William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


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In 1819-20, Maj. J. C. Long, of the United States Topographical Engineers, made an extended, though superficial, scientific exploration of the country lying west of the Allegheny and east of the Rocky Mountains, between 35 and 42 degrees of north latitude, and 80 and 106 degrees of longitude west from Greenwich (3 to 29 degrees west from Washington). The limits thus extended from Pittsburgh on the east to the Rocky Mountains, and embraced in width the whole State of Kansas, southern half of Nebraska and the Indian Territory, lying south.

The primary object of the expedition, unlike those of Lewis & Clark and Pike, was to gain scientific knowledge of the country, which had already been explored and described in the reports of these expeditions. The list of the names of the members of the party, and the capacities in which they served, will show the reader the scientific scope of the undertaking. It is as follows:

S. H. Long, Major I Engineers, commanding expedition.
J. B. Bell, Captain, Lieutenant Artillery, Journalist.
W. H. Swift, Lieutenant Artillery, Assistant Topographer and commanding guard.
T. Say, Zoologist, etc.
E. James, Botanist, Mineralogist and Surgeon.
T. R. Peale, Assistant Naturalist.
S. Seymour, Landscape Painter, etc.
Joseph Bijeau, Guide and Interpreter.
H. Doughearty, Hunter.
Abram Ledoux, Farrier and Hunter.
Stephen Julien, Interpreter.
Zachariah Wilson, Baggage Master.
J. Duncan, J. Oakley and D. Adams, Engagees.
John Sweeney, Private of the Corps of Artillery.
Joseph Verplank, William Parish, Robert Poster, Mordecai Nowland, Peter Barnard and Charles Myers, Privates of the Rifle Regiment, Packhorse Men and Hunters.

Accompanying the full account of this expedition, published by Dr. Edwin James, one of the party, is a map of the territory explored, showing the routes traveled, the location of the Indian villages, courses of the rivers, geological lines as observed, and a profile or vertical section of the country showing the elevations from the Alleghany to the Rocky Mountains. The routes west of the Mississippi, starting from Fort Osage on the Missouri River, were as follows: From that point the main body of the party proceeded up the Missouri by steamboat to Council Bluffs, where they spent the winter of 1819-1820. Dr. Say, with a detachment, left the party to proceed across the country by land to the "Knozas" Village, at the mouth of the Big Blue River, near where Manhattan is now; thence across the country to the villages of the Pawnees on the Platte River, and down the river to Council Bluffs. The expedition was only partially successful. The party left Fort Osage August 1819, and entered Kansas on the 10th, making their first encampment in what is now Oxford Township, Johnson County, some four miles north of the Big Blue Creek, and three miles from the State line. From there the march was along the high prairie from six to fifteen miles south of the Kansas River, through the northern part of Johnson and Douglas Counties, to near Lecompton, where they first encamped on the banks of the Kansas River, on the evening of the 13th. They were here delayed by sickness of members of the party, but, on the 16th, had proceed about seventeen miles further up the river to near where Topeka now stands. There they crossed and recrossed several times, in search of a trail to the Kansas Village, finally crossed to the north bank, traveled through Pottawatomie County and, after passing across `a wide and fertile prairie,' reached Vermilion River on the 19th, and the "Konzas" Village on the following day. They were hospitably entertained by the Indians. On the 24th, they set out on their march northward toward the Pawnee villages. Seven miles of the banks of the Big Blue (Blue Earth Creek is the name given by the narrator) the party were surrounded by a war party of Pawnees, who robbed them of their horses and supplies, and obliged them to return to the Kansas Village Being unable a proper outfit for the proposed journey, and having already had a sufficient taste of the hospitality of the Pawnees they had intended to visit, it was determined to abandon the further proposed route, and make, by the most direct course, for the Missouri, where they hoped to make a junction with those who had ascended the river. They accordingly again set out on the 25th, traveled in a northeasterly direction, through the counties of Pottawatomie, Jackson and Atchison, to the Missouri, which they struck on the 29th, at Isle au Vache (Cow Island), near the present site of the city of Atchison. Unfortunately, the steamboat had just passed up the river, but couriers sent across country to the mouth of Wolf River intercepted it at that point, and, soon after, they joined the main party and proceeded to Council Bluffs, where they established winter quarters.

As Say's party traversed what is now considered the best farming section and most fertile portion of the State, the following excerpts from his report, as descriptive of the country in a state of nature, and the impression it left on the minds of those early visitors, will have more than a passing interest to the reader:

"On the 11th of August, they arrived at some elevated ridges, from which they overlooked an extensive country, and could trace the whole course of the Wahrengo, or Full Creek, diverging slightly from the Konzas, and could readily perceive timber on several of its head branches. The lands between the head- waters of Full Creek and the Konzas are not so good as those about the sources of the Warreruza, and produce less timber. The settlement of this region will be much retarded on account of the want of trees, these being confined to the margins of the water-courses, while tracts of valuable soil, of many miles in extent, have not a single tree or bush upon them. The soil is, however, well adapted to the culture of some of our most valuable forest trees. The sugar maple and several of the most important species of carya, the oaks, the tulip tree and the linden would unquestionably succeed."

