KANSAS

DESCRIPTION OF THE COUNTRY-ITS SOIL-CLIMATE & RESOURCES,
BY
MARCUS J, PARROTT, GOV. A. H. REEDER, AND M. W. DELAHAY.

Published 1856


The season of the year is now at hand when the annual tide of emigration will set in towards the new States and Territories of the West. At such a time there is generally experienced a want of accurate and reliable information of a practical kind; those who seek such information, wish to judge of the comparative advantages held out to the emigrant by the unsettled domain of the United States.
With a view of supplying this desideratum, so far as a knowledge of Kansas Territory can do so, we venture to offer the results of our observation and experience in that country, to the public.

Our acquaintance with the country, is contemporaneous with its organization as a territory; we claim a familiarity with the resources of the country-a knowledge of it which has been slowly acquired and thoroughly-tested. Our aim is to induce persons to go to Kansas, to go advisedly, to go to stay. The statements and suggestions herein made, are directed to this end, and we hold ourselves responsible for their truth.

The Territory of Kansas is bounded on the North by Nebraska, on the South by the country of the Cherokees (Cha-lu-kee) and New Mexico, on the East by the State of Missouri, and on the West by the Rocky Mountains, Utah, and New Mexico. The bill, providing a temporary Government for the Territory, defines its limits as follows:

"Beginning at a point on the Western boundary of the State of Missouri, where the thirty-seventh parallel of North latitude covers the same; thence West on said parallel, to the Eastern boundary of New Mexico; thence North on said boundary to latitude thirty-eighth ; thence following said boundary Westward to the Eastern boundary of Utah, on the summit of the Rocky Mountains.; thence Northward on said summit, to the fortieth parallel of latitude; thence East in said parallel to the Western boundary of the State of Missouri; thence South with the Western boundary of said State, to the place of beginning."

The breadth is not quite three degrees of latitude, owing to an imperfect Southern line, from East to West; it is more than one hundred and twenty degrees of longitude. The area is 114,793 square miles. But a small portion, comparatively, of this region of country, attracts public notice as being immediately available for settlement This portion, to which our observations are almost exclusively confined, lies on the Eastern side of the Territory, immediately adjacent to the State of Missouri, extending the entire length of the Eastern boundary, and having an average breadth of about two hundred miles. The Missouri river, as an Eastern boundary, washes it for over one hundred miles. The sources of the principal rivers in Kansas, as well as their entire flow, is within these limits. It is better known, and perhaps on that account, thought to be a better country in some respects, particularly for infant settlements, than the adjacent tract lying immediately west of it. The advantages afforded by its contiguity to the States and the Missouri river, will undoubtedly give it a temporary preference over the more remote points. These considerations have naturally had their weight in the outset, although not then so fully understood and recognized as now, the effect of which has been to chiefly concentrate immigration on this district. This country we may say, in general terms, is highly favored by nature. In the natural productions of the soil, and the salubrity of the climate-in all the elements that constitute the capacity of a country to sustain a large population of mixed pursuits, it may challenge a comparison with any part of the great West. The surface of the country is an undulating prairie, enriched during the greater part of the year with the nutritious grasses indigenous to the soil; timber, limestone, coal, and running water, are well distributed, and in quantities more abundant than in other prairie countries. The growth of small grain, and the culture of live stock, are the leading agricultural interests indicated by the peculiarities of the soil. The efforts already made by the settlers in the country, at the mission houses and at other places, in point of time, before the present organization of the Territory, demonstrate the success which attends labor when applied in this direction. That others may determine for themselves the merits of the country, we present an analysis of its resources, and furnish data on which an opinion may be founded.

THE SOIL.

The soil is a rich, black, vegetable mould ; the undulations of the prairie are gentle and very regular, and except where beds of limestone crop out, fertile to the summit of the hill. The grasses of the prairie form a tough turf. Breaking the turf, preparatory to planting, is the first most laborious and expensive work of the farmer. In localities where there is a growth of timber or underbrush, the texture of the turf is light, presenting no considerable resistance. It is generally found necessary to employ from three to six yoke of cattle to break the prairie sod, varying somewhat according to the quantity of moisture in the ground.

