Victorian West

Class and Culture in Kansas Cattle Towns

C. Robert Haywood

Picture a Kansas cattletown. What do you see? Most people see a "Gunsmoke" version of Dodge City—a dusty frontier town full of thirsty cowboys, gunslingers, outlaws, and ladies of the evening.

But the "Gunsmoke" version tells only half the story, according to historian C. Robert Haywood. Two cultures existed simultaneously in Kansas cattle towns, Haywood writes. Alongside the Wild West culture of the cattle trailing industry there existed a highly developed Victorian society, complete with civic activists, churches, boosterism, small-town politics, and Victorian architecture to rival that of the east coast.

Victorian West is rewarding reading.

—Journal of American History

“This book is rich in detail about daily life, social organizations such as lodges, institutions such as the school and the church, as well as beliefs about death, attitudes about women’s roles, Victorian hopes for the future, and other social ideals.

—American Historical Review
See all reviews...

In Victorian West Haywood examines education, recreation, social stratification, philanthropy and common community goals in three Kansas cowtowns—Dodge City, Wichita, and Caldwell. He finds that the Victorian attitudes of the post-Civil War era prevailed in Kansas as well as the rest of the nation.

Since the Wild West aspect of cattletown life has been so heavily stressed in both academic and popular arenas, the development of Kansas towns as progressive, even elegant Victorian cities, has been overlooked. But, according to Haywood, life in Kansas cattletowns was clearly tied to dominant Victorian themes: society was stratified, Victorian fads were emulated, "fancies" were coveted, and Victorian manners and morals were part of the process of refinement.

In Victorian West Haywood relates Victorian themes like optimism, anxiety, anti-intellectualism, and the commercial spirit to the Kansas community experience. He also provides a synthesis of cultural information that places the cowtowns of Kansas in a broader cultural context.