Today, wheat fields and cattle herds have replaced natural prairie grasses and roaming buffalo in Kansas. It was in this once rowdy frontier territory that the Buffalo Soldiers, African-American cavalry units, patrolled the west. It was on the dusty streets and in the smoky saloons of Dodge City that Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp earned their reputations. And it was in “Bloody Kansas” during the spring and summer of 1856 that the agonies of the Civil War first erupted.
In this state that ranks seventh in the nation for agricultural production, it is still possible to enjoy a taste of unspoiled natural prairie. Only about four percent of the 170 million acres of tallgrass prairie in the West survive, and most of that is in the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills region of Kansas, located between Topeka and Wichita. Hiking trails are an option for more active tourists, but bus tours make it possible for anyone to experience the natural beauty of the prairie.
Immortalized as much by Gunsmoke’s fictional Matt Dillon as by real-life lawmen, Dodge City is a prime place to catch a glimpse of America's Wild West past. Although fire destroyed the original Front Street in 1885, tourists can still step foot into a historical reconstruction built on a portion of the original Boot Hill Cemetery. Researchers studied old photographs to capture the feel of Front Street as it appeared in 1876. Among the buildings are a railroad depot, a dry goods store and the Long Branch Saloon, where thirsty visitors can order a cold one. The Boot Hill Museum houses displays of more than 20,000 items, including 200 guns from the period.
Other points of interest in Kansas include the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, the Mid-America All-Indian Center & Museum in Wichita and the Hollenberg Pony Express Station. For visitors interested in frontier military history, Fort Hays is a must-see attraction. This remote fort served at various times as the home post for the Buffalo Soldiers of the 8th and 9th Cavalry units, as well as General Custer’s 7th Cavalry.