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Kansas Memory Blog

Abbie Bright

Posted by Megan Rohleder on Apr 25, 2023

By: Lauren Gray, Head of Reference

Abbie Bright is a name most of the Kansas Historical Society staff will recognize, if only because her writing was so extensive that she shows up in virtually every catalog search we do. But Abbie is more than a touchstone in our catalog – she was a vivacious and independent young woman at a time when it was rare for women to wander so far afield. It is also one of history’s small ironies that her surname so aptly described her: bright, as well as bold, daring, yet with an eye for quiet detail and a knack for assessing her own character. In attitude, Abbie was a conventional 19th century woman, but in action, she was startlingly unconventional, and it is this dichotomy that makes Abbie and her diary an enduring historical resource.


Born in Danville, Pennsylvania in 1848, Abbie worked as a teacher after she finished school. In 1871, she traveled to Indiana and Kansas to visit her brothers, who had struck out West after the Civil War. Abbie kept a diary during her trip, and recorded her thoughts and feelings, as well as vivid descriptions of her journey and details of her encounters with people on the frontier. Even twenty years after becoming a state, Sedgwick County was rural and sparsely settled. During her time in Kansas, Abbie’s brother, Phillip Bright, encouraged her, as an unmarried woman, to utilize the Homestead Act to invest in 160 acres of land in Sedgwick County.

From her diary, April 1871:

Brother Philip wrote his address is Wichita Kans. He had spent the winter in Kans. and Indian Territory. He says … if I want to come west, I can take up Government Land, and after living on it six months, can prove up on it by paying $1 1/4 an acre for it. He took up a claim some time ago, and if I go—I can stay with him, his house is almost finished. I am only to take heavy strong clothing, and what ever I will want for a bed. The rout is via Quincy— Kansas City, Topeka, Emporia—There a stage runs to Wichita, where he will meet me…If I decide to go, I shall do so at once. … I wonder what mother will say, when she hears I am going to Kans.


Abbie’s time in Kansas was marked by extreme weather, ague, and the rigors of frontier life. The only thing she craved more than mail from home was flour to make bread. She spent much of her time doing domestic tasks at her brother’s cabin. She made lasting friends, including Frank, a young man who lived in Wichita and who asked permission to write to her. While Abbie does not confirm if she agreed, Frank was a doting figure during her time in Kansas.

From her diary, June 1871

Frank gave me three arrows that had been shot into a buffalo.  Last winter when out hunting they shot a buffalo that the Indians had been chacing, and there were seven arrows sticking in him, and he gave me three.  I think them quite a curiosity.  It was not easy for the Indians to kill a buffalo, unless they shot them in the eye or back of the front leg in the heart.  Their skull is so thick an arrow glances off.

Unlike many settlers in Kansas, Abbie did not intend to stay forever. Despite her fondness for the new state and the many friends she made during her stay, she lived in Kansas less than a year. Abbie eventually resettled in Iowa. She married William Achenback in 1873 and became an active and beloved member of her community. Abbie’s diary and correspondence passed down to her grandson, who donated them to the Kansas Historical Society.

From her diary, November 1871

Now I have had the last look at my Kansas claim, and the dug out.  Where I spent many weeks.  I felt real sorry to leave.  As I stood alone by the dug out – no one in sight, no visible sign of civilization…  I felt depressed, I was so glad to be with Philip for over seven months.  Now I was leaving, when would I see him again?... I do not like changes.

History catches up with us in interesting ways. Earlier this year, Director Sarah Dougherty at the Beaman Community Memorial Library approached the Kansas Historical Society’s Archaeology Department about the arrowhead Abbie had acquired during her stay in Kansas. Whether it was the gift from Frank, or something she purchased as a souvenir while in Kansas, after her death, the arrowhead had passed to her descendants and stayed in Iowa, while her papers had journeyed, again, to Kansas. The Beaman Community Memorial Library, with the permission of the donor’s family, is transferring custody of the arrowhead to the Kansas Historical Society on April 7th, 2023. After over 150 years, Abbie’s arrow is coming home.

For more information about Abbie Bright, her papers, her time in Kansas, and the effect of white settlement on the frontier, you can refer to the following sources:

Abbie Bright Diary: https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/223662

Abbie Bright Correspondence: https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/223719

Abbie Bright Papers: https://www.kshs.org/archives/40293

Kansas Travelogues Blog: https://www.kansasmemory.org/blog/page/2

Kansapedia: https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/topic/american-indians 

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