American history is so closely intertwined with the history of Kansas City that to talk about one, is to talk about the other. Slavery had some of its epochal moments on Kansas soil. For starters, “The Bleeding State” posted the highest number of casualties related to the war on slavery Debates focused on this geographic area would propel Abraham Lincoln to the pinnacle of political power and prominence.

In response to the sack of Lawrence, planned and executed by pro-slavery agents, John Brown would later organize a retaliatory attack that took the lives of five men along Pottawatomie Creek. Leveraging this deadly incident, Brown would later organize the infamous Harpers Ferry Raid, whose consequences on the political trajectory of the American republic are still felt to date. Aside from this dark history, Kansas has scenic countryside, beautifully adorned with swathes of windswept tallgrass prairies—perfect for a quiet getaway today.

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The history of Kansas City runs the gamut from the normal to the strange; the conventional to the bizarre; at one time reinforcing, at another rejecting—all normative ideals of human behavior and decency. It’s where the West was probably wildest.

The Origins Of The Name Kansas

Kansas City’s history predates its notorious nickname as the “Paris of the Plains.” The year is 1803 and the United States had just made the Lousianna purchase for a tidy sum of 15 million dollars, a purchase that would double its size and stimulate pivotal western expansion. President Thomas Jefferson, in his characteristic style, set out to look for a scientist with sufficient wilderness exposure to lead a team that would explore the newly-purchased area. Failing to get one, the president turned to a man he described as “so scrupulous that whatever he should report would be as certain as if seen by ourselves.” That man was Meriwether Lewis, then a US army officer of the rank of a captain. He would go on to co-lead what became known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition which went on to become one of the greatest expeditions of all time.

This 45-member expedition team would a short while later meet a proud, buffalo-hunting warrior tribe on the western side of present-day Kansas. Further inquiry revealed that these were members of the “Kaw” tribe, Siouan for “south wind,” most probably in reference to what they attributed to the role of wind in the success of a war effort. In the Anglo-Saxon tongue, the name would go through many changes and alterations including Konza, Kansa, and finally Kansas.

In the 1830s, a religious fervor, known as the Second Great Awakening, was sweeping like wildfire across the United States. In this climate, a Baptist couple set out for present-day Kansas for the purposes of Christian evangelism. In tow was their teenage son, a young, enterprising man, named John Calvin McCoy. He would later build a log cabin and establish a settlement that he called Westport to mark the location of the last settlement before the vast, wild, unknown, that lay beyond on the western side. With time, this settlement quickly grew into a city and was formally incorporated as such by the State of Missouri in 1853.

Related: You Can Only Find These Things In The Sunflower State Of Kansas

Why Kansas City Was Called “Paris Of The Plains”

In 1938, a journalist with the Omaha World Herald wrote a provocative piece in the publication that was much of a piece of advice as it was an article: “If you want to see some sin,” he counseled, “forget about Paris and go to Kansas City.” But the primary credit for this scandalous phrase should go to another writer, more famous and honored. Pulitzer-prize winning syndicated columnist Westbrook Pegler had written earlier that “Kansas City is more like Paris.” He went on to give a vivid and lucid description of the gambling joints and the entertainment scene where “waitresses wear nothing on before and a little less than half of that behind.” Westbrook Pegler was famous for his acerbic style and was probably too conservative for anyone’s liking, especially those who wanted to live life on the free lane and soak up as much fun and frolic. President Truman described him as a “guttersnipe.” But his description of Kansas City was spot on.

Never mind that these were the days of Prohibition. The local state government was overtly supportive and the ban on alcohol was almost completely ignored. To add to the mix, these were the flowering days of Kansas City Jazz, and the confluence of music, sex, and alcohol seeded all forms of vice. When Jazz legend Mary Lou Williams arrived on the scene in 1939, she found Kansas City “heavenly” with music everywhere. The whole of 12th street was compactly lined with gambling dens, numerous salons, and clubs that never closed their doors. Clubs on Southwest Boulevard were on the boundary between Missouri and Texas. On any impending threat of arrest, people would just jump to the other state, leaving bewildered security agents staring furiously but helplessly. Yet this was just one facet of the famous Paris moniker.

As Paris is famous for its fountains and elegant boulevards, Kansas City mirrors this spatial reputation. The whole metropolitan area now has over 200 stunningly beautiful fountains.

  • The Best Fountain In Kansas City: Arguably, the best fountain in Kansas City is JC Nichols Fountain located at 47th street on the east side of the plaza.

Way back, Kansas was conceived as a city that would have more boulevards than Paris and more fountains than Rome. Today, with an impressive 132 miles of cool, tree-lined boulevards, second only to Paris, Kansas has lived up to its nickname as the “Paris of the Plains.”

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