• Alice Kay Hill


Blood appears to be a common theme in Kansas.

Truman Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD (1966) sets the stage for his famous true crime story set in the town of Holcomb, Kansas.

BUTCHER’S CROSSING (1960) by John Williams is another Kansas based book whose title evokes a bloody setting.

BLEEDING KANSAS (2008) by Sara Paretsky ties current issues of political and social injustice to the civil war period, during which time this ubiquitous Kansas reference was coined.

More recently, the young adult book BLOOD AND SALT (2015), written by Kim Liggett, came across my path in the hands of my granddaughter.

Why blood?

Clearly, the hacking apart with broadswords of pro-slavery supporters by John Brown’s abolitionist fanatics creates a visual not easily forgotten. Kansas, “bleeding at every pore” (Colonel Perry, 1856), is an image which has become ingrained in the collective psyche.

However, a further explanation might be the visceral and mental challenges of living in this most central state.

The extremes of weather and the vagaries of agriculture’s economy tear at the gut of all Kansas farmer/ranchers. Meeting with the banker who holds your operating loan, knowing that 365 days of work without relief has not generated enough to pay this year’s interest, much less reduce the principal, creates a sweat as thick as congealed blood. This is a common experience when 20% of Kansas farms carry a debt of a million dollars or more. ( Farm Debt in Kansas)

As described in UNDER A FULL MOON The Last Lynching in Kansas, the year 1932 was a period of crisis in all of America. Those on the prairie, those whose lives were tied to the elemental factors of farming, and who had no control over prices for their products, were being bled dry. With dirt blowing into the lungs of newborns, suffocating crops and livestock, and into those whose daily job was to care for them, there was no hope in sight.

Is it any wonder that when a clearly identified enemy was at hand, in this case the ‘Prairie Monster’ Richard Read, the folks living in Northwest Kansas were out for blood?

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