Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5 v. (lvi, 2731 p., [228] leaves of plates) : ill., maps (some fold.), ports. ; 27 cm.

1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 9 Part 2


In the spring of 1842, Captain John C. Fremont made his first exploration of the Great Plains. He left Washington on the second of May and went to St. Louis. On the boat from St. Louis up the Missouri he met Kit Carson and engaged him as guide. Fremont organized his expedition at the trading-house of Cyprian Chouteau. Charles Preuss was his topographical engineer, or surveyor, and the youngest son of Senator Benton was a member of the party. The stores and baggage were carried in eight carts or wagons drawn by mules. The entire party numbered nearly forty persons. Fremont left the post of Chouteau on the 10th of June, going south some ten miles to the Santa Fe Trail. This trail led out to the parting of the ways, where the Road to Oregon began, near the present town of Gardner, in Johnson County, Kansas. Fremont reached the crossing of the Kansas River late on the 14th, finding the river swollen from recent rains. This was not the crossing at the point where Topeka was afterwards laid out, but at Uniontown, in the western line of Shawnee County. That crossing was a ford, having a rock bottom, and no ferry was then maintained there. The Chouteaus had long been in the Indian trade near that crossing, and they doubtless recommended it to Fremont. Fremont says he expected to find the river fordable. As it was running bank-full "with an angry current, yellow and turbid as the Missouri," he made his cattle and horses swim. He had a collapsible rubber boat designed for the survey of the Platte, and on this he carried over his carts and baggage. The last load was amid-stream when the boat was upset, but almost everything was rescued and saved. On the 15th the party moved up the Kansas about seven miles and camped in a fine prairie, where the wet baggage was spread to dry. On the 17th Fremont recorded in his Journal that a large body of emigrants bound for Oregon under Dr. White was ahout three weeks in advance of his expedition. There were sixty-four men and "sixteen or seventeen families," carrying their effects in heavy wagons.

Fremont followed up the valley of the Kansas River until the morning of the 19th of June. At the mouth of the Vermillion the old Kansas village was seen. It was a dead town. The Pawnees had attacked it in the spring of 1842, and the Kansas Indians had moved further down the river. On the 18th the river was in sight of the expedition, though from eight to twelve miles distant. The Vermillion of the Blue was crossed at ten o'clock on the 20th, and the camp for the night was made on the banks of the Big Blue River near the present Marysville. Antelope were seen running over the plains that day, and Carson killed a deer. About two o'clock on the afternoon of the twenty-first of June the fortieth parallel was crossed, and the expedition passed out of what was shortly to be Kansas.

This exploration of 1842 by Fremont seemed to fix very definitely in literature the course of the Oregon Trail through Kansas. There was a sort of notoriety or reputation attaching to the exploration of Fremont which it is hard to understand at this day. The South Pass had been discovered nearly twenty years when Fremont set out on his first expedition. Women had ridden horseback through it nearly ten years before, and just ten years previous to his passage through it Captain Bonneville had driven his park of wagons through it and far beyond it. Yet Fremont was later credited in the popular mind with having discovered the South Pass. This probably arose from the fact that his reports and maps were promptly published by the Government, and they carried the first definite information of the Oregon Trail to the people at large.

Fremont returned in the fall of 1842, descending the Platte. He began immediately to prepare for a second exploration, and this he accomplished, starting in the spring of 1843.

On the 17th of May, 1843, Fremont landed at Kansas, known also as Kansas Landing, and sometimes as Chouteau's Landing. It is now Kansas City, Missouri. He stopped at the residence of Major Richard W. Cummins, Indian Agent for the tribes of that region, and who lived then at the Landing. Before his plans were perfected he received a letter from his wife urging him to depart at once and complete his arrangements at Fort Bent. Pursuant to this message he set out on the 29th of May, taking with him a brass howitzer obtained from General S. W. Kearny at St. Louis. Thomas Fitzpatrick was employed as guide, and Kit Carson was found later on. It afterwards developed that Fremont had been summoned to Washington to explain why he was taking that brass cannon on a scientific expedition. Mrs. Fremont did not forward the notice of the summons, but sent her order for him to get under way at once.

