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United States Senator Stephen Douglas, a politician who engaged in some famous, heated debates with Abraham Lincoln, introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed Kansas and Nebraska to become territories. (Douglas County was named for him.) Andrew Reeder was appointed as the first governor of the Kansas territory by President Franklin Pierce in 1854.

The original Kansas territory, organized on May 30, 1854, spanned over 600 miles west of Missouri. Kansas' western border stretched as far as the summit of the Rocky Mountains. In fact, Colorado's capital city was named after Kansas Governor James W. Denver, since it was located within the boundaries of the Kansas territory. The eastern, northern and southern boundaries were the same as they are today.

The Kansas territory was a moral testing ground in America. People living in the territory fought about the morality of chattel slavery and whether or not it should be allowed in the trans-Missouri West. Another conflict arose between white settlers and the Native Americans who had been living in the Kansas territory for countless years before the whites arrived. The result was a complex array of policies that enforced the transfer of Indian land rights to the white settlers, pushing the Indian tribes onto small reservations.

Once Kansas became a territory in 1854, settlers began to discuss the creation of a state constitution. Four different state constitutions were proposed. The Topeka constitution (1855), the Lecompton constitution (1857), and the Leavenworth constitution (1858) were all similar in their objectives.

However, the Wyandotte constitution (1859) was the only version calling for more restricted state boundaries that came to be known as "Little Kansas." The other three constitutions supported the inclusion of the land stretching to the Rockies in modern-day Colorado and the annexation of southern Nebraska as far as the Platte River. This set of boundaries was referred to as "Big Kansas." When Kansas officially became a state in 1861, the proposed boundaries of the Wyandotte constitution's "Little Kansas" were adopted.

Kansas Territory image
Map displaying the original span of the Kansas Territory
Photo courtesy of D. Appleton and Company