The sod crop, as the crop raised on newly broken ground is called, though in general good, is much inferior to that raised upon old ground, or ground broken up the year before. This is partly owing to the fact that the decay of the sod fertilizes and enriches the soil. The first crop therefore, besides what it actually yields, is beneficial in fitting the ground for more profitable production in future seasons. One peculiarity of the soil of this country, worthy of remark, is its extraordinary capacity to endure a drouth. In this important respect it is unequalled, and exacts the surprise of persons unfamiliar with the fact. Vegetation is not nearly so unfavorably affected by long continued dry weather as in the States east of the Mississippi river. The ground does not crack open-grain, blades of corn, vines and fruit, do not wilt, shrivel up, and lose their fresh appearance from the effects of drouth, unless, perhaps, it be very extraordinary. The regular rains occur in the Spring of the year; little rain falls at any other time. The moisture thus imparted to the soil, not only assists to prepare it for breaking and planting, but is in general sufficient for the season.

THE TIMBER.

The scarcity of timber in Kansas, as in every prairie country, is the chief obstacle to its rapid settlement. Immigrants from Illinois, Iowa, and other prairie countries, do not complain in this respect.

The Illinois immigrants agree, that Kansas is better supplied with timber than that State. They also largely prefer the rolling prairie to the flats, which prevail altogether in Illinois. Large bodies of timber are only found in the vicinity of the principle water courses. No water course, however insignificant, but furnishes its quota of trees. The most common varieties are the different kinds of oaks, walnut, elm, blackberry, hickory and cotton wood. On the uplands; where the prairie is swept by annual fires, the timber is stunted, but of great toughness of fiber, and on that account, excellently adapted to manufacturing purposes. There is timber enough in Kansas to meet the wants of the country until more can be produced. It is hardly possible to find any spot of prairie so isolated as not to be within reach of timber. On the Nemaha and its branches, in the southern part of the Territory, in the Neosho, Osage, and Arkansas rivers, timber is quite abundant, and openings of timber also occur there. In this respect, that is to say in woodlands, the southern portion of the Territory is better provided than the northern or middle portions.

STONE AND COAL.

Limestone of a superior quality in large quantities, is abundant in Kansas. Almost every section of the country is well supplied with it. Many houses in the towns and country are built of this material. Fences are also being made of it. The dearth of timber is to a great extent overcome by the unusual amount of stone to be found in the country. In the vicinity of Fort Riley, on the head waters of the Kansas river, and it may be in other places, the stone is white, and of a peculiar fineness. When first quarried it is soft, but hardens on exposure to the atmosphere. The government houses, at this extensive military post, are all constructed of this material. Other qualities of stone are doubtless to be found, but none that can be made so useful as the limestone.

Besides the presence of limestone, to supply to some extent the scarcity of timber, there is also coal found in Kansas, contributing to the same end.

It is the opinion of scientific men, that the great coal fields of Missouri, lying north of the river, extend into the eastern division of Kansas Territory. Observations confirm this opinion. Detached, or fragmentary specimens of bituminous coal, are found in various localities. In some places, where the exigency seemed to require or justify it, veins have been opened for the purpose of supplying a neighborhood or a town with fuel. Such is the case, for example, at the city of Leavenworth, and also at Topeka. At this time, little is of course known as to the extent of the veins from which supplies have been drawn. The coal is of a good quality. The indications for inexhaustible veins of coal are rather promising. If they should be realized, and thus enable settlers in a great degree to dispense with wood as an article of fuel, it will materially obviate the objection on the score of timber. We have no doubt that it will be so, from what is already known.

WATER AND WATER COURSES

The Kansas river, called by early settlers the Kaw, is the principal river of the Territory, the only one in fact deserving that name. It is formed by a junction of the waters of the Republican and Smoky Hill. The river flows eastward to its mouth on the thirty-ninth parallel of latitude and the ninety-sixth degree of longitude.

