Ferries in Kansas, Part VI -- Smoky Hill River

by George A. Root

February 1935 (Vol. 4, No. 1), pages 3 to 22
Transcribed by Gardner Smith
digitized with permission of the Kansas State Historical Society.
NOTE: The numbers in brackets are links to footnotes for this text.

ACCORDING to an early edition of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, the word "Kansas" in the Indian vernacular means "Smoky Water."[1] This reference applies particularly to the stream commonly known as the Smoky Hill. Indians who had lived and hunted along this stream for ages considered the Smoky Hill and Kansas rivers one and the same stream.

     The Smoky Hill river is shown on early maps as the River of the Padoucas, from the fact that the stream has its source in territory occupied for ages by the Comanche Indians, or, as they were first known, Padoucas. The earliest reference to the stream we have located is found on D'Anville's map of 1732 which shows the Smoky Hill and Kansas as one river and calls it the River of the Padoucas.[2] A map of British and French settlements in North America, published about 1758, names the stream the Padoucas river. Pike, the explorer, encountered the stream while on his way to the village of the Pawnees on the Republican river, in 1806, and his chart of this trip gives the name as the Smoky Hill, this being, so far as we have discovered, the first mention of the stream under this name, though the name must have attached some time prior to his visit. John C. McCoy, who surveyed the Shawnee lands in Kansas in 1833, reached the river at a point about 200 miles west of the Missouri state line, and he called it the Smoky Hill. Schoolcraft, the historian, called the stream the Smoky Hill or Topeka river; Fremont called it the Smoky Hill Fork; and Max Greene, in his The Kansas Region, published in 1855, mentions the river, and says the Indian name for it was "Chetolah." The Plains Indians had another name for it, calling it the "Okesee-sebo."[3]

     James R. Mead, an early hunter, trapper and trader on the plains during the latter 1850s and 1860s, has the following regarding the origin of the name. "The Smoky Hill river takes its name from the isolated buttes within the great bend, landmarks widely known, to be seen from a great distance through an atmosphere frequently hazy from smoke."[4]

     George Bird Grinnell, the historian, has a different version of the origin of the name. He says that a large grove of cottonwoods about twenty-five miles west of old Fort Wallace, an old camping ground and burial place of the Indians along the river, was a landmark in that locality and could be seen for miles. At a distance those trees appeared like a cloud of smoke, thus giving rise to the name Smoky Hill, which he said was given by the Indians.[5]

     In 1926 the topography of the Smoky Hill basin, which lies alongside the river, about four miles southeast of Sharon Springs, Wallace county, underwent a sudden and startling change. As the account of this convulsion of nature has a bearing on the origin of the name of the river, it is given here along with other interesting data. On the morning of March 9, between seven and eight o'clock; the bottom suddenly dropped out of the basin, leaving a gaping hole about 150x100 feet in size, and over a hundred feet deep. Old-timers remember when the Smoky Hill basin was a bottomless pool twenty-five or thirty years ago. Since that time through some mysterious workings of nature, the pool filled up with shale and clay. John T. Steele, of Abilene, writing to the editor of The Western Times, of Sharon Springs, in its issue of March 18, 1926, said:

     I am going to tell you some ancient history with which you may not be familiar, about the basin, a part of which is an echo of Indian tradition that has been handed down to us about the peculiar phenomena of the Smoky Hill disappearing like it does, at what we call the basin. John Robb, who as you know, was a scout at Fort Wallace, told me thirty years ago, that the Indians were to a certain extent very suspicious of the place. And that it was reported by them that the pool at the basin had no bottom.
     He said "that some soldiers in 1876, from the Fort, who had absorbed some of this Indian tradition, came out to test the truth of their statements. They had 500 feet of rope which he saw lowered into the pool at the basin, to which was added several lasso ropes contributed by interested cowboys, and that in all about 630 feet of weighted rope was let down in a vain attempt to touch bottom."
     In March of 1913, I think it was, I visited the basin and was surprised to find it dry, except for a pool in the northwest side, about sixteen feet in diameter. The temporary bottom was less than twenty feet below the usual water level, and this small pool contained a ton or more of frozen fish.

     The Kansas City Star sent a correspondent to the scene who stayed a week to report any changes. He stated that a strange blue haze hangs over the narrow bed through the summer, and suggested that perhaps the Indians who named it saw smoke issuing from the pool through volcanic action. Within a couple of weeks the cave-in had attained startling proportions, being at least 450 feet long from east to west and 300 feet north and south. From the east line of the cave-in it was 150 feet down to the water line, and the water by actual measurement was 180 feet in depth.[6]

     The Smoky Hill in the early days traversed the center of the finest hunting country east of the Rocky Mountains. Along the stream and its various tributaries immense herds of buffalo,[7] and countless deer, elk, antelope and smaller game fed. For years it was considered a hunter's paradise. Every year hunting parties of the various Plains Indians went there on their annual hunts, to kill and cure sufficient meat to last till the next hunting season. There was an abundance of game for all, and plenty of fuel to smoke the meat, and much of their meat must have been cured and dried within sight of those high hills known as the Smoky Hill Buttes, that lie in the south central part of Saline county. Inasmuch as this locality was such a favorite camping place for the Indians, is it not within the range of probability that the name of the stream was suggested by the hazy or smoky atmosphere that hovered over the tree tops of this most favored of the camping and hunting grounds on the river?

