Transcribed from:
Gray's Doniphan County history: A record of the happenings of half a hundred years. By P. L. (Patrick Leopoldo) Gray. Bendena, Kan.: The Roycroft Press, 1905. 3p. l. [11]-84, 166, [2] p. front., plates, ports. 24 cm.




The Kaws on the Missouri in 1724.


Centuries ago mention was made by the French explorers of the large or main village of the Quans", on the southwest bank of the Missouri river, about thirty leagues above the mouth of the "Quans" river. The Quans were the Kanza or Konza Indians, from whom our state derived its name. They were visited by De Bourgmont, in 1723, and again in 1724, while on his famous expedition to the Padoucas. The exact location of this noted old village of Bourgmont's time has, herefore, never been definitely determined, although the ruins of the old town on the Missouri were observed and mentioned by explorers and travelers for many years subsequent to the early French explorations.

After carefully studying all available data bearing on the subject, including the chronicles of most of the early explorers who mention the old village, and thoroughly examing the whole region along the Missouri river north of the Kansas, I have concluded that the historic old town of Doniphan, five miles north of the city of Atchison, was the prehistoric capital of the Kaws. The historical, topographical and archaeological evidence adequately sustains such an opinion. Before going into details I will succinctly give a few of the more important reasons for my belief that the old Kansas village was so located:

First---Doniphan corresponds approximately with the distances that the early explorers place the old village above the Kansas and Little Platte rivers, and other definite points on the Missouri. Second---Lewis and Clark, and other explorers, who saw the remains of the old town, explicitly state that it was a mile, or a little above, Independence creek. Third---Doniphan is the most ideal situation for an Indian village in that region, and the only desirable site for such a village within a mile of Independence creek to the north. Fourth---The fine prairies, which may be seen from points several miles below; the bend in the river, and other natural features at or near the old village site as recorded by the early explorers are identifiable with the present townsite of Doniphan and vicinity. Fifth---The large amount of archaeological material, the prehistoric relics, the graves and other such remains found at Doniphan and vicinity indicate unmistakably that it was an important seat of aboriginal occupancy. Sixth---OId settlers of undoubted reliability have seen on the Doniphan townsite numerous hut rings or lodge circles of an ancient Indian village, and from their descriptions of the same they were exactly similar to those of the later day villages of the Kansas Indians at Manhattan, Valencia, Council Grove and other places, denoting the hemispheric earthen hut, that these Indians are known to have always constructed as their dwelling places.

Bourgmont is very indefinite as to the location of the Kaws, but Renoudiere, in his memorandum of the exposition, says that thirty leagues above "Quans" river, "a small river flowing from the north is found; here is the great village of the Quans, consisting of 150 lodges adjoining the Missouri. There are fine prairies to the south and many mountains to the west." It is evident that this chronicler of the Bourgmont expedition mistook Rock creek for the main continuation of Independence creek, The general course of the Independence is from a westerly direction, but about a mile and a half above its mouth it takes a sharp turn to the south, flowing straight in this direction for nearly a mile when it makes another acute turn to the east for about one-half of a mile to its mouth. That part of the channel extending north and south is almost on a straight line with that of Rock creek, the merging of the Independence basin with that of Rock creek making a clearly defined valley much more prominent than the main valley of Independence from Rock creek westward. Coming as it does from the prairie the Independence valley at this point is not so noticeable as that of Rock creek which is bordered by high hills, or "many mountains", as Renoudiere saw fit to term the prominent elevations lying west of the Kansas village. Any person not acquainted with the country, looking north from near the mouth of Independence, would readily take the valley of Rock creek for the main trend or continuation of Independence valley. The "fine prairies" mentioned by Renoudiere, are readily noticeable off to the south and southwest of Doniphan. In fact, the country south and west of Doniphan tallies almost exactly with the description's given in the journals of the expedition; for instance, Bourgmont mentions that a half league southwest of the Kansas village a small river was passed. Independence creek is just about that distance southwest of Doniphan. In another account we find that shortly after leaving the village they "marched about a league and a half along a river coming from the southwest." Deer creek comes into the Independence near its mouth, from a southwesterly direction.