The men of the second expedition were Creoles, Canadian-French, and Americans, numbering all told thirty-nine men. They were armed with Hall's carbines and the twelve-pound howitzer which came so near stopping the exploration. William Gilpin joined the party on the 31st at Elm Grove, and he continued into Oregon. At Elm Grove were a number of emigrant wagons, among them that of J. B. Childs, of Jackson County, Missouri, who was in command of the emigrant party, which was bound for California. They were carrying furniture and household goods, farming implements, and the machinery for a mill designed to be erected in some branch of the Sacramento. The route taken was the Oregon Trail to the crossing of the Kansas River at Uniontown, where Fremont had crossed the previous year. Trains of emigrant wagons were always in sight of Fremont, and many were at the ford or crossing. Settlers were even then pouring over the Oregon Trail for the Pacific Coast.

Fremont did not cross the Kansas at the ford with the emigrant trains, but continued his way on the south side of the river to the junction of the Republican and the Smoky Hill. There he crossed his expedition over the Smoky Hill on a raft, and on the 11th of June set out up the Republican. This stream was followed approximately to its source, the expedition coming out on the South Platte on the 30th of June. It visited the Pacific Coast, and returned the following year, descending the Arkansas, crossing to the Smoky Hill, and then turning to the Santa Fe Trail, arriving at Kansas Landing July 31, 1844.

The third expedition of Fremont was organized on the frontier of Missouri, as he says, but no specific location is given. It was certainly near Kansas City. The details of the organization are indefinitely given. Some one had chosen twelve Delaware Indians to go with him, and these included Sagundai, who later carried back dispatches from California, and Swanok, who had destroyed the Republican Pawnee town. Fremont says that, as his expedition had for its object the exploration of the Rocky Mountains and the country beyond, no examination of the Great Plains country was made. Fog envelopes the movements of the party until its departure from Bent's Fort, on the 16th of August, 1845. It is not known that any part of the expedition passed over any portion of the Oregon Trail.

There was another Fremont expedition, in 1848. This went up the Smoky Hill.

In 1853, Fremont crossed the Great Plains for the last time. He followed his trail of 1843 closely, stopping a few days at Uniontown, or that vicinity. To Uniontown he had followed the Oregon Trail.


In 1849, Captain Howard Stansbury was sent out to make an exploration and survey of the Great Salt Lake. The initial point of his expedition was Fort Leavenworth. He left the fort on the 31st of May, 1849, with eighteen men, five wagons, and forty-six horses and mules. A Mr. Sackett joined the party. He had one wagon, one carriage, and fifteen "animals." There were five persons with Mr. Sackett, possibly his family. Lieutenant Gunnison being ill, was put on a bed in the spring wagon used to transport the instruments.

Captain Stansbury followed what he terms the Emigration Road, which was only that branch of the Oregon Trail, starting from Fort Leavenworth. He says of it - "already broad and well beaten as any turnpike in our country." And he further says:

The cholera had for a considerable time been raging on the Missouri; and as we passed up, fearful rumours of its prevalence and fatality among the emigrants on the route daily reached us from the plains. On the day we left Fort Leavenworth, one member of our little party was carried to the hospital in a state of collapse, where he died in twenty-four hours. The only officer attached to my command had been ill for several weeks, with severe attacks of intermittent fever, which now merged into chronic dysentery, and he was, in consequence, unable to sit on his horse, or to do duty of any kind. These were rather discouraging circumstances for an outset; but, at length, on the 31st day of May, our preparations being completed, we commenced our journey, my own party consisting in all of eighteen men, five wagons, and forty-six horses and mules; while that of Mr. Sackett, our fellow-traveller, contained six persons, one wagon, one travelling carriage, and fifteen animals. Lieutenant Gunnison, being too ill to travel in any other manner, was carried on his bed, in a large spring wagon, which had been procured for the transportation of the instruments. The weather, in the morning, had been dark and lowering, with occasional showers, but it cleared off about noon; the camp broke up; the wagons were packed, and we prepared to exchange, for a season, the comforts and refinements of civilized life, for the somewhat wild and roving habits of the hunter and savage. My party consisted principally of experienced voyageurs, who had spent the best part of their lives among the wilds of the Rocky Mountains, and to whom this manner of life had become endeared by old associations. We followed the "emigrant road" (already broad and well beaten as any turnpike in our country) over a rolling prairie, fringed on the south with trees. The hills consisted principally of carboniferous limestone, in apparently horizontal strata, which in places formed quite prominent escarpments. Our first day's journey was only six miles; but we were now fairly embarked, and things gradually assumed the appearance of order and regularity.