     On account of the abundance of game along the stream the Indians were reluctant to surrender this territory to the white men, and many battles with the Indians resulted as the white settlers encroached on their hunting grounds. In 1867 a treaty was held on Medicine Lodge creek, with the Kiowas and Comanches, at which time these tribes signed a treaty of peace agreeing to withdraw their opposition to the building of a railroad up the Smoky Hill and Platte rivers.[8] In 1868 a treaty was made with the Sioux, Arapahoes and other tribes, who, while agreeing to withdraw opposition to the building of a railroad across the plains, reserved the right to hunt on the Republican Fork and the Smoky Hill.[9]

     In ordinary years the Smoky Hill is not a large stream, the channel gradually narrowing as the stream is ascended. At Lindsborg, 109 miles above its mouth, the width at average low water is fifty feet. The highest water of record in the stream was in May, 1903, when it reached 31.5 feet at this point, flood stage being at 20 feet.[10]

     Gauging stations have been placed at several points on the lower river. The earliest, at Ellsworth, was established April 16, 1895, those at Lindsborg and Abilene on August 1, 1904, and the latest at Enterprise, in November, 1934. The river was out of its banks at a number of places during the flood of 1903 in the Kaw valley, while on several occasions during 1907 and 1908, the stream ceased to flow.[11]

     During the summer of 1868 a prolonged drouth prevailed along the watershed of the Smoky Hill and its tributaries, and the Smoky had fallen to a low level. It is reported that on one particularly hot day that summer a large number of thirsty buffalo reached the river in what is now McPherson county. Driven by thirst the first animals to reach the water were soon driven out by others following, these in turn being crowded out by the vast herd bringing up the rear. As a result they drank the river dry on this occasion. This herd was described as covering an area thirty miles in length, and containing hundreds of thousands of buffalo.[12]

     The Smoky Hill practically bisects all that portion of Kansas west of Fort Riley and, with the exception of the Arkansas river, has a greater mileage within the state than any other stream. The river is formed by two branches which rise in eastern Colorado. One, the north branch, has its source in Kit Carson county, and the other, the southern branch, starts in Cheyenne county. The North fork enters Kansas in Sherman county, makes a turn towards the southeast and joins the other branch in Logan county. The South fork enters Kansas in Wallace county, and flows practically east across almost three-fourths of the state. It traverses the counties of Wallace, Logan, Gove, Trego, Ellis, Russell, Ellsworth, McPherson, Saline, Dickinson and a portion of Geary, and unites with the Republican on the Fort Riley military reservation to form the Kansas river. The stream is about 530 miles long and has a drainage area of 57,727 square miles.[13]

     The name of the individual who started the first ferry across the Smoky Hill above the mouth appears to have been lost to posterity, but the ferry, no doubt, was located close to Fort Riley. Col. Percival G. Lowe, of Leavenworth, who saw much service on the plains, mentions having crossed this stream on a poor ferry in 1854, at which time the ferry was located about a mile above the junction with the Republican. His account, however, failed to mention the name of the proprietor.[14]

     Samuel Bartlett operated the first licensed ferry on this stream above its mouth. This authority was granted in 1857 and was the first ferry license issued by Davis (now Geary) county. It was located northeast of Junction City, and the license cost $10 a year, with ferriage rates as follows:

     Two-horse team, mules, oxen or asses, 50 cents; each additional team, 20 cents; every buggy, or one-horse vehicle, and horse, mule or ass, 30 cents; every horse, mule or ass, and rider, 20 cents; each horse, mule or ass, led, 10 cents; for footmen, 10 cents; for cattle, 10 cents; for sheep, hogs and freight, the court left the charges for the parties to agree on.[15]

     By 1859 Bartlett had a competitor. The Kansas Weekly Herald, of Leavenworth, of March 26, 1859, says: ". . . A short distance above the mouth of the Smoky Hill Mr. Patterson has a good ferry boat in which one can cross to the north side of the Smoky Hill and reach Junction City, the first town west of Fort Riley."

     No further mention of Patterson's ferry has been located.

     The Herald of the same issue also published the following concerning Captain Bartlett's ferry: "A fine boat has recently been launched by Captain Bartlett, whose rate of tolls has been established by the citizens of the town. By this ferry a choice of roads may be taken, on the north or south side of the river."

     Bartlett presumably operated his ferry to the satisfaction of all, as no record of complaint has been located. In 1860 he endeavored to secure a special charter from the territorial legislature, at which time the following bill was introduced:

     AN ACT to Charter a Ferry across the Smoky Hill River in Kansas Territory. Be it enacted by the Governor and Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Kansas:
     SECTION 1. That Samuel Bartlett, his heirs and assigns are hereby authorized to keep a ferry across the Smoky Hill river at the crossing of the Junction City and Lyons creek roads, in Kansas Territory, and shall have the exclusive right and privilege of keeping a ferry at said point and within two miles each way up and down the river, from said points for and during the period of ten years from the passage of this act.
     SEC. 2. That the above named Samuel Bartlett, his heirs and assigns shall keep a good and substantial boat or boats in constant readiness at said ferry, to be properly manned and attended and kept in good repair.
     SEC. 3. That the tribunal transacting county business for the county in which said ferry shall be situated is hereby authorized to determine and fix the rate of ferriage across the said river from time to time as may be deemed proper, and a list of the same shall be posted at the ferry landing or on the boat or boats so used and any fees extorted beyond the rate established shall work a forfeiture of all the privileges under this act.
     [SEC. 4]. This act to take effect and be in force from and after its passage.

     This bill was introduced in the council by Senator Woodward and was passed February 10. The house of representatives added some amendments and passed it. These amendments were concurred in by the council. For some unexplained reason, however, the bill never became a law.

     In 1860 Bartlett built a new boat and started a second ferry. While the Junction City paper made no mention of this fact, commissioners' records of July 4 recite: "Ordered that the ferry of Samuel Bartlett on the Smoky Hill near Junction City be charged license at the rate of ten dollars per annum and that the upper ferry be exempt from license."[16]

     Apparently some individual nursing a grudge at Captain Bartlett, or blessed with a perverted sense of humor, cut the cable one night and the ferry boat drifted away. Upon its recovery the Union of November 25, 1861, had the following to say regarding the incident:

     Captain Bartlett[17] has at last restored to his famous crossing of the Smoky Hill the magnificent boat which he had built last spring to accommodate the traveling community. It had been for some time past four or five miles down the river, some villain having cut the rope. It is now on duty, and with such a commander who would doubt the safety of a trip across the Smoky Hill, as turbulent as it is.

