Ferries in Kansas, Part X -- Grasshopper River

by George A. Root

August 1936 (Vol. 5, No. 3), pages 319 to 324
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.


GRASSHOPPER (now called Delaware) river is the largest affluent of the Kaw between the Blue river and the Kansas-Missouri border, and has its source in the eastern part of Rock Creek township, Nemaha county, about one and one half miles west of Sabetha. At its head the stream is designated as Grasshopper creek, attaining the dignity of river after it crosses the Brown county line. Its course is to the southeast from Nemaha county, across the southwest corner of Brown, the northeast corner of Jackson, across the southwest portion of Atchison and then south across Jefferson county from north to south, entering the Kaw river on Kaw Half Breed land, Tract No. 20, about one mile due south of Perry. The stream originally was about 91 miles long, of which approximately six and one half miles are in Nemaha, eighteen in Brown, nineteen in Atchison, six and one half in Jackson and forty-one in Jefferson counties. This river has few tributaries of any importance, the principal ones being the Little Grasshopper, in Atchison county, and Cedar, Slough and Rock creeks in Jefferson county. The Delaware drains a section of the state rarely affected by drought. The banks of the stream in some places are low, and the rich bottom lands along its course are easily flooded. In one locality land was flooded every year from 1902 to 1912 and again in 1914. In the latter year, however, the channel in places was straightened, and approximately ten miles of the river's length eliminated.[1]

     It is common belief that the stream took its name from some visitation of grasshoppers many years ago. The first printed reference to the stream the writer has been able to locate is a mention by Prof. Thomas Say, of the Long expedition, who camped on its headwaters the night of August 27, 1819. His comment of the stream was that "About Grasshopper creek the soil is fertile, the grass dense and luxuriant." [2] No doubt the name attached long before his visit.

     The stream has been known by a number of names during the past 100 years. John C. McCoy, in a reminiscent article published many years ago, says:

     On the morning of October 11 [1856], we reached a stream thirty-four and one-half miles from the military reservation, which the Indians called Nesh-cosh-cosh-che-ba [3] or Swallow river, seventy-six links wide about which there was a large timber. Another mode of rendering the sounds of this Indian name of this river is Nach-uch-u-te-be, and this is the orthography given on the map which we made of the Delaware reservation. The stream was also called Sautrelle river and also Martin's river, in 1830. In the field notes of our survey it is given as Nesh-cosh-cosh-che-be.[4]

     Delaware Indians, according to William E. Connelley, in a letter to George J. Remsburg, called the river the "Chuck-kan-no," meaning "they stopped here." Remsburg wrote an excellent account of the river, which was printed in the Atchison Daily Globe, November 29, 1907. He mentions that William P. Badger, agent for the Kickapoos, stated that the stream was called for a Frenchman named Sautrelle, whose name in English signified Grasshopper. The Delawares called the lower part of the river "Hing-gwi-men-o-ken," signifying "Big Muddy." The names "Martin" and "Swallow" river, according to Remsburg, probably originated from the cliff swallows or martins that frequent the banks of the stream. Kaw Indians may have given the stream its name. Bourgmont, the French explorer, camped on the stream a few miles below the site of present Muscotah on the night of July 27, 1724, while en route from the Kanza nation (present Doniphan) to the Padouca nation, in north central Kansas. From an examination of various old maps, atlases and narratives, it would seem that the name Grasshopper river, antedates that of Sautrelle, but from 1830 to well in the 1850's, one name was used about as frequently as the other.

     Falls on the river were unknown to the whites until 1852. That year a military train under command of Maj. E.A. Ogden was conveying workmen, mechanics and supplies to Fort Riley, when a Kickapoo Indian informed the major that there was a much better road than the one by the way of Osawkee they were then using. The major tried the route once, but not a second time. Henry Sen accompanied the expedition as a mechanic, and on this trip made the accidental discovery of the falls. The expedition crossed the river at the location where the old road crossed in 1857 and 1858.[5] In 1859 a town was laid out at this point, and named Grasshopper Falls for the river.[6] Following a number of grasshopper visitations which started as early as 1820 and recurred in 1855, 1860, and 1861,[7] the residents of Jefferson county became "fed up" with the name grasshopper, and asked the legislature to change the name of the township; river and city, substituting Sautrelle in place of the despised name. This was done in 1863.[8] This discarding of an ancient name furnished Sol Miller, editor and publisher of The Kansas Chief, at White Cloud, with an excuse to have some fun, and he promptly substituted "Sowtail" for Sautrelle, when speaking of the town, river or township. Ridicule is a hard thing to combat, and the populace did not relish being spoken of as residents of a community with such a ridiculous nickname, so the legislature in 1864[9] restored the old name, which was used for the next eleven years. By the irony of fate the worst visitation of grasshoppers came during the summer of 1874, and mention of hoppers was not a popular subject for discussion with the residents of this county, so with the meeting of the legislature of 1875 a bill was introduced in that body, and passed, changing the name of the town to Valley Falls and the township and river to Delaware.[10]

     The first ferry location on ascending the river is a matter of speculation. However, a ferry was contemplated and authorized by the legislature of 1861, to be located at or near the junction with the Kansas river. This act gave John C. Bailey the right to maintain a ferry at that point for ten years and have exclusive privilege for a distance of three miles from the mouth of the river.[11] This must have been close to Perryville of later date.