Although the route taken by the party had been travelled by thousands of people, both before and since we passed over it, I have thought that some brief extracts from the daily journals of the expedition might not be without interest, for, although nothing very new may perhaps be elicited, still it is not improbable that they will convey, to such as peruse them, a more correct idea of what the thousands have had to encounter who have braved this long journey in search either of a new home in Oregon, or of that more alluring object - the glittering treasure of California.

On the first of June Stansbury passed the train of a Mr. Allen. It had about twenty-five ox-teams, and was bound for California. Cholera had killed one of the party, and two more were down with it. Four men of the party had been frightened by the disease into returning to the settlements. On this day Stansbury first witnessed the formation of a camp corral, which he describes:

In the course of the afternoon we passed the travelling-train of a Mr. Allen, consisting of about twenty-five ox-teams, bound for the land of gold. They had been on the spot several days, detained by sickness. One of the party had died but the day before of cholera, and two more were then down with the same disease. In the morning, early, we met four men from the same camp, returning on foot, with their effects on their backs, frightened at the danger and disgusted already with the trip. It was here that we first saw a train "corralled." The wagons were drawn up in the form of a circle and chained together, leaving a small opening at but one place, through which the cattle were driven into the enclosed space at night, and guarded. The arrangement is an excellent one, and rendered impossible what is called, in Western phrase, a "stampede," a mode of assault practised by Indians for the purpose of carrying off cattle or horses, in which, if possible, they set loose some of the animals, and so frighten the rest as to produce a general and confused flight of the whole. To a few determined men, wagons thus arranged form a breastwork exceedingly difficult to be carried by any force of undisciplined savages.

Captain Stansbury came, on the fifth of June, into the main Emigration Road through Kansas - the Oregon Trail. The point of union was at the place so well known on the waters of the Big Blue for the next twenty years. On the seventh of June a French trader from Fort Laramie was encountered. He reported that he met not fewer than four thousand wagons - four persons to the wagon - bound for California. They seemed to be getting on badly, having had no experience on the plains. Almost daily small parties were seen returning, having become discouraged or disgusted. Graves of emigrants who had recently died lined the way. Here is one case encountered on the twelfth of June. It serves to show the madness engendered by the California Gold-fever:

Tuesday, June 12 - Bar., 28.64; Ther., 63ยก. Breakfast at four. In ten and a half miles crossed the west branch of Turkey Creek and halted to noon on the bank of Wyeth's Creek six miles beyond. The crossing here is bad and rocky, and the grass poor, having been eaten close by the trains which had preceded us. The afternoon was oppressively hot and close, the wind being from the eastward, with every appearance of rain. We have been in company with multitudes of emigrants the whole day. The road has been lined to a long extent with their wagons, whose white covers, glittering in the sunlight, resembled, at a distance, ships upon the ocean. We passed a company from Boston, consisting of seventy persons, one hundred and forty pack and riding mules, a number of riding horses, and a drove of cattle for beef. The expedition, as might be expected, and as is too generally the case, was badly conducted; the mules were overloaded, and the manner of securing and arranging the packs elicited many a sarcastic criticism from our party, most of whom were old and experienced mountain-men, with whom the making up of a pack and the loading of a mule amounted to a science. We passed also an old Dutchman, with an immense wagon drawn by six yoke of cattle, and loaded with household furniture. Behind, followed a covered cart containing the wife, driving herself, and a host of babies - the whole bound to the land of promise, of the distance to which, however, they seemed to have not the most remote idea. To the tail of the cart was attached a large chicken-coop, full of fowls; two milch-cows followed, and next came an old mare, upon the back of which was perched a little, brown-faced, barefooted girl, not more than seven years old, while a small sucking colt brought up the rear. We had occasion to see this old gentleman and his caravan frequently afterwards, as we passed and repassed each other, from time to time, on the road. The last we saw of him was on the Sweetwater, engaged in sawing his wagon into two parts, for the purpose of converting it into two carts, and in disposing of everything he could sell or give away, to lighten his load.