     Evidently some of the ferry operators in the county were delinquent in taking out ferry licenses from the county. Under date of July 3, 1860, appears the following brief entry: "W.H. McKinley, bill for services notifying ferrys to take out license. Allowed. $2."[18]

     It is not known how long Bartlett's ferry was operated, since there was scant mention of ferry matters in early commissioners' records. However, it must have been operated up to some time in 1862.

     The following, relating to Davis county ferry matters, is something of a puzzle, as no further mention of the matter has been found. Commissioners' records of April 5, 1861, recite:

     We the undersigned commissioners having in consideration the granting of a ferry license in the case of John Lawrence vs. ______ Sage, deside that we have no rite to grant License to any person over a charterd privilege and therefore deside that Sage has the Legal wright to run said ferry on compliance with the Law regulating his charter.
Signed Wm. Cuddy, chmn
J.L. Wingfield
J.H. Brown[19]

     By 1863 there appeared to be a lack of ferry accommodations on the Smoky Hill. The Junction City Union of February 28 called attention to the matter, stating that both the Smoky Hill and the Republican rivers were free of ice, and that preparations should be made immediately to place a boat on the Smoky Hill, as the spring rise in that river would soon shut off communication with the whole southern country unless precaution was taken and a boat placed on the river at once.

     From 1863 to 1866 no mention of ferry matters on the Smoky Hill in Davis county has been located.

     L.B. Perry succeeded to the ferry at Bartlett's crossing. The Union, of March 9, 1867, stated that he "has placed a ferryboat on the Smoky Hill river at Bartlett's crossing, and the consequence is we see so many familiar faces whom the 'drouth' has kept from our view for some time past."

     On March 13, 1867, Mr. Perry made application for a license to operate a ferry at the crossing of the Junction City and Council Grove state road.[20] His application was placed on file.[21] On May 4, following, Mr. Perry received his license, issued for a period of six months, the commissioners fixing the following rates: "Six mules, or six horses and wagon, 75 cents; 4 mules or horses, 50 cents; 2 mules or horses, 35 cents; 2 horses and buggy, 25 cents; 1 horse and buggy, 20 cents; 1 horseman and horse, 15 cents; 1 footman, 10 cents; sheep or hogs, each, 5 cents. Ten cents for each span of horses or mules above six.[22]

     Very little in way of a history of the Perry ferry on the Smoky Hill has been located. In the Union of June 8, 1867, there was the following item: "On Tuesday Perry's ferry boat across the Smoky Hill sunk while crossing with an ox team. The river was on a rise. One yoke of cattle were drowned."

     As a bridge was built close to the ferry location during 1867 it is likely Perry discontinued his ferry before the expiration of his license.

     Junction City had been an important road center from the time the town was established. It was on the most direct and practicable route from Leavenworth and Wyandotte to the frontier posts of central Kansas, and to the mountains and Santa Fe. The Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Express line up the Kaw Valley ran through Junction City and westward for some distance on the north side of the Smoky Hill, branching toward the northwest at a point in Ottawa county.

     In the Kansas Statesman, Junction City, June 30, 1860, appeared the following notice regarding highways:

     Notice is hereby given that a petition will be presented to the Board of County Commissioners of Davis County, K.T., at the July session A.D. 1860, for the viewing, laying out and establishing a county road from Island City by the way of the present crossing of Dry Run creek and Bartlett's ferry, on the Smoky Hill river to Junction City. (Signed) "Many Citizens."

     Under date of July 3, 1860, the commissioners' proceedings of Davis county recite "Petition for road was presented to start from Island City to Junction City, by the way of Bartlett's ferry. Fox Booth, Robert Reynolds and Joseph Walters said reviewers, to meet at Island City, on July 14, 1860, to view and establish said road."[23] In 1861 the legislature established three roads affecting Junction City, the first being a state road from Atchison to Junction City, by way of Holton and James' crossing; the next from Junction City to Topeka, and the third from Council Grove to Junction City.[24] On January 5, 1863, a petition was presented to Davis county commissioners for the establishment of a road from the Morris county line to Bartlett's ferry. This communication was filed and acted upon later when Christian Wetzel, C. Boyer and Chas. Roesler were appointed viewers to meet on the first Monday in February, following, at Bartlett's ferry.[25]

     In April, 1863, an effort was being made within the county to establish a road from Bartlett's ferry, via Dry creek, Clark's creek and Davis creek to Junction City. In 1864 two post roads were established from Junction City, one running to Denver and the other to Fort Kearney, Neb.[26] The legislature of 1864 established three roads affecting Junction City. One ran from Junction City, via Pooler's[27] crossing and Lyon's creek to Marion Center; another from Junction City, via Abilene and Salina to the Santa Fe road, and the third from Junction City, via Quimby's to Clifton.[28]

     The legislature of 1865 established five roads affecting Junction City, the first starting from that town and running by way of Lyons creek to Marion Center; another from Junction City in a southerly direction up Lyons creek to the northwest corner of township 4, range 4, thence in a southerly direction to the Santa Fe road, at or near where said road crosses the Cottonwood river in Marion county; another ran from Junction City northwestward on the south side of the Republican river to the mouth of Buffalo creek in Shirley (now Cloud) county; another ran from the town of Batchelder, Riley county, to a point on the Solomon river, A.B. Whiting, A.H. Towle and Seymour Ayres being commissioners selected to lay out this road; another was established to run as nearly due west as practicable from Junction City to the western boundary of Kansas. The road from Junction City to Council Grove was shortened, while a state road was established from El Dorado, via Chelsea, Butler county, and Cedar Point, Chase county, to Junction City.[29]

     In the commissioners' proceedings of Davis county, November and December, 1865, there is some reference to the report of the commissioners selected to lay out a state road from Junction City to Marion Center. The county commissioners accepted the report of the road commissioners, excepting such portion as related to Pooler's ford. The county commissioners maintained that a county road was already laid out on the section line, nearly connecting Pooler's ford and Junction City, and that it was situated on equally as good ground as that selected by the road commissioners.[30]

