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Before the coming of white men, the Indians in Kansas had no beast of burden other than the dog and no means of conveyance save the dugout canoe and the travois, a simple contrivance of two poles between which a dog was hitched, with the packs secured to the dragging ends.


Coronado and the other Spanish explorers who followed him introduced the horse, which the Indians readily adopted for riding and pack-carrying and to replace the dog at the travois. But they attempted no further improvement in transportation.

After the Spanish came the French trappers and fur traders, who explored the country and developed river transportation. They used successively the dugout canoe; the pirogue, two canoes lashed together and floored over to form a raft; the bull boat made by stretching buffalo hides over a circular willow frame ; and the bateau or Mackinaw, a clumsy, flat-bottomed boat of from 10 to 20 tons. But there they halted, and no further development took place until after the official explorations of the early nineteenth century.

The expedition of Lewis and Clark to the northwest in 1804 stimulated the fur trade. The great fur companies introduced the keel boat a large craft of from 20 to 70 tons, so named from the heavy timber that formed its central rib. In 1819 the steamboat, the Western Engineer, transported the scientific expedition of Major Stephen H. Long a short distance up the Kansas River and subsequently up the Missouri. Steamboats, however, were not employed commercially in Kansas until 1829, when a steam packet was placed in operation on the Missouri River from St. Louis to Cantonment Leavenworth (now Fort Leavenworth).

Meanwhile, Captain Zebulon M. Pike's second expedition (1806-07) directed interest to the Southwest, particularly to the Spanish town of Santa Fe, which was rich in trading possibilities. In the next few years traders from Missouri attempted to participate in this trade, only to be thrown into Spanish jails for their intrusion. But after Mexican independence had been declared (September 1821), Captain William Becknell opened the trade with a pack train taken from Franklin, Missouri, on the Missouri River near Booneville, across Kansas to the Arkansas River near Great Bend, up that stream to the Rocky Mountains, then south to Santa Fe, where he disposed of cotton goods at "$3 per yard" and other items in proportion. The next year he returned with three wagons, this time crossing the Arkansas a little west of the present Dodge City, going south over the Cimarron desert, thence west to Santa Fe. Thus Becknell became the "Father of the Santa Fe Trail," establishing its separate courses and introducing wheeled vehicles, the first to cross the Kansas plains.

Other traders were immediately attracted, and the trade flourished. In 1825 Congress authorized the surveying and marking of the trail. Wagons soon outnumbered pack animals; and the light carriers used by Becknell were replaced by heavy Conestoga wagons huge, ponderous vehicles with a concave bed built high at each end. With their white canvas covers and sway-backed appearance, they became universally known as "prairie schooners." Loaded with cotton and woolen goods, silks, velvets, and hardware to the extent of from 3,000 to 5,000 pounds, and drawn by eight or more oxen or mules, they wended their slow way out of Independence, the eastern terminus, in early spring through incredible herds of northern-bound buffalo, and returned in the fall with horses and mules, blankets, furs, robes, and heavy bags of Spanish gold and silver. By 1843 the annual monetary value of the trade was about $450,000.

Meanwhile the Oregon Trail was being established. In 1830 William Sublette took the first wagons over the Oregon Trail to the head of the Popo Algie River, southwest of Lander, Wyoming. Captain Benjamin L. E. Bonneville succeeded in crossing the Rocky Mountains via the South Pass in 1832, with a train of 20 wagons, paving the way for a few hardy missionaries who settled in the Willamette Valley. Government interest followed, and in 1842 Lieutenant John C. Fremont was sent to locate the South Pass and survey a road into the Territory of Oregon. Before he had completed the task, however, a party of settlers was on the road; and in 1843 the "Great Migration" began.

On May 22 of that year a caravan of 875 persons, including women and children, in wagons, and about 2,000 horses and cattle moved out of Independence on the long journey. From Independence they followed the Santa Fe Trail to Gardner, Kansas, where later a crude sign gave the simple direction "Road to Oregon." Here they turned to the northwest, crossing the Kansas River in the vicinity of Topeka, followed the Big Blue to the Platte Valley, and proceeded through the South Pass to their destination.

