Ferries in Kansas, Part VII -- Saline River

by George A. Root

May 1935 (Vol. 4, No. 2), pages 149 to 154
Transcribed by Gardner Smith; HTML editing by Name withheld upon request and Susan Stafford;
digitized with permission of the Kansas State Historical Society.
NOTE: The numbers in brackets are links to footnotes for this text.

The Saline river rises in the southwest corner of Thomas county and flows practically east, crossing Thomas and Sheridan; it barely touches the southwest corner of Graham, and crosses Trego and Ellis counties; it makes a turn to the southeast into Russell, and crosses over into Lincoln county; then it traverses the southwest corner of Ottawa and the northern part of Saline counties, to join the Smoky Hill about a mile from the village of New Cambria or about six miles east of Salina. The stream is about 285 miles long [1] and drains an area of approximately 3,311 square miles. [2]

     The earliest printed reference to the stream we have located was by Etienne Venyard de Bourgmont who, on October 18, 1724, while on a visit to the Padouca Indians, records: "We found a small river where the water was briny." [3] This could be none other than the Saline river. Just how early the stream was called the Saline we have not learned. Pike, the explorer, crossed the river while on his way to visit the Pawnee village in 1806. [4] Carey's Atlas, published in 1817, names the stream the "Grand Saline,"while Colton's Map of Kansas, for 1857, called it the "Grand Saline Fork" The stream derives its name from salt springs which impregnate its waters. [5] The water, however, is said not to be salty above the mouth of Salt creek, Russell county. [6]

     The United States Geological Survey describes the Saline as sluggish and with a bed composed of sand and mud. A gauging station was established at Salina, May 4, 1897, which was discontinued November 30, 1902. [7]

     The Saline river traverses a section of the finest farming and hunting territory in Kansas, and not until about 1859 was much known of that particular section. The late James R. Mead, of Wichita, wrote a good description of the Saline river country, and said that tributaries on the north side of the stream were unnamed until in 1859 he gave them the names by which they are still known. [8]

     Although big floods have occurred from time to time in the stream, the earliest of which we have printed record is that of 1858, [9] which swept away such bridges as spanned the river at that time. Another destructive flood occurred during early June, 1867. [10] The flood of 1903 [11] did vastly more damage, as the country by that time was pretty well settled.

     The old military road up the Smoky Hill crossed the Solomon river near its mouth, and about nine miles farther on crossed the Saline at a point about a mile a little west of the village of New Cambria of later date. This crossing was at the point where the Union Pacific railroad bridge was constructed, and a short distance north of the Ben Holladay stage station. [12] The first ferry on the Saline above its mouth was the one operated by James Jasper Woodward at this point. The earliest mention of this enterprise we have located was in the Junction City Union, of June 4, 1864, which printed the following notice: "Free Ferry. -- Jim Woodward is running a free ferry across the Saline. In addition to this inducement, the road to Salina by way of his ferry is considerably shorter than by any other. Freighters would do well to try that route."

     Lieut. J.R. Fitch, who surveyed a route up the Smoky Hill for the Butterfield Overland Despatch, mentions Woodward's ferry as being seven miles west of the Whitley & Hall ferry. [13]

     Woodward's ferry probably was first operated as a free ferry, he apparently having some sort of an understanding with Salina merchants who made this free service possible. He was attentive to business and had the reputation of crossing his patrons with promptness and despatch. This free service probably was terminated by 1866, when the Woodward family organized themselves as the Saline River Bridge and Ferry Company. The new company consisted of J.J. Woodward, R.W. Woodward, Hugh T. Woodward, J.B. Woodward and U.S. Shreves.

     This corporation proposed to operate bridges or ferries over the Saline river at a point between the mouth of the river and where the Saline crosses the northern boundary of Saline county, on the line between townships 12 and 13, R. 4W. The principal office of the company was located on the west bank of the river at a point known as Woodward's ferry. Capital stock of the enterprise was listed at $80,000, in shares of $100 each. Their charter was filed with the secretary of state June 29, 1866. [14]

     This ferry must have gone out of business by 1867, or when the bridges came. George W. Martin, an old friend of Woodward, paid him this tribute:

James J. Woodward, the king of ferrymen, whose crossing of the Saline in the days of staging and footing, both gratified and annoyed the traveling public, now that railroad bridges and county bridges encompass him on all sides, has turned his attention to grinding and sawing. Jim is always bound to make himself useful, and frequently in passing by we have wondered whose enterprise it was which turned out great piles of fine lumber, changing to the hum of industry the bellowing and cursing incident to an old-time ferryboat with water, "no bottom," and the mud approaches thereto "quarter less twain." He is now running a first-class sawmill, and in saying this we do not mean to say that he did not run a first-class ferry. But levity aside, we are glad to note this improvement, and only wish there were more such men as Woodward to push on such enterprises. He has recently attached a run of burrs for grinding corn, and we understand that it is his intention during the coming season to add a first-class flouring mill. We wish Jim luck in all his undertakings, and may a mill rise on the banks of the Saline, an enduring monument to that historic point, "Woodward's crossing of the Saline." [15]