     In February, 1866, Capt. Alfred C. Pierce surveyed a state road from Junction City to Sibley, in Cloud county. This year the legislature authorized the location of a state road beginning at the southern terminus of Adams street, in Junction City, thence on the most practicable route and ground to the northeast corner of section 15, township 12, range 5 east, in Davis county; thence on the most practicable route and ground to intersect the Davis county road at the county line between Davis and Dickinson counties at or near the present residence of O.O. Bridges. J.W. Woodward, Geo. W. Taylor and George Bates were commissioners selected to locate this road.[31] The road from Topeka to Junction City, on the south side of the Kansas river, and the location of the state road running from Council Grove to Junction City were changed by the legislature of 1867.[32]

     The route up the Kansas and Smoky Hill rivers to the mountains had long been recognized as the shortest one, and compared to the Platte river highway of Nebraska, to Denver and other towns in the Colorado gold fields, was some 116 miles shorter between the Missouri river and those points, David A. Butterfield, projector of the Butterfield Overland Despatch had employed Lieut. Julian R. Fitch to make a report on the practicability of a route up these streams for freighting purposes, and in his report Fitch pointed out the advantages of the Smoky Hill route, which was the shorter one and had no sand to contend with, while on the Platte route from Julesburg to Denver, a distance of 200 miles, the freighter or emigrant had a dead pull through sand, without a stick of wood or a drop of water, save the Platte itself, which was from three to five miles from the road. When it was taken into consideration that a loaded ox team makes but from twelve to fourteen miles a day, and never exceeds sixteen, it would not pay to double that distance by driving to the Platte river for the only water in the country, for the purpose of camping. There was plenty of timber by the Smoky Hill route; also, nature had bountifully supplied this route with an abundance of bois de vache (buffalo chips), which was always cheerfully chosen by the tired emigrant in preference to cutting timber for a fire.

     The Smoky Hill valley route was becoming more and more popular. Partisans of this highway were not backward in contrasting its advantages with those of the Platte river. A comparison of this sort when railroad building was started was published in the Leavenworth Times, and republished in the Junction City Union of April 27, 1867, as follows:


     There is no concealing the flood disaster of the road from Omaha west, and no mistake as to the snow difficulties it has had to encounter. Nor are these accidental. Every year they come, with less or greater severity; but with severity enough to deluge the plains of the Platte with water, and fill the gaps and ravines with snow. Nature will forever forbid this road being the main track west.
     Old trappers and early pioneers, for the last nine years, have insisted upon the Smoky Hill being the best, whether regard should be had to difficulties or benefits -- to danger from climate, or advantages -- such as water, fuel, etc., on land.
     Rough surveys followed. The first was made, mainly, at the expense of the city of Leavenworth, years ago. That gave a promise; still it was not thorough enough to satisfy the enquiring, or give confidence to the timid. The second was fuller; more satisfactory. It convinced most persons interested in the west that the Smoky Hill was the route, and a few of the bolder pioneers tried it with success. Still old habit, regular stations, "being in company with each other," made the body of the plainsmen hug the Platte route. Nor was it until Isaac Eaton, Esq., passed over the Smoky Hill, established stations on the line, and then proved its superiority, that the public admitted it. That fact is now settled.
     On Saturday night our road -- the Pacific, E. D. -- was finished to Salina. The commissioners will visit and examine the last finished portion of the line, and report. That report will reach Washington, in all probability, by Thursday or Friday, and the cars will run from Leavenworth to Salina.
     Fort Harker will be the next point, and the warm July sun will witness this line completed. Onward is the word! Westward, the iron girder bears the increased and increasing weight of trade and travel.

     With the establishment of roads, the settlement of the country quickly followed, and naturally there came a demand for bridges over the Smoky Hill. The year 1860 saw the first move in this direction by private interests, the legislature that year granting to the Smoky Hill Bridge Company exclusive rights, for fifteen years, for building and maintaining a bridge across the river between the mouth of Lyons creek and the line of the Fort Riley military reservation. This company included P.Z. Taylor, John T. Price, William Cuddy, James B. Woodward, W.W. Herbert, Robert Wilson, James R. McClure and James P. Downer. This company was capitalized at $25,000, but aside from this charter accomplished nothing else.[33]

     Apparently the first bridge across the Smoky Hill in Davis county was built by Samuel Bartlett, and was completed early in December, 1861.[34] Just how long this bridge stood we have not learned. However, by 1866 a movement for a free bridge to be located at Bartlett's ferry began to take shape. On January 6, A.W. Callen, J.B. Woodward and James Brown were appointed a committee to measure the Kansas [Smoky Hill?] at Bartlett's ferry, at the point where the Topeka and Junction City road crossed the stream, and to draft a plan of a bridge and make an estimate of the cost.[35] During the session of the legislature that year a bill was passed authorizing Davis county to issue $20,000 in bonds for bridge purposes, the county having decided to build the structure.[36] At a meeting of the county board on July 2 the commissioners ordered $20,000 of bonds issued for construction of this bridge, which was to be built of lumber and to be guaranteed against damage or destruction by water for five years.[37] The bonds were duly issued and offered for sale, but as only one bid was submitted for building the bridge, the commissioners decided not to let the contract at that time.[38]

     On February 10, 1867, a second Smoky Hill Bridge Company was organized at Junction City, with S.M. Strickler as president; O.J. Hopkins, secretary, and H.F. Hale, treasurer. Directors of the company included H.F Hale, Robert Henderson, O.J. Hopkins, James R. McClure, S.M. Strickler, W.C. Rawolla and Bertrand Rockwell. The company proposed to construct a Howe truss bridge, which was to be located on the river near the mouth of Lyons creek. The new structure was to cost $18,000, of which amount $7,000 was raised in Junction City. The contract was let to Marsh, Hilliker & Co., who were to take one-half of the contract price in cash, and receive stock in the enterprise for the balance.[39] Work on the bridge began some time in March, the Union of March 30 containing the following paragraph:

     The pile driver is vigorously at work preparing foundations for the Smoky Hill bridge, and while speaking of this, we must take occasion to confess our ignorance of the geography of our own county. The Smoky Hill bridge does not cross at the mouth of Lyons creek, but two or three miles below it, at the crossing of a state road. We understand they have found a very hard bottom. The stone is about prepared to be set in. We will tell more about it after Hilliker gives us that ride up there.

