Kansas, state, United States: Early Inhabitants, Exploration, and Relocations

Early Inhabitants, Exploration, and Relocations

When the Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado visited (1541) the Kansas area in his search for Quivira, a fabled kingdom of riches, the area was occupied by various Native American groups of the Plains descent, notably the Kansa, the Wichita and the Pawnee. Another Spanish explorer, Juan de Oñate, penetrated the region in 1601. A result of Spanish entry into the region was the introduction of the horse, which revolutionized the life of the Native Americans. While not actually exploring the Kansas area, Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, claimed (c.1682) for France all territory drained by the Mississippi River, including Kansas.

French traders and Native Americans had a great deal of contact during most of the 18th cent. By the Treaty of Paris of 1763 ending the French and Indian Wars, France ceded the territory of W Louisiana (including Kansas) to Spain. In 1800, Spain secretly retroceded the territory to France, from whom the United States acquired it in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The region was little known, however, and subsequent explorations to include Kansas were the Lewis and Clark expedition (1803–6), the Arkansas River journey of Zebulon M. Pike in 1806, and the scientific expedition of Stephen H. Long in 1819.

Most of the territory that eventually became Kansas was in an area known as the “Great American Desert,” considered unsuitable for U.S. settlement because of its apparent barrenness. In the 1830s the region was designated a permanent home for Native Americans, and northern and eastern tribes were relocated there. Forts were constructed for frontier defense and for the protection of the growing trade along the Santa Fe Trail, which crossed Kansas. Fort Leavenworth was established in 1827, Fort Scott in 1842, and Fort Riley in 1853.

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