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Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Old West Kansas
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The great plains--the region of country in which our expedition sojourned for so many months--is wilder, and by far more interesting, than those solitudes over which the Egyptian Sphynx looks out. The latter are barren and desolate, while the former teem with their savage races and scarcely more savage beasts. The very soil which these tread is written all over with a history of the past, even its surface giving to science wonderful and countless fossils of those ages when the world was young and man not yet born.

 

At first, it was rather unsettled which way the steps of our party would turn; between unexplored territory and that newly acquired, there were several fields open which promised much of interest. Originally, our company numbered a dozen; but Alaska tempted a portion of our savans, and to the fishy and frigid maiden they yielded, drawn by a strange predilection for train-oil and seal meat toward the land of furs. For the remainder of our party, however, life under the Alaskan's tent-pole had no charms. Our decision may have been influenced somewhat by the seafaring man with whom our friends were to sail. The real name of this son of Neptune was Samuels, but our party called him, as it savored more of salt water, Captain Walrus, of the bark Harpoon. This worthy, according to his own statement, had been born on a whaler, weaned among the Esquimeaux, and, moreover, had frozen off eight toes "trying to winter it at our recent purchase." He evidently disliked to have scientific men aboard, intent on studying eclipses and seals. "A heathenish and strange people are the Alaskans," Walrus was wont to say. "What is not Indian is Russian, and a compound of the latter and aboriginal is a mixture most villainous. One portion of the partnership anatomy takes to brandy, while the other absorbs train-oil, and so a half-breed Alaskan heathen is always prepared for spontaneous combustion, and if rubbed the wrong way, flames up instantly. He is always hot for murder, and if you throw cold water on his designs, his oily nature sheds it."

And many a yarn did the captain spin concerning their strange customs. Sealing a marriage contract consisted in the warrior leaving a fat seal at the hole of the hut, where his intended crawled in to her home privileges of smoke and fish. Their favorite game was "old sledge," played with prisoners to shorten their captivity.

 ALASKAN LOVERS--SEALING THE CONTRACT

 

 ALASKAN GAME OF OLD SLEDGE

All this, and much more, probably equally true, we had picked up of Alaskan history, and at one time our chests had been packed for a voyage on the Harpoon; but at the final council the west carried it against the north, and our steps were directed toward the setting sun, instead of the polar star.

The expedition afforded unexcelled facilities for seeing Buffalo Land. It was composed of good material, and pursued its chosen path successfully, though under difficulties which would have turned back a less determined party.

None of our company, I trust, will consider it an unwarrantable license which recounts to others the personal peculiarities and mistakes about which we joked so freely while in camp. It was generally understood, before we parted, that the adventures should be common stock for our children and children's children. Why should not the great public share in it also?

                                                                        ________________________

Let the reader place before him a checker-board, and allow it to represent Kansas, whose shape and outline it much resembles; the half nearest him will stand for the eastern or settled portion of the State, of which the other half is embraced in Buffalo Land proper. It is with the latter that we have first to do, as with it we first became acquainted.

Our party entered the State at Kansas City, and took the cars for Topeka, its capital. During our morning ride through the valley of the Kaw, memory went backward to the years when "Bleeding Kansas" was the signal-cry of emancipation. When gray old Time, a decade and a half ago, was writing the history of those bright children of Freedom, the united sisterhood, a virgin arm reached over his shoulder, and a fair young hand, stained with its own life-blood, wrote on the page toward which all the world was gazing, "I am Kansas, latest-born of America. I would be free, yet they would make me a slave. Save me, my sisters!" The great heart of our nation was sorely distressed. Conscience pointed to one path--Policy, that rank hypocrite, to another.

And so it was that the young queen, with her grand domain in the West, struggled forward to lay her fealty at the feet of our great mother, Liberty. She made a body-guard of her own sons, and their number was quickly swelled by brave hearts from the north, east, and west. The new territory, begging admission as a State, became a battle-ground. Slavery had reached forth its hand to grasp the new State and fresh soil, but the mutilated member was drawn back with wounds which soon reached, corrupted and destroyed the body. In this land of the Far West a nation of young giants had been suddenly developed, and Kansas was forever won for freedom.

