Reading Cards
6. Traveling on the River


  1. Coming to Kansas
  2. Shunganunga
  3. Lime for Kiln and Quarry
  4. Gardens and Orchards
  5. Letters from Home
  6. Traveling on the River
  7. Native Americans in the Kansas Territory
  8. John Brown and the Ritchies
  9. Becoming a State
  10. Building a Community


When Topeka's founders chose this spot or a town, they believed boats would be able to travel up the Kansas River from Westport (now part of Kansas City) in Missouri. Boats would bring people and supplies. It was much easier to float on a river than to build roads over uneven ground. The Missouri River, which forms the northeastern border of Kansas, was an important highway for reaching the West. It was hoped that the Kansas River would be another valuable trade route.

The founders were soon disappointed. The main channel of the Kansas River shifted constantly. Riverboat pilots found it very difficult to navigate and ran upon sandbars where the channel had been only weeks before.

The Kansas (or Kaw) River begins where the Smoky Hill and Republican Rivers run together. In the spring when melting snow in the high plains to the west poured into those streams, the Kansas River ran full. No one knew how long this would last, however, and it was difficult for companies that owned steamboats to plan trips to Topeka and settlements beyond.

Occasionaly boats did make it to the young town. They docked near Quincy Street. Settlers like the Ritchies looked forward to shipments of hats and coats from New York, or tools and hardware from Philadelphia, books and magazines from Boston. Townspeople hoping to buy large stocks of goods were often dissatisfied. These vessels had already stopped in Lawrence, perhaps Lecompton and Tecumseh as well, and by the time they reached Topeka their supplies were nearly exhausted.

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