EARLY FRENCH AND SPANISH EXPLORERS - WHEN FATHER MARQUETTE CAME - FATHER HENNEPIN'S WONDERFUL MAP - EXPLORATIONS OF LEWIS AND CLARK - FIRST FOURTH OF JULY CELEBRATION IN KANSAS - CAPTAIN PIKE'S EXPEDITION - MAJOR LONG'S EXPEDITION - FRENCHMEN OUR FIRST MERCHANTS - THE FUR TRADERS - THE GREAT AMERICAN DESERT - THE FREMONT EXPEDITIONS - SCENES OF RARE BEAUTY - PHYSICAL AND GEOGRAPHICAL FEATURES, ETC.
The expedition headed by Major Stephen H. Long, under direction of John C. Calhoun, secretary of war, left Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, May 5, 1819, on board the steamer "Western Engineer," which had been constructed for the expedition. It consisted of a party of scientific men. The boat passed down the Ohio river, up the Mississippi to the mouth of the Missouri, and up the Missouri to the mouth of the Kansas river. The report in part reads: "The 'Western Engineer,' being the first steamboat that had ever ascended the Missouri above Chariton, great numbers of the settlers were attracted to the banks of the river, on both sides, to witness our progress. Arrived at Ft. Osage, fifty-five miles by water from the mouth of the Kouzas, August 1st. This fort was established in 1809 and was then the most military settlement. The party consisted of Mr. Say, examining and assembling the objects in zoology and its branches, classifying land and sea animals, insects, and particular description of animal remains, and commanding the expedition; Jessup, geologist, relating to earth minerals and fossils; Peale, assistant naturalist; Seymour, painter of the expedition, furnishing sketches of landscapes, paintings of Indians and Indian scenes; Cadet Smith J. Dougherty, guide and interpreter; five soldiers, pack horses and provisions. Examined the river between Ft. Osage and Kouzas river, also between that river and the Platte."
Major Long in his report to the secretary of war, thus describes the scene at the mouth of the Kansas river, which he called "Kouzas:" "Between Fort Osage and the mouth of the Kouzas river, a distance of about fifty-two miles, are many rapid places in the Missouri. We were able to ascend all these, except one. Without some difficulty we supplied our furnace with wood of a suitable quality. The forests of Missouri are filled with fallen trees whose wood is soft and porous like that of the linden and cotton tree, and absorb much moisture from the ground.
"The mouth of the Kouzas river was so filled with mud deposited by the late flood in the Missouri, as scarcely to admit the passage of our boat, though with some difficulty we ascended that river about a mile, and, then returning, dropped anchor opposite its mouth. The spring feshets subside in the Kouzas, the Osage and all those tributaries that do not derive their sources from the Rocky mountains, before the Missouri reaches its greatest fullness; consequently the waters of the latter river, charged with mud, flow into the mouths of its tributaries, and there becoming nearly stagnant, deposit an extensive accumulation of mud and slime. The Kouzas river has a considerable resemblance to the Missouri; but its current is more moderate and the water less turbid, except at times of high floods. Its valley, like that of the Missouri, has a deep and fertile soil, bearing similar forests of cottonwood, sycamore, etc., interspersed with meadows; but in ascending, trees become more and more scattered, and at length disappear almost entirely, the country at its source becoming one immense prairie."
The Spanish people, who came this way while the Indian country was under the dominion of Spain, were a lot of adventurers, dazzling with the splendor of military trappings, their minds filled with fairytale visions of cities with streets paved with gold, trees whereon golden apples grew, streams in which golden fishes swam and on whose banks children romped and played in golden slippers. They did nothing for the Indians - and less for themselves. The French did little to encourage the development of the soil, but they did establish the commerce of the Indian country.
After the visit of Bourgmont to the Kansas "capital," in 1724, nearly two hundred years ago, the Indians occupying this country had a place in the commercial circles of the French. So it was Kansas, an outpost of the progressive French and one of their frontier towns, where white men lived in houses and carried on business almost two hundred years ago. Here was a depot for all the commercial supplies of that day, the merchandise from distant France and the valuable skins and furs which were here stored for sale and exchange. It seems that the annual output of this first mart of trade in Kansas was one hundred bales or bundles of furs. When we realize that a bundle, or bale of furs represented 100 otter skins, 100 wolf skins, or 100 badger skins, or it might be made up of 40 deer skins, or 500 muskrat or mink skins, we can see that the trade at Kansas was considerable.