But there was yet another enemy and another danger. Westward, toward Colorado, the savage's tomahawk and knife glittered, and struck among the affrighted settlements. _Ad Astra per Aspera_, "to the stars through difficulties," the State exclaims on the seal, and to the stars, through blood, its course has been.

Those old pages of history are too bloody to be brought to light in the bright present, and we purpose turning them only enough to gather what will be now of practical use. Kansas suffered cruelly, and brooded over her wrongs, but she has long since struck hands with her bitterer foe. Most of the "Border Ruffians" ripened on gallows trees, or fell by the sword, years ago. A few, however, are yet spared, to cheer their old age by riding around in desolate woods at midnight, wrapped in damp nightgowns, and masked in grinning death-heads. Although the mists of shadow-land are chilling their hearts, yet those organs, at the cry of blood, beat quick again, like regimental drums, for action.

The Kaw or the Kansas River, the valley of which we were traversing, is the principal stream of the State--in length to the mouth of the Republican one hundred and fifty miles, and above that, under the name of Smoky Hill, three hundred miles more.

The "Smoky Hill trail" is a familiar name in many an American home. It was the great California path, and many a time the demons of the plain gloated over fair hair, yet fresh from a mother's touch and blessing. And many a faint and thirsty traveler has flung himself with a burst of gratitude on the sandy bed of the desolate river, and thanked the Great Giver of all good for the concealed life found under the sand, and with the strength thus sucked from the bosom of our much-abused mother, he has pushed onward until at length the grand mountains and great parks of Colorado burst upon his delighted vision.

About noon we arrived at Topeka, the capital, well situated on the south bank of the river, having a comfortable, well-to-do air, which suggests the quiet satisfaction of an honest burgher after a morning of toil. The slavery billow of agitation rolled even thus far from beyond the border of the state. Armed men rode over the beautiful prairies, some east, some west--one band to transplant slavery from the tainted soil of Missouri, another to pluck it up.

A small party of Free State men settled upon this beautiful prairie. South flowed the Wakarusa, south and east the Shunganunga, and west and north the Kaw or Kansas. Here thrived a bulbous root, much loved by the red man, and here lazy Pottawatomies gathered in the fall to dig it. In size and somewhat in shape, it resembled a goose egg, and had a hard, reddish brown shell, and an interior like damaged dough. The Indian gourmands ate it greedily and called it "Topeka." From the two or three families of refugee Free State men the town grew up, and from the Indian root it took its name. Its christening took place in the first cabin erected, and it is reported that a now prominent banker of the town stood sponsor, with his back against the door, refusing any egress until the name of his choice was accepted. It is even affirmed that one opposing city founder was pulled back by his coat-tail from an attempted escape up the wide chimney.

"WAKARUSA."

 

 "TOASTS HIS MOCCASINED FEET BY THE FIRE."

The old Indian love of commemorating events by significant names is well illustrated in Kansas. One example may be given here. Wakarusa once opposed its swollen tide to an exploring band of red men. Now, from time beyond ken, the noble savage has been illustrious for the ingenuity with which he lays all disagreeable duties upon the shoulders of the patient squaw. He may ride to their death, in free wild sport, the bison multitudes; but their skins must be converted into marketable robes, and the flesh into jerked meat, by the ugly and over-worked partner of his bosom. While she pins the raw hide to earth, and bends patiently over, fleshing it with horn hatchet for weary hours, the stronger vessel, his abdominal recesses wadded with buffalo meat, toasts his moccasined feet by the fire, fills his lungs with smoke from villainous killikinick, and muses soothingly of white scalps and happy hunting grounds.

Ox-like maiden, happy "big injun!" you both belong to an age and a history well nigh past, and let us rejoice that it is so.

But to return to the band long since gathered into aboriginal dust whom we left pausing on the banks of the Waukarusa. "Deep water, bad bottom!" grunted the braves, and, nothing doubting it, one loving warrior pushed his wife and her pony over the bank to test the matter. From the middle of the tide the squaw called back, "Wakarusa" (thigh deep), and soon had gained the opposite bank in safety. Then and there the creek received its name, "Wakarusa."

We procured a remarkable sketch, in the well known Indian style of high art, commemorative of this event. It has always struck us that the savage order of drawing resembles very much that of the ancient Egyptian--except in the matter of drawing at sight, with bow or rifle, on the white man.

 

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