“Bleeding Kansas” is Topic for Inaugural Lecture

Bob Smith will give the second presentation in the Pony Express Museum’s inaugural lecture series, How It All Began: 7 Trails – 1 Railroad, Sunday, at 2 p.m. at the museum, 106 South 8th Street, Marysville. Smith will speak about “Bleeding Kansas: Prelude to the Civil War.”

Bleeding Kansas is the term used to describe the period of violence during the settling of the Kansas territory. In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act overturned the Missouri Compromise’s use of latitude as the boundary between slave and free territory. Instead the act specified residents would determine whether the area became a free state or a slave state.

Proslavery and free-state settlers came to Kansas to try to influence the decision. Violence soon erupted as both factions fought for control.

Smith’s interest in the topic came about from working at Fort Riley, the site of the first territorial capital. He is the director of the Fort Riley Museum Complex (the 1st Infantry Division Museum, the U.S. Cavalry Museum, and the historic Custer House).

“I always thought the story of the five-day-capital was interesting and wanted to delve deeper into the reasons why the territorial legislature’s time here was so short,” he said. “I am also a military historian, and the low-level asymmetrical warfare between the factions that existed here during the Bleeding Kansas period is an interesting topic for study.”

According to Smith the Army’s activity during this period drew troops from Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley to tamp down the violence between the two warring factions.

“Marysville was not immune to the factional fighting, but escaped some of the more major areas of violence because of its distance from Missouri,” he said.

Smith’s talk gives insight into the museum’s lecture theme, “How it all began.” He will explain why settlers from the Midwest (Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois) decided to pick up and move to Kansas in the 1850s looking for better economic opportunities and fertile farmland.

Smith’s interest in history has been lifelong – first as a history buff, and then going back to school to learn the profession as a historian. The graduate program taught Smith how to think critically about history and historic events.

“Whenever I do research on a topic I not only want to recount the historical events, but also attempt to answer the question of ‘why’ did this particular event or situation occur,” he said. “I am a firm believer that studying history and the past can offer relevant insights to today’s issues and can be a method of solving some of today’s problems.”

Smith lived in Marysville for approximately thirty years. He assisted his father in running the Astro 3 Theatre.

He received his Doctorate in Military History from Kansas State University in 2008. He has contributed and published numerous articles on military history subjects and co-authored with William McKale a book on Fort Riley. Smith has taught history for Central Texas College and Kansas State University. In his spare time he lectures on military history topics to veterans and retirees through the Kansas University/Kansas State University Osher Life Learning Program.

Smith’s presentation is the second in a series of eight lectures sponsored by the Pony Express Museum. The lectures will help contextualize the founding of Marysville and Marshall County by focusing on the seven major trails and railroad that went through this area.

Next month’s lecture features Jim Gray, promoter of cowboy heritage in Kansas, giving a performance called “Head ‘Em Up & Move ‘Em Out” Sunday, April 5 at 2 p.m.

Refreshments will be served following the free presentation.