The State of Kansas turned 100 years old when I was in the fourth grade. My classmates and I had a double dose of all things Kansas because fourth grade was the designated year to study Kansas history. My mother was the official classroom mother. She asked my grandmother to make a Kansas map cake.
Making the cake was fairly easy, a rectangle with a squiggly line representing the Missouri River cutting off the northeast corner. What was amazing is she made a map showing all 105 counties on the top of the cake. There was discussion as to what color a Kansas map ought to be. Grandma made beige colored icing for the background. She added cocoa and coffee to make the chocolate county lines.
Fascinated, I watched as she created a decorating tube with wax paper, dropped her straight line silver tip in the bottom of the cone and added the brown icing. She carefully ran the lines across the cake, occasionally glancing at the enlarged drawing of the Kansas map with counties my mother had made on newsprint. The tip of her tongue was just visible between her teeth. I could feel her concentration.
When she was done we all stood looking at that cake. It was a beauty to behold. I know someone took a picture. I called to ask my ‘keeper of almost all things archival in the family’ sister, Leslie, if she had the picture in her coffee-table-picture-holding trunk. She does not remember the cake, let alone a picture. Oh well, there is a picture in my mind. All of the teachers and the school principal came to our classroom to see the wonderful cake.
We were to dress in Kansas pioneer clothes. I wore a long skirt, long sleeved blouse with an apron and small handkerchief shawl tied around my shoulders from my grandmother’s upstairs trunk AND I wore my great-grandmother’s lace up high-topped shoes. There was a sunbonnet on my head. I was looking good and walking proud.
Kansas officially became a state in the United States of America 150 years ago today, January 29, 2011. The story of Kansas begins much earlier. There were the oceans and glaciers and the extremely hot dry arid conditions. There are the Kanza* Indians and other Native American tribes which hunted buffalo and used the trade routes which later expanded to become the Santa Fe Trail, the Smoky Hill Trail, the Oregon Trail…….
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado led an expedition looking for golden cities in 1541. European settlers came in 1830. Eastern state explorers and then pioneers came out in the 1850’s. Kansas was known as ‘bleeding Kansas’ in the late 1850’s when Free State and pro-slavery sympathizers fought over whether Kansas would enter the union as a free or slave state.
After the civil war, Kansas opened up as a good place to grow corn, in the northeast, a good place to grow wheat, south central, and good prairie grass for cattle in most other parts. All of my family came to Kansas in the mid-nineteenth century to very early twentieth century. My great-grandfather came from Sweden in the 1890’s. He married Myrtle, high top shoe owner, and eventually settled on a farm in the Kansas Flint Hills.
The farm is named Meadowbrook Farm and has been in the family for 100 years this year. There is a family reunion scheduled there the first weekend in September. Meadowbrook is English for Engstrom, the name my great-grandfathers’ family took when they stopped using the “son of or daughter of” designation in his native land. He would have been Anders Jonson and his sister would have been Mary Jonsdotter.
Knowing where I come from is as important as knowing where I am going. Most importantly, I know where I am right now.
Happy Birthday, Kansas……………………
*Kanza was the word for “people of the wind”
©2011 Susan Kendall. All rights reserved