     In 1867 Klews & McHenry were granted a license for a ferry over the Grasshopper at or near where the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern division, crosses that stream. Their license was to date from May 1, 1867, and was to continue in force for one year on payment of $10. Ferriage rates established by the commissioners were:

     Two horses and wagon, over, 25 cents; two horses and wagon, over and back on same day, 40 cents. Four horses and wagon, over, 40 cents; four horses and wagon, over and back on same day 40 [50?] cents. One yoke of oxen, over, 25 cents; one yoke of oxen, over and back on same day, 40 cents. For each additional yoke of cattle, 10 cents. A man and horse, both ways, 15 cents. Footman, .05 cents. Sheep and swine per head, .02 cents. Loose horses per head, .05 cents. Loose cattle, .03 cents.[12]

This location was at or close to present Perry, on the river road running west from Jefferson county.

     From Wyandotte and the Missouri river points the bulk of travel and freighting of course went over the military road, but a considerable portion of it took the river road. Just how long this ferry was operated is uncertain, no further mention having been located.

     The next ferry licensed for this location was on November 11, 1876, when Wm. M. McKinney was granted a license to keep a ferry across the Grasshopper at Perry; also a license for the Lecompton Bridge Company for a bridge across the Kaw river upon the payment of the clerk's fees.[13] McKinney was an old hand at the business, having been engaged in ferrying at Lecompton from 1868 to 1870.[14]

     In 1857 a bill was introduced in the council to authorize the building of a bridge at or near the mouth of the Delaware river, but this failed of passage.[15]

     Early in 1872 travel must have been sufficient to warrant the installation of a pontoon bridge at this point, since Thomas G. Smith in March, 1872, applied to the board of county commissioners to grant him a license for a private pontoon bridge on payment of $10.[16] Apparently this was the last license issued at this point.

     The next ferry location upstream was at Osawkee. In March, 1856, Jefferson Riddle[17] was granted the first license issued by the board of county commissioners to maintain a ferry at that point, paying $10 for the privilege for one year.[18]

     This ferry was located at the crossing of the military road, and probably did not operate for more than a year, as W.F. and G.M. Dyer took steps to establish a bridge at this point, Doctor Tebbs introducing a bill in the legislature asking that privilege for them, which became a law.[19]

     Osawkee is the oldest town in Jefferson county, and in its early days was settled by Southerners. During the troublous days in 1856 the town was raided by a Free-state party. It was the first county seat, and for a few years was accounted one of the most important towns in the county. The Delaware land sales were held at this point.

     During the legislature of 1857-1858 Mr. Owens introduced House bill No. 312,[20] for the establishment of a ferry over the Grasshopper. This bill passed both houses, but was vetoed by the governor, who sent the following message to the House, giving his reasons for so doing:

To the House of Representatives:

     Gentlemen: I herewith return "An act to establish a ferry at the mouth of the Grasshopper river," without approval, for the reason that the locality does not come within the jurisdiction of the Territorial Government of Kansas. The mouth of the Grasshopper is within the limits of the Delaware Reserve, though the Half-Breeds of the Kansas tribe, by virtue of a prior treaty, have a life estate in the lands at that point, the reversion being to the Delawares. But the Indian title has never been extinguished to those lands, and the Organic Act declares that "all such territory shall be excepted out of the boundaries, and constitute no part of the Territory of Kansas." With a knowledge of these facts, I do not see how I, as Governor of the Territory, can exercise any legislative control over that locality. With these objections the bill is returned to the House in which it originated.

February 11, 1858. J.W. Denver, Acting Governor.[21]

At this same session Council bill No. 5 was introduced to incorporate the Grasshopper Bridge Company. A similar measure, House bill 453, was introduced in the House of Representatives, but neither measure passed.[22]

     A toll bridge was constructed at Osawkee some time in the 1860's and must have been a paying proposition. No names of anyone connected with the enterprise have been found, and the only reference we have located is that a petition was presented to the board of county commissioners asking for an appropriation of $500 for the purchase of the toll bridge across the Grasshopper at this point.[23]

     Grasshopper Falls was the next ferry location, one being in operation at this point in 1859. No mention of a license was found for this enterprise, but a Leavenworth paper refers to a ferry in connection with the relocation of a road from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Riley via Grasshopper Falls.[24] No further notice of this ferry has been located. Late in the fall of 1862 a bridge had been constructed at this point having a span of 123 feet in the clear. C.G. Waite, formerly of Tecumseh, was the architect and builder.[25]

     As early as 1855 Grasshopper Falls took steps towards getting roads, the legislature that year establishing one from Leavenworth to Indianola, by way of Money creek and Grasshopper Falls. James Frazer, J.B. Ross and Geo. H. Perrin were appointed commissioners to survey and establish the road.[26] At the same session a road was also established from Osawkee to Grasshopper Falls.[27] In 1872 a road was laid out from Grasshopper Falls to Leavenworth, via Winchester.[28]