This was, in effect, the route of the Oregon Trail  in Kansas, although, as steamboat traffic increased on the Missouri and created new supply depots, various starting points were selected and eventually numerous roads converged into the main trail. The Santa Fe Trail, too, had starting points all along the western border of Missouri and north Arkansas, with tributary roads branching into it for a considerable distance. One of the better known branches was the Cherokee Trail, which started at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and finally struck the Oregon, California, and Salt Lake trails at Fort Bridger.

Western travel now developed swiftly. In 1844 four parties, independently organized, went to Oregon. One consisted of 800 persons and started from near Bellevue; another started from Independence with 500 to 700 persons. In 1845 the number of travelers increased to between 3,000 and 5,000. At the same time trade, which had been suspended by Mexico in 1843 because of boundary disputes, was resumed with Santa Fe on a much greater scale. In 1846 the United States declared war on Mexico, and the Mormons began their trek to Utah. In 1848 gold was dis-covered in California.

Ninety thousand persons chiefly excited gold-seekers and Mormons are said to have passed over the two trails in 1849-50, employing every manner of vehicle. The more affluent rode in carriages. There was even a wind-wagon, a four-wheeled cart equipped with sails, although it did not pass beyond the experimental stage. But always the bulk of human and inanimate freight was conveyed in the stately, lumbering prairie schooners, arrayed in two to four columns, often miles in length.

Each trail was a natural highway, extending without bridge or grading. Half of the Santa Fe's 800 miles lay across Kansas; the Oregon, 2,000 miles long, had only from 50 to 200 miles in Kansas, depending on the starting point. The Santa Fe Trail was the highway of commerce, and travel was comparatively rapid, six weeks being considered sufficient for the full journey. The Oregon Trail, called by the Indians the "Great Medicine Road of the Whites," was the homesteaders' highway, and all the events of domestic life courtships, marriages, births, social and religious functions occurred in the two to five months required for the journey.

One trail was as hazardous as the other. Travel on each was attended by hardship, hunger, disease, and danger. Over both hung the threat of inclement weather, especially on the Oregon Trail, where a late start in the spring meant winter in snowbound mountain passes. The Cimarron cut-off of the Santa Fe Trail shortened the distance, but along that route were 50 miles of desert where men were sometimes forced to drink the blood of their animals.

When the Santa Fe Trail was established, a treaty made with the Osage Indians gave permission to cross their lands. But no treaty was made with the Arapahoe, Comanche, Kiowa, and other Plains tribes, who fiercely resented the invasion of their last hunting grounds. In 1828 two white men were killed on the banks of McNees Creek, a tributary of the Canadian River, and retaliation and counter retaliations without number followed. Caravans on each trail moved by day in semi-military formation under the leadership of a train captain, and rested at night in guarded stockades formed by their interlocking wagons. Each trail was marked with the scars of raids and massacres, by human graves, bones of mules and oxen, household goods and implements, burned and broken wagons.

Still the tide flowed on. In 1858 gold was discovered in Colorado, bringing a new surge of covered wagons, then emblazoned with "Pike's Peak or Bust!" Many of the prospectors did "bust" and returned disheartened, but for each who returned another always started out.

Meanwhile a new type of travel had appeared on the trails the organized traffic of the overland freight and mail systems, carrying supplies and news to the settlements in California, Oregon, and Utah. It developed a surprising efficiency. Russell, Majors & Waddell, chief of the Plains freighting companies, accumulated a vast amount of equipment. The firm had a Government contract to transport supplies to the Army in Utah, and during 1858-59 it carried more than 16,000,000 pounds of freight, using 3,500 large wagons, and approximately 40,000 oxen, 1,000 mules, and 4,000 men. The wagons were made up into "bull-trains," which proceeded on the trails at regular intervals, from 10 to 12 miles apart, and were manned by crews of "bull-whackers," who urged the oxen on with picturesque profanity and the pistol-like cracking of long, heavy whips, called bull-whacks.