Its valleys varies in width from twenty to forty miles, near its mouth, growing gradually narrower as you ascend to its source. In length, it is near two hundred miles; steamboats have ascended to Fort Riley at its-head; whether it will prove capable of steady navigation is however a mooted point, on which those most experienced in such matters are divided. The smaller streams are plenty and of various size. The Neosho is the most important, as watering a country of great magnitude, and of superior fertility. These streams are deeply indented in the surface of the country, have hard stony bottoms and high steep banks, beyond which the water never rises-in seasons of freshet. In quality, the water is good, and the quantity sufficient for the common purposes of the farmer. Springs of both hard and soft water are distributed through the country. The following extract,, from the journal of Col. Fremont, will show something of the streams, in mid-summer, in the extreme western portion of the country of which we are writing, it will give also some general aspects of the country in the remote western limit. "We arrived," he says, "on July 8, at the mouth of the Smoky Hill Fork, which is the principal southern branch of Kansas, forming here with the Republican or northern branch, the main Kansas river. For several days we continued to travel along the Republican, through a country beautifully watered with numerous streams, handsomely timbered.

Now and then we caught a glimpse of a small herd of Elk; and occasionally a band of Antelopes, whose curiosity sometimes brought them within rifle range: The bottoms, which form the immediate valley of the main river, were generally about three miles wide, having a rich soil of black vegetable mould, and for a prairie country, well interspersed with wood. The country was everywhere covered with a considerable variety of grains, occasionally poor and thin, but more frequently luxuriant and rich. On the evening of the 14th, we encamped on a little creek in the valley of the Republican, two hundred and sixty-five miles, by our travelling road from the mouth of the Kansas." The country in this respect--that of water- has not made a good impression on the emigrant, owing to the fact that the streams and springs, during the summers of '53 and '54, were affected by the great drouth which prevailed at that time through the United States. Of the facilities afforded by the streams of the Territory for military sites, not much is certainly known; good mill sites are to be found on the Neosho, Nemaha and Blue rivers. On Grasshopper creek, at the falls, a grist and saw mill are now in operation with water as the motive power. Wells of fine water are found even on the highest uplands, by digging a not uncommon depth. There is no standing or stagnant water, and no swamp lands in Kansas.

ROADS, POSTAL FACILITIES

No country, perhaps in the world, is better provided by nature, with roads than Kansas. Mud, the principal difficulty encountered on natural roads is seldom seen here, such is the perfect drainage afforded by the rolling character of the surface of the country. Three great roads, laid out and maintained by the General Government, traverse the territory. The Laramie road, from Fort Leavenworth in the north, the California and Fort Riley in the centre, and the Santa Fe road in the south. These roads are kept in repair and used by the Government for the transportation of supplies to its military posts in the mountains, or on the plains. Besides these there is a fourth running along the eastern boundary of the territory, from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Scott. The only expense in making a road, is the bridging of streams. Lines of stage coaches are established to the principal points in the territory. The means of private conveyance can now be had at the ordinary rates of such accommodation, at Kansas and Westport, Missouri, or at Leavenworth City. The postal facilities of the territory, are now much better than those found usually in a newly organized territory. Post offices are established in every well settled neighborhood. The mail service is weekly, semi-weekly, and tri-weekly, as the importance of the point may justify.

CLIMATE.

The climate of Kansas has been generally overrated. It is not a southern climate. It has, however, conspicuous advantages, and on the whole, Kansas is superior in this respect to the Eastern country in the same latitude. In dryness and purity of atmosphere, it is unsurpassed. These qualities render it highly, invigorating and strengthening to the system. Invalids of pulmonary complaints find the air beneficial. In general, little snow or rainfalls during the winter months. The heat of summer is tempered by a gentle wind, which invariably blows from the prairie; the nights, too, in the hotest days of summer, are cool and refreshing. Cattle are not unfrequently wintered in the bottoms, without shelter and with little or no food, save that which they find in the woods and meadows. This is more especially the case in the southern part of the territory, in the Neosho country. Ague and fever prevail to some extent, but it may be generally traced to exposure, or to an injudicious location on low ground.

The value of timber in a prairie country is such as to make it a leading object with the squatter, and in order to secure it on his claim, a house is built in the timber. This locality is not nearly, so favorable to health as the uplands. Settlers, indeed, on the high tract of the prairie, are never troubled with ague and fever, or other complaints common to newly settled communities. The climate is certainly favorable to health and longevity.

