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


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THE EXODUS--1879-1880.

In 1865, by an amendment of the constitution, slavery was forever prohibited any place within the jurisdiction of the United States. At the close of the war the Freedman's Bureau was instituted, and continued in operation several years, to furnish some guidance and maintenance to the waiting mass of blacks, and to organize and set in some sort of running order the new system of labor which was to prevail in the South. After a trial of about a dozen years, the growing generation, growing up in freedom, weary of the restrictions and disadvantages under which they continually labored, and excited and in many cases deceived by the attractive stories circulated by parties traveling through the South, who represented to them that by coming to Kansas they would obtain forty acres of land, a mule, and provisions to last a year, felt their condition unbearable at home, and in some cases sacrificed everything in order to raise money to migrate to the promised land of rest and plenty. This condition of things prevailed most extensively in the States bordering on the Mississippi. The scheme of migration was opposed by many of the leading Freedmen--notably by Frederick Douglass--but the desire of a home and a "better chance" to live was too strong to be turned aside by arguments.

On May 7, 1879, a colored convention assembled in the city of Nashville, which was largely attended by delegates from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and South Carolina. The report set forth the various obstructions to the progress of the blacks, during the fifteen years since emancipation, which were attributed to prejudices of color and caste. It recounted the services of their people during the war, and demanded social and political equality. The subject of migration to the new States west of the Mississippi had already caused much excitement among the blacks, particularly in the States bordering on the Mississippi, many of the leaders, notably Frederick Douglass, opposing the movement. At the Nashville Convention, the following resolution was adopted:

Resolved, That it is the sense of this conference that the colored people should emigrate to those States and Territories where they can enjoy all the rights which are guaranteed by the laws and constitution of the United States, and enforced by the executive departments of such States and Territories; and we ask of the United States an appropriation of $500,000 to aid in the removal of our people from the South.

The excitement among the colored people at this time with the consequent disorganization of labor, threatened disaster to the Southern crops, and planters' conventions were held, to devise means to induce the laborers to "sustain their reputation for honesty and fair dealing, by preserving intact until the completion of contracts for labor-leasing which have already been made."

On May 5, there was a large attendance of planters and representative colored men at a labor convention which met at Vicksburg "to adopt such measures as will allay the excitement prevailing, or will enable them to supply the places of those laborers who have gone, or who may hereafter go to the Western States." Among others, the following resolution was adopted:

Resolved, That this convention call upon the colored people here present, to contradict the false reports circulated among, and impressed upon, the more ignorant and credulous and to instruct them that no lands, mules or money await them in Kansas or elsewhere, without money or price, and report to the civil authorities all persons disseminating such reports.

It is apparent from the above resolution, that many of the exodites looked to Kansas with extravagant and baseless expectations, created often by the exaggerated publications in the newspapers, and by the reports of speculators. The first refugees to Kansas reached Wyandotte in the beginning of April. By the 1st of August, over seven thousand had arrived in the State. A relief society was formed, with head-quarters at Topeka, and temporary barricks were erected at North Topeka, for the shelter of those who poured into the city. The following appeal to the friends of the colored people, shows the situation of affairs soon after the arrival of the refugees at Topeka:

TOPEKA, KAN., June 26, 1879.


The directors of the Kansas Freedman's Relief Association, in view of the present situation, deem it proper to make public this address, and ask the friends of the colored people to further aid in caring for the helpless and destitute refugees.

This is a matter not local to our State, but is one of national concern. It involves the solution of a great question, important alike to people of the whole country, and if properly met will go very far to work a cure of the ills of the freedmen of the South. If we prove equal to the occasion, and can assist these people who are seeking homes in the North, and utilize their labor, those who remain behind will discover a kindlier feeling and better treatment in the South.

In organizing this association, we are moved by two controlling motives. The first was one of humanity. Many of them were old and decrepit, and many young and helpless, and with few exceptions were destitute. They were landed on the river banks by hundreds, in the chilly days of early spring, after a long and tedious journey, fraught with hardships and privations. Many were sick and dying from exposure, and many were suffering for food, clothing and medical assistance. The simplest dictates of humanity demand immediate and organized effort for their relief.

