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Innovation and Inspiration: The Campaign for Kansas University
University Archives & Manuscripts - Exhibits
Kenneth S. Davis: Novelist Trapped in History

The Flint Hills He Loved

book jacket
Kenneth S. Davis. Years of the Pilgrimage. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc.), 1948

Years of the Pilgrimage is Davis' second fictional novel. It is set in the fictional town of Beecher, Kansas during the years of 1924-1934 and it "tells a powerful story of a fictional character named Harcourt Stevens, the town's most famous resident, and the people whose lives he bent to his will."

From Book Jacket

book jacket
Kenneth S. Davis. Morning in Kansas. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc.), 1952

Morning in Kansas is one of Davis’s fiction novels. It is a story about seventeen year old Earle Borden who lives in 1932 New Boston. It is "a tale of narrowness in a town peopled by self-righteous small businessmen unworthy of the fertile fields and Kansas skies that are their birthright."

From Book Jacket

book cover
Kenneth S. Davis. River on the Rampage. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc.), 1953.

"…when spring came: in 1951 … it brought the heaviest, most prolonged rains in all our history…"

Page 22

"Kansas Town" by Kenneth S. Davis, n.p., n.d. B-64/F-18

"It is not enough to say, "This is Kansas." In our time, immediate fact does not go unquestioned. Always, always there are questions to be answered—many, many questions—and the more obvious the fact, the more involved the questioning concerning it. Hence it would seem that to present Kansas to my readers I must answer questions as to what is Kansas where is Kansas, when is Kansas. Fortunately, there are stock answers which may be given briefly, glibly.

"Kansas, I should say, is a state of the United States. It is bounded on the north by Nebraska, on the east by Missouri, on the south by Oklahoma, and on the west by Colorado. It contains the exact geographical center of the United States. It is here and now—an immediate experience, a present fact. This is Kansas.

"Yes, but this answer is by no means complete. Kansas is not only a specified physical area of the American continent, it is also a state of mind, a state of emotional being; it is not only the geographical center of the United States, it is also a cross-section of American culture; it is not only here and now, it is also in the past and projects into the future. From still another viewpoint, Kansas is not a state at all. Rather it is a growth of the past through the present into the future, a perpetual change, a continuing progression. It is an arbitrary fragmentation of living reality… But enough. I have made my point.

"Never, given all time, could I present Kansas to you in this manner. There are as many descriptions of Kansas as there are positions from which it may be viewed, which is to say there are an infinite number of such descriptions, and all of them accurate. But they are accurate only relatively. Kansas is one thing geographically, another politically, a third culturally, and so on forever. Were I to describe Kansas for you from now until doomsday, we should be quite as far from knowing the essential fact of Kansas as we are at this moment. Even a complete description, were that possible, would be inadequate. This complete description would acquaint you with all the properties of Kansas, but Kansas is more than its properties. A described fact is not the fact itself.

"Clearly, then, if I am to have you know Kansas I must choose a different method. To know Kansas you must do more than just look at it. You must live in it. You must enter into it and become part of it. Now to live in something is more than to be simply physically present within that physical something. To live in something is to be aware of the essence of that something, to feel it as it is in itself. True knowledge is a thing of the spirit. How, then, am I to give you true knowledge of Kansas? Simply by making you aware of my awareness of Kansas, by arousing in you an emotional realization akin to my own realization, by inducing in you an experience.

"This, as you know, is the function of art—and its justification…"

Centennial Train artifact - medal

In 1975, Davis moved back to Kansas to work on the book Kansas: A History, commissioned by the American Association for State and Local History during the United States Bicentennial.

book jacket
Kenneth S. Davis. Kansas: A Bicentennial History. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.), 1976

"No state's creation was more dramatic, more at the center of national attention, more involved in fundamental moral conflict, than that of Kansas."

"The state's character changed over time, however, as Puritan moral fervor was diverted into the kind of prohibition crusade that Carry Nation conducted, and Populist idealism lost force in the compromised progressivism of leaders such as William Allen White. Also part of the story are such figures as old John Brown, the enigmatic Jim Lane, 'Sockless' Jerry Simpson, and Abilene's 'Ike' Eisenhower."

From Book Jacket

Ken presents book to Kansas Governor Bennett
Kenneth S. Davis presents Kansas: A Bicentennial History to Governor Bennett.

Ken presents book to Senator Bob Dole
Kenneth S. Davis presents Kansas: A Bicentennial History to Senator Bob Dole.