In after years the trail was strewn with furniture of every description, the bones of oxen, horses, mules, buffaloes and sometimes men. In their madness to get on the emigrants had east away the effects they had hauled hundreds of miles. It was like the wreckage cast upon the shores of the wasting sea.


In 1843, Peter H. Burnett, living then in Clay County, Missouri, determined to move to Oregon. He was induced to do this by the Congressional report of Senator Appleton on that country. Senator Linn, of Missouri, had introduced into Congress a bill granting a settler six hundred and forty acres of land for himself and one hundred and sixty acres for each of his children. Under that act, should it pass, he would be entitled to sixteen hundred acres of land.

Dr. Whitman, the missionary, was then on the western border of Missouri. Burnett and others forming the company were in communication with him. On the 18th of May the emigrants held a meeting to perfect arrangements for the journey and to see Dr. Whitman. This meeting appointed a committee of seven to make an inspection of the wagons intended for the trip. A committee of five was selected to formulate rules for the journey. Dr. Whitman was also present at a meeting held on the 20th of May, when the rules were adopted. John Grant was hired to act as guide as far as Fort Hall. The rendezvous was about fifteen miles east of Elm Grove, which was reached on the 22d of May - the day of the starting. Two elm trees and some dogwood brush constituted the grove. The larger elm had been stripped of its branches for wood by previous caravans. The party crossed the Wakarusa on the 24th, letting the wagons down the steep banks by ropes. It is not known just where the Kansas River, reached on the 26th, was crossed, but it was probably at the Uniontown Ford, but possibly at the mouth of the Big Blue. It required until the 31st to complete the crossing for all the party. There were met Fathers De Smet and De Vos, coming from missionary labors among the Flathead Indians. The next day the organization of the company was completed by the election of Burnett as Captain and J. W. Nesmith as Orderly Sergeant; also the selection of a council of nine members. A war party of Kansas and Osage Indians was encountered on the 6th of June. This party had gone out against the Pawnees, and had taken one scalp, which was exhibited, showing the ears with the wampum still in them. The party followed up the Big Blue more closely than did later caravans, making its last encampment on that stream on the 17th - already beyond the boundary of what was to become Kansas.


In the Spring of 1846, Francis Parkman made a "tour of curiosity and amusement to the Rockey Mountains" by way of the Oregon Trail. It is much to be regretted that Mr. Parkman was not actuated by more serious motives, for the record he left of his tour, while always popular, has no great historical value. His party was formed at Westport, and on his way he passed the Shawnee Mission. There Parkman saw Joseph Parks, a Shawnee chief, and notes that this savage ruler had a trading establishment at Westport, conducted an extensive farm, and owned "a considerable number of slaves." The Kansas River was first seen at the Lower Delaware Crossing, where the party passed over it on rafts, after camping a night on the south bank. This was the crossing of the old Military Road from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Scott and Fort Gibson.

Parkman made a brief stop at Fort Leavenworth, and on the 23d of May set forth on the branch of the trail leading from that fort to Fort Laramie. No date is given to show when he reached the Big Blue River, but a detailed description of its crossing is set down. The book containing the account of the tour is very loosely and carelessly written. The date of May 23d is given as the time of leaving Fort Leavenworth, also as the time of coming into the "St. Joseph Trail" - something which never did exist after having crossed the Big Blue.

Parkman's observations on the conditions along the Oregon Trail at that day are sometimes of value. He notes that Illinois and Missouri furnished by far the greater number of emigrants of that period. They were numerous, and some were bound for Oregon and some for California. At Independence, Missouri, they had heard that several parties of Mormons were about to start from St. Joseph. This caused uneasiness, for the people of both Missouri and Illinois were on bad terms with the Mormons. But these rumors proved to be unfounded.

Few particulars of the country and the Oregon Trail are given by Parkman, but many of his own experiences are recorded - in which the people of this day are little interested.