Of the Kansas River it is stated: "The Konzas River in this part bears the closest resemblance to the Missouri, both in the turbulence and rapidity of its current and the aspect of the country along its banks, it is, however, so shoal as at almost any point to admit of being forded without difficulty. Willow islands, moving sand-bars, and falling-in banks are as frequent as in the Missouri. The line of forrest which skirts the banks, including the bed of the river, is about a half a mile wide, but not entirely uninterrupted. The course of the river is remarkably serpentine, forming woodland points on both sides.

"On the morning of the 19th, they passed a wide and fertile prairie to the Vermilion, a stream which enters the Konzas from the northwest. It is four feet deep and about twenty yards wide. * * *

"About Vermilion Creek are some open forests of oak, not extending far on either side. The trees are from fifteen to twenty-five feet high, and from one foot to eighteen inches in diameter, standing at a considerable distance from each other."

"In pursuing the most direct route from the Konza Village they crossed, at the distance of seventeen miles, the Vermilion, a small stream bordered with handsome forests. Nineteen miles beyond this, they arrived at the sources of Grasshopper Creek, where they encamped on the evening of the 27th. Here the soil changes somewhat abruptly. The high prairies about the Vermilion and Blue Earth Creeks are barren, almost naked, and inhabited by orbicular lizards. About Grasshopper Creek, the soil is fertile, the grass green and luxuriant.

The soil, superimposed upon these strata of limestone, is a calcareous loam. Near the rivers it is intermixed with sand, this is also the case with the soil of the high prairies about the Konzas Village. In ascending the Konzas River, 100 or 120 miles from the Missouri, you discover numerous indications, both in the soil and its animal and vegetable productions, of an approach to the borders of the great Sandy Desert, which stretches eastward from the Rocky Mountains. You meet there with the orbicular lizard, or "horned frog", an inhabitant of the arid plains of New Mexico. You distinguish also some cacti, as well as many of the plants allied to chenopodium and salsola, which delight in a thirsty, muriatiferous soil. The catalogue of the forest trees belonging to the valleys of this region is not very copious. The cottonwood and the plane tree everywhere form conspicuous features of the forests. With these are intermixed the tall and graceful acacia, the honey locust, and the bondue, or coffee tree, and the several specimens juglans and fraxinus, with pinnated or many-parted leaves."

The united party, as it has been stated, wintered at Council Bluffs, making scientific observations, and in holding councils with the Indians, the most important of which was with the Pawnees who robbed Say, with whom they made a treaty and procured partial remuneration for the robbery. Meantime, Maj. Long visited Washington, and, with fresh instructions, reached St. Louis on his return, April 24, 1820. From there he made the journey overland keeping east and north of the Missouri, to Council Bluffs, where he arrived May 28, having performed the journey in twenty-two days. His orders were to arrest the further progress of the expedition up the Missouri, and to make an excursion by land to the source of the River Platte, and thence, by way of the Arkansas and Red Rivers, to the Mississippi. The party consisted essentially of the same scientific corps and officers as that of 1819, with some changes among the subordinates.

The party left the cantonment June 6, l820. The party first journeyed due west nearly one hundred miles, to the Pawnee villages on the Loup Fork; from thence south to the Platte River, which was ascended to its sources in the Rocky Mountains. Turning south, they skirted the Rocky Mountain Range, reaching the lofty peak which Pike saw but did not ascend in 1807. Here they remained for a few days, during which time party, led by Dr. Edwin James, reached its summit. The ascent was made July 13, 1820. The party continued south to the Arkansas, which was explored by a detachment to its sources in the mountains. After descending the Arkansas some seventy or eighty miles, the main party, under Maj. Long, marched south to the head-waters of the Canadian River, which was followed down to its junction with the Arkansas, a distance of nearly six hundred miles as the river runs.

A detachment, under the command of Capt. Bell, continued down the Arkansas, passing through Southern Kansas on their route. The band consisted of Capt. Bell, Lieut. Swift, Mr. Seymour, Mr. Say, and the interpreters, Bijeen, Ledoux and Julien, with five soldiers. The party commenced their journey July 24, 1820, and reached the western State border of Kansas July 30, followed the river its entire course through the State, passed the Great Bend August 10, and left the State where the river crosses the south line, August 17. They joined Maj. Long September 13 at the mouth of the Canadian River, and the whole party proceeded across the country to Cape Girardeau, on the Mississippi which was reached October 10. The journal of Capt. Bell's journey down the Arkansas was kept by Mr. Say. It is interesting in incident, and details graphically the dangers incurred from roving bands of Indians encountered on the way, and, altogether, gives the impression of an arid and inhospitable country, the fit home of the roving tribes, the innumerable herds of buffalo that were constantly in view, and the prairie dogs, who seemed, in the construction of their numerous villages, to evidence the only marks of civilization.

