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Pioneers' Hardship In Eastern Kansas

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Traveling to a new land, a place one has never been before can be nerve-wracking. More so when that land is uninhabited, undiscovered, and there is no support system other than your family and those traveling with you. In the case of settlers moving west, sometimes the only place for them to express themselves--their thoughts, their emotions--was their journals.

Linda Johnston experienced the inner-thoughts of many pioneers traveling to eastern Kansas by reading their diaries. She then referenced their detailed accounts with historical and government documents from those times in those areas. Johnston focused her research at the Topeka Historical Society, Spencer Library at KU, and the Library of Congress. From these institutions she was able to gather enough data to release a detailed account of these multiple settlers in her book, "Hope Amid Hardship: Pioneer Voices from Kansas Territory."

As far back as 1954, settlers arrived in Lawrence, Ks. and  staked up preliminary tents before they were able to construct wooden-framed buildings. Some of the first buildings to be established was a church, which would also start as a tent. It was important for the pioneers to establish communities, and as many settlers were very strong in their faith, a church was a great meeting place. 

Many of the living conditions for these settlers were very different from today. Without heating or cooling in their homes, settlers were subject to the harsh Midwestern winters and summers, and many of them wrote about these extreme temperatures in their journals. Other settlers were very detailed in their descriptions of the flora and fauna in the area--most of which are still existent in areas such as Lawrence, Manhattan, Topeka, Fort Scott, and Leavenworth where some of the first settlements went up.

And yet, Johnston affirms that while amenities were few in pioneer times, the emotions the settlers portray in their writing is the same as people have today. While the context is different, fear, anxiety and joy still exist. 


  • Linda Johnston, author of "Hope Amid Hardship: Pioneer Voices from Kansas Territory"
Matthew Long-Middleton has been a talk-show producer, community producer, Media Training Manager and now the Community Engagement Manager at KCUR. You can reach him at Matthew@kcur.org, or on Twitter @MLMIndustries.
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