     This bridge is said to have been completed by the Fourth of July but not accepted from the contractors until the December following.

     During March, 1867, the county commissioners again took steps for the erection of a bridge over the Smoky Hill, near the Fogarty dam. This site was between Bartlett's ferry and the first bend up the river.[40] The contract was let to Marsh, Hilliker & Co, for $17,500, and work was to be "pushed as fast as the season and the erratic disposition of that stream" would permit. Work started about the first of April, following, and was completed by September and accepted by the county.[41] Evidently the contractors did a rather poor job of construction work, for the county board subsequently notified the contractors that the bridge was in an unsafe condition, in need of repairs, and that the county would hold them responsible.[42]

     By 1871 a move was started for free county bridges. During July, a fund of $2,000 was subscribed in Junction City to be used toward the purchase of the Smoky Hill Bridge Company's bridge. The company wanted $10,000 for the structure, but the county refused to pay more than $8,000. About the first of September, following, the company transferred title to their bridge to the county.[43] Junction City enjoyed a lively freighting business during the early days. During the period preceding the Civil War much of the supplies for the frontier posts was shipped out via Fort Riley, Junction City and up the Smoky Hill valley for Rocky Mountain points and to Santa Fe. After the war broke out the Santa Fe trade from Westport, Mo., was almost entirely wiped out by plundering of caravans by bushwhackers and others. As a consequence, the bulk of this trade started westward from Atchison and Leavenworth, which points were comparatively free from molestation of this sort, and went southwest to the Santa Fe trail after leaving Fort Riley.

     With the inauguration of the Butterfield Overland Despatch line in 1865, the freighting from Junction City received an added impetus that summer, and with the addition of a daily line of stages to the mountains that frontier town was made one of the liveliest settlements west of the Missouri river. In June, 1866, a line of stages was also running from Junction City to Santa Fe.[44] In November, following, the Union Pacific was completed to Junction City, after which date the bulk of freight for the West went by rail to that point, where it was transferred to wagon trains and carried to its destination. By 1867 this trade had so increased in volume that a meeting was held at Strickler's hall, Junction City, during March, for the purpose of securing a better road than the one up Lyons creek as then located. A road up the divide between Lyons and Turkey creeks was suggested by the Union as one that would require less upkeep than the one then in use on Lyons creek, which crossed that stream no less than six times. The Union stated there was a strong disposition manifested to enforce the collection of the road tax to meet the expenses of improving the roads, while a willingness was also indicated to have the roads repaired in any event.[45] That the roads were bad at this time, the following from the local paper would indicate:

     Late in February, 1867, a Mr. J.O. Austin, of Albuquerque, N.M., spent a day or two in Junction City, while on his way to Boston. He reported a large number of New Mexican trains on their way in, for whom he was acting as a sort of route agent. He also reported a few cuts on the road between Junction City and Fort Larned that needed repairing immediately.[46]

     About the middle of March, following, the agent of Chick, Armijo & Co., of St. Louis, probably the largest dealers in the Santa Fe trade and who were operating a store in Junction City, and also building a warehouse on the railroad, reported that during the next eight months Junction City would be the point for trans-shipment of freight destined for New Mexican points. He called attention to the fact that it was of the utmost importance to know the best route to and from this point. The road already selected by Merrick, Parker, Armijo, Guttman, Romero, Bata and other extensive freighters, is that across the Smoky Hill at what is Bartlett's ford or Perry's ferry, opposite Junction City -- the road being along Lyons creek, or on the divide between that and Clark's creek, striking the Santa Fe road at Lost Springs. A Howe truss bridge was being built across the Smoky near the mouth of Lyons creek at this time, which was to be completed within ninety days.[47]

     Late in March two trains of provisions, etc., were started for Santa Fe, one belonging to Messrs. Parker and Merrick and the other to Mr. Romero. Within a week two trains from that point reached Junction City. At this time it was estimated that 1,500 wagons would be employed during the summer to transport government freight alone from Fort Riley, and end of the railroad to the various government posts.[48]

     In January, 1866, the Smoky Hill was impassable for teams. A thaw early in the year raised the water to such an extent that skiffs were resorted to. Many freight wagons were detained at different points awaiting a chance to proceed.[49] During the spring of 1867 high water in streams beyond Junction City caused considerable inconvenience. Chapman's creek, in the eastern part of Dickinson county, seemed to furnish its full share of trouble. Early in February a couple of teams had to swim the stream, and on the morning of February 16, the Santa Fe coach was obliged to unload its cargo and swim the stream.[50] This condition obtained as late as April following, tying up railroad activities as well, as may be judged from the following in the Union of April 20:

     Freight, mails and passengers have had a terrific time in attempting to go west by train during the past two or three days. Some days the trains don't come or go. When they do, there is no knowing at what time of the day or night the occurrence will take place. One of the consequences is a good deal of heavy waiting at the depot. The old reliable Kansas Stage Company is the only sure means of transit to the west at present.

