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Kansas (KS) Fast Facts
Location and Geography: Kansas is located almost directly in the center of the continental United States, at the convergence of the major regions known as the Midwest, the American South, and the American Southwest. It is known for its prime agricultural land, but it often suffers extreme weather in the form of tornadoes and blizzards.
Counties and Regions: The 105 counties of Kansas cover mostly fertile land that is either flat or covered with gentle hills. The more generally recognizable regions of the state are as follows:
- East-Central Kansas
- Flint Hills
- Kansas City Metropolitan Area
- Red Hills
- Smoky Hills
- South Central Kansas
- Southeast Kansas
- Western Kansas
Population: Not even 2.9 million people live in Kansas, making it one of the least densely populated states in the United States. This is due to the fact that it historically had more farms than towns.
Major Cities: The largest city in Kansas is Wichita, with a population of about 380,000 and a metropolitan area home to more than 630,000. Kansas City, which sits next to an identically-named city across the Missouri border, is part of a combined metropolitan area of more than two million people. The state capital of Kansas, Topeka, is home to about 127,000 people.
Story Behind the Name: The term “Kansas” is derived from the name of a Native American tribe who are today known as the Kaw people. It is said that this name meant “people of the wind,” but the theory cannot be proven.
History and Colonization: Like many of the other states in the south and west of the country, Kansas was first discovered by Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century, although they did nothing to develop it or enforce their claims. French fur trappers, in the course of trading with Native American tribes, made inroads a century later but also did not settle permanently in the area. The native population would remain the majority until the nineteenth century, when an influx of settlers from other races eventually pushed them out.
The creation of the state of Kansas would turn out to be a turning point in the ongoing conflict between the North and the South in the decades leading up to the American Civil War. The Kansas Territory was created in 1854 through a motion known as the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which set a precedent that any new states would be able to decide to be a free state or a slave state as a matter of popular sovereignty. Because of this, both pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers poured into the region in the hopes of controlling its future through the ballot box. The result was a significantly violent period that led contemporary journalists to coin the term “Bleeding Kansas” to refer to the events of the time.
When Kansas was finally admitted to the Union as a free state in 1861, it was one of the final nails in the coffin of peace between the North and the South. As the Civil War raged, guerrilla battles between the two factions killed thousands of innocent civilians in Kansas. Atrocities like the famous Lawrence Massacre took place on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri border, as gangs of militiamen laid waste to entire towns. This fortunately subsided as the war ended, and Kansas became more defined by trade and agriculture than by violent activity.
The railroad industry proved monumental for Kansas in the second half of the nineteenth century. Ranchers from Texas would drive their cattle to the railroad stations in Kansas in order to sell them in the east, and the state developed into a prime example of America’s “Wild West” culture. Agriculture remained the lifeblood of the state, and even to this day it is known as a primary producer of wheat and other important crops. Its central geographic position has made it a historical crossroads of America’s various subcultures, and it is often thought of as the heart of the United States in more ways than one.