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On June 26, 1804, Lewis and Clark landed at the mouth of the Kansas River on the first lap of their expedition. By July 4 they had reached a stream in the present Doniphan County, which they named "Independence Creek" in honor of the day, firing an evening gun and rationing out an additional gill of whiskey by way of celebration. Two years later, August 5, 1806, they returned to the mouth of the Kansas with the first reliable information on the climate, topography, and general features of the western country. 

Before the conclusion of the first expedition, a second was organized by the military commandant of Louisiana, General James Wilkinson, and set out from St. Louis June 24, 1806, under command of Captain Zebulon M. Pike. He visited the Osage in Missouri and the Pawnee on the Republican, arriving among the latter on September 25. Here he found a Spanish flag floating over their council tent. The purchase from Napoleon had no fixed western boundary; the United States claimed territory extending to the Rocky Mountains while Spain fixed the line much farther east. Pike demanded that the Spanish flag be hauled down and the American standard be raised in its place, thus putting an end to all Spanish claim east of the Rockies. He turned south to the Arkansas River and followed it to the present site of Pueblo, Colorado, discovering the mountain now known as Pike's Peak. As this was encroaching on Spanish territory, he was captured and taken to Mexico. During his captivity of some months, Pike gathered considerable information as to the possibilities of trade with the Mexican provinces. The accounts of his travels, published in 1810 on his return to the States, directed an avid interest to these provinces. 

Of parts of Kansas he wrote enthusiastically but he saw no possibilities for white settlement in the arid portions of the Louisiana district. "These vast plains of the western hemisphere," his account reads, "may become in time as celebrated as the sandy deserts of Africa; for I saw in my route, in various places, tracts of many leagues where the wind had thrown up the sand in all the fanciful forms of the ocean's rolling wave, on which not a speck of vegetable matter existed." 

Maps, presumably based on Pike's report and showing the desert reaching from the west line of Missouri and Arkansas to the Rocky Mountains, from the Platte to the Red River, were incorporated into the school geographies of that period. This misconception gave rise to the legend of a "great American Desert" that included the whole of Kansas. 


Meanwhile, March 3, 1805, the District of Louisiana was erected into the Territory of Louisiana, independent of the Territory of Indiana and with its own powers of legislation. 

Twelve years elapsed before another expedition was attempted, and during that time a series of events occurred that influenced the future of Kansas. In 1807 Manuel Lisa, a Spanish fur trader, established a number of trading stations about the headwaters of the Missouri River. The Missouri Fur Company was organized the following year by Lisa, together with Auguste and Pierre Chouteau, and a chain of trading posts was established throughout the western country. This company was dissolved in 1812 and was succeeded by the American Fur Company of the Chouteaus, who were beginning to concentrate their activities in Kansas. 

On June 4, 1812, the Territory of Missouri, with its western boundary approximating that of the present State of Missouri, was created from the Territory of Louisiana, leaving the remainder without law or official identification for a quarter of a century.