may fetch as much as $40.00 in Kansas. In 1867, word quickly spread that Kansas was ready for cattle (Boggs, 20). The previous drives were led by only a few men accompanied by a crowd of cheaply paid Mexican boys; however, the...