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Keeping Warm in 1850's Kansas Territory

We are excited to announce that our first temporary exhibit is open and ready to visit at the Watkins Museum of History in Lawrence, Kansas!

This exhibit showcases common winter wear that men in 1850's Kansas Territory would have used to bundle up during the cold season.

Curated by Eric Smallwood and Ben Jenkins, this exhibit will be available to visit in Lawrence until March 16th, 2024. Visit to plan your trip!

Read below for a note from curator, Eric Smallwood, providing context to this time and place in history, and how our garments play a role in deepening our understanding of the time period:

In December 1855, a series of events creating tension between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions led to a conflict known as the “Wakarusa War.” It took place in an around Lawrence, which was founded barely a year before. This conflict would ignite the battles and raids known today as “Bleeding Kansas” that would engulf the Territory in violence from 1855-1861, and lead directly to the American Civil War.
The Wakarusa War involved roughly 1,500 pro-slavery Missourians besieging nearly 700 anti-slavery Kansans for about a week and a half. The men that took part in the Wakarusa War were outdoors most of the time working on earthwork forts, riding scouting expeditions on horseback, and serving guard duty through the day and night.
Luckily, the Wakarusa War ended by mid December 1855, but the following winter would pose one of the coldest and most snow ridden of the entire time Kansas was a territory.

To stay warm during this frigid season, these men would have took advantage of the winter-ware available to them at the time. Wool drawers, undershirts, and overcoats were just some of the garments used by men during the period to stay comfortable in the cold.
Retail stores in Lawrence such as the store of L. Bullene (Weavers, today) would have offered similar types of clothing to Kansas men living in and visiting Lawrence during and after the Wakarusa War.

This exhibit was brought to the Watkins museum and its visitors free of charge! Please support our efforts to bring history to more museums across the country, and give to our mission this holiday season! Donate here!

Full exhibit shown below: "Bundle Up: Battling the Cold in 1850's Kansas"

Click here to view the garments on display.

The Merchant Tailor Museum, 2023.

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