     Six miles west of Junction City was Kansas Falls, the most westerly town in Davis county on the Smoky Hill. The town was organized September 10, 1857, by F.N. Blake, E.P. Burgess and John Harvie, and was incorporated by the legislature of 1858. This location was noted for its famous "Seven Springs" and "Mair's Springs," popular camping places for travelers and freighters who traveled the Smoky Hill route. A mill was operating at this point in 1859, run by a man named Biggs (or Riggs), who probably ran a ferry in addition. During the session of the 1858 legislature, a bill was introduced in the council for the establishment of a ferry at this place, but it failed of passage. The town was also the beginning of a mail route via the Smoky Hill to Bent's Station, with service twice a month.[51]

     Some time during 1866 Jonas K. Bartlett started a sawmill in this vicinity, cutting native timber, which apparently found a ready sale with the early settlers. He also installed a ferry in connection with his mill, as his patrons included those living on both sides of the river. The Junction City Union of August 4, 1867, had the following mention of this enterprise:

     We were at Bartlett's mill the other day. Overcoming countless difficulties, the institution is now in running order, and sawing large bills every day. It is located on the Smoky Hill, about seven miles above town, in a large body of timber. High water has annoyed Bartlett to such an extent that he has put in the river a good ferry boat, and the freighting interests between town and the mill has got to be quite heavy.

     A tragic incident occurred on his ferry late in May, that year. Three Negro deserters from the Thirty-eighth U.S. infantry arrived at the Green Lamb crossing[52] of the Smoky Hill on the afternoon of May 27, 1867. They crossed over and called at several houses. Finding men at home at all of these places they did not linger. When asked what they wanted they replied that they were looking for deserters. They finally started off, making their way down the river. About two miles below Green Lamb's[53] they reached the home of P.J. Peterson, where they asked for something to eat. Food being given them they inquired of Mrs. Peterson the whereabouts of the men. She replied that they were in the woods. On learning this, one of the Negroes seized her, dragged her into the basement of the house and ravished her person. Having satisfied his own passions he called for his two comrades to come down, but Mrs. Peterson broke loose from her black assailant and fled, shouting loudly for help. A posse composed of about fifty citizens soon spread over the prairies and started a search for the fiends. The three men were later overtaken on a ferryboat near Bartlett's mills by the posse, which began firing on them. One of the Negroes was killed instantly on the boat; another jumped into the river and was killed; the third ran into the woods, but was overtaken and killed and his body thrown into the river. The posse then disappeared, leaving the bodies to float down the river.[54]

     Some time after the foregoing tragedy Bartlett apparently moved his mill farther up the river, this time over into Dickinson county, an advertisement published in the Union of November 9 following stating that the mill was located about two miles above the mouth of Chapman's creek.

     Chapman's creek, about seven miles west of Kansas Falls and about three miles over the line in Dickinson county, was the next stream to be crossed in going up the Smoky Hill river on the military road. For that reason the history of that stream is given here. The first settlement in Dickinson county was made on this creek in 1855, but the stream, however, had a name bestowed by the Indians many years before, being known as the Nish-co-ba -- meaning Deep Water.[55] The stream later received the name of Chapman's creek, but when it was bestowed, by whom, and for what particular Chapman has not been learned. In times of flood the Indian name has been found to be a most truthful one, as the following incident will illustrate: In June, 1869, a cloudburst which occurred on the headwaters of the creek swept down stream, and at the crossing of the military road the waters were said to have been at least fifty feet deep. The whole country for miles around was submerged, crops destroyed and thirteen lives lost.[56]

     The highway up the Smoky Hill crossed Chapman's creek near its mouth and here in 1859 the government erected a substantial oak bridge.[57]

     During the special session of the territorial legislature of 1860 a bill was introduced in the council for the purpose of establishing a ferry across this creek. The bill passed the council, but was received by the house so late in the session that further action was not taken.[58]

     The next ferry location above Bartlett's mills was at Newport, about five miles upstream. Abram Barry, a representative in the legislature of 1859, introduced House bill No. 81, an act to establish a ferry at Newport.[59] This town was platted in 1857 by the Newport Town Company, composed of N.P. White, Doctor Gerot and D.M. Rulison. This was the first town platted in Dickinson county, and was located on the E 1/2 S. 3, T. 13, R. 3. The following year it became the temporary county seat, the town comprising three log houses built on the public square, one of which was called the court house. Twenty votes were polled during an election held at this place in 1859.[60] The State Historical Society possesses a town-lot certificate of Newport, dated July, 1857, in its manuscript collection.

     It would seem that a ferry would have been a convenience for Abilene during its cattle-shipping days. However, no record of any has been located. As all county clerk's records were among those destroyed in the disastrous fire of January 17, 1882, there is no way of checking up on ferry licenses issued. By an examination of newspaper files, however, we learn that steps were taken toward securing bridges as early as 1870. In February, 1871, during the construction of an iron bridge across the Smoky Hill, the structure collapsed and fell into the river when both arches were nearly up. No one was seriously hurt.[61] The Nationalist, of Manhattan, had the following item regarding the completion of this bridge: "Iron Bridges. The new iron bridges across the river at Abilene and Hoffman's mills are finished and open to travel. People on the south side can now reach the county seat without fording or ferrying the river.

     About 1866, Newton Blair started a ferry on the Smoky Hill just below the junction of the Solomon river, in the extreme western part of Dickinson county, and operated it for about a year.[62] This ferry location must have been in use up to about 1872, during which year iron bridges were completed at Chapman and Solomon.[63]

     In 1859 Reuben R. Stanforth was granted a charter by the legislature for a ferry across the Smoky Hill at the point where the military road from Fort Leavenworth to Bent's Fort crosses that stream. This crossing was just above the junction of the Smoky Hill and Solomon rivers. This charter was granted for a period of thirteen years, and Stanforth and his assigns were to have exclusive right of landing upon either bank of the stream at the point named and for a distance of two miles above and below. They were to keep sufficient boats to do the necessary crossing and keep the same in good repair; his rates were to be the average of those charged on the several ferries on the Kansas river. He was required to post a bond as required by law. This act also carried rights for the construction of a bridge over the Smoky Hill, the same as were accorded to the Lawrence Bridge Company. This act was approved by Gov. Samuel Medary, and was to take effect and be in force from and after its passage.[64] No further record of this ferry project has been located.