Another incentive to meet this emergency was to maintain the honored traditions of our State which had its conception and birth in a struggle for freedom and equal rights for the colored man. She has shed too much blood for this cause to now turn back from her soil these defenseless people fleeing from the land of oppression.

We ave not sought to stimulate or encourage their migration hither. We have always endeavored to place before the colored people of the South the plain facts, hoping thus to properly restrain an improvident hegira based upon delusive hopes and expectations. We have also sought to impress upon them that other Western and Northern states possess equal advantages for homes for the laboring man. In brief, we have undertaken, so far as lies in our power, to provide for the destitute of these people, who come voluntarily among us, the common necessities of life, and to assist them in obtaining situations where they can earn a livelihood.

We have made an effort to establish a colony about fifty miles west of this city in Wabaunsee County. Finding that good land could be bought for $2.65 per acre, we are locating about thirty families on forty acres each. This is university land, one tenth to be paid down, and the balance in nineteen years at seven per cent interest. We have furnished for their use teams and some agricultural implements, built barricks to be used in common, and furnished rations. We also agreed to make the first payment for them. Some ground has been broken and planting done, but it was too late to realize much this season. This is an experiment, and so far seems successful; but it requires more money than we anticipated. The ultimate success of this colony must depend on future contributions. The refugees have established three other colonies--one in Graham, one in Hodgeman, and one in Morris County. The association is not responsible for these, but they will need assistance.

This association has taken charge of, and aided more or less, about three thousand of these people, and there are still here and on the way from St. Louis about four hundred more. We have received money from all sources, $5,819.70. We have expended and incurred obligations for the whole of this fund. A large quantity of clothing and blankets have been received, and we have a large lot of clothing now on hand. What we need is money with which to obtain shelter, medical assistance, and furnish transportation to such places as will give them employment. This we must have, or relinquish all further efforts at organized assistance to these refugees.

The good people who have already so generously contributed to the cause, have our sincere thanks.

All contributions should be sent to Gov. John P. St. John.

JOHN P. ST. JOHN, President.
JOHN FRANCIS, Treasurer.
P. I. BONEBRAKE, Auditor.
ALBERT H. HORTON, Chief Justice.
C. G. FOSTER, United States District Judge.
JAMES SMITH, Secretary of State.
J. C. HEBBARD, Secretary.
WILLARD DAVIS, Attorney General.
J. B. JETMORE, Board of Directors.

In spite of generous efforts on the part of the association the temporary barricks erected in North Topeka became over-crowded, the exodus continuing unabated through the winter of 1879-80, and increasing in the spring. During the winter and spring about $25,000 were expended in relieving them and aiding them to find employment. In March from 250 to 300 landed in Topeka every week, and there had already immigrated into the State between 20,000 and 25,000, increased during 1880 to 40,000. A large number of these remained in Topeka, and have finally made themselves good and comfortable homes, but many were at first entirely incapable and unwilling to do anything for their own support, and had it not been for the energetic and untiring efforts of Mrs. Elizabeth L. Comstock, Mrs. Laura S. Haviland, and Mr. John M. Brown and other benevolent workers, both white and black, their condition, notwithstanding all that had been done, would have been deplorable. During the first year of their residence in Kansas, about $150,000 were contributed to their support, and it was estimated that their total surplus earnings during the same period amounted to about $40,000, or $2.25 per capita. They bought and entered about 20,000 acres of land. The earlier refugees were from Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia and Alabama, nearly all field hands, and incapable of any kind of skilled labor. Those who came in the winter of 1879-80 and later, were mainly from Texas, a portion of whom were forwarded into other States.

The Kansas Freedman's Relief Association, which worked so faithfully for the interests of the refugees, was organized as a corporate body at Topeka, May 8, 1879, and finally dissolved April 15, 1881. The Mission House and Barricks to be closed on and after May 1, 1881.