The first contract mail service across Kansas started on July 1, 1850; two lines originating at Independence connected with Santa Fe and Salt Lake City respectively. Mule-drawn wagons operated on a monthly schedule, but the time was no faster than that of the freighting system. The demand was for news while it was still news, and for more and more speed. Relay stations, stocked with supplies and fresh animals, were erected along the trails at intervals of from 10 to 15 miles; and that most dashing of vehicles, the stagecoach, was introduced. The mail service was increased from monthly to semi-monthly, and then weekly. Running time was cut down Denver was only six days from St. Joseph, Salt Lake City ten days, and the first through stage from Placerville, California, made the trip in 18 days.

But even this was too slow. Impatient settlers clamored for a daily mail; and in 1860, Russell, Majors & Waddell instituted the Pony Express. A herd of wiry mustang ponies was purchased, and a group of hardy, expert, lightweight riders, was employed. On April 3, mounted riders galloped simultaneously out of Sacramento and St. Joseph on a giant relay arranged in individual stints of from 75 to 100 miles each, with a change of mounts every ten or fifteen miles to assure maximum speed. The pony express from East to West followed the route of the covered wagons from St. Joseph, Missouri, to the present site of Horton, Kansas. Here it struck the military road from Fort Leavenworth and Atchison, and continued by way of Granada and Seneca to Marysville, where it joined the main Oregon Trail. The mail went through in ten days, later shortened to nine in summer, and fifteen days in winter. In March 1861 a daily mail stage was established on the central route, but the Pony Express continued until the completion of the overland telegraph in October of that year made it unnecessary.

By this time the western frontier, long halted at the Missouri River, had advanced to the middle of Kansas. Indian lands, opened to white settlers in 1854, had been taken over; towns, roads, and ferries had been established. The Missouri River, forming the northeastern border of Kansas, was a regular trade route in the 1850*5 and 1860's, but was comparatively unimportant to Kansas as a transportation route, since it touched only a small portion of its territory.

It did, however, permit the extension of steamboat service up the Kansas River. In April 1854 the Excel, a sturdy stern wheeler of 79 tons, carried a cargo of 1,100 barrels of flour to the newly established Fort Riley; and this was followed by other boats that maintained a more or less regular schedule.

On April 27, 1855 an emigrant company of 75 left Cincinnati on the steamboat Hartford. They traveled down the Ohio River, up the Mississippi and west on the Missouri and Kansas Rivers, and grounded near the mouth of the Blue River on June 1, 1855. The company had brought with them ten houses, ready to put up. Three members of the party hired a wagon and drove to the present site of Junction City; the rest joined with some other pioneers to found what is now Manhattan.

The next phase in transportation was the coming of the railroads. In 1845 Asa Whitney, the "Father of Pacific Railroads," memorialized Congress for a charter and land grant to build a line from Chicago to the Pacific Coast. The feasibility of such a road was then being debated in the East, but many such petitions were to be presented before Congress took action. Rival cities each claimed superiority as an eastern terminus; sectional jealousy between the North and South made it impossible for either to agree to a route that would give advantage to the other. Meanwhile, Kansas impatiently undertook to build its own railroad to connect with the Hannibal & St. Joseph line advancing to St. Joseph.

In January 1857 the Elwood & Marysville Railroad was organized and five miles of track were constructed from Elwood, across the river from St. Joseph, to Wathena. On April 28, 1860, its first locomotive, the Albany, was ferried across the Missouri and placed on the tracks. This was a great occasion. River packets, streaming with bunting, brought hundreds of visitors; and as the ferry reached the west shore of the river, men and boys grasped the ropes and pulled the Albany up the steep bank. The track of this road is now a part of the St. Joseph & Western Division of the Union Pacific Railroad.

