With a population of 485,000, Wichita is the largest city in the state. It is in south-central Kansas at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers. The city was the birthplace of jazz bandleader and composer Stan Kenton (1912-79) and the once-reviled former American Communist Party leader Earl Browder (1891-1973).
Wichita is now the world’s largest producer of general aviation aircraft.
It has a lively arts scene, some very fine museums, and a number of public sculptures.
Plains Native Americans first occupied the area, and settlers entered the region in 1863 to trade with them. The next year, the government moved the Wichita tribe, after whom the city is named, to the area from Oklahoma. Wichita was incorporated in 1870. When the railroad arrived in 1872, it became an important cattle-shipping center. During this time famous frontiersman Wyatt Earp served as a law enforcement officer in Wichita. Earp later moved to Dodge City, then Tombstone, Arizona, where he was involved in the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral. During the land speculation of the 1880s the population grew from 5,000 to 24,000. In the early twentieth century, oil was discovered and the first airplane manufacturing plant was set up in 1919.
Wichita has many museums. The Indian Center and Museum features a 44-foot statue of a Native American called Keeper of the Plains made by Kiowa-Comanche artist Blackbear Bosin. The Old Cowtown Museum re-creates the Wichita of the 1870s cattle boom.
The Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum is in the old city hall (1892), a fine decorative stone building. The museum has exhibitions on a vast range of local history subjects including the Wichita tribe, Victorian furnishings, and temperance crusader Carry A. Nation. The First National Black Historical Society of Kansas examines such subjects as the Buffalo Soldiers, early African-American Wichitans and Kansans, and African-American art.
The Wichita Art Museum houses one of the nation’s largest collections of American art. Art lovers should also visit the university’s Ulrich Museum of Art in the McKnight Arts Center. One of its walls consists of an enormous glass mosaic by Joan Mir. The Corbin Education Center was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, as was the Allen-Lambe House at 224 North Roosevelt Street. Also at the university is the Museum of Anthropology, which examines the diversity of ancient human cultures in various parts of the world.
Wichita’s links with the aviation industry are reflected in the Kansas Aviation Museum in the old Art- Deco air terminal, and Wichita State University’s National Institute of Aviation Research, which features water tunnels and supersonic wind tunnels. Virtual-reality airplane flights are just one of the high-tech attractions at Exploration Place, a landscaped park with three theaters and hundreds of interactive exhibits.
Other attractions in Wichita are the Great Plains Transportation Museum, the botanical gardens, Sedgwick County Zoo, the Wichita Center for the Arts, the Omnisphere and Science Center, Lake Afton Observatory, and the Kansas Firefighters Museum. Maple Grove Cemetery, consecrated in 1888, is also well worth a visit.
Wichita can be reached via I-35. Train, bus, and air service is also available.