We just passed the 151st anniversary of Kansas' statehood. As our American flag flies high above, the flag of Kansas accompanies it below and attests to the many struggles and hard-earned victories of Kansas in becoming a state.
Our motto, "Ad Astra Per Aspera" which means "To the stars through difficulty," is truly a motto that bears witness to the many difficulties toward statehood.
Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana territory from the French government for $15 million or about three cents an acre in 1803. It was a good buy but led to a lot of hard work and controversy.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act signed by President Franklin Pierce on May 30, 1854, gave Kansans the responsibility of settling the Kansas Territory and the "Slave vs. Free State" question. The controversy concerned not only slavery but also states' rights, which opposed the growing federal power. The states' rights issue became obscured as the slavery question became predominant, and the struggle for power remained.
Missouri had a financial investment in saving slavery as the Missouri counties bordering Kansas had about 80,000 whites and 12,000 slaves.
The abolitionists settled in Kansas to vote against slavery while the Border Ruffians fought the abolitionists to maintain slavery.
The Kansas Territory soon became "Bleeding Kansas" as the Ruffians rose to the challenge of fanatical leaders and free-flowing liquor. Fraudulent elections and violence resulted.
I grew up in Denver and had no idea my family participated in the "Bleeding Kansas" days.
In 1855, my great-grandfather Henry Baldwin staked his claim in Kanwaka, Douglas County. The "Log-Cabin" bill enabled settlers to claim 160 acres of land before it was offered publicly for sale. He built his log house and soon experienced the violence of the ruffians.
His horses and cattle were stolen or killed and his fields were burned. His cabin was robbed several times and once set on fire.
Shot at by a marauding band of bushwhackers, he and his neighbors were forced from their homes to find refuge elsewhere. Henry also participated with the other settlers in pursuing Quantrill and his marauders in 1863 at the burning of Lawrence. "Ad Astra Per Aspera," to the stars through difficulty, truly described the turmoil in settling our state.
How does our state flag bear testimony to those early days of the Kansas territory?
In March 1927, the original Kansas flag was adopted, but the search for a flag began in 1915.
Gov. Arthur Capper sought to find the appropriate flag. A contest was hosted by the DAR in 1916 to select the design of the state flag. The winning entry was submitted to the Legislature but was not accepted.
A Topeka artist then submitted changes which included a sunflower on a blue background. In 1925, a state banner was selected which included some of the original designs, the sunflower and state seal in the center of a blue field.
However, some thought the sunflower was a weed -- no better than a cocklebur. People also disagreed whether to have a flag or banner. The controversy, not unusual to Kansans, continued.
The Kansas State Historical Society wrote finally, it was "the influence of Adjutant General Milton R. McLean who actually pushed the act designating the form and color of a state flag to passage on March 21, 1927.
The basic elements were a blue field with the state seal in the center. Above this was the state crest. This was an insignia designated by the U.S. War Department in 1923 and was made up of a sunflower beneath which was a bar or wreath meant to symbolize the Louisiana Purchase."
On the state seal below the Latin motto "Ad Astra Per Aspera" were 34 stars representing Kansas as the 34th state admitted to the Union. Beneath a rising sun were bison, Native Americans hunting, covered wagons and the sea representing the past. Mountains also were pictured because the Kansas Territory before statehood stretched the Missouri border west to the Rocky Mountains. A man operating a plow represented our history in agriculture, and commerce was represented by a steamship and river.
Kansas is a diverse state.
In 1961, the Legislature added the word, "Kansas," to the bottom of the flag and required all schools to display it. In 1963, the size was reduced to make it smaller than the national flag.
The next time we see our Kansas state flag flying beneath Old Glory, we can rejoice in our history and continue to uphold those values which helped us survive and make us great.
Ruth Moriarity is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.