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Find Your West

Find Your West

History is more than a timeline. At its core, it is about people. Not just the famous and infamous, but the everyday and ordinary. Mothers and daughters, fathers and husbands, brothers and sisters, family and friends. When we read about history, we are reading about them. In February, the Dickinson Research Center purchased several historical photographs from the Steve Turner Collection of African Americana that will help the Museum better tell the diverse stories of the American West. Look closely. These faces are not fiction.

Rose Jackson

Around 1849, Rose Jackson made the difficult overland journey from Missouri to Oregon, likely as an enslaved person with Dr. William Allen, his wife Martha, and their six children. They traveled in a wagon train and faced cholera and a brutal blizzard before arriving in Oregon City nearly 2,000 miles later.

Dr. Allen died within a few years and Martha remarried, residing in Clackamas County with her children and new husband, William Barlow. Rose, it seems, was still living with the family as the 1860 Federal Census reveals a young servant, Rosanna, born in Virginia in 1838. A trio of portraits provides a snapshot of this remarkable woman and the life she led. Married to John Jackson, she raised two children, including Charles, pictured here. Around 1868 she visited D.H. Hendee’s studio on the corner of Front and Washington Streets in Portland. She wore a simple dress accented by silk or satin applique, a white collar, and as so many of our eagle-eyed social media followers have noted, a Masonic lapel pin—just one more mystery in Rose’s story. We don’t know how or when she acquired it, but it was clearly an important piece for her to wear so prominently.

Moses Smith and Fellow Kansans

Kansas played an early and important role for escaped enslaved people seeking freedom, with Underground Railroad stations in Leavenworth, Topeka, and Lawrence. Although most continued traveling northward, some stayed and settled and by 1860, more than 600 African Americans lived in the territory as abolitionist and proslavery forces fought along the Missouri border in a series of conflicts known as Bleeding Kansas.

Following its admittance to the union as a free state in 1861, African American men began volunteering in large numbers to fight the Confederates, first in state units and then as federal troops. The 1st Kansas Colored Infantry was not only the first African American unit in the country, but also the first to see battle. They were based at Fort Scott, both a military base and a civilian community that a few years later would include a small boy and a young man who sat for studio portraits. Parker and Tomlinson, in business since 1864, photographed the boy between 1865 and 1868. In the spring of 1869, the young man visited J.H. and T.M. Concannon at their “Temple of Fine Art” where they sold photographs, the occasional accordion, and other miscellaneous instruments. Fort Scott was one of several communities that saw an influx of African Americans after the Civil War as escaped and former enslaved people fled the south. In 1870, more than 16,000 African Americans lived in the state and by 1880 the population had swelled to 42,000. Lawrence saw tremendous growth and doubled its population within 15 years. Among the residents was Moses Smith, photographed around 1880 by J.B. Shane, a Civil War veteran who had just recently opened his business. Topeka, however, had an even larger African American population: 4,081 in 1880, including this young girl photographed in a velvet-trimmed corduroy dress at Downing’s Gallery. Taken at different locations and different times, these photographs collectively reflect the many phases of African American settlement in Kansas.

Learn more about Rose, Moses, and others in our upcoming exhibitions, Find Her West and Find Your West. Meet individuals from diverse backgrounds and eras who experienced and shaped the American West through roles far more complex than stereotypes suggest.


1860 U.S. Federal Census

1870 U.S. Federal Census

1880 U.S. Federal Census

Kansas Historical Society

Fort Scott National Historic Site

The State Historical Society of Missouri

Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas

The Fort Scott Weekly Press

Morning Oregonian

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