     By 1865 there was much discussion favoring bridges. At the fall election that year Saline county was to vote on the proposition of issuing $10,000 worth of bonds for the purpose of bridging the Saline and Solomon. The Junction City Union being the nearest paper, became an outspoken champion for bridges. In its issue of October 28, 1865, it said:

Our neighbors of Saline county have before them a proposition to vote the issue of ten thousand dollar bonds with which to bridge the Saline and Solomon. A practical and sensible expenditure of money. Far different with our neighbors over in Riley, who propose to vote bonds for the building of a courthouse. To build a courthouse now would be like putting jewelry on a hog. Riley is like Davis -- within her limits she can get so far away from a settlement as to be in danger of wolves and wild beasts. Be practical and not ornamental, at least while there are so few taxpayers.

     G. Schippel's was the next ferry upstream, and was located on the road directly north of Sauna. This was the first ferry service inaugurated on the Saline river.

     Gotthart Schippel, a native of Germany, was born on May 6, 1835. He came to America in 1852 and settled in Iowa, where he farmed until about the middle of June, 1857, when he came to Saline county, following the Leavenworth-Fort Dodge wagon trail to the site of the Saline river ferry. Although it was his intention at first to cut hay for his stock, he also dealt somewhat with the Indians. He had some traffic with the Kaws, but was soon obliged to leave on account of the unfriendly Cheyennes, who were numerous and powerful. Afterward he went to Kansas City and brought some goods to Kansas Falls. He chopped wood and ran a sawmill during the winter of 1857-1858. The following spring he returned to Saline county and located on S. 29, T. 13, R. 2 W, where he began farming and stockraising. In 1857 the government had a pole and plank bridge across the Saline for the use of the supply trains going to Dodge. They had also built at the bridge head a log house, since dismembered and strewn about Salina as souvenir and relic material. Mr. Schippel took possession of this log house. Mr. A.M. Campbell, Sr., had observed the building on a previous reconnoitering trip into central Kansas in 1856 or 1857. When he came in 1858 to settle in the territory he expected to move into the log house, but when he was within a mile of it, he saw a stack of hay in the creek bend and knew he'd been outdone. Schippel was comfortably settled and was making a little cash -- something which was very scarce in that part of the country in those days -- selling hay and anticipating correctly the sale of corn to the government and independent freighters.

     Eighteen fifty-eight was the year of the flood, and the Schippel house was built on the only dry land in the vicinity of the old bridge house. The river rose steadily. Mr. Schippel, Indians, trappers and freighters all hauled rocks and logs to weight the bridge down on the breast of the current. Finally they went onto it themselves on foot and horseback. There must have been some great floundering when the old bridge went out regardless of their attempts to hold it down. Mr. Schippel was then invited by the government to supply ferry accommodations. They hesitated to build a bridge because they expected a railroad to be built soon. Schippel built a ferry boat, 12 x 30 feet, with top-opening doors, one at each end, for landing and loading purposes. The old oak planks are around the Schippel property yet, adze-hewn and drilled for heavy wooden pins. Schippel and his passengers operated the boat by ropes and pulleys tied to trees on the banks. There are no pictures of the ferry, and no documentary evidence of Mr. Schippel's agreement with the government since he would "sign" nothing. John Schippel, son of the old ferryman, states that the ferry was most successful financially, some days his father taking in from three hundred to four hundred dollars. Schippel sold hay and corn to the government, operated a sort of store and commissary and trading post for the Indians, and saved his money. When the Union Pacific was built up the valley and wiped out the ferry business, Gotthart Schippel was able to buy the land -- the present Schippel estate north of Salina -- around the old ferry. In the early 1880s he owned over 1,000 acres, about 600 acres of which were under cultivation at that time. He was married in 1872 to Miss Clara Wary, a native of France. They had four children. Mr. Schippel served Salina as a member of the city council for several terms. [16]

     Gotthart Schippel located on the SE 1/4 S.29, T.13, R.2 W, and started his ferry. One authority states that he saved planks from the bridge on the Saline that went out in the flood of 1858, and used them in the construction of his ferry boat. This ferry is said to have run for nine years. Many of the government troops and Pike's Peak travelers used it, and Mr. Schippel often sold hay and corn to them. Some of the planks and also the "tie plate" iron of the old ferryboat are in the museum of the Saline County Historical Society. [17]

     In 1859 William A. Phillips obtained from the legislature a charter for a ferry across the Saline at the town of Salina, with the exclusive privilege of landing within two miles of that town, up and down the river, for the period of twenty-three years. He was to keep a good and sufficient boat or boats at all times sufficient to cross the traveling public and was to be entitled to take toll for this service, the county board being allowed to fix ferriage charges. The ferry was to be placed in operation within nine months, or the privileges granted by the legislature were to be forfeited. This act was approved by Gov. Samuel Medary, February 10, 1859. [18] If this ferry went into operation we have failed to find any mention of it.

