Chouteau's Island, an island in the Arkansas river, was one of the landmarks of the old Santa Fe trail. It may seem strange that a landmark of such a character would get lost, but Chouteau's island has been located in several places. Probably the earliest mention of it in any written account was that made by Jacob Fowler in his journal of Glenn's Expedition. Coues, in a note on page 32 of Fowler's journal, says: "If there has been but one of this name, Chouteau's island has floated a good many miles up and down the riverat least, in books I have sought on the subject."
Inman's "Old Santa Fe Trail" (p. 40) says: "The island on which Chouteau established his trading post, and which bears his name even to this day, is in the Arkansas river on the boundary line between the United States and Mexico . . . . While occupying this island, Chouteau and his old hunters and trappers were attacked by about 300 Pawnees, whom they repulsed with the loss of 30 killed and wounded. These Indians afterward declared that it was the most fatal affair in which they were ever engaged. It was their first acquaintance with American guns."
He also describes the island as a "beautiful spot, with a rich carpet of grass and delightful groves, and on the American side was a heavily timbered bottom." On page 42, in referring to Beard's party being obliged to remain for three months "on an island not far from where the town of Cimarron, on the Santa Fe railroad is now situated," he identifies the island as Chouteau's.
Capt. P. St. George Cooke, when parleying with the outlaw Snively (See Santa Fe Trail), said: "Your party is in the United States; the line has not been surveyed and marked, but the common judgment agrees that it strikes the river near the Caches, which you know is above this; some think it will strike as high as Chouteau's island, 60 miles above the Caches."
Thwaites, in his "Early Western Travels," locates the island "In the upper ford of the Arkansas river, just above the present town of Hartland, Kearny county, Kan.," and further says: "The name dates from the disastrous expedition of 1815-17, when Chouteau retreated to this island to withstand a Comanche attack." (Vol. 19, p. 185.)
This coincides with the statement of Capt. Cooke, that the island is 60 miles above the Caches. In the notes accompanying Brown's original survey of the Santa Fe trail is the following statement regarding this island: "It is the largest island of timber seen on the river, and on the south side of the river at the lower end of the island is a thicket of willows with some cottonwood trees. On the north side of the river the hills approach tolerably nigh and on one of them is a sort of mound conspicuous at some miles distant."
From this description, coupled with information from other sources, the island has been located by later writers in section 14, township 25, range 37 west, which brings it near the town of Hartland, as suggested by Thwaites, and which is no doubt the correct location. There is also a difference of opinion as to whether Chouteau had a trading post on the island. Inman states positively that he established a post there, and other writers make the same statement, but Chittenden, in his "American Fur Trade" (p. 540), says: "Chouteau's island was a well known point on the upper Arkansas. The name dates from the Chouteau-De Munn expedition of 1815-17. While on his way to the Missouri in the spring of 1816 with the furs collected during the previous winter, Chouteau was attacked by a war party of 200 Pawnees and lost 1 man killed and 3 wounded. He retreated to an island in the Arkansas where he could more effectually defend himself and the name arose from this incident. Chouteau did not have any trading post here, as asserted by some authorities."Pages 339-340 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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