     The next ferry location upstream was at Sabra, Saline county. This town was laid out shortly after the close of the Civil War, and had a post office in 1867, with C.W. Davis as postmaster. The town's exact location has not been determined; however, it was three and one-half miles from Solomon river, on the line of the Kansas Pacific Railroad and 170 miles west of the Missouri river. Sabra is shown on Ado Hunnius' "Map of Kansas" as being a short distance west of the town of Solomon, and evidently located between the mouths of the Solomon and Saline. On November 9, 1866, the Smoky Hill Bridge and Ferry Company was incorporated, its promoters being Frederick E. Cushman, H.L. Sitler, Silas Bullard, Charles W. Davis, John W. Kelso, Richard M. Wimsatt and Fred Rawolla. The company proposed to maintain and operate a bridge or ferry over the Smoky Hill river, between its confluence with the Solomon and the Mouth of the Saline. The capital stock of the company was placed at $50,000, in shares of $50 each. The principal office of the company was to be at Sabra. This charter was filed with the secretary of state December 3, 1866.[65] Sabra has long since been numbered among the dead and forgotten towns.

     Salina was the location of the next ferry, which was started in the fall of 1858. This ferry had quite an interesting history. In 1854 or 1855 the government built a bridge at the Smoky Hill crossing, located a mile or two southwest of present Kanopolis, Ellsworth county. This structure went out during a flood in June, 1858, and much of the timber used in its construction drifted downstream as far as Salina, where it was salvaged by Alexander M. Campbell, who was operating a trading post on the river. That fall Mr. Campbell and James Muir built a ferryboat, using this salvaged timber for that purpose, and putting their boat into use late in the year. The ferry location was where Iron avenue crosses the river, this point being also the end of the Phillips road which followed the divide south of the Kaw and Smoky Hill rivers from Lawrence to Salina. The old government road was in the valley, and in wet weather it was a difficult route to travel, so most of the settlers used the Phillips road, as they could not get into Salina from the east unless they forded the river. Campbell's ferry was a free ferry, the only institution of the kind in that part of the country, and was operated until the completion of a bridge across the river near the old landing place. Some of the old-timers say they used the ferry as a bridge when the river was low, and as a ferry when the river was up. Mr. Campbell was a member of the town company, built the first house on the townsite -- a one and one-half story log structure, keeping a store and living in the lower portion, while the upper part was used as rooming quarters when transients stopped for the night. On the establishment of a post office he was appointed postmaster and kept it in his store, serving in that capacity for the next forty years. During the time he operated his ferry he also did much trading with the Indians, and also hunting. There were times when he was absent from the new town, and it so happened on more than one occasion some travelers or freighters arrived on the opposite shore who wished to cross. On these occasions Mrs. Campbell was equal to the emergency, and untying the boat she poled it across to the opposite side of the river where the individuals who wished to cross assisted in making the return trip. This ferry was operated for about nine years.

     During the early days of the new town, it was not an uncommon sight to find the few women residents gathered at the ferry to do the usual family washings. The water of the Smoky Hill was much softer than well water and required the use of less soap.

     On Sunday afternoon, December 10, 1933, the Saline county chapter, Native Daughters of Kansas, marked the ferry site with a granite marker, which was inscribed in a unique way, with colors blasted into the stone to make a picture. The marker was placed at the point where the traffic across the river ascended, this being a short distance south of the bridge, and on the Union Pacific right-of-way, Salina to McPherson. Officials of the railroad cooperated with the Native Daughters in order to make the view of the marker from the avenue unobstructed.[66]

     The Salina Bridge and Ferry Company was organized in the spring of 1867 for the purpose of building bridges or operating a ferry on the Smoky Hill in the vicinity of Salina. The incorporators were David Beebe, George H. Dell, J.N. Deitz, J.F. Deitz, and David Yarnall. Their charter specified that they have exclusive rights on the Smoky Hill beginning at the northeast corner of T. 14, R. 2 W., and running up the Smoky Hill through the village of Salina to the southwest corner of township and range above specified. This charter was filed with the secretary of state March 26, 1867.[67] Presumably this company never made use of its charter.

     Ellsworth county may or may not have had a ferry at some time. On December 6, 1866, the Ellsworth Bridge and Ferry Company was organized. The incorporators included Philip D. Filker, Thomas D. Slocum, H.D. McMilkee, Wallace McGlath, J.R. McClure, O.J. Hopkins and D.F. Molan. It was the intention and purpose of the company to operate a bridge or ferry over the Smoky Hill river between the western boundary of the Fort Harker military reservation (formerly Fort Ellsworth) to a point on same river two miles west of said reservation. The principal office of this company was located at Junction City. The capital stock of the enterprise was listed at $10,000, in 200 shares of $50 each. This charter was filed with the secretary of state January 7, 1867.[68] No further mention of this enterprise has been located.

     Assistance in the preparation of this sketch was given by Mrs, A.M. Campbell, Jr., Mrs. Nelson H. Loomis, Judge J.C. Ruppenthal, Roy F. Bailey, editor of the Salina Journal, and others, to whom the writer extends thanks.


1. Junction City Union, January 5, 1867.Return to reading

2. Copy of original map in the Kansas State Historical Society.Return to reading

3. Junction City Union, August 6, 1864.Return to reading

4. Kansas Academy of Science, Transactions, v. 18, p. 215.Return to reading

5. Kansas Historical Collections, v. 17, p. 198.Return to reading

6. The Western Times, Sharon Springs, March 18 to April 29, 1926.Return to reading

7. Kansas Historical Collections, v. 11, p. 606.Return to reading

8. Ibid., v. 16, p. 770.Return to reading

9. Ibid., v. 16, p. 771.Return to reading

10. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Weather Bureau, Daily River Stages, Part 9, p. 77, Part 10, p. 83.Return to reading

11. Ibid., Part 9, p. 7; Associated Press dispatch, November 10, 1934.Return to reading

12. McPherson Republican, June 3, 1932.Return to reading

13. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Weather Bureau, Daily River Stages, Part 11, p. 112.Return to reading