On July 4, 1804, Lewis and Clark discovered a stream about fifty yards wide, which they named Independence, in honor of the day. To quote their journal, they "came along the bank of an extensive and beautiful prairie, interspersed with copses of timber and watered by Independence creek. On this bank formerly stood the second village of the Kaws. From the remains it must have been once a large town." On this bank stood the village" signifies on the bank of the prairie, and not on the bank of Independence creek, for in another place in their journal (p. 1258 Coue's Lewis and Clark) they designate "a mile above Independence creek" as the situation of the old village. If the village was anywhere within a mile of the Independence to the north, it must have been where Doniphan now stands, for that is the only desirable location for an Indian village, within that distance from the creek. Shortly after leaving the old village site Lewis and Clark passed a small stream which they called Yellow Ochre creek, from a bank of that mineral a little above it. About three miles above Doniphan, at Geary, there empties into the Missouri a small stream called Brush creek, which was doubtless the "Yellow Ochre" of Lewis and Clark's day, for the "bank" of that mineral from which they so named the stream is visible "a little above" the creek as they stated. C. B. Roundy of Geary, once sent some of this mineral substance to he examined by experts, and they pronounced it "ochre of poor quality."

Sergeant Floyd, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, in his individual diary, speaks of Independence creek coming out of an "extensive prairie, open and high, which may be seen six or seven miles below." Brackenridge, in 1811, also mentions the fine view of the prairies and the old village site, which could be obtained from below. The country about Doniphan may be seen very plainly from the Atchison bridge, and even as far down as the bend of the river, several miles below Atchison. John Bradbury, in his "Travels in the Interior of America," 1809-10-11, mentions going ashore at the old Kansas village and noting the great fertility of the soil and the abundanance of hops, but is indefinite as to its location. However, taking into consideration the natural features of the country, as depicted in that portion of his journal leading up to the old village site, they correspond pretty closely to existing topographical conditions, and point consentaneously with the narratives of Lewis and Clark and others, to Doniphan, as the seat of Kaw occupancy in Bourgmont's time. H. M. Brackenridge, in the journal of his voyage up the Missouri in 1811, mentions the old village as follows: "High prairies southwest side - continued under sail through another long stretch (of prairie) and had a fine view of the old Kansas village at the upper end of it. It is high prairie, smooth waving hills, perfectly green, with a few clumps of trees in the hollows. It was formerly a village of the old Kansas nation. . . But for the scarcity of wood this would be a delightful situation for a town. At this place the bend of the river rendered the wind unfavorable." He also mentions the old Indian pathways along the sides of the hills and down to the river. Luther Dickerson and other early settlers recall that these old Indian paths or trails were plainly visible, leading out in almost every direction from Doniphan in the early days, and some of them, where not too much disturbed by cultivation, may yet be observed. Major Stephen H. Long, while on his celebrated expedition to the Rocky mountains in 1819-20, says that after leaving Isle an Vache, "we proceeded in the course of the day about twenty-three miles and encamped at night near the entrance of a small stream called Independence creek. A little above, (Independence creek) and on the south side of the river, is the site of an old Konza town, called formerly the 'village of the twenty-four.'" Major Long in his journal and on his map, places the old village "a little above Independence creek," or at about the present townsite of Doniphan. Major Long is the only one of the early explorers who alludes to the old Indian town as the "village of the twenty-four." I have somewhere seen it alluded to as the "village of the Big Four." The reason for those appellations seem to be obscure, or at least, I can find no explanation of them. Isle an Vache, or Cow island, is in the Missouri river, near the southern line of Atchison county. Councils were held with the Kaw Indians on this island in 1819, and later, when the tribe lived on the Kansas river.


Hon. Luther Dickerson, who is generally known as the "oldest inhabitant" of this region, says there can be no doubt about the site of Doniphan having been occupied by an Indian village in prehistoric times. Mr. Dickerson came here in June, 1854, and often visited the present site of Doniphan before the pioneer settlers selected it as a townsite. He says that the old Indian lodge circles, with fire pits in the center, were plainly visible in many places in Doniphan in the early days. These were especially noticeable where the public school building now stands. The earth in many places was intermingled with charcoal, ashes and other debris of the Indian village. Mr. Dickerson says that as near as he can remember the rings or circles where the Indian wigwams stood and which were quite numerous, were about twenty feet in diameter, and in the center of each was a cavity filled with ashes and charcoal. Professor Say, who visited the Kansas Indians in their village near the present town of Manhattan in 1819, says that the ground area of each lodge was circular, and that the fireplace was a simple, shallow cavity in the center of the apartment. On the Kansas river, wherever the Kaws had their later day villages, these circles in the earth are still to be seen.

