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Kenneth Wiggins Porter map
Kenneth Wiggins Porter photo

Kenneth Wiggins Porter

The Kansas Poems, 1992, Washburn University Center for Kansas Studies

The Black Seminoles, 1996, University Press of Florida

The Negro on the American Frontier, 1971, Arno Press

John Jacob Astor, Vol. 1, 2

Kansas Photos:

Garden City Dust Storm 2935

Kansas Dust Storm, 1935
Photos Courtesy of
NOAA Library


    Kenneth Wiggins Porter was born and raised in the heart of the Kansas prairie land, outside the little known town of Sterling, Kansas. His passion for the land and times of the plains is an obvious influence in a vast majority of his literature. Porter supplies a highly educated and radical voice, energetically illustrating a lifestyle and a people often perceived as monotonous. Tragedy, hard times, and tranquility of the Kansas prairie farmer are revealed through the lens of a historian, intent on progressing the future, by learning from the mistakes of the past. Porter views the heritage of Kansas as a foundation of problems and weakness, yet that same heritage gives rise to the strength and endurance of a Kansan.

    Kenneth Porter received an undergraduate education at Sterling College (Sterling, KS) where he began to develop his own views of religion, politics, as well as an appreciation for poetry, literature, and history. His early work did not relate to his Kansas prairie setting, it was not until later in his career that he returned to the Midwestern setting of his youth, for inspiration. The University of Minnesota fostered Porter's studies and eventual completion of his Masters Degree. His future as a poet and scholar looked bright; Harvard was the next step with advanced studies in business history, several of his greatest literary publications we composed during his time at Harvard. Poetry was a constant during these years and he was quickly recognized as an accomplished poet and historian.

    Depression swept the country Porter was a victim of hard times like most of the nation. He was forced to leave Harvard, discontinue his studies, and return to the security of his parent’s home in Kansas; it was the summer of 1933. His exodus home fueled his next two poetic works, The High Plains (John Day, 1938) and No Rain from These Clouds (John Day, 1946). Both works are recognized as some of his best poetry.

    Relinquished from the grips of the Depression, Porter's carrier as a historian took him to the University of Illinois as an instructor and eventually to the University of Oregon, where he stayed for twenty five years. During the years at Oregon, he published The Negro on the American Frontier (Arno Press, 1971) and The History of Humble Oil and Refining Company (Harper and Row, 1959). In 1981, amidst yet another historical project, Kenneth W. Porter passed, he is still seen as an icon to Kansas Literature and a historical scholar.

    The following page is an informative dedication to the works of Kenneth Porter, designed with the intent of honoring and generating interest in yet another wonderful and unadorned Kansas author.

(Extracted from Lorrin Leland's Author Bio. The Kansas Poems)

"...I was born in 1905 on a small farm just North of Sterling, son of a photographer and part-time farmer and of a former country-school teacher."

"In my case, the Kansas vegetation, whether natural (buffalo grass) or introduced (wheat) came to symbolize both the life force in general and the indestructible human spirit in particular, whether coping with destructive natural forces or with dictatorships."

"I doubt that I have written anything for which I had rather be known, although some portions stand up to the test of time better than others."

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Bibliography ( - housed in Thomas Fox Averill Kansas Studies Collection)  
  • The Black Seminoles: History of a Freedom-Seeking People (University of Florida, 1996/1947)

     As a historian Kenneth Porter injected research and the truth into his 1947 literary work on The Black Seminoles. His research into the rich and proud traditions of this exceptional people continued until his death, after which the book was revised and edited by Alionce Amos and Thomas Sentar.

    In the late 1600s a large population of fugitive slaves found refuge in Florida, runaways made their way into Seminole (Florida Indian) villages seeking protection and stability. The lifestyle of a slave is unfortunately the only means of existence for a slave, even after freedom is attained. It is believed that the Seminole’s enslaved the runaways; however the argument presented by Porter is expressive of a far different kind of relationship. The slavery imposed by the Seminoles is described by Porter as, “democratic feudalism, with basically no personal inequity...”

    The story is a blend of Native American and African American history facilitated through the heroic character of John Horse, a mixed heritage Black Seminole Warrior. Porter follows the destiny of Horse through the Seminole wars and the struggle of existence including a torturous passage to Mexico and eventually to Texas as United States Army scouts. In The Black Seminoles history is melded with the time-honored legacy of a fantastically unique people.

The Kansas Poems (Washburn Center for Kansas Studies, 1992)

 Most recently published in 1992 by the Washburn University Center for Kansas Studies, The Kansas Poems is a brilliant compilation of historical and scenic poems, all heavily influenced by Kansas lifestyles, beliefs, attitudes, and folklore. Porter provides us with a wonderfully clever look into the simplicity that is Kansas, while being ever mindful of the often unseen beauty of the High Plains. Porter’s exodus during the Great Depression, (early 1930’s) returned him Sterling, KS, taking residence with his parents. The turbulent events of the times are an obvious influence on the works deriving The Kansas Poems, dust bowls, poverty, drought, and rural lifestyles capstone a vast majority of the work. The veiled beauty of the Kansas landscape matures into a vibrant and vivacious existence, worth examining! See selected works for samplings from The Kansas Poems.

