History of the Frontier Trails of Kansas
From the time the Kansas
Legislature made provisions for "highways," the state has had quite an elaborate
system of roads, most of which ran along section lines.
Prior to the
organization of the territory there were a few well traveled roads, notably the
California, Salt Lake and Mormon Trails. By order of
Colonel Zachary Taylor, in 1837, a commission consisting of Colonel S. W.
Kearney and Captain Nathan Boone was appointed for the purpose of locating a
military road from
Leavenworth to Fort Coffey in western
This road as laid out was 286 miles long and among the more important streams
Spring River, Pomme de Terre, Wildcat,
Marmaton, Little Osage, Cottonwood Creek, Marais des Cygnes,
and Kansas Rivers.
was located on this highway at a point about midway between
Leavenworth and Coffey.
10, 1849, Captain Howard Stansbury started from Fort Leavenworth and laid out the military
road to Fort Kearny,
Nebraska, which for some distance followed the
California Trail from
way of the Blue River. Shortly after the establishment of
a line of communication was established between Fort Leavenworth and that post, which
later was extended to
Legislature of 1855 passed an act prescribing certain regulations concerning
territorial roads, and in a number of separate acts provided for no less than 56
territorial roads, prominent among which were the following:
to the Missouri line
at or near Phillips' Crossing of the Upper Drywood Creek; from a point opposite
via Pawnee; from
to the Catholic Osage Mission; from Osawkee to Grasshopper Falls; from
to M. P. Rively's store on Salt Creek, via the United States farm; from the
state line through Cofachiqui City, then across the Neosho River
and by best
route to Fort Atkinson; from the Shawnee Mission Church to Tecumseh; from
St. Joseph to
Marysville; the Santa Fe Trail between the east line
of Kansas and Council Grove; the
Santa Fe Road between Fort Atkinson
a road from Delaware on the Missouri River to Calhoun on the Kansas River, where it divided, the left
fork crossing and terminating at Topeka and the right fork intersecting the
military road from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Riley.
the legislature repealed a portion of the road law of 1855 and provided that
roads might be viewed, surveyed, established and returns made at any time
within two years from the passage of several acts by which they might be
authorized, etc. Thirty-eight territorial roads were provided for by this
session, among which were a road from Fort Riley
line; a road from Lecompton to the county seat of Allen County;
the military road from Fort Leavenworth to Fort
and the military road from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Riley.
the "Parallel Road," also known as the "Great Central Route" along the 1st
standard parallel through western Kansas
and the gold regions of the Rocky Mountains, was laid out. This highway to the
Cherry Creek diggings in
469 miles long, 641 miles to Denver, and boasted an abundance of wood and water
all the way. It was laid out by E.D. Boyd, a civil engineer, in anticipation of
a heavy travel from the Missouri River to the new "diggings."
The legislature of 1859 enacted a law
providing for the locating and working of highways and for the collection
of a road tax, etc. Seven acts relating to roads were passed by this
session, one of which declared all military roads within the limits of
as territorial roads. Seventeen new roads were provided for by the other
1860 the legislature passed acts of incorporation of the "Denver, Auraria
and Colorado Wagon Road Company," the "Denver City and Beaver Creek Wagon
Road and Bridge Company," and the "Pike's Peak and South Park Wagon Road
Company," a general law defining the mode of laying out and establishing
roads, and an act providing that all section lines in Brown County be
declared the center of all public highways. This act was the first
legislation providing for roads on section lines in Kansas.
territorial legislature of 1861 passed an act declaring the military road
from Fort Riley
to Fort Larned
a territorial road, and the session of the first state legislature the
same year passed five acts relating to highways and created 45 state
1863 the legislature passed two joint resolutions, one of which
memorialized Congress to make a military road from Fort Leavenworth to
alleging that there were no suitable bridges, culverts or other necessary
improvements by which to transport such military supplies, and believing
that the safety and well being of this branch of the military required
this line of communication. The other resolution memorialized Congress to
make provisions for bridging and improving the road from Fort Leavenworth via
The road, at that time was said to be without bridges, culverts or other
necessary improvements and at some seasons of the year entirely impassable
for heavy transportation, causing delay, expense and danger to the
military service of the United States.
legislature in 1864 passed three acts, one of which created sixty-four
state roads, and in 1871 eight laws were passed relating to roads and
highways, providing that all section lines of Jefferson, Cloud, McPherson,
Davis, Montgomery, Chase, Morris, Mitchell, Wilson, Neosho, Anderson,
Shawnee, Dickinson, and Morris counties be public highways, excepting
three townships in Jefferson County.
almost every session of the legislature, from territorial days to 1912,
there was some legislation affecting roads and highways, and only in rare
instances were any of the original territorial or state roads left, except
those that followed section lines.
With the advent of automobiles and motor cycles, a wide spread movement
was started looking to the improvement of the road system of the country.
This movement met with much encouragement, that plans were made to perfect a "ocean to ocean highway" following the
line of the old Santa Fe Trail across the state as
closely as possible. On December 1, 1911, more than 2,000 delegates from
various towns in central Kansas
met at Osage City to attend the meeting of the Santa Fe Trail and Pan American
Highway Association, to decide upon the route connecting the trail between
Osage City and Kansas City. A special train bearing representatives from
Lawrence, Burlingame and intervening points, all of whom favored
the route from Kansas City, by way of Lawrence, Topeka and Burlingame,
were in attendance, while over 1,000 from Olathe, Ottawa and intermediate
points represented those in favor of the route by their towns. A committee
composed of one member from each of the interested towns was selected to
frame resolutions voicing the sentiment of the convention, their report to
the convention being in favor of both routes.
Compiled and edited by
of Kansas, updated March, 2017.
the Article: The majority of this historic text was published in Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History,
Volume I; edited by Frank W. Blackmar, A.M. Ph. D.; Standard Publishing
Company, Chicago, IL 1912. However, the text that appears on these page is not verbatim,
as additions, updates, and editing have occurred.
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