In the last quarter of the eighteenth century Pierre Laclede Siquest, with August and Pierre Chouteau, emigrated from France and settled in the Mississippi valley. They had an exclusive right from Napoleon to trade with the Indians of Louisiana territory. In 1799 a post was established near St. Joseph's and in 1800 another at Randolph Bluffs, three miles below the mouth of the Kansas river. The whole Chouteau family was engaged in the trade at the time the United States took over Louisiana territory in 1803. Previous to that time they virtually had a monopoly of the business. After the change of government, however, the monopoly was broken, government trading posts were established and the trade among the Western Indians increased rapidly; but the Chouteaus, pioneers, did a great business. The Missouri Fur Company was organized in 1808, with Manuel de Lisa at its head. August and Pierre Chouteau were among the eleven other members. Expeditions were sent out and posts were founded among the Indians of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Arkansas. The company was dissolved in 1812, but the Chouteaus continued in business, organizing independent houses to prosecute the trade and also to outfit trapping and hunting, as well as exploring expeditions.
One of the largest trading posts of that period was on the Kansas river nearly twenty miles above its mouth at the site of Bonner Springs in Wyandotte county. It was called "Four Houses," so named from being built on the four sides of an open square, the trading houses of Francis and Cyprian Chouteau. They were built sometime between 1812 and 1821 Cyprian Chouteau's trading house on the north side of the Kansas river at the old Grinter ferry, six miles west of the Missouri state line, also in Wyandotte county, was built for trading with the Delaware and Shawnee Indians. It was located at a point where the military road from Ft. Leavenworth to Ft. Scott crossed the Kansas river. John C. Fremont's expeditions in Kansas, beginning in 1842, were outfitted there. Another great trading post established by the Chouteaus was on the Missouri river at Fort Osage, thirty-five miles below the mouth of the Kansas river, which was a depot for supplies for the trade with the Osages. In 1825 the Chouteaus, or properly, the American Fur Company, established an agency on the south side of the Kansas river in Wyandotte county, about one mile from the old Shawnee Methodist mission and seven miles from Westport. It was this house that became famous as an Outfitting point for the expeditions across the plains over the old trails.
The reports of the explorations by the trusted representatives of the United States government, however, did not thoroughly satisfy all of the statesmen and leaders of the young republic as to the value of the Louisiana Purchase. There was in New England a sentiment of unfriendliness toward the west and a belief that the country then known as "the Great American Desert" was practically worthless. There was for many years continued opposition to every movement instigated to improve the country west of the Mississippi river. The people of the east had no faith in the possibilities of the western country. It was regarded as a hopeless waste. Daniel Webster never believed in the west, and in the United States senate, in 1827, during a famous debate with Senator Hayne, of South Carolina, on the public land question, he bitterly opposed any step on the part of the government toward the development of "The Great American Desert." Webster was in constant opposition to Senator Thomas H. Benton, who had made the Trans-Mississippi country a study and its development his great aim in life. In one of his eloquent speeches in opposition to Senator Benton's advocacy of the policy of encouraging the settlement of western lands Webster said: "What do we want with this vast and worthless area, of this region of savages and wild beasts, of deserts, of shifting sands and whirlwinds, of dust, of cactus and prairie dog? To what use could we ever hope to put these great deserts, or those endless mountain ranges, impenetrable and covered to their very base with eternal snow? What can we ever hope to do with the western coast, a coast of three thousand miles, rock-bound, cheerless, uninviting and not a harbor on it? Mr. President, I will never vote one cent from the public treasury to place the Pacific coast one inch nearer to Boston than it is now."
Benton, however, lived to see the beginning, at least, of the fulfillment of his great plans and purposes. As Jefferson had had faith in those intrepid explorers, Lewis and Clark, and Captain Pike, so Benton, with the knowledge he possessed of the vast country west of the Mississippi river, battled on - and won for the west. So it was that the Lewis and Clark expedition was the forerunner of the achievements of such explorers and travelers as Fremont and Gilpin and Bridger. These were the practical geographers of our country. What Jefferson and Benton saw in visions, these saw with their eyes and touched with their feet.