Judge W. H. H. Curtis of Troy, who was one of the early settlers of Doniphan, in response to inquiries, writes that from his own observations, as well as from the statements of the late James F. and John W. Forman, the Doniphan pioneers, he is convinced that Doniphan was the site of an important, Indian village. "I have heard James F. Forman and his brother, John W. Forman, talk about the ancient village," says Mr. Curtis, and further adds that they were firm in the belief that ancient Indian village existed there. The Forman brothers came to that vicinity as Indian traders long before Kansas was open for settlement. They surveyed and platted the townsite of Doniphan. Mr. Curtis' own observations lead him to believe that the ancient village "circled around the spot where, Doniphan now stands; or more correctly speaking, the village must have been in the form of a crescent, extending from east, to west, at the north outskirts of what is now the townsite propety . . . When a boy I saw many Indian relies near Doniphan," continues Mr. Curtis, "and I know of many others who have found axes, arrow and spear heads, human bones, and what appear to have been old burying grounds both east and west of Doniphan."

Isaac F. Weyer, the "village blacksmith" of Doniphan, who his lived there forty-three years, also recalls having heard the Forman brothers speak about the remains of an ancient village at Doniphan and says he has always heard a tradition that there was once a large Indian town at or near that place. W. H. Nesbit, one of the founders of Doniphan, says that at an early day large masses of charcoal, pottery and other burnt substances were exposed by the caving or washing away of the banks of the small creek which flows through Doniphan. He also says that the rock shelters or small caverns in the sides of the high bluffs about Doniphan contained the bones of Indians, with pottery vessels, arrowheads, etc. The late T. L Ingels of Atchison, who was as well acquainted around Doniphan as any other man, and who was a close observer along natural history and archaeological lines, wrote me May 27, 1904: "I should think from the number of graves and stone relics found in and about Doniphan that it was vastly populated at some time in the past. Not only on the George Brenner land, but throughout the old townsite the loose stones scattered about over the surface and even under the surface, show marks of fire." Mr. Ingels has done much prospecting for water and drilled many wells in that vicinity and had excellent opportunity for observation. The writer once found a lot of burned stones, together with burned earth and pottery fragments, exposed by the caving of the creek bank just south of the public school building in Doniphan. On another occasion I found a hammer stone projecting from the bank nearly two feet below the surface. While strolling along the main street of Doniphan on Ootober 19, 1903, I picked up three flint arrow points, and observed numerous chips or spalls of dint that had washed from a small gully at one side of the thoroughfare. The late Richard Dempsey, an old resident, and for many years road supervisor in that vicinity, informed the writer that in making grades on the roads he had occasionally turned up baked clay, charcoal, potshards and fragments of stone implements. When the roadbed of the old A. N. railroad was made through Doniphan in 1869, the workmen in grading unearthed similar material, and at the present time there is frequently picked up, from the dirt which was thrown out along this grade, arrow points, hatchets, etc.

The late Frank Kitzmiller of Highland, under date of April 20, 1894, wrote me: "I have been informed by several parties that many Indian relics have been found at Doniphan, and from what I can learn it must have been once occupied by an Indian village. I understand that the rubbish of the old tepees is occasionally met with in digging trenches and making other excavations. One man there has promised to bring me a lot of stone relics which he had plowed up in the town of Doniphan." Mr. Kitzmiller had an interesting collection of Indian relics gathered in Doniphan county. Mrs. Jane Spencer says that in making excavations on her farm just north of town pottery has been unearthed. Mrs. Spencer came to Doniphan with her late husband in 1855. At that time there was evidence of an Indian graveyard on the land which they pre-empted and on which she still lives. Many wagonloads of loose limestones were hauled from a field on their farm, She had observed many Indian relics and has several in her possessionnow. Thomas Langan reports numerous evidences of Indian occupancy on his farm near Doniphan. James A. Dunning of St. Joseph, Me., formerly of Doniphan, writes that Indian relies were so very common there in the early days that but little attention was paid to them. "I have gathered my hat full of arrowheads on the creek bank; also stone axes and war clubs by the dozens. Years after, in plowing over my father's farm, we have picked up beads and pottery, the latter being similar to those I have seen from cliff dwellings." Joseph Geisendorf says he has found many stone relics on the same farm. Charles Kuch, the postmaster at Doniphan, says that the boys have gathered innumerable arrow points on the land occupied by the Brenner vineyard, and N. G. Brenner corroborates this statement and says he has found hundreds of them himself on the same ground.

