When the first actual white settlers came to Kansas,
there were no railroads west of the
River, and the various
water courses were depended upon to furnish the means of transportation. As
early as 1819 four steamboats -- the Thomas Jefferson, Expedition, R.M.
Johnson and Western Engineer -- were built for the navigation of the
upper Missouri River, and were used in the first Yellowstone expedition. Prior
to that time the only water craft on the western streams were the
Indian canoes or the keel boats and flat-bottomed boats of the fur traders. In
1830 a steamboat called the Car of Commerce was built for the Missouri
River trade, but sank near the mouth of the river two years later.
ascended the river in 1831, and between that time and 1840 the
Assiniboine and the Astoria made regular trips. About the time Kansas
was organized as a territory, the best known steamers on the Missouri
River were the A.C. Goddin, the A.B. Chambers and the
The last named, a side-wheeler 200 feet long and 30 feet
Wide, sank on the upper river on August 1, 1855. Others steamers on
the Missouri River were the Keystone (upon which Governor Geary
came to Kansas),
the Robert Campbell, the Paul Jones, the Polar Star
and the J.M. Converse.
Lewis and Clark's journal for June 5, 1804, contained the following entry: "Passed
the Creek of the big rock about 15 yards wide on the left side at 11:00
o'clock, brought to a small raft in which was two French men, from 80
leagues up the Kansas River where they wintered, and brought a great
quantity of Beaver." .
It may be, that
this early report was partially responsible for the popular belief some
years later that the Kansas River
was navigable for a distance of 80 leagues. The first attempt to navigate
the river by steam was in 1854, when Captain C.K. Baker bought the
Excel, a vessel of 79 tons with a draft of only two feet, for the
trade. On one trip down the river, this boat made the run from
to Kansas City in 24 hours, stopping at thirty landings. In 1855, eight
new steamboats attempted the navigation of the Kansas River,
including the Bee, New Lucy, Hartford, Lizzie, Emma Harmon, Financier
No. 2, Saranak and Perry. The Hartford made but one
trip. On June 3rd she ran aground a short distance above the mouth of the
Blue River, where she lay for a month waiting for high water. With a rise
in the river she dropped down to Manhattan, where she unloaded her cargo,
and with the next rise started for Kansas City, but grounded opposite St.
Mary's Mission, where she caught fire and was burned. The bell of this
boat is later was installed in the steeple of the Methodist Church in
In 1856 the
steamers Perry, Lewis Burns, Far West and Brazil made their
appearance on the Kansas River.
In this year the flat-boat Pioneer took out the first load of
freight from up the river, arriving at Kansas City in April. The following
year four new steamboats were added. They were the Lightfoot, Violet,
Lacon and Otis Webb. The Lightfoot of Quindaro, a
stern-wheeler, was the first steamboat ever built in Kansas.
The Violet was built at Pittsburg. She arrived at Kansas City on
April 7, 1857, and two days later reached
Lawrence. Here, the captain
noticed that the river was falling and declined to go any farther.
Discharging his cargo and passengers, he started back down the river and
arrived at Kansas City on May 10th, having spent the greater part of a
month on the sand bars. The vessel never tried a second trip.
In 1858, the
Otis Webb, the Minnie Belle and th
but in 1859 came the Silver Lake, Morning Star, Gus Linn, Adelia,
Colona, Star of the West and the Kansas Valley. In 1860 the
Eureka, Izetta and Mansfield were added to the list. Then came
the Civil War and but little was done in the way of river commerce until
peace was restored to the country. The Tom Morgan and the Emma
began the navigation of the Kansas River
in 1864; the Hiram Wood, Jacob Sass and E. Hensley were put
in commission in 1865, and in 1866 the Alexander Majors was added.