14. Kansas Historical Collections, v. 7, p. 113.Return to reading

15. Davis county, "Commissioners' Journal," Book 1, pp. 2, 3.Return to reading

16. Ibid., Book 2, p. 87.Return to reading

17. Samuel Bartlett is listed in the 1860 "Census of Davis County," page 53, as being 28 years of age, and a native of Maine. He had real estate listed at $1,000 and personal property at $200. He was a younger brother of William K. Bartlett, a prominent early-day businessman of Junction City.Return to reading

18. Davis county, "Commissioners' Journal," Book 1, p. 65.Return to reading

19. Ibid., Book 2, p. 6.Return to reading

20. The Junction City and Council Grove state road crossed the Smoky Hill a little northeast of Junction City on the NE 1/4 5 S. 7, T. 12, R. 6 E. The original survey of this road, including plat and field notes, is in the Archives division of the Kansas State Historical Society. The survey was made by Thomas White, county surveyor of Morris county, and the plat was drawn by Davies Wilson.Return to reading

21. Davis county, "Commissioners' Journal," Book 2, p. 231.Return to reading

22. Ibid., p. 241.Return to reading

23. Ibid., Book 1, p. 63.Return to reading

24. Laws, Kansas, 1861, pp. 247, 248.Return to reading

25. Davis county, "Commissioners' Journal," Book 2, p. 64.Return to reading

26. Junction City Union, May 6, 1876.Return to reading

27. The "Census of 1860" for Davis county, page 60, 1~8 lists L. Pooler as being 48 years of age and a farmer. He was a native of Vermont. His wife, S.A. Pooler, was born in Connecticut and was 45 years old. The couple had eight children.Return to reading

28. Laws, Kansas, 1864, pp. 205, 206, 208.Return to reading

29. Ibid., 1865, pp. 142, 143, 145-148.Return to reading

30. Davis county, "Commissioners' Journal," Book 2, p. 173.Return to reading

31. Laws, Kansas, 1866, pp. 221, 222.Return to reading

32. Ibid., 1867, pp. 247, 250.Return to reading

33. Private Laws, Kansas, 1860, pp. 31, 32; House Journal, 1860, special session, p. 402.Return to reading

34. Junction City Union, December 12, 1861.Return to reading

35. Davis county, "Commissioners' Journal," Book 2, p 190.Return to reading

36. Laws, Kansas, 1866, pp. 66-69; Junction city Union, May 6, 1876.Return to reading

37. Davis county, "Commissioners' Journal," Book 2, pp. 198, 199.Return to reading

38. Junction City Union, August 4, 1866.Return to reading

39. Ibid., February 18, 1867; May 6, 1876. Leavenworth Daily Conservative, February 20, 1867.Return to reading

40. Davis county, Commissioners' Journal, Book 3, p. 28.Return to reading

41. Junction City Union, March 15, October 5, 1867; May 8, 1876.Return to reading

42. Davis county, "Commissioners' Journal," Book 3, p. 32.Return to reading

43. Junction City Union, May 6, 1876.Return to reading

44. Wilder, Annals of Kansas, p. 433.Return to reading

45. Junction City Union, March 16, 1867.Return to reading

46. Ibid., February 23, 1867.Return to reading

47. Ibid., March 16, 1867.Return to reading

48. Ibid., March 30, 1867.Return to reading

49. Ibid., January 20, 1866.Return to reading

50. Ibid., February 16, 1867.Return to reading

51. Andreas, History of Kansas, p. 1005. Gunn & Mitchell's Map of Kansas, 1859. Kansas Historical Collections, v. 7, p. 580; v. 8, p. 410; v. 11, p. 562. Everts' Atlas of Kansas, p. 144. Lawrence Republican, June 21, 1860.Return to reading

52. This location was about nine or ten miles above Chapman's creek, and about three miles beyond Newport, the county seat of Dickinson county, according to an authority in the Lawrence Republican March 17, 1859.Return to reading

53. Andreas, History of Kansas, page 685, states that Green Lamb settled in Dickinson county in 1857 or 1858. In 1860 he became county surveyor. The census of Dickinson County for 1865, lists him as a resident of Township No. 1; farmer: age 26 years, and a native of Ohio. His wife, Julia, 22, was also an Ohioan. Mr. Lamb may have been a son of William Lamb, an early resident of Dickinson county, who was a native of North Carolina; married Julia ________, of Ohio, and raised a family in that state. One of the early townships of Dickinson county was named for the Lamb family. Green Lamb was still residing within the county in 1875, the census of that year listing him as a resident of Center township post office at Enterprise. He had a family of three children at this time -- two daughters -- nine and one years old, and a son aged three.Return to reading

54. Junction City Union, June 1, 1867.Return to reading

55. Letter of John C. McCoy to F.G. Adams, July 5, 1883.Return to reading

56. Junction City Union, June 26, 1869.Return to reading

57. Kansas Weekly Herald, Leavenworth, March 26, 1869.Return to reading

58. House Journal, 1860, special session, p. 133; Council Journal, 1860, special session, pp. 656, 657.Return to reading

59. House Journal, 1859, p. 72.Return to reading

60. Andreas, History of Kansas, p. 685. Kansas Historical Collections, v. 3, p. 124. "Dickinson County Clippings," v. 1, pp. 178, 179, 200, in Kansas State Historical Society's library.Return to reading

61. The Kansas Gazette, Enterprise, May 19, 1876; Waterville Telegraph, March 3, 1871.Return to reading

62. Letter of Walter A. Grogger, Solomon, to author.Return to reading

63. The Kansas Gazette, Enterprise, May 19, October 19, 1876.Return to reading

64. Private Laws, Kansas, pp. 119, 120.Return to reading

65. Corporations, v. 1, pp. 242, 243; Polk's Kansas Gazetteer, 1878, 1880.Return to reading

66. Salina Journal, December 11, 1933.Return to reading

67. Corporations, v. 1, p. 309.Return to reading

68. Ibid., pp. 261, 262.Return to reading

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