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Indian burial mounds and graves are numerous on the hills sourrounding[sic] Doniphan. External evidences of many of these sepulchers have been obliterated, but here and there may still be seen limestone slabs set in the ground in regular order or piled up irregularly, to mark the last resting place of same aboriginal denizen of Doniphan. In some instances these graves may belong to the Sacs and Foxes, or other modern Indians, but it is believed that the majority of them belonged to the ancient Kaws. Rev. Issue McCoy, a missionary among the Western Indians at an early day, speaking of the Kaw, methods of burial, says: "They frequently deposited the dead on or near the surface and raised over the corpse a heap of stones." Hon. George P. Morehouse, of Council Grove, who has seen and studied the Kaws, when they lived at that place, says that he has often noticed their graves, usually on top of some near bluff or high ground, and that they were often covered with slabs of limestone. Mrs. Mary J. Forman, widow of the Doniphan pioneer, John W. Forman, writes from Canton, Mo.: "On the hill west of the John Forman residence (since owned by George Brenner) there were indications of an Indian graveyard, piles of rocks seeming to have been used as monuments or to mark some place of note." Mrs. Jane Spencer mentions similar graves on her farm at an early day. L. Clem, who has lived in that vicinity about thirty years and who has hunted throughout that region, observed many such piles of stone when he first located there. Luther Dickerson says there are several small mounds on land belonging to J. P. Brown of Atchison, on the river bluffs south of Independence creek. H. J. Adams of Leroy, Kan., a son of the late Secretary Adams, of the Kansas Historical Society, who formerly lived near Doniphan, while digging a cellar on the crest of a river bluff south of Independence creek, in 1869, exhumed the skeleton of an Indian. It was about two feet below the surface and covered with stones. James Eylar reports several graves just north of Doniphan, and at the same neighborhood "firepits on top of the river bluff, in which are charred bones resembling those of human beings." He also mentions a grave on Independence, creek west of Doniphan in which was found a human skeleton, together with a small headless image and some beads. There were also traces of fire in this grave. Farther west, on the Apid farm, are other graves, near which have been found many stone axes.

Several years ago the writer, accompanied by T. J. Ingels of Atchison, and C. A. Bruner of Oak Mills, opened a stone mound on the high hill west of Doniphan, but it had either been despoiled of its contents by relic hunters or else the descendants of the dead warrior had removed his remains to another place, for not even a human bone remained in it. Early settlers recall having seen the Indians come to this place at an early days, and, after weird ceremonies, exhume the remains of dead Indians and carry them away. Where they came from and whither they went was never learned.

On another hill on the farm of John Myers, near the junction of Independence and Rock creeks, the writer, assisted by J. B. Loftin, an intelligent citizen of that vicinity, explored an Indian mound. This mound was originally covered with stones, but most of them had been removed by Mr. Myers in cultivating the land. The contents of the mound consisted of human remains, badly charred by fire, pieces of burned wood and charcoal, numerous glass, porcelain and bone beads, two silver (?) finger rings, a silver breastplate, fragments of silver ear bobs, fragments of a copper bracelet, fragments of an iron kettle, fragments of an old-fashioned decorated porcelain plate, fragments of bone instruments, a piece of steel evidently used for a fire striker, many flint spalls and some particles of vermillion, all in a confused mass. Everything indicated that this was the remains of a "scaffold" or "tree burial," which, after tumbling down, had been swept by prairie fires and later gathered up and deposited, without regularity, in a stone sepulchre.


The writer has examined many Indian village sites in Kansas, but there has never come under his observation a more ideal location for a permanent seat of aboriginal habitation than at the old townsite of Doniphan. Situated about midway of the great western bend of the Missouri, or the grande detour of the Missouri, as the French voyageurs called it; encircled by a chain of high hills, with a gap on the east which afforded the villagers a splendid view of and easy access to the river, and through which they could readily perceive the approach of an enemy on the water; while the overtowering hills at almost every point of the compass provided natural watch towers where they could guard against the encroachment of a foe from the broad prairie that stretches off in every direction; a small stream flowing through this natural basin, fed by several fine springs, afforded a constant supply of fresh water to the occupants of the village, while just over the divide to the west and southwest three larger streams, one of them navigable for canoes, unite before mingling their limpid waters with the murky Missouri. Surrounded by every natural advantage and resource, Doniphan is an ideal dwelling place for either savage or civilived man. The old Kansas Herd Book thus describes it: "Doniphan stands where the corkscrew Missouri makes a sharp turn to the west and is hurled bank upon itself by a high wooded bluff. To north and south rise heavily timbered bluffs, dipping to form the level bottom upon which the town lies nestled from the prevailing storm currents of winter." Hon. Sol Miller's famous historical edition of the Kansas Chief says that Doniphan is one of the finest natural townsites on the Missouri river. Brackenridge, one of the old explorers, speaks of it as "a delightful situation for a town."

Early Reminiscences.