Prior to the great exodus of 1879-80, colonies of colored people had immigrated to Kansas and formed settlements. In 1873, Benjamin Singleton, President of the Tennessee Real Estate and Homestead Association, came to Kansas to make observations relative to the expediency of forming a settlement of colored people. Being convinced that the conditions were favorable, he returned to Tennessee and brought out his first colony, which he located near Baxter Springs. A committee, of which Columbus M. Johnson was a member, visited Kansas soon after the organization of the Tennessee association in 1869, but although they reported favorably, the people were not yet ready to try their fortunes in a new country. In the fall of 1879 and spring of 1880, a large number of exodites from Tennessee located, under the direction of Messrs. Singleton and Johnson, in Morris and Lyon Counties. These were a very good class, nearly self-sustaining. Mr. Singleton traveled back and forward between Kansas and Tennessee regularly every year from 1875 to 1880, and has been instrumental in bringing to and finding homes for about 10,000 of his people in Kansas. He is now a citizen of Topeka, was seventy-three years of age on the 15th of August, 1882, and rejoices in the title of "Old Pap Singleton" the "father of the exodus." Mr. Columbus M. Johnson moved to Topeka in 1877 as agent of the Tennessee association and is now General Agent of the Freedman's Aid Association of Dunlap, Morris Co., Kan. Dunlap, which point was selected by Mr. Johnson as a suitable location for a colony, is in the Neosho Valley on the line of the Missouri, Kansas & Topeka Railway. There are at this colony two primary schools of sixty pupils each, a school for adults, a business and literary academy, and a sewing school.

The Nicodemus Colony, from Kentucky, located in Graham County in 1877, but was unfortunate in getting settled so late in the season as to be unable to make any provision for the first winter. The site was selected by W. R. Hill, and every freedman was promised a lot for $5. Six hundred of the exodites of 1879-80, located at the place, which is about eighteen miles west of Stockton.

The Little Coney Colony located in Chautauqua County in 1881. It consisted of about fifty-six families, and was assisted to procure land and the necessaries of life by the Relief Association.

The Kentucky Colony was formed in Lexington, September, 1877, with the design of consolidating with the Nicodemus, but finally located in Hodgeman County about twenty-five miles north of Dodge City. It contained about 150 people.


The earliest boats that navigated the waters of the Kaw, aside from the primitive canoes used by Indians, were the "keel boats" introduced by the Chotcaus. One of the brothers, Fred, established a trading-house in 1830 among the Kaws at Mission Creek. He obtained his goods from his brother's establishments at the mouth of the Kaw, and brought them up the river in these keel boats in August, returning the next spring loaded with peltries, which he shipped from Kansas City to St. Louis by steamboat. The boats were rib-made, shaped like the hull of a steamboat and decked over. The width across the deck was usually eight or ten feet and the depth below five or six. They were rigged with one mast, a rudder and four row-locks on each side.

Mr. Chotcau states that in going up the river they averaged about fifteen miles a day, pulling all the time, and that on their return trips, the water being generally low, they were sometimes a month from Mission Creek to the mouth of the river, but in favorable times had gone down in a day. The boats were manufactured in St. Louis and used on the Kaw only by the Chotcaus.

The pioneers of steamboat, navigation on the Kansas River were Capt. Baker and C. A. Perry, owners, and the former the captain of the little steamer Excel, which made several trips to Fort Riley in the spring and summer of 1854 to deliver Government freight. The June trips of the steamer extended some forty miles up the Smoky Hill. The Excel was a stern-wheel steamer and rather too long for river navigation. The return June trip from Fort Riley to the mouth of the river was made in twenty-four hours.

The first steamer that made a landing at Lawrence and Topeka was the Emma Harmon, Capt. J. M. Wing. This boat, which was a stern-wheel steamer, with two engines of 180 horse power, left Lawrence on the 21st of May for Fort Riley, but only ventured as far up as Topeka, which place was reached six days after leaving Lawrence. Capt. Wing, after this experiment, decided to extend his trips no further up the river than Lawrence.

The Financier left Lawrence for Fort Riley about the same time with the Emma Harmon. She was detained by sand-bars between Douglas and Tecumseh, but finally passed up to Topeka, where she received some of the freight of the Emma Harmon and continued up the river toward the the (sic)fort. Capt. Morrison, of the Financier, also became discourage in consequence of the extreme difficulty of navigating the Kansas.

