ksm-notoriousArtwork: Torren Thomas

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, criminals often broke the law on the Kansas plains, but some were rebels with a cause – and others were outlaws


While struggling to build new lives, some Kansas settlers were motivated by both need and greed. Most frontier families worked hard to make sure they had food, water, shelter, and safety, but a few notorious individuals, fueled by greed, took advantage of difficult times to fulfill their own needs. This handful of Kansas lawbreakers live on through the retelling of tall tales and sensational crimes.

Despite the selfishness of the outlaws, the bounds of human decency prevailed on the Kansas prairie. Culturally diverse individuals and groups came together to build communities across the state, and laws and procedures for enforcing social order evolved through trial and error. Some laws contributed to a more democratic society. Others were poorly written and filled with vague, subjective, or unenforceable language. Enforcement of biased laws often resulted in unfair treatment of citizens.

Heroism manifests in many forms. Throughout Kansas history, extraordinary individuals have stood up against questionable laws regardless of the personal costs. Their actions have influenced change, not only for the citizens of Kansas but also for the greater good of U.S. democracy.

In his 2023 book The Bill of Obligations, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, salutes “Americans who put country and Constitution before personal gain or party and stood up for our democracy when it was most in danger.”

The following “lawbreaking” Kansans collaborated with larger activist groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Indian Claims Commission, the Women’s Temperance Union, labor unions, the Civilian Conservation Corps, Suffragettes, and the Underground Railroad.


WWI Conscientious Objectors in Kansas c. 1917–1919

At the start of World War I, the U.S. War Department had no federal policy in place concerning pacifists, who were primarily Mennonites, before WWI conscription began. While “no Mennonite would be required to violate their conscience” under conscription, all were assigned to a mobilization camp for service. On March 23, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson vaguely defined “noncombatant service” to include the Military Corps, Engineer Services, sanitation, etc. The inability to define noncombatant services led to inconsistent punishment that included pressure to change pacifist beliefs and some instances of physical violence. Confusion and tension between war officers and pacifists who rejected “non-combative” duty grew. In November 1918 eight men were arrested for “willful disobedience to an officer” after they refused to move rocks to create a road. They were imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth. 


Iris Calderhead, 1889–1966

Born in Marysville on January 3, 1889, Iris Calderhead was an integral player in the fight for women’s suffrage. A graduate from the University of Kansas and daughter of Congressman William A. Calderhead, Iris joined the women’s suffrage movement in about 1915. Her passion for activism led her to be arrested on two separate occasions. The first arrest took place in June 1917 at the Smithsonian Institution where Calderhead and suffragist Elizabeth Stuyvesant organized to display a banner during a visit by President Woodrow Wilson. She was then arrested a month later in July while picketing the White House during the Silent Sentinel demonstrations. Calderhead was given the choice of a $25 fine or three days in the Occoquan Workhouse. She chose jail.


Ann Clark c. Unknown–Unknown

When enslaved, Ann Clark began her journey toward freedom in Lecompton around 1857. Captured during an escape attempt once before, her neighbor arranged for Clark to hide in a barrel beneath the Scales’ Topeka home for six weeks. Underground Railroad conductor John Armstrong secured $70, an enclosed carriage and a team of mules to transport Clark to Iowa and freedom. Under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, aiding fugitive slaves was a federal crime punishable up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine. Kansas’ proslavery laws included penalties of death, imprisonment and hard labor. In 1855, the proslavery Kansas territorial government enacted legislation that any person who spoke, wrote or printed materials for the purpose of assisting escaped slaves would be found guilty of a felony and sentenced to death. Anyone who helped slaves escape their masters could be charged with grand larceny and face death or imprisonment with hard labor. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act was finally repealed in 1864.


Carrie “Saloon Smasher” Amelia Nation, 1846–1911

Born on November 25, 1846, in Garrard County, Kentucky, Carrie Nation is best known for being a radical member of the temperance movement, which protested the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Famously using a hatchet to destroy bar fixtures and stock, Nation was jailed over 30 times. She paid her fines by charging fees for lectures and selling souvenirs. She also strongly opposed Freemasonry, as well as restrictive clothing for women (corsets). Nation’s charity work included prison reform and shelters for women and children of alcoholics. Kansas voters approved prohibition of the sale of alcohol in 1880. Prohibition in Kansas ended in 1948.


Minnie Wishkeno Kakaque Evans, 1888–1971

Born on October 14, 1888, in Mayetta, Minnie Evans served as tribal chair of Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation from 1933 to 1965. Prior to this role, Evans, daughter to John and Mary Ann (Mnis-no-quah) Wish-ke-no, grew up in a large family and attended Haskell Institute—an industrial boarding school in Lawrence that taught skills such as farming, housekeeping, and speaking and writing English. Soon after, the Great Depression and the infamous Dust Bowl deeply affected Native Americans, who were often denied welfare and other federal assistance programs. Evans saw the discrimination of her people and emerged as an advocate. While serving as tribal chair, the U.S.’s implementation of the Indian termination policy—a series of laws and practices intended to strip Native Americans of their Native identities and assimilate them into American society, became a fight for autonomy for Evans. She organized and held illegal meetings while spearheading the battle against the U.S. House Resolution 108’s legislative intent to terminate the Prairie Band Potawatomie Nation. In February 1954, she testified at congressional meetings in Washington, D.C., saving the Potawatomi tribe from termination—which would have resulted in the immediate withdrawal of all federal aid, services and the end of the reservation. During her time as tribal chair, Evans also fought for reparations with the Indian Claims Commission, while advocating for the return of Native American identity.


Amazon Army, 1921

The discovery of coal in the 1860s would lead thousands of immigrant families in search of mining jobs across the U.S. Mary Youvan Skubitz, daughter to Julia and Andrew Skubitz, was among those families. Born in 1887 in Slovenia, the Skubitz family emigrated to the U.S. in 1890. The family would plant roots in Crawford County, Kansas. On December 11, 1921, Mary and Julia, together with 500 other women from Crawford and Cherokee counties, gathered at the miners hall in Franklin to protest the unfair labor practices involving poor pay, hazardous working conditions and discrimination. The following morning, Mary and her mother, along with women with notable names such as Mrs. “Amazon” Farrell, Mrs. “Amazon” Mariotti, Mrs. “Amazon” Howe, and nearly 3,000 other women assembled to march in protest. Mrs. “Amazon” Farrell, a wife of a coal miner, was one of four arrested on charges of “unlawful assembly in connection with the recent rioting in the Kansas coal fields....” The three-day protest would make national news, and the New York Times would dub the protestors as the “Amazon Army.”


Carol Kay Parks-Hahn 1940–2023

Born on February 2, 1940, in Winfield, Carol Kay Parks-Hahn, with her cousin Ron Walters, sparked change after initiating a sit-in at the Dockum Drug Store in Wichita. The month-long nonviolent protest from July 19 to August 11, 1958, resulted in changes in service to Black citizens in Wichita businesses. Soon after, similar protests were held in Oklahoma City and Greensboro, North Carolina. Parks-Hahn died on April 15, 2023. She is remembered as a Wichita State University graduate and as a key leader in the Wichita NAACP Youth Council. This council of students led to the drug store sit-in and other steps toward racial equality for Black Americans.


Notorious: The Outlaws