The results of Long's expedition, though valuable in the general scientific knowledge acquired of the whole country, added little to what was already known of the Kansas region. It will be noticed that Long never entered the State, his main line of travel being through Nebraska, south through Colorado, and easterly through the Indian Territory. Say's detached march through the northeastern counties, as far west as Manhattan, and Bell's journey down the Arkansas, comprise all that was discovered or observed of Kansas. The headwaters of the Smoky Hill and Republican Forks of the Kansas were not visited, and no observations made of the rich country through which they flow.


Before Long's explorations, it was the general belief that the central portion of North America was a vast belt of arid sand, without water, and incapable of sustaining more than nomadic life. Coronado, the first to give report of it, speaks of his journey in search of Quivira as over `Mighty plains and sandy heaths so smooth and wearisome.' Pike also extolled it only as a `terrestrial paradise" for Indians. He designated it as the vast tract of untimbered country which lies between the waters of the Missouri, Mississippi and the Western Ocean, from the mouth of the Mississippi to 40 degrees north latitude.' The reports of travelers and traders who, subsequent to Pike's expedition, traversed the country along the Arkansas and across the sandy plains to Santa Fe, but strengthened the general belief in a Great American Sahara, as yet unexplored, but rivaling its great African prototype in its barren extent. I first appeared topographically, though with limits poorly defined, on the "Map of the Country Drained by the Mississippi", which formed a part of reports of Long's expedition. I embraces all of the territory south of the Platte from the Rocky Mountains east to the junction of the Smokey Hill and the Republican Rivers, and far south into the Spanish possessions. Across and over the area is printed, in large type, "Great Desert", "Deep Sandy Alluvion", and also in smaller type, a piece of information which will be remembered as the only staple geographical doctrine concerning that region, accessible to the school-boy of fifty years ago. It was in these words: "The Great Desert is frequented by roving bands of Indians, who gave no fixed places of residence, but roam from place to place in quest of game. It is easy to perceive how Long and his predecessors in exploration had come to determine this vast tract as desert. Pike's explorations had been largely in the sandy region of the Arkansas, and Long's personal observations only circumscribed the area, being along the sands at the foot of the Rocky Mountain Range, and thence into the sandy plains of New Mexico. Say, who thought he had nearly reached the limit of vegetation, and was on the confines of the Great Desert at the mouth of the Big Blue, because he had there found the orbicular lizard, cacti, and plants delighting "thirsty, muriatiferous soil," was sufficiently near the limited area of the saline district to account for the desert indications he discovered. As he did not continue his explorations westward, his discoveries were assumed to be sufficiently conclusive as to the eastern border of the desert. It so remained in popular belief and on the maps till near the time of the organization of the territory. The subsequent explorations of Bonneville, Fremont, Emory, Parkman, Gunnison, Williamson, Haven and others, each successively reduced its area, and the thorough Governmental survey and opening- up of the country for settlement reduced its proportions to that extent that the "Great American Desert" no longer exists, except in the early geographies. Arid reaches of sandy country are found all along the upper Arkansas, and south, New Mexico, but nowhere in such extent, or sufficiently sterile as the "Great American Desert". Certain it is that civilization has pushed its eastern limit from Manhattan, where Say saw "indications of an approach" to its borders, to beyond the head-waters of the Kansas River, and outside the western boundaries of the State.

Not only has actual survey and settlement reduced the uninhabitable area, and shown the errors of the early explorers, arising from the limited scope of their observations, but further amelioration of the unfavorable features which misled them in their conclusions have been constantly going on since the settlement of the country by civilized men. As the farms increase, and the engines thunder across the plains, and the wires of the telegraph carry the chained lightning in ceaseless current in all directions, the rains fall more copiously, and verdure is seen where none grow before. Thus are the "valleys exalted and the hills laid low, and the desert made to blossom as the rose."


For thirty years after Long's expedition, there were no white dwellers in Kansas, except the Indian traders, the hunters and trappers, and a few missionaries who had settled among the emigrant tribes who came in subsequent to 1830. Of these an account is given in a succeeding chapter.

Across it, however, came to be marked the ways of the innumerable caravans that, from small beginnings, grew to be a ceaseless flow of humanity, moving toward the setting sun. The traders to Santa Fe, the Mormons to Deseret, the emigrants to Oregon, the gold-seekers to California, the soldiers of Kearney to the Mexican frontier -- all began their toilsome journeys across the verdant plains and along the flowing streams and river of Eastern Kansas. The route of Fremont in l842 was up the valley of the Kansas 100 miles, thence across to the Platte in Nebraska, which be- came a favorite route for Western emigrants. In l843, he explored the valley of the `Republican Fork going up, and again, in 1844, he followed it down from near its source to its junction with the Smoky Hill. Thus his expeditions, which are an important element in the history of the Far West, though having objective points far beyond, began or ended in Eastern Kansas, which gradually came to be the threshold of the great highways of the nation. It was estimated that as many as ninety thousand persons passed through Eastern Kansas on their way to the far West during the years 1849 and 1850. But, of all this moving host, seeking homes in a far country, them in the beautiful region through which they passed. Dazed by the enchantment of distance, and the glittering but delusive prospects of fairer lands and brighter fortunes far beyond, the trains moved in an unbroken procession, "through the green pastures and still waters," and across the treeless waste to the land of promise and the place of rest.

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