The time had come when the United States government deemed it necessary to be prepared to sustain its authority. Colonel Henry Leavenworth was sent out in 1827 to establish a fort in the new territory. It had been suggested that the fort be located on the Missouri river just below the mouth of the Kansas river. Colonel Leavenworth, however, rejected the location in the river bottom because it was too low and unhealthy for soldiers. He went up the river and selected the present site above the city of Leavenworth, and for more than three-quarters of a century the place he selected has been one of the most important military posts in the republic.
The territory roundabout the mouth of the Kansas river, the explorers say, abounded with game, which fact probably induced the son of old Daniel Boone, with the hunter blood of his ancestor running strong in his veins, to seek the place of farmer for the Indians, which led up to the further fact that the grandson of the great Kentucky hunter and Indian fighter was the first white child to be born on Kansas soil.
Colonel John C. Fremont made five trips across Kansas between 1842 and 1848, for the purpose of exploring the country west of the Missouri river. In June, 1842, he entered Wyandotte county on his first trip and fitted out his expedition at the trading post of Cyprian Chouteau, located on the Kansas river six miles west of the Missouri state line at the old Moses Grinter ferry at Secondine, now Muncie. He crossed over the old ferry and after leaving Wyandotte county went west through the counties of Johnson, Douglas and Shawnee. In 1843 his second expedition followed the Kansas river from Wyandotte. His third started from the same place, and pursuing a different route, returned over the Saute Fe trail. His fourth start was from Westport in October, 1848, following the Kansas river on the south side. The fifth and last was from Westport for the purpose of surveying, at his own expense, the Kansas Pacific railroad, now the Union Pacific.
The explorers who ascended the Missouri and Kansas rivers were charmed with the landscape of hill and valley, though little did they know what the future held for it when in after years it was to be known as Wyandotte county. They found the general surface undulating, high bluffs rising on either side of the two great rivers meeting here, the valleys lying between those bluffs varying in width from one to two miles. In the valleys and on the uplands was a growth of timber reaching far back from the Missouri to where the prairie begins. All of the trees common to lands bordering on the middle west streams were represented - the oak, elm, cottonwood, walnut, honey locust, mulberry, hickory, sycamore, ash, and, along the creeks and branches, clumps of willows. But unlike the great forests of tall trees in the territory lying between the Mississippi river and the Allegheny mountains through which the explorers passed on their way to the Indian country, the trees here were of a low spreading growth. Out of the hillsides gurgled streams of clear, pure water, sometimes charged with life-giving minerals, while branches and creeks wound their way down from the uplands through the little valleys that grew wider and wider as they approached the river valleys. Few of these were pretentious stream, yet they were necessarily a part of Nature's plan of perfect drainage.
The explorers opened the way for the settlement of the Indian country. Their business chiefly was to treat with the Indians and to make maps and charts for their government. The real beauty of Kansas was not appreciated till the white men came this way. Note the joy that took possession of the Reverend John G. Pratt, missionary to the Delaware Indians in Wyandotte county as thus he writes of his impressions to Franklin G. Adams, under date of January 12, 1889: "My first introduction to Kansas was in 1837. Leaving Boston in April with my wife we reached the then territory May 14th, being about four weeks in slow but interrupted travel. The territory at that time was in perfect quiet, and a most beautiful country it was. Coming from the Atlantic, my first look at an open green prairie on a sunny day seemed to be a look at the ocean, with which I was so familiar, but this was also Flora in her gayest attire, the eye was too limited in its capacity to take in such wide and far extended area of beauty - the like will never be seen again in Kansas. The coming of dwellers has spoiled all this. Though still the Sunflower state, the earlier dress was more comely - it was nature's beauty."
In 1853, Percival G. Lowe, of Leavenworth, went out with Major E. A. Ogden when Fort Riley was located, and here is his first impression: "Of all charming and fascinating portions of our country, probably there is none where nature has been so lavish as within a radius of one hundred and fifty miles, taking Fort Riley as the center. In rich soil, building material, In beauty of landscape, wooded streams and bubbling springs, in animal life, in everything to charm the eye, gladden the heart, yield to the industry of man - here was the climax of the most extravagant dream, perfect in all its wild beauty and productiveness; perfect in all that nature's God could hand down to man for his improvement and happiness."
