Pawnee: First Territorial Capital of Kansas
The first Capital of Kansas was located in a small town called Pawnee, Kansas. It has been said that the events that took place in the building, which still stands today, were the first actions that would eventually lead to the Civil War. Pawnee was just outside the boundaries of Fort Riley which had been established as a fort to protect travelers on the Sante Fe and Oregon trails in 1853 from the Native Americans in that area.
Governor Andrew Reeder named Pawnee the capital after the first Kansas elections in March of 1855. The elections which had occurred earlier were known to be extremely fraudulent and, in fact, most of the legislators who won seats in the legislature were actually Missourians. The group would become known as the “Bogus Legislature” and it was their goal to make sure that Kansas remained a slave state.
Governor Reeder in an attempt to appease anti-slavery forces in the state named Pawnee as the capital as a way to remove the body from the influences of Missourians near the border. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Governor Reeder had also speculated on a significant amount of land in Pawnee and would stand to gain financially if the town became successful.
Alas, it was not to be. Pawnee was only the capital for 4 days, from July 2, through July 6, 1855. Pro-slavery forces, which made up most of the legislature, were unhappy that it was in an anti-slavery town that was 150 miles from Kansas City. The legislators arrived on July 2nd and already disgruntled about the long journey as well as a cholera outbreak at Fort Riley, promptly started working on a bill to move the capital to the Kansas City area.
They were successful and despite the bill being vetoed by Governor Reeder (he who would lose a great deal of money) the body officially moved the Territorial capitol to the Shawnee Mission. The group left Pawnee on July 6, 1855, and reconvened in Shawnee Mission on July 16, 1855.
Today the building houses a museum and the site is part of Fort Riley. The museum is small with the ground floor housing storyboards telling the story of the building and the events of the event. The upstairs is where the legislature met, and it is still set up as if it was ready to house another meeting. Visitors have to go through the Fort Riley visitors center and be cleared and given a visitor pass to enter the fort. There are multiple museums located at the Fort including the Custer House, the First Infantry Division Museum, and the Cavalry Museum. I recommend calling ahead as hours are irregular.