     The next ferry of which we have knowledge was at the town of Lincoln, about thirty or thirty-five miles upstream, being established by Elias Rees, who built the first mill on the Saline in Lincoln county and operated his ferry in connection with it. The ferry was started about 1873 and ran almost a year, being discontinued when a toll bridge, also built by Mr. Rees, was put into operation. The ferry charge was ten cents for each person crossing. [19]

     High water in the Saline river at Lincoln in 1873 caused considerable inconvenience and no doubt interrupted ferry business. The following items from the Lincoln County News, Lincoln, tell the story

The dam at Rocky Hill, we learn, has been seriously injured by the cantankerosity of the Saline. -- May 22, 1873.

The river is said to be higher than at any previous time the present season. -- May 22, 1873.

River still on the war path. -- May 29, 1873.

The bosom of the Saline river has been swelling with emotion in consequence of the several 'drouths' last week. -- June 5, 1873.

In consequence of high water the mail experienced considerable difficulty in coming up from Salina last Monday. Royal, being the most preserving cuss we ever saw, weathered it though and returned on Monday as usual. -- June 5, 1873.

The Saline river has got on the largest "bender" of the season, and is making tracks as fast as possible for the Gulf of Mexico. -- June 19, 1873.":

     Sometime during the fore part of the year Mr. Rees started work on his bridge, and the county also started work on some projects of its own Mention of these activities are recorded in the following items from the News:

A temporary bridge is being built on the Saline just below Rees' mill to facilitate ingress and egress to and from our city. Is it not about time some steps were taken to build one or two permanent bridges in the county? -- June 19, 1873.

We understand that a portion of the new bridge the citizens of this and Valley township have been building over the Saline, has taken a new departure in consequence of the first little freshet that occurred. -- July 3, 1873.

The bridge over the Saline at Rees' mill is now completed, and persons who come to our city can cross without fear of ducking. -- July 24, 1873.

Immigration still pours in without any prospect of ceasing, so long as a claim is vacant in so good a county as ours. -- October 27, 1873."

     In 1859 Representative Graham, of Nemaha county, introduced House bill No. 167 in the legislature, "An act to establish a ferry at Covington, on the Salina river," which was read and referred to the committee on public roads. A search through the records of the Kansas State Historical Society has failed to locate a town of Covington on the Salina (or Saline) river. However, the act failed to pass and the ferry was never put into operation. [20]

     So far as we have been able to learn, the Rees ferry before mentioned, was the uppermost and last crossing of the kind on the Saline river.


1. Blackmar's History of Kansas, v. 2, p. 639. Everts' Atlas of Kansas, pp. 225, 241, 249, 252, 285, 295, 303, 330. Return to reading

2. U.S. Geological Survey, Water Supply and Irrigation Papers, No. 66, p. 142. Return to reading

3. Pierre Margry, Memoires et Documents Pour Servir a L'Histoire des Origines Francais des Pays D'Outre Mer (Paris, 1888), v. 6, p. 432. Return to reading

4. Coues, The Expedition of Lieut. Zebulon M. Pike, v. 2, p. 405. Return to reading

5. Kansas Historical Collections, v. 9, p. 12. Return to reading

6. Statement of Jacob C. Ruppenthal to author, March 29, 1935. Return to reading

7. U.S. Geological Survey, Water Supply Papers, No. 84. p. 108; No. 99, p. 227. Return to reading

8. Kansas Historical Collections, v. 9, p. 12. Return to reading

9. Ibid., p. 11. Return to reading

10. Ibid., v. 10, pp. 626, 627. Return to reading

11. U.S. Geological Survey, Water Supply Papers, No. 99, p. 227. Return to reading

12. Junction City Union, August 8, 1866. Return to reading

13. Kansas Historical Collections, v. 17, p. 191. Return to reading

14. Corporations, v. 1, pp. 186, 187. Return to reading

15. Junction City Union, March 14, 1868. Return to reading

16. Andreas, History of Kansas, p. 709. Letter of R. Lynn Martin, Brookville, October 7, 1934, to the author, the data being obtained in an interview with John Schippel, a son of Gotthart. Return to reading

17. From a letter of Mrs. A.M. Campbell, Jr., to the author. Return to reading

18. Private Laws, Kansas, 1859, p. 119. Return to reading

19. Letter from J. Albert Smith, of Lincoln, to the author. Mr. Smith also wrote: "I have lived here fifty-one years and never heard of any other ferry in this section." Return to reading

20. House Journal, 1859, p. 153. Return to reading

Go to previous article     Go to next article     Go to cover page for this issue     Go to KHQ main page