The history of Kansas, argued historian Carl L. Becker a century ago, reflects American ideals. He wrote: "The Kansas spirit is the American spirit double distilled. It is a new grafted product of American individualism, American idealism, American intolerance. Kansas is America in microcosm."
Located on the eastern edge of the Great Plains, the U.S. state of Kansas was the home of nomadic Native American tribes who hunted the vast herds of bison. The region first appears in western history in the 16th century at the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, when Spanish conquistadores explored the unknown land now known as Kansas. It was later explored by French fur trappers who traded with the Native Americans. Most of Kansas became permanently part of the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The southwest portion had a different history of association with Spanish, Mexican and the Republic of Texas rule before the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. In the 19th century, the first American explorers designated the area as the "Great American Desert."
When the area was opened to Euro-American settlement in the 1850s, Kansas became the first battlefield in what a few years later became the American Civil War, as settlers fought over whether the territory would be admitted as a free or slave state. After the war, Kansas was home to Wild West towns servicing the cattle trade. With the railroads came heavy immigration from the East, from Europe, and from Freedmen called "Exodusters". For much of its history, Kansas has had a rural economy based on wheat and other crops, supplemented by oil and railroads. Since 1945 the farm population has sharply declined and manufacturing has become more important, typified by the aircraft industry of Wichita.
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