The little boy held tightly to his mother's hand as they stood in the cornfield watching the smoke rising in the east. He was only 3 years old, but all of his life he would remember this day -- the day William Quantrill burned the town of Lawrence.

The little boy was my grandfather Harry. His father, my great-grandfather Henry Lyman Baldwin, came to Kansas in 1855.

Why did he come? How did he get here? What was his life like? And when Harry's mother, Anna Eliza, pointed out Lawrence burning to little Harry, where was his father?

These were my questions as I read the autobiography of my grandfather, Harry Lewis Baldwin. In 1995, after I had retired from nursing, I got hooked in pursuing the "what and why" of those early years.

And so my search began. I even found my great-grandfather's autobiography, which I did not know existed. It answered many questions. The Kansas State Library, Kansas Free State and Tribune newspapers, and the Kansas Historical Web site were also treasure troves of information and photos.

In 1803, Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana territory from the French government for $15 million dollars or about 3 cents an acre. Talk about good buys that would lead to a lot of controversy.

In 1817, Missouri sought admission to the Union as a slave state. This threatened to upset the balance of political power between the pro-slavery South and the anti-slavery North.

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 admitted Maine as a free state and Missouri as a slave state. No new slave states would be permitted north of the 36 degrees, 30 minutes parallel, resulting in the number of free states and slave states remaining equal and ending slavery as a political issue.

But as territories were added to the United States, the compromise failed to resolve the slavery controversy primarily because the South still depended on slave labor to pick the cotton, hemp and tobacco.

Settling the Kansas Territory was seen as a means to settle the "slave vs. free state" question. However, if Kansas became a slave state, the balance would be disrupted and slavery states would outweigh the free states. The controversy concerned not only slavery but also states rights, which opposed the growing federal power.

"Free-staters" or "free-soilers" who favored free state rights did not necessarily oppose slavery. The states rights issue became obscured as the slavery question became predominant.

On May 30, 1854, President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which gave Kansas residents responsibility for the question of slavery by vote.

This gave the southern slave states the chance to retain the balance of power. Missouri had a financial investment in saving slavery as the Missouri counties bordering Kansas had about 80,000 whites with 12,000 slaves.

People from both the South and the North used any resources available to send people to the territory to ensure votes for the squatter sovereignty policy.

Large sums of money were contributed for recipients to settle in Kansas, vote for Kansas to be a slave state, and be willing to shed blood if necessary. Pro-slavery Missourians crossed the Missouri River staking claims on land still owned by the American Indians.

Some wanted the land to live on or to sell later with pre-emption right. They organized defense associations, proclaimed Kansas a slave state, then many returned home.

In 1854, Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut established emigration societies to assist abolitionist emigrants move to Kansas. The goal was to influence election results by bringing anti-slavery social traditions and institutions to the Kansas frontier.

With their money, blocks of land were to be pre-empted, and settlers assisted in developing farms and villages.

Accommodations, mills and newspapers were to be ready for the first settlers as well as sawmills, grist mills and a large stone hotel in Lawrence. The Free State Hotel, built to receive anti-slavery settlers as they arrived from the east, would be destroyed in a fire set by Border Ruffians in 1856.

The abolitionists settled in Kansas to vote against slavery, but many were so involved in farming they did not attend pro-slavery rallies. Border Ruffians responded, loving the excitement and violence of the rallies and the resulting disorder.

The Kansas Territory would soon be appropriately called "Bleeding Kansas" as the ruffians rose to the challenge of fanatical leaders and free-flowing liquor.

Why did my great-grandfather Henry come to Kansas? He wrote that after working two winters in the southern slave states, his observations of the practice of slavery strongly conflicted with his belief in the dignity of all human beings.

He was determined to participate in the struggle of Kansas to become a free state. In the spring of 1855, he and his brother Andrew traveled by horseback and wagon from Connecticut to the Kansas Territory. They arrived in March 1855 and sought shelter for the night in Lawrence.

While touring the Wakarusa Valley for land to farm, Henry discovered suitable prairie land about 6 miles west of Lawrence. This area was later named Kanwaka as it was between the Kansas and Wakarusa rivers, and bisected by the California Road (the Oregon-California trails). Many of the 160-acre farms had already been claimed in Kanwaka in Douglas County,

The federal "log-cabin" bill enabled a settler to claim 160 acres of land before it was offered publicly for sale, and later pay $1.25 an acre for it.

Henry staked his claim, built his log house, and soon experienced the fraudulent elections and violence by the border terrorists. The area around his land was in the midst of rampage.

Horses and cattle were stolen or killed and fields burned. His cabin was robbed several times and once set on fire. He was shot at by a marauding band of bushwhackers once. He and his neighbors were forced from their homes to find refuge elsewhere.

Henry would also participate with the other settlers in pursuing Quantrill and his marauders in 1863, leaving his wife and son at their home outside the burning town of Lawrence.

His son later wrote, "He had some stirring times and did his part as a 'conductor' on the 'underground railroad' and for several years after the war rendered assistance to the slaves ... Many a slave was hidden by my father during the daytime and sent on his way again at night to the next station of the 'underground railway.'

There is so very much more in the history of our state. Kansas is aglow with written and spoken stories of its early settlers' struggle for statehood.

Family stories, such as mine and the little boy in the cornfield watching Lawrence burn, inflame our curiosity and become wings to the past. Perhaps you have a family memory that brings alive our wonderful history. We need to preserve these stories of the past lest they be lost to upcoming generations.

Ruth Moriarity is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.