     Probably the uppermost ferry on the Grasshopper was one thought to have been located on S. 28, T. 5, R. 18, five miles north of Effingham, on the military road.[29]


1. Topeka Daily Capital, November 30, 1914.Return to reading

2. Kansas Historic Collections, v. 1-2, p. 297. Return to reading

3. McCoy's map, survey of 1830, gives spelling as Neesh-cosh-cosh-che-bah. Return to reading

4. Kansas Historical Collections, v. 4, p. 305. Return to reading

5. Valley Falls New Era, May 18, 1878.Return to reading

6. Laws, Kansas, 1859, p. 141. Return to reading

7. Wilder's Annals.Return to reading

8. Laws, Kansas, 1863, p. 71. Return to reading

9. Ibid., 1864, p. 169. Return to reading

10. Ibid., 1875, p. 178Return to reading

11. Private Laws, Kansas, 1861, pp. 34, 35.Return to reading

12. Jefferson county, "Commissioners' Journal," 1863-1869-1869, pp. 406, 407.Return to reading

13. Ibid., Book C, p. 193. Return to reading

14. Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 2, p. 345. Return to reading

15. Council Journal, 1857, pp. 196, 220, 230, 243.Return to reading

16. Jefferson county, "Commissioners' Journal," Book D, p. 41.Return to reading

17. Mr. Riddle was a wealthy Southerner who settled at Osawkee and engaged in business -- operating a ferry on the side. He attended the land sales at that point when the Delaware lands were sold, and bought several farms. On the breaking out of the Civil War he took his family and left for the South, joining the Confederate army. Returning to his old neighborhood in Kansas after the war was over, he had a feeling that he might be taken into custody on account of his Southern sympathies. All his farms with the exception of one were in the possession of others. A daughter of Mr. Riddle, Mrs. Maude DeLong, now resides at Silver Lake, Shawnee county. She was reared by grandparents on her mother's side, who were strong unionists.Return to reading

18. State Board of Agriculture, Report, 1877-1878, p. 240.Return to reading

19. House Journal, 1857, pp. 75, 196, 212; Council Journal, 1857. pp. 75, 169, 174, 184, 201; Laws, 1857, p. 145.Return to reading

20. House Journal, 1857-1858, pp. 191, 217; Council Journal, 1857-1858.Return to reading

21. House Journal, 1858, p. 388.Return to reading

22. Ibid., 1858-1859, pp. 221, 261, 327.Return to reading

23. Jefferson county, "Commissioner's Journal," January 11, 1867.Return to reading

24. Kansas Weekly Herald, Leavenworth, March 26, 1859.Return to reading

25. Kansas State Journal, Lawrence, November 27, 1862. Return to reading

26. General Statutes, Kansas, 1855, p. 977. Return to reading

27. Ibid., p. 949. Return to reading

28. Jefferson county, "Commissioners' Journal," Book D, p. 244.Return to reading

29. This ferry was marked on a map of historic spots in Atchison county, prepared by the late Franklin J. Hole, of Effingham. (Map in Archives division of Kansas State Historical Society.) Mrs. Agnes C. (Franklin J.) Hole was not certain about its existence, however, and under date of June 30, 1936, wrote as follows:

     "I have talked with James Snyder here in Effingham, who has resided here 68 years. He said the river five miles north of Effingham is the Little Grasshopper, running into the Grasshopper farther west; a very small stream now, even dry at times, but showing evidence that it was larger formerly. He is sure that there was never a ferry at this point, though remembers something of a ford west of Effingham. The military road from Leavenworth to Fort Kearney is about at that point and he remembers much traffic, both military and immigrants, going farther west. There are deep ruts all along this old road that can yet be seen, especially near old Huron. There seems to be some confusion regarding the military road and the Oregon trail; some say they are the same and others say they are separate, but they were at least both near this county.
     "I have talked with the Ed. Phillips family, who own a farm five miles north of Effingham and have lived on it for twenty years. Mr. Phillips was born in Leavenworth and is about 70 years old and remembers very well the soldiers and freighters using the old military road, passing through old Huron and Kennekuk. On his place there is evidence of a trail that crosses the place; also large timbers show near the banks of the former stream that look as though they were parts of a large building and possibly a bridge. They remember an old story of a flat boat and that there was a ford at this place; there is sometimes water in this cut, but think it never could have been large enough for a ferry. There seems to be old Indian mounds on the Phillips place and the one directly north of them.
     "Mrs. Neva Jackson, telephone operator, heard us talking and volunteered the information that her uncle Abram Bennett was Indian agent at Kennekuk, and that there was an old stage barn there, and she had heard much of the travel, both military and people going west. She said there was a ford on Clear creek, south of Kennekuk, seven or eight miles north and east of Muscotah, on land now farmed by Mark Hardin. She was also quite sure the ferry, if any, must have been on the Big Grasshopper."Return to reading

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