The Hartford arrived from Cincinnati the same month (May, 1855) with passengers, and freight for Junction City. The boat grounded at Manhattan, and after remaining there a week for a rise in the river, sold out freight to the Manhattanites and started down the river. When opposite St. Mary's the boat took fire from prairie fires and was destroyed. The Hartford advertised rates between Kansas City and Lawrence at 75 cents per hundred for freight and $4 for passengers up, and $3 for passengers down the river. A part of the machinery of the Hartford was recovered in 1869, and buried on the shore, it being impracticable in the low stage of water to take it down the river.

The Minnie Bell, of Pittsburgh, made several trips up and down the river in 1858.

In 1859, the steamer Silver Lake, Capt. Willoughby, made several trips, once going as far up as Junction City. The Calona, Otis Webb and the Col. Gus Linn, Capt. Beasly, also made trips to the same point, the two latter unloading and taking on freight at Topeka.

In the fall of the same year, Capt. Nelson, of Wyandotte, made a trial trip in his new steamer Star of the West, but unfortunately got aground at Lecompton and was obliged to remain there all winter.

In June, 1860, the Kansas Valley, Capt. Nelson, landed freight at the levee at Tecumseh. The boat drew only nine inches of water and could navigate the Kaw if any steamboat could. In the spring of 1861 the Kansas Valley entered the "relief service". She started from Atchison on her last trip of this nature, with a forty ton cargo, part of which was landed at Topeka March, 1861, at the foot of Kansas avenue. This cargo was stored in the storehouse at the corner of Sixth avenue and Jackson street, known to Topekans of that period as the "Bean House."

The last steamboat on the river was run by Capt. E. Hensley, of Leavenworth, for a short time between Lawrence and Topeka.


"The spring of 1844 was warm and dry until May, when it commenced to rain, and continued for six weeks - rain falling every day. What is now Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., was covered with fourteen feet of water. The Missouri backed up to the mouth of Lime Creek, and Jersey Creek was backed up to the crossing on the parallel road."

Mr. Henry Harvey, in his "History of the Shawnees," says: "In the year 1844, they were visited by a great flood, which swept off their houses and a large amount of grain; many of their farms were laid waste."

W. W. Cone, in his Shawnee County History, says: "In the flood of 1844, all their houses and boats were washed away, (Papan Bros.) and they all went back to Kansas City to live. * * * During the flood, Maj. Cummings, Paymaster of United States Army, wishing to cross from the south to the north side of the Kaw River (at Topeka), stepped into a canoe at about the corner of Topeka avenue and Second street, and was rowed by an Indian from there to the bluffs, near the present residence of J. M. Harding, in Soldier Township, the water being twenty feet deep over the ground were (sic) North Topeka now stands. One of the Papans lived in a house on the island just above the bridge. This house stood the flood until the water came above the caves, and then was washed away. This island at that time was part of the main land."

The following on the same subject is from a paper prepared for the State Historical Society by O. P. Hamilton, Esq., of Salina:

"The great flood of 1844, of the Lower Mississippi and Upper Missouri fell upon these plains, and evidences were seen as late as twenty years ago, along the Kansas River and its tributaries. Eighteen years ago we were shown by the Papans (French residents among the Kaw Indians living near Topeka), the high water mark of 1844 of the Kansas River, which had inundated the bottoms from eight to ten feet. We do not question the above, as we found the same evidences on the upper tributaries.

On the Solomon River, driftwood, and a carcass (pretty well dried up) were found lodged in trees at a height that would cover the highest bottoms several feet. Driftwood was found along the foot of the bluffs of the Saline Valley, indicating the same high state of water. Evidences of great floods were also found on the Smoky Hill, and the water must have flooded the present town site of Salina, Kan., four feet deep. This great flood was seen by the Indian trader, Bent, located on the Upper Arkansas River, who at the time was on his way to Missouri. He had to follow the divides as best he could. Every river was full from bluff to bluff."

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