Early River Commerce.When the first actual white settlers came to Kansas, there were no railroads west of the Mississippi river, and the various water-courses were depended upon to furnish the means of transportation. As early as 1819 four steamboatsthe Thomas Jefferson, Expedition, R. M. Johnson and Western Engineerwere built for the navigation of the upper Missouri, and were used in the first Yellowstone expedition. Prior to that time the only species of water craft on the western streams were the Indian canoes or the keel boats and pirogues of the fur traders. In 1830 a steamboat called the Car of Commerce was built for the Missouri river trade, but was sunk near the mouth of the river two years later. The Yellowstone ascended the river in 1831, and between that time and 1840 the Assiniboine and the Astoria made regular trips. About the time Kansas was organized as a territory, the best known steamers on the Missouri were the A. C. Goddin, the A. B. Chambers and the Kate Swinney. The last named, a side-wheeler 200 feet long and 30 feet Wide, was sunk on the upper river on Aug. 1, 1855. Others steamers on the Missouri were the Keystone (upon which Gov. Geary came to Kansas), the Robert Campbell, the Paul Jones, the Polar Star and the J. M. Converse.
Lewis and Clark's journal for June 5, 1804, contains the following entry: "Passed the Creek of the big rock about 15 yds wide on the left side at 11 oClock brought too a small Caissee (raft made of two canoes tied together) in which was two french men, from 80 leagues up the Kansias R where they wintered, and brought a great quantity of Beaver," etc.
It may be that this early report was partially responsible for the popular belief some years later that the Kansas was navigable for a distance of 80 leagues. (See Kansas River.) The first attempt to navigate the river by steam was in 1854, when Capt. C. K. Baker bought the Excel, a vessel of 79 tons with a draft of only 2 feet, for the Kansas river trade. On one trip down the river, this boat made the run from Fort Riley to Kansas City in 24 hours, stopping at thirty landings. In 1855 eight new steamboats attempted the navigation of the Kansas, viz: the Bee, New Lucy, Hartford, Lizzie, Emma Harmon, Financier No. 2, Saranak and Perry. The Hartford made but one trip. On June 3 she ran aground a short distance above the mouth of the Blue river, where she lay for a month waiting for high water. With a rise in the river she dropped down to Manhattan, where she unloaded her cargo, and with the next rise started for Kansas City, but grounded opposite St. Mary's mission, where she caught fire and was burned. The bell of this boat is now in the steeple of the Methodist church at Manhattan.
In 1856 the steamers Perry, Lewis Burns, Far West and Brazil made their appearance on the Kansas. In this year the flat-boat Pioneer took out the first load of freight from up the river, arriving at Kansas City in April. The following year four new steamboats were added. They were the Lightfoot, Violet, Lacon and Otis Webb. The Lightfoot of Quindaro, a stern-wheeler, was the first steamboat ever built in Kansas. The Violet was built at Pittsburg. She arrived at Kansas City on April 7, 1857, and two days later reached Lawrence. Here the captain noticed that the river was falling and declined to go any farther. Discharging his cargo and passengers, he started back down the river and arrived at Kansas City on May 10, having spent the greater part of a month on the sand bars. The vessel never tried a second trip.
In 1858 the Otis Webb, the Minnie Belle and the Kate Swinney were the principal steamboats on the Kansas, but in 1859 came the Silver Lake, Morning Star, Gus Linn, Adelia, Colona, Star of the West and the Kansas Valley. In 1860 the Eureka, Izetta and Mansfield were added to the list. Then came the Civil war and but little was done in the way of river commerce until peace was restored to the country. The Tom Morgan and the Emma began the navigation of the Kansas in 1864; the Hiram Wood, Jacob Sass and E. Hensley were put in commission in 1865, and in 1866 the Alexander Majors was added.
The early navigation of the Kansas was attended by many difficulties. Wood was used for fuel, and it was no unusual occurrence for a boat to tie up while the crew went ashore to fell trees and lay in a supply of wood. On one occasion the Financier No. 2 ascended the Republican river for a distance of 40 miles by way of experiment. This was the farthest that river has ever been navigated. A correspondent of the St. Louis Democrat, on Nov. 18, 1855, said: "The bed of the Kansas, like that of the Missouri, is quicksand, ever changing and ever dangerous while the water will not average over two feet in depth at any place for a distance of 500 feet along its banks. If the bottom was rock and the banks precipitous, a line of steamers would pay well; but as it is, no sensible capitalist will invest his money in a single boat. Kansas is destined by nature to be the Railroad state."
When the counties of Cowley, Sedgwick and Sumner were settled, about 1870, the question of steamboat navigation on the Arkansas became one of interest to the settlers, who were desirous of finding an outlet to market. In the fall of 1875 A. W. Berkey and A. C. Winton of Cowley county built a flat-boat at Arkansas City and loaded it with flour, which they took down the river and sold at Little Rock, Ark. Upon their return a stock company was formed for the purchase of a steamboat. A light draft boat was bought and it ascended the river nearly to Fort Gibson, when the engines were found to be of insufficient power to stem the current. In the summer of 1878 W. H. Speer and Amos Walton built a flat-boat 50 feet long and 16 feet wide, equipped it with a 10 horse-power thresher engine, and with this novel craft made several trips up and down the river for a distance of 60 miles from Arkansas City while the water was at a low stage.
Through correspondence, the business men of Little Rock were induced to send a boat on trial trip to Kansas. The boat selected was the Aunt Sally, which had been built for the bayou cotton trade of Arkansas. She arrived at Arkansas City on June 30, 1878, and the officers of the boat expressed the opinion that a boat built especially for the purpose could make regular trips up and down the river at all seasons of the year. Thus encouraged, McCloskey Seymore had the Cherokee built at Arkansas City. This boat was launched on Nov. 6, 1878; was 85 feet long, 22 feet wide; and had a draught when loaded to the guards of only 16 inches. Other steamers that were built for the Arkansas river trade were the Gen. Miles, the Necedah and the Nonesuch. But, before the commerce of the Arkansas river was fully established, the railroad came, and the certainty of railroad traffic, when compared with the difficulties attending that of the river, made the operation of the steamboats unprofitable. However, as late as 1884 a steamboat called the Kansas Millers was built for the trade. This was the last attempt at steam navigation of the Arkansas, though some flatboats and barges continued to transport wheat and flour down the river until the railroad lines were more fully developed.Pages 557-559 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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