The Reverend Charles Brandon Boynton made an exploration in the fall of 1854, which was published under the title "Journey Through Kansas. " He says: "But the first hour's ride over the prairies of Kansas spread before us such a picture, varying every moment and beautiful in every change, as we had no previous conception of, and drew from us continued expressions of a delight that would not be suppressed. One can form no correct idea of the prairies of Kansas by a previous knowledge of those of Indiana and Illinois; and residents in Iowa add the same remark of theirs. How, without the majesty of mountains or lakes, or broad rivers, and with so few colors as here are seen, such effect can be produced, is worthy the study of artists. It is a magnificent picture of God, that stirs irresistibly and inexplicably the soul of every beholder. Young and old, the educated and the unlearned, alike feel the influence of its spell, and each in his own language gives utterance to his delight and wonder, or stands breathless and mute. There are many scenes in Kansas that can scarcely be remembered even without tears. The soul melts in the presence of the wonderful beauty of the workmanship of God." Max Greene was another early-day explorer, in 1855. He also published a book, in which he says: "Here, through the exhilarating crystal air, on every hand are scenes of natural glory, the sublime of loveliness, whose only appropriate description would be a passionate lyric to flicker along the nerves like solemn harmonies of mighty bards."
The Indians had occupied the lands as their hunting grounds for ages and little could these explorers tell of the nature of the soil and of what lay hidden beneath the surface. Could they have waited to witness the development of this country to its present state, however, they would have been rewarded amply for their time. The soil of Wyandotte county, as we now find it, is that fine black loam that is common to the western states, with predominating limestone enriching by disintegration its fertility. On the uplands the soil is one to three feet in thickness, while in the valleys its depth often has been found to measure twenty feet. Hidden beneath the soil and cropping out of the sides of the hills along the rivers are many kinds of limestone suitable for building, paving, for the construction of heavy bridge piers, for making lime, and for many other purposes, more particularly along the valley of the Kansas river - eight to fifteen feet in thickness - in quantities sufficient to keep our great cement manufacturing plants in operation for a hundred years. Veins of coal also are to be found, but not of such thickness as to justify an attempt to mine then on a large scale. And, deep down under the soil and stone, gas is found in extensive fields along the north of the Kansas river, the flow from many wells sufficient to supply gas for domestic uses in the small cities and towns in that section and a limited supply left over for manufacturing.
The portion of the "Indian Country" discovered by the early explorers from which the old trails ran that, many years after, became Wyandotte county, contains an area of 153 square miles. It is the smallest county in the state of Kansas, but only in area. It has a larger population than any other county, with a density of 717 2/3 persons to the square mile - and that means 1 1/8 person for every one of its 97,920 acres. Also does Wyandotte county rank first among the counties of Kansas in material wealth, the assessed valuation of property taxable being seven times as large as the $15,000,000 the United States paid France for the entire Louisiana territory of 1,160,577 square miles.
Leavenworth county, of which Wyandotte county was once a part, now forms the western and a part of the northern boundary of Wyandotte county. The Missouri river, flowing southeasterly, from the greater portion of the northern boundary, and the same river, together with the state of Missouri, supply the eastern boundary. The northern line of Johnson county and the Kansas river for a distance of seven miles supply the southern boundary of Wyandotte county. Technically, or legally, the boundary lines of Wyandotte county are thus described: "Commencing at a point on the west line of the state of Missouri, opposite the mouth of the Kansas river thence south on the west line of the state of Missouri to the south line of township 11 south, being the northeast corner of Johnson county; thence up the said river; in the middle of the main channel thereof, to the intersection with the east line of range 22, east; thence north on said range line to the old Delaware reservation line, the same being the dividing line between the original Delaware reservation and Delaware trust lands; thence east on said line to the west boundary line of the state of Missouri; thence southeasterly with the said western boundary line of the state to the place of beginning."
Lying in the southern part of the fortieth degree of north latitude, and the western part of the ninety-fifth degree of longitude west from Greenwich, England, Wyandotte county is fortunately situated as to climatic conditions, having neither tropic heat nor artic cold. The records of the United States weather service for Kansas, covering a period of seventeen years, show the following:
Average temperature during the three winter months - December, January and February - 30.9 degrees.
Average temperature during the three summer months - June, July and August - 76.9 degrees.
Average annual temperature for the state, 54.2 degrees.
The average annual rainfall in the eastern third of the state for seventeen years approximates 35 inches, gradually decreasing further west. For the whole state, the annual precipitation has averaged 27.12 inches; for the three winter months - December, January and February - 0.91 inch per month; for the three summer months - June, July and August - 3.55 inches per month.
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