“The typical cowboy. . . . . . is a bad man to handle. Armed to the teeth, well mounted, and full of their favorite beverage, the cowboys will dash through the .æ.æ. principal streets of a town, yelling. . . . This they call 'cleaning out a town.' "
— Kansas newspaper, 1882
Sure, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado all have their mountains.
Texas has its big cities and big-name ranches.
But Kansas gave the Old West everything iconic that westerners hold dear:
The Marlboro Man, Matt Dillon, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Buffalo Bill, Billy the Kid.
But while the evolution of the West began from Kansas, it seldom draws the recognition of other states.
“The challenge for Kansas is that we are not the only western state out there,” said Jay Price director of the public history program at Wichita State University.
“Texas can be western, New Mexico is western, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming and Colorado — all these places claim to be western and in some ways pull it off better than we can and are certainly able to market it more,” Price said. “We are simply not the only jeans in town when it comes to being western.”
Perhaps, after nearly a century and a half, the Old West has become a state of mind.
“Anymore, Kansas seems to be like a border state. When people think of the Old West they think farther west,” said David Flask, director of Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita.
But, Flask said, there are people out there who know Kansas was the cradle of the Old West.
“The international tourist knows exactly where we fit,” Flask said. “They are big Old West fans and have done their research and know we are the Old West.”
Kansans? Not so much.
“The biggest population that we have the hardest time convincing is the people who live here,” he said. “For a long time, if you were western, it meant you were backward. The goal was to promote us as a big, modern place with airplanes as opposed to capitalizing on our history.”
Talk with enough rural Kansans, though, and chances are the Old West still resonates.
Jim Hoy, director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University, remembers the shock he had the first time he gazed at a map of the Old West and Kansas wasn’t included.
“They’d just wiped us out,” he said.
Blame marketing campaigns.
Think about all the old westerns: Dodge City’s Matt Dillon in “Gunsmoke” rode with mountains as his backdrop; Kevin Costner’s “Dances With Wolves” had Kansas fort names, and even the lead character, Lt. John Dunbar, was a real Kansan, but the movie was filmed in the Dakotas.
And, the Marlboro Man — Wayne Dunafon, from a ranch in northeast Kansas near Wamego and Westmoreland — became an American icon from 1964 to 1978 when he wore a long shearling duster, chaps and a Stetson hat.
“Those icons of the West wouldn’t be without Kansas,” Hoy said. “There wouldn’t be the cowboy, the boot or the hat. The cowboy was born on the dusty Chisholm Trail.”
Read more of this story at Kansas.com