Spurred by the same enthusiasm, other lines quickly materialized. In 1857 the Leavenworth, Pawnee & Western was organized and the road graded to Pawnee, but no rails were laid; the Atchison & Topeka (now the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe)* was chartered; the Chicago, Kansas & Nebraska (now the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific) was incorporated; and the Union Pacific Railroad, Eastern Division (which later became the Kansas Pacific and a part of the Union Pacific) was organized. *Editors note: Now the BNSF*

The outbreak of the Civil War stopped further independent railway development, but it sped up Federal aid as a war measure. On July 1, 1862, President Lincoln signed an act "to aid in the construction of a Railway and Telegraph line from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean," granting alternate odd-numbered sections of land to the amount of five sections a mile within the limits of ten miles, and a loan of $16,000 per mile to the builders. Three companies were formed the Central Pacific, the Union Pacific, and the Kansas Pacific, each to construct certain portions of the line. But financial difficulties delayed construction; and Congress passed another act, increasing the land granted to the roads to odd-numbered sections within ten miles of either side of the track. As the war was then at its height, the act was designed to bring outlying military posts into closer connection, as well as to promote development of the West.

By 1865 the road was well under way, with the Central Pacific working east over the Sierras, the Union Pacific proceeding west through Nebraska, and the Kansas Pacific completing the connection from the mouth of the Kansas, through Manhattan, Junction City, Salina, and Denver, with the main line at Cheyenne. It took seven years to build the railroad. All materials used by the Union Pacific had to be brought by steamboat and wagon from the East; those for the Central Pacific by water to San Francisco and over the tracks already laid. Virtually every foot of the way was disputed by Indians, fighting to retain their hunting grounds. But at length, on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Point, north of Salt Lake City, a golden spike was driven, and the telegraph signaled to a waiting world, "Done!"

While the line from the Missouri to the Pacific was being built, the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad (growing out of the earlier Atchison and Topeka) was chartered and in 1868 began work at Topeka on a route roughly corresponding with the old Santa Fe Trail. By 1872 it had run its tracks to the western border of Kansas and east from Topeka to complete the connection at Atchison.

By 1882 Kansas had 3,855 miles of railroad track, and 23 years later (in 1905) it had 8,905 miles. The present mileage is approximately 9,000. Today, eight main lines (the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe, Union Pacific, Missouri Pacific, Chicago Rock Island & Pacific, St. Louis & San Francisco, Chicago Great Western, Missouri-Kansas-Texas, and Kansas City Southern) converge at its eastern terminals. For 40 years these roads were the autocrats of Kansas transportation.

But the automobile introduced a new element. Considered as a curiosity at its first appearance about 1900, it soon became a commercial and domestic necessity; and with it came the demand for better roads. In 1937 Kansas had 133,063 miles of roads, of which nearly 9,000 were improved highways. The State maintained more than 9,000 miles. In the same year 586,685 motor vehicles of all types were registered in the State.

From motor vehicles the next step was air transport. Kansas now has 43 airports 35 private and municipal fields, six U. S. Department of Commerce fields, and two Army airports. Wichita is a 4 station on the Kansas City-Dallas route and the Kansas stop for transcontinental service between Los-Angeles and New York. Coffeyville and Chanute are on the route of the Kansas City-Tulsa line, which is devoted only to mail transportation. Within the State are 242 privately-owned, non-commercial planes, 165 of which are licensed.

In recent years there has been a revival of river transportation. In July 1930, Congress authorized a survey to determine the feasibility of barge navigation on the Missouri and Kansas Rivers. As a result, barges are now in operation on the Missouri along the northeastern edge of the State. It was determined that the Kansas was navigable for barges of as much as 1,000-ton capacity for a distance of nine miles from its mouth. In 1937 a river-rail terminal elevator was completed at Kaw Point above the mouth of the Kansas. Here much of the grain carried by rail to the terminal is transferred to barges and shipped to New Orleans for export. These developments indicate that the rivers, which played so great a part in Indian and pioneer transportation, may regain their importance in the State's transportation system.