The Negro on the American Frontier (Ayer Co Publishing, 1971)

    Once again we see the historically based work of Kenneth Porter and his infatuation with the African American heritage during the frontier days of the United States. The book covers approximately 400 years of history and is essentially a various collection of articles, essays, and the role of African Americans in the advancement of the American Frontier. Porter argues, with exhaustive historical references, that the African American was the decisive factor in the frontier and international frontier progress of Spain, Great Britain, and Mexico. Other topics include great cattle drives, Indian Wars, mining, fur trade, and whaling.

  • No rain from these clouds; poems, 1927-1945 (The John Day Co, 1946)
  • The High Plains (The John Day Co, 1938)
  • The Jacksons and the Lees; Two Generations of Massachusetts Merchants 1765-1844 (2 volumes; Harvard Univ Press, 1937)

    The Jackson’s and the Lee’s represent a biographical life of two Massachusetts families from 1765-1844. Both families were considered sedentary merchants in the business of importing and exporting products in and out of the Massachusetts area. This style of business is often regarded as a precursor to the development of capitalism and certainly contains a historical subject matter that Porter is known for. The book is no longer in print and may be difficult to find, I know for a fact the Maybee Library at Washburn University (Topeka, KS) has at least one copy of both volumes, for anyone interested in historical Massachusetts business ventures.

  • John Jacob Astor, Business Man (Harvard Univ Press, 1931)

    John Jacob Astor, Business Man is a comprehensive biography of one of the United States first truly successful businessmen. Astor was a runner in the 1820s business world establishing him-self in ventures ranging from fur trade to the NY stock exchange. The book conjoins with a series of Harvard Studies in Business History and is based on extensive research done by Porter and his Harvard Associates. John Jacob Astor is now considered a classic in business history. The book may be difficult to find, once again I know for a fact the Maybee Library at Washburn University (Topeka, KS) has at least one copy of both volumes, for anyone interested in reading up on some entertaining business history.

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Writing Samples  

“Fireflies on the Cottonwood River”

Lights flash and fade like sparks from smitten steel,
water and clouds are ruffled by the breeze,
till eyes which seek for actual stars must reel.
searching the sky, the river, and the trees.

-From The Kansas Poems by Kenneth Porter-
Washburn University Center for Kansas Studies 1992.

Cottonwood River Bridge
Clements Bridge Chase county
—Photos Courtesy of Kansas Geological Survey

"The Ghosts of the Buffalo"

.....Great winds blew across the plains--
physical counterpart of delirious doctrines
blasting the Old World;
the dust from the despoiled praries
rose in a great sky-cluthing, earth hugging cloud--
The Ninth Plaque of Egypt.......
And the ghosts of the buffalo rise; with a moan
of wind from the west, blowing dust becomes bone and the bone
as in dream shifts to join phantom bone--so they stand
in the shade of the Rockies, incredible numberless band.

-From The Kansas Poems by Kenneth Porter-
Washburn University Center for Kansas Studies 1992

Historical photo of people standing beside railroad box car. The ground is covered with piles of bison bones.
—Photos Courtesy of Yellowstone National Park

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Map Locations

  From West to East—

Garden City, KS: Notice the Garden City dust storm photo. Garden City is a standard example of a small town Kansas farming and agricultural community of the 1900s. Depression and drought struck poverty and hard times across the tilled plains of Western Kansas. Difficult times and the perseverance of Kansans occur in and through the context of Kenneth Porters' work.

Sterling, KS: Birth place of Kenneth Porter and location of his parent's home, which he returned to in 1930s during the Depression Era. This small Kansas town still boast a current day population of only 2642.

Matfield Green, KS: Classic example of an extremely small Flint Hills community in South East Kansas. Visitors will certainly notice little economic prosperity, a very small friendly population, but a wealth of visual motivation provided by some amazingly picturesque landscape.

Cottonwood River: This small tributary, running through both Marion & Chase counties, provides the backdrop for the above poem composed by Kenneth Porter, "Fireflies on the Cottonwood River." One can certainly recognize the serenity that such a location would provide for composing poetry or childhood reflection. See above photos & links.

Lawrence, KS: Current location of Lorrin Leland, who composed the comprehensive bio-graphical information found in "The Kansas Poems." We also find the poem "Harvest: June, 1938" dedicated to two University of Kansas students, Donald Henry & Kenneth Graber among other Jayhawkers of the Lincoln Washington Battalion. Lastly, University of Kansas, Independent Study published several poetry works of Kenneth Porter, located in Lawrence, KS.

—Page designed by Brian William Flax under the direction of Carol Yoho and Tom Averill —Washburn University Fall 2006 Honors Program: HN 201 Mapping KS Literature —
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Primary Documents  

Kenneth Wiggins Porter's Memoir, 24 May, 1978
     - Page One
     - Page Two
     - Page Three
     - Page Four
     - Page Five
     - Page Six
     - Page Seven

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