PRE-EMPTIONS, SURVEYS

The settlements in Kansas Territory are on the public lands, with few exceptions, under the provisions of the law regulating pre-emptions. The leading features of the Statutes on this subject, are that the individual claiming the benefit of the acts must be-First, a citizen of the United States, or have filed his declaration of intention to become a citizen. Second, either the head of a family, or a widow, or a single man over the age of twenty-one years. Third, all inhabitants of the tract sought to be entered upon, which in person he has made a settlement and erected a dwelling house since the 1st of June, 1840, and prior to the time when the land is applied for. The land must also, at the date of the settlement, have had the Indian title extinguished.

Only one person on a quarter section is protected by law, and that is the one who made the first settlement, provided he shall have conformed to the other provisions of the law. A person who has once availed himself of the provisions of the act, cannot at any future period, or at any other land office, acquire another right under it. No person who is the proprietor of three hundred and twenty acres, in any State or Territory of the United States, is entitled to the benefits of this act.; No person who shall; quit or abandon his residence on his own land to reside on public land in the same State or Territory, is entitled to the benefits of this act. A person bringing himself within each of the above requirements, by proof satisfactory to the Register and Receiver of the land district in which the lands may lie, will after having taken the affidavits required by the act, be entitled by legal subdivisions to any number of acres not exceeding one hundred and sixty, or a quarter section, to include his residence, and he may avail himself of the same at any time prior to the first day of the public sale of lands, including said tract where the land has not been proclaimed. The proof and payment may be made at any time before the first day of the public sale. The progress already made in surveying the public lands of the territory, will now enable the squatter to know in most instances the legal foundation of his claim, and also to avoid making a location on sections reserved by law for school purposes, the sixteenth and thirty-sixth in each township. Those who squatted on the lands prior to the surveys, were exposed in this respect. There is yet an abundance of good land in good neighborhoods, which may be taken up by pre-emptors during the spring and early summer months. Four millions of acres are surveyed, and will be brought into the market during the months of July and August, if not earlier. Giving to each man in the territory a quarter section of land, there would still remain open to pre-emption or purchase in the spring three millions of acres.

The Land Office is temporarily located at the capital, and no delay need occur in perfecting a title. The land often to be offered for sale is among the most desirable in the territory. An opportunity, it is seen, will thus be offered at an early day, for those who have the inclination and the means to secure more land than the limited quantity provided for by the pre-emption laws-such persons should be in the territory at least as early as May, to view the land, thus to be disposed of. Land warrants will be received in pay for all lands subject to private entry.

Mr. Eli Moore is Register, and Thomas C. Shoemaker Receiver of the Land Office. Those who desire to secure land for cultivation will find the present the most favorable time. At the time of the public sales, the actual settlers, or those who desire to become such, should purchase the land, as otherwise it passes into the hands of non-resident speculators, to be held without improvement, or sold at an advanced price. In the State of Iowa this practice is loudly complained of as seriously retarding the settlement of the state. It is therefore desirable, that the demands of the actual inhabitants, and those who design to become such, should come so near the supply of land offered, as to prevent any large amount of evil from this cause. It is expected that this will the case.

LOCATIONS.

The great variety of objects and of taste, among those even who desire to till the soil, render it impossible to point out localities that will please all. This much may however be safely said-that large bodies of land may be obtained in the neighborhood of Fort Riley and in the southern part of the territory. In the locality first named, a fine market exists for surplus crops of any kind. Those who desire small farms in a thickly settled country, will find it to their advantage to look at the valley of the Wakarusa. The southern part of the territory is more favorable to the growth of stock. The Neosho region furnishes fine grazing the year round. The better plan, however, in this matter, would be to consult friends or acquaintances, or for each one to make examination for himself after reaching the country. Such information and assistance as they can afford, we venture to say, will be cheerfully given by the settlers now in the territory.

INHABITANTS, INDIANS

The bulk of the present population of Kansas is from the Western States and Territories-for the most part farmers. The average of intelligence, industry and neighborly kindness, is highly creditable, and will compare favorably with any community, new or old, of any country. The Indians in the eastern district or division of the territory, are not numerous. They have given up nomad life. Two o£ the most powerful tribes-the Wyandotts and Shawnees-have taken steps to abandon their tribal organization, and incorporate themselves with the government of the whites on equal terms. By the provisions of the treaties made with the United States for this purpose, they are to relinquish all their lands, except a specified number of acres-about two hundred-which are to be held in severalty and fee simple by patent from the Government. The occupations of these Indians is farming, and although wanting in knowledge and steady application, they still rely entirely on the produce of the soil for their support. Their dispositions are quiet, their deportment peaceable, inclined however to be reserved in their social intercourse with the whites. The number of white population at present in the territory (March 1856) is variously estimated at from thirty to sixty thousand; the middle grounds probably approximates more nearly to the number. All computation is however uncertain, whilst immigration continues to flow in throughout the year.