About Christmas, '53, 1 learned that a man at Wathena, then Bellemont, wanted a hand to work and as father could easily spare me, having a large family of sons, he consented to my going over to see what I could do, On January 10, 1854, I crossed the Missouri river at Bellemont on the ice, walking from St. Joseph, and engaged to Ben Harding to herd cattle and split rails. A young man by the name of Chase was working for Mr. Harding at the time. He had come from Indiana just previous to this time. We split and prepared several hundred rails, Mr. Harding assisting us at this work. These rails were used by Mr. Harding on his place. Many people younger than I well remember Mr. Harding's rail fence along the Troy and Wathena road, between his house and the Bryan farm. This fence stood until live years ago, when Mr. Harding had it torn down and replaced with a wire fence, but between each two new posts a rail was driven for a post, and this fence is now standing in this February, 1904, just fifty years since we split them. It was some time in the '80s that Mr. Harding told me that these were the same rails that Chase and I helped him split. Rather a long time to use a rail, isn't it? But dear modern reader, don't think the rail fence was torn down in 1899, because the rails were rotten. On, no; those old oak rails were good for another fifty years; it was because rail fences in general have been supplanted by the inventions of the age.

We worked there until March, when Chase accompanied me home to father's where we engaged in breaking hemp, a well known occupation at that time, now unknown to younger people. We crossed the river in a skiff with the mountain ice running, Chase said "worse than when Washington crossed the Delaware."

In January, 1854, Douglas' bill to organize Kansas and Nebraska as territories came before congress. Mr. Harding advised us to come back when the bill passed and take claims in the bottom, where the Chautauqua grounds are now situated, but we only partly followed his advice as will be shown. Father was a subscriber to the St. Joseph Weekly Gazette; we didn't get the daily by R.F.D. in those days, and in April it teemed with editorial advice to young men to go over and take claims, so sure was its editor that the bill would pass. Father advised us to secure a piece of land, so we rode horse-back, crossed the river at St. Joseph on a flat boat, and took the California trail for the Mission at Highland, and stopped over night with Thomas Vanderslice. This was May 10, 1854. On the next day we crossed Wolf river a little above Leona, and put up notices of our intentions. This was on Squaw creek just over the line in Brown county. From the first biennial report of the state board of agriculture, page 121, I quote, the following: "First settlement, Robinson township, May 11, 1854. Thurston Chase and James N. Gibbins took claims, on Wolf river. From the best information obtainable these two persons were the first settlers within the present limits of Brown county." This was nineteen days before Douglas' bill passed and I was just 20 years old.

We took a southeast direction after we put up our notices and came into the Pottawatomie trail at Bendena, going on home that night. On June 10, we hitched three yoke of oxen to a wagon, stuck in a plow and struck out for Wolf river; arrived there without adventure; broke one acre of sod on each of our claims and planted corn and melons. We peeled elm bark for a roof on Chase's pole cabin and cut large logs and started a foundation for my cabin. We left our names carved in various planes, mine on the top of the logs of the cabin. Strange, but we had selected cliams about one and a half apart. On my claim was a beautiful grove of timber on rather high ground and from my enduring signs left, I am told that it was known for years afterwards as Gibbins' grove. We left for Missouri about the 25th of June and camped at Cottonwood Springs, (Hugh Finklea's) near Troy. The next morning we were in no particular hurry to start, wishing our cattle to graze well, and we had not hitched up yet, when four men rode up on horses, each carrying a rail on his shoulder. Seeing they were much concerned at our presence and guessing that they meant to stake claims right there, we asked them where they were bound. The leader replied that they had reached their destination. We, of course, made them believe that we had preceded them and run the joke as far as we liked, when we told them we had been out on Wolf river and staked out claims. This leader was a lawyer of St. Joseph, afterward Gov. R. M. Stewart of Missouri. He addressed me, asking my name and where I lived. He had been over a day or two before and selected this spot for a claim and was coming back to lay a foundation with the four rails, the other three men coming along to carry the rails and look at the country and perhaps seek locations for themselves, I never learned their names nor saw them afterwards that I know of. Stewart said be would give us $10 if we would break out an acre of sod for him. We took his offer and he threw a $10 gold piece to me, saying, "I do not want to wait here until you finish the plowing. I know if you are Dick Gibbins' son, you'll plow it." He turned and rode away. We broke out the acre and returned home the next day. I am confident this was the first claim in Doniphan county and, not counting what people were at the Highland agency and Mr. Harding at Wathena, who had settled as Indian traders before the country was opened, I broke the first furrow in what is now Doniphan county."