On the 18th of April, 1846, J. Q. Thornton and his wife left Quincy, Illinois, to go to Oregon. They went first to Independence, Missouri, the outfitting point. They purchased wagons and teams, and on the 12th of May left Independence over the Oregon Trail. On the 15th they came up with the party of Ex-Governor Boggs, of Missouri, and W. H. Russell, camped to await other expected companies of emigrants. Thornton and his wife were invited to attach themselves to this party, which they promptly did. The Boggs caravan consisted of sixty-three wagons. The whole company crossed the Wakarusa on the 15th. Others must have joined the party on that day, for an examination made that night revealed seventy-two wagons, one hundred and thirty men, sixty-five women, one hundred and twenty-five children, sixty-nine thousand pounds of breadstuff, forty thousand pounds of bacon, eleven hundred pounds of powder, twenty-six hundred pounds of lead, one hundred and fifty-five guns, one hundred and four pistols, and seven hundred and ten cattle. Some were bound for Oregon and some for California. The emigrants were moved by different motives. Some desired land in a new country. Some were fleeing debts incurred, some had been stripped by creditors, some were in pursuit of health, some were in search of adventure, and others knew not why they were on the road.

The ferry on the Kansas River was reached on the 17th of May. This was the Papan Ferry, at the present Topeka. The crossing was effected by six o'clock. Mrs. Thornton gave the ferryman's wife some tracts. Indians were numerous in what is now North Topeka, some bedecked in savage splendor, but most of them filthy and covered with vermin. On the 19th additions to the party were made, increasing the number of wagons to ninety-eight. Twin boys had been born to a Mrs. Hall on the night of the 18th. The camp was made on Soldier Creek on the 19th.

This emigrant caravan followed almost exactly the route of the Oregon Trail. The Big Blue River, called in the record the Great Blue-Earth River, was sighted on the 26th of May, and camp was made on its left bank. Rains had swollen the river so that no crossing could be safely attempted for a day or two. A boat called the "Blue River Rover" was built on the 28th. It was constructed by joining two cottonwood canoes twenty-five feet long, and proved an ample conveyance when the crossing was made on the 30th and 31st. On the 2d of June the party separated, those going to Oregon - twenty wagons - going on in advance. This division of the caravan occurred near the north line of Kansas beyond which point we can not follow the company.


The Mormons in their migration to the Great Salt-Lake country, passed over all the branches of the Oregon Trail. Their pilgrimage continued overland from 1847 to the opening of the Union Pacific Railroad - and even yet continues.

The Mormons avoided the real trails in the early days of their settlement in Utah. They established parallel trails, desiring to keep their own company, preserve their own secrets, and avoid the quarrels and troubles often arising when traveling with gentiles. When there were enormous trains, they kept sometimes to the main trails, for they could then protect themselves. They were also avoided by other emigrants, and were rarely associated with by gentiles on the road. The Mormon Trail up the Platte lay on the north side of the river. One route in Kansas followed the Santa Fe Trail to One-Hundred-and-Ten-mile Creek, when it turned northward directly to Fort Riley, crossing the Kansas River at Whiskey Point. From Fort Riley the trail led nearly north to the Oregon Trail in the Platte Valley, passing through the present counties of Riley and Washington, in Kansas. No other emigrants are known to have used this trail. Of the eastern branches of the Oregon Trail, the Mormons used most that beginning at St. Joseph, Missouri. Many Mormon trains started from Fort Leavenworth. One large train started from Westport on the 24th of August, 1852, and reached Salt Lake City on the 26th of October.

A peculiar feature of the Mormon migration was the establishment of temporary settlements to serve as stations on the route to the New Zion. So far as is certainly known but one such settlement of consequence was set up in Kansas. It was in Atchison County, just east of the village of Shannon. It was the intention of the church to send many saints by that station to Utah. The station was enclosed by trenches and stockades, and an extensive tract of land was planted to corn, potatoes, and other crops. The products were held for the migrating saints who should be sent that way. At this point cholera broke out in 1849, and many Mormons died of it. The early settlers of that country called the place Mormon Grove, and it is still so spoken of.

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A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans , written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 1998.