Kansas River.This stream derives its name from the Kanza or Kaw tribe of Indians, which lived on its banks from time immemorial. The river has been given various names by map makers and explorers, such as Riviere des Cans, des Kances, des Quans, Kanza, Konza, Kanzan, Kanzas, etc. One of the earliest references to the stream was byb Antonio de Herraray Tordesillas, historiographer to the King of Spain. Marquette mentions the Kanza in 1673. A map of the British and French settlements in North America, published in 1758, gives the stream as the "Padoucas river." The Kansas river is formed by the junction of the Smoky Hill and Republican rivers at Junction City and flows in a general easterly direction through Geary and Riley counties, forms the boundary between Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties, crosses Shawnee, forms the boundary between Jefferson and Douglas, and of Wyandotte and Johnson counties in part, and empties into the Missouri river at Kansas City. From Junction City to the mouth is about 240 miles.
Among the early accounts of the river there is much fiction. Brackenridge in his journal (1811) says: "The patron of our boat informs me that he has ascended it upwards of 900 miles, with a tolerable navigation." Morse's Gazetteer (1823) says the "Kansas river . . . rises in the plains between the Platte and the Arkansas and joins the Missouri in latitude 39° 5' north, 340 miles from its mouth. It is navigable 900 miles." In 1820 S. H. Long's expedition ascended the river about a mile in a boat, experiencing considerable difficulty in getting over a deposit of mud left at the mouth by a recent flood in the Missouri. Maj. Long says: "The Gasconade, Osage and Konzas rivers are navigable in the spring season, but their navigation seldom extends far inland from their mouths, being obstructed by shoals or rapids . . . . The Konzas is navigable only in high freshets for boats of burden, and on such occasions not more than 150 or 200 miles, the navigation being obstructed by shoals." In the travels of Maximilian, in the early '30s he says: "The steamboat has navigated the Kanzas about 7 miles upward to a trading post of the American Fur company, which is now under the direction of a brother of Mr. P. Chouteau." During the period of early overland travel to the far west much emigration went up the valley of the Kansas river, travelers bound for Oregon, Utah and California crossing the river at Topeka at Papan's Ferry, or following father up stream and crossing at Uniontown over a rock bottom ford. Another ford was located near Fort Riley, and considerable travel went by that way.
Prior to the opening of the territory the river was practically unknown as an artery of commerce. The keel boats and pirogues of the early trappers and hunters, laden with supplies for the camp or returning to civilization laden with peltries and other trophies, or the canoes and bull boats of the Indians were practically the only craft to disturb these waters. Shortly after the signing of the Kansas-Nebraska bill the first great influx of settlers arrived by way of the Missouri river in steamboats, landing at Westport, Mo., or going up the river a short distance to Fort Leavenworth, near which was soon to spring up the embryo metropolis of the territory. As other free state towns in the interior were started some more rapid means of getting inland was needed and an enterprising river man, Capt. Chas. K. Baker, anticipated the opportunity by the purchase of the steamer Excel for the Kansas river traffic. (See Early River Commerce.)
While the subject of navigation was a live one, the Kansas legislature of 1857 passed "An act to encourage the navigation of the Kansas river." Section 1 provided that Powell P. Clayton, P. Z. Taylor, Jesse P. Downer, George F. Hill, B. F. Simmons, John W. Johnson, D. W. McCormick, R. R. Rees and others, their successors and assigns, be and are created a body politic and corporate by the name and style of the Kansas River Navigation company. Section 2 set forth that the purpose of the charter was for the purpose of employing one or more steamboats to navigate the Kansas river and its tributaries, for the conveyance of passengers, towing boats, vessels or rafts, and the transportation of merchandise or other articles. Section 3 provided that the capital stock should not exceed $350,000. The same legislature passed an act to incorporate the Kansas River Navigation company. Section 1 provided that William F. Dyer, C. A. Perry, F. J. Marshall, P. M. Hodges, M. L. Young, J. C. Thompson, Samuel J. Jones, D. A. N. Grover, A. H. McDonald, and those who may be associated with them, their successors and assigns, be and are created a body politic and corporate by the name and style of the Kansas River Navigation company, with the powers and privileges granted to corporate bodies. Sections 2 and 3 were substantially the same as the original act to encourage navigation. Both laws were approved by the governor on Feb. 17.
In 1864 the railroads secured the passage of an act by the legislature declaring the Kansas, Republican, Smoky Hill, Solomon and Big Blue rivers not navigable and authorizing the bridging of the same. This was intended to remove any competition that might develop if the rivers of the state were left open for free navigation.
In carrying out a provision of Congress requiring an examination of the Kansas river with a view of its being kept navigable, J. D. McKown, of the United States engineer corps, submitted a report on Jan. 8, 1879, of an investigation made by him of the river between Junction City and the mouth, with the recommendation that an appropriation of $450,000 be made for the purpose of contracting the width of the channel, for the protection of the banks and removal of snags, but no action was taken by Congress on that report. In 1886 the Kansas legislature again resurrected the matter and passed the following concurrent resolution:
"Whereas, Congress in 1878 passed an act requiring the examination of the Kansas river with a view to its being kept navigable; and
"Whereas, In accordance with said act the secretary of war did, on Feb. 14, 1879, transmit to Congress the report of Maj. G. R. Suter, corps of engineers, which report was referred on Feb. 15, 1879, to the committee on commerce, where it has since lain without further action, though in said report the recommendations were made to have said river declared a navigable stream, and that an appropriation of $480,000 be made to remove certain impediments; now, therefore, be it
"Resolved, That our senators and representatives in Congress are earnestly instructed and requested to use their best efforts to secure the proper legislation for the carrying out of the objects of this resolution.
"Resolved, That upon the passage of the foregoing resolutions, the secretary of state be instructed to transmit to each member of the U. S. senate and house of representatives from the State of Kansas, a copy hereof."
The Kansas river drains an area of 36,000 square miles in Kansasalmost the entire northern half11,000 miles in Nebraska, and 6,000 miles in Coloradoin all 53,000 square miles. In times of excessive rainfall the channel of the river has not been equal to the task of carrying off the flood waters of all its affluents, among the most important of which are the Smoky Hill, Republican, Blue, Delaware and Wakarusa rivers. (See Floods.)Pages 59-61 from volume II 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 July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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