2015-10-20 22:54:30

Significance: Kansas’s central position on migration and cattle trails and railroads during the nineteenth century made it a region through which large numbers of immigrants passed on their way west. Many of them went no farther.

The first European to lead an exploration of the region that would become the state of Kansas was Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in 1541. Three centuries later, the Santa Fe Trail was cut across the territory to facilitate the transporting of manufactured goods, silver, and furs from neighboring Missouri to New Mexico. Abilene, Kansas, became the final destination for cattle drives following the Chisholm Trail. Railroads soon followed. Cattle loaded onto railcars were carried to Chicago meatpacking plants. By 1880, 8,720 miles of railroad tracks crisscrossed the state.

The first permanent white settlers began dribbling into the territory during the 1830’s. The pace of their settlement accelerated after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. By the mid- 1850’s, both abolitionists from the New England states and proslavery settlers fromMissouri poured into Kansas to compete for dominance in the struggle to determine whether the territory would become a free or a slave state. Second-generation pioneers coming from Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois tended to settle in the middle section of the territory, while its upper southern region was settled mostly by those coming from Missouri, Kentucky, and southern Indiana. This mix of settlers with violently opposing views on slavery brought an era of chaos and violence that became known as "Bleeding Kansas.” Eventually, however, the abolitionists prevailed, and Kansas entered the Union as a free state on January 29, 1861.

After the Civil War (1861-1865), many military veterans, along with European immigrant groups, settled and constructed homesteads in Kansas. Swedes constituted a major concentration near Lindsborg, which is south of Salina. Germans settled west of Maryville; German-Russian Mennonites north of Newton; German-Russian Catholics near Hays; and Czechs west of Ellsworth.

Profile of Kansas



Entered union


Largest cities

Wichita, Overland Park, Kansas City, Topeka (capital)

Modern immigrant communities

Mexicans, Central Americans



Percent of state

Percent of U.S.

U.S. rank

All state residents





All foreign-born residents





Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract for 2006.

Notes: The U.S. population in 2006 was 299,399,000, of whom 37,548,000 (12.5%) were foreign born. Rankings in last column reflect total numbers, not percentages.

Twentieth Century Developments

More English-speaking immigrants from Ireland, Wales, and Scotland settled in southeast Kansas than in any other Great Plains state, but Germans have remained the largest European immigrant component of the state’s population. Farmers in Kansas have led the United States in wheat, sorghum, and sunflower production, but the state’s agricultural industry has faced the problem of finding farmworkers, as young Kansans have moved from the rural areas into the cities. Not surprisingly, Johnson County, which contains metropolitan Kansas City, has become the state’s fastest-growing county. Meanwhile, the need for farmworkers has contributed to an increase in foreign immigration.

During the late twentieth century, the Hispanic population had an increasing impact on the demographics of the Great Plains. Meatpacking and construction companies began to recruit and hire Mexicans and Central Americans in large numbers to offset union forces by paying the immigrants lower wages. In 2006, Kansas had 173,000 foreign-born residents, who constituted 6.3 percent of the total population of the state. Hispanics are most numerous around the southeast portion of the state. The large influx in Latin American immigrants has brought with it an increase in the numbers of undocumented aliens in the state. U.S. immigration officials have responded with raids on plants employing immigrants that have resulted in mass deportations. During the first decade of the twenty-first century, legislatures in both Kansas and neighboring Nebraska began grappling with economic and social issues that have arisen from illegal immigration. Both states have seen proposals for major changes in the document-verification systems used by companies to stop unscrupulous hiring practices.

Gayla Koerting

Further Reading

Blouet, Brian W., and Frederick C. Luebke. The Great Plains: Environment and Culture. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979.

Gjerde, Jon. The Minds of the West: The Ethnocultural Evolution of the Rural Middle West, 1830-1917. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979.

Webb, Walter Prescott. The Great Plains. New York: Ginn, 1931.

Wishart, David J., ed. Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004.

See also: Czech and Slovakian immigrants; Germanimmigrants; Iowa; Latin American immigrants; Missouri; Nebraska; Scandinavian immigrants.