TOWNS AND TOWN SITES.

Leaven worth and Lawrence are the only towns of the territory that have attained any importance in a commercial point of view. Leavenworth is situated on the south bank of the Missouri river, near the head of steamboat navigation during low water. It has a good landing, an enterprising and intelligent population, in numbers, about fifteen hundred. It is well supplied with churches and schools. Immigrants for the Kansas valley should by all means land at this point, as it affords the best facilities for reaching any point on the Kaw river or north of it, as well as for obtaining information and advice. Kansas city, in Missouri, is the best point of the river for those who desire to go into the southern part of the territory. Outfits of any kind or quantity, carriages or buggies or wagons, mules or horses, in short any want can be supplied in Leavenworth. The next town, Lawrence, in point of size and importance, is thirty miles distant from Leavenworth, in the interior, on the south bank of the Kansas or Kaw river. The town was projected by emigrants from New England, but its population is now mixed, embracing representatives from every part of the country. It has a population of eight to ten hundred. Topeka is the next place in point of size. It is situated on the Kaw river, twenty-five miles west of Lawrence, and is surrounded by a fine agricultural country. The houses are built of stone, which is quite abundant at this point. Topeka has a population of about five hundred souls, and can boast of a society, which for refinement and hospitality, cannot be excelled. The land on which the town stands has been secured by the company in such a way as to guarantee a perfect title to the purchaser. This town is spoken of as the Capital of the State, for which it has formidable claims. Lecompton, fifteen miles above Lawrence, on Kaw river, is chiefly important as the territorial seat of government, and the land office. Council city, on the Santa Fe road, is a flourishing settlement of New Yorkers. Osawattamie, at the junction of the Osage and Pottawattamie creek, is attracting attention for its advantages and rapid growth. Easton and Ocena, on Stranger creek, Doniphan and Delaware, on the Missouri, are points worthy of notice to those who purpose settling in a town. Town sites have been marked out, and beginnings made, in almost every county in the Territory. These points can already furnish ordinary supplies to the neighboring settlers, and must largely advance as the country around them is brought under cultivation. The principal want of the larger towns, is mechanics and day laborers.

ROUTES.

The emigrant to Kansas has a choice of routes. One route is by St. Louis and the Missouri river-the other over land through Iowa. The difference in expense, or the time taken up in the journey, is inconsiderable. From Chicago, through Iowa, it is five or six days journey to the territory. By St. Louis and Missouri river, the time is more uncertain, depending on the condition of the river, but in general, perhaps a day or two less. The expense from Chicago, by either route, will be twenty or twenty-five dollars. Cattle can be bought cheap in Western Missouri; and those who wish to buy stock, will find it to their advantage to travel through the State of Missouri.

POLITICS.

The political condition of Kansas Territory is unfixed. An extraordinary excitement has prevailed from the first, and the settlers have been called upon to exercise the right of self-defense to an extent, which would have been unnecessary and unjustifiable in a well governed country. There is a large numerical preponderance of northern settlers in the Territory. At the point to which we have now arrived, it is easy to forsee that the local institutions of the country, moulded by the people, will give the greatest scope and dignity to free white labor. No measure is however so likely to bring about a speedy and peaceful solution of the question, which has hitherto agitated the country, as an influx of population. We need make no other suggestion on this point, than to say, that whilst we have found no person who claims that there is any thing in the soil, climate, or geography of the territory, incompatible with the economical institutions, which characterize the free States of the North; on the other hand, a certain majority believe this class of institutions indispensable to the speedy development of the resources of the territory. In conclusion, we advise those of our fellow-citizens, who purpose trying their fortunes in the West, to candidly examine the claims of Kansas, to rank first in territorial importance.

back to index

Copyright © 2011 to Kansas Genealogy Trails' host & all Contributors
  All rights reserved