About Us
Museum Membership
Event Schedule
Museum Newsletters
Museum Displays


River Navigation


              [Note: Dates not in sequence. Some articles from Kay’s notes. MAW]

Arkansas City Traveler, November 17, 1880.
We understand that Mr. L. C. Wood, formerly of this city but now of Wichita, has secured from the Government the contract for removing snags from the Arkansas river between Wichita and Fort Gibson. He is building a boat at Wichita, and expects to be in Arkansas City about the first or second week in December. If our friend can crown his labors with success, we may look for a revival of the navigation scheme.

Arkansas City Traveler, December 8, 1880.
                                                    THE DREDGE BOATS.
The Arkansas river crafts, to which the Beacon so sneeringly refers, are now about ready for business—will be finished tomorrow.
The main working boat, which is of the flatboat pattern, is 14 x 45, bottomed with two-inch plank, and heavily braced and floored. Upon it will be placed the derricks, ropes, tackle, anchors, and machinery for taking up snags, stumps, trees, and other obstructions from the river—the work to begin here at once.
The other boat is a small, covered one, intended for private use, storing tools, living in, and keeping such things safe and dry as it is not best or practicable to leave exposed. This “vessel” is only 7 x 23, and it is solidly, as well as neatly, built.
There can be no mistaking it, there is wisdom in the move­ment, whether it is a pet hobby of Hon. Thomas Ryan or any other person. The river should be kept clean, whether it can be made navigable or not. But we believe it can be made so; and most effectually, for light draught vessels.
When that is accom­plished, look out for a rise in wheat and other products, the same as they have at Fort Smith, or approxi­mating thereto. Wheat there is now quoted at one dollar; corn, 56 and 70, and other things in proportion. Let the clearing go on.Wichita Republican.

                                                   [Information Kay Dug Out.]
When Cowley County was first opened for settlement in 1870, there was a larger volume of water flowing in the rivers than today. Farm produce that was not consumed locally had to be moved to market. Cattle were driven but corn and grain had to be hauled by team and wagon. Mills were at the forefront of manufac­turing developed in the county as it is more economical to ship flour than to ship wheat. Shelled corn is better to ship than corn on the cob, and corn meal is better than either.

Until the railroad arrived in 1879, farmers and mer­chants were looking for a cheaper way than by wagon. Water suggested an alternative until the railroad arrived. After the railroad arrived, dissatisfaction quickly arose with the freight rates, and water transportation again was considered as an alterna­tive.
The earliest attempt was in the fall of 1872. A. W. Berkey, of Salt City (Geuda Springs), and A. C. Winton built a small flatboat at Arkansas City, Kansas, loaded it with flour and started down the river for Little Rock, Arkansas. They faced about 450 miles of unknown river guarded by Indians but they made the trip in a reasonable time without incident. They sold the flour and flat­boat and returned overland to Arkansas City.
The December 8, 1875, Traveler reported, “We learn from Fred Brown, of Beaver township, that Oliver Wiley, of Rock Township, is floating a flatboat on the Arkansas, 18 by 16 feet with a small room on it, where his wife and children keep him company. His boat draws 15 inches loaded as it is with potatoes, which he intends to take to Fort Smith, Arkansas. The name of the boat is the “Arkansaw Traveler” and it will pass the bridge at this place about the first of next week. If this trip proves successful, other boats will follow between this time and next spring.

On the strength of this trip, a stock company called the Arkansas City Navigation Com-pany was organized. They sent Samuel Hoyt east to purchase a light draught packet boat. He went to Ohio where he purchased a boat, named General Wiles, for $3000 and hired a captain and crew. They steamed down the Ohio and into the Mississippi then to the mouth of the Arkansas where they encoun­tered prob­lems. There was high water on the Arkansas and the engine was not powerful enough to work against the strong cur­rent. After a delay of several weeks they got as far as Little Rock where they sold it for $300. 

Our congress­man Thomas Ryan worked up a appropriation of $30,000 for the purpose of a survey of the river from Little Rock to Wichita. On April 2, 1878, he wrote the following, “The House Comittee on Commerce has agreed to provide for a survey of the Arkansas from Fort Smith up to the mouth of the Little Arkansas (Wichita), to determine the cost and practicability of making it navigable for commercial boats. The survey will be through, embracing the subjects of river, slack water and canal navigation.”
The U. S. Engineer’s office reported on May 1, 1879. They determined that it was 409 miles from Wichita to Fort Smith by water. They estimated that it would cost $900,000. The estimates presented are for removing snags and rocks and so contracting the width of the stream as to give at low water a depth of about 2 feet.
      After Hoyt’s fiasco, spirits were dampened until the Summer of 1878. W. H. Speer and Amos Walton had quietly equipped a “Ferry-flat” named “Arkansas Traveler” with a ten horse-power threshing machine engine. This flat was 50 feet long and sixteen feet wide and drew ten inches of water. It made several trips to Grouse Creek, Walnut River as far as Harmon’s ford, Salt City (Geuda Springs), Oxford, the Kaw Indian Agency and other points along the river. These experimental trips were all made before the annual “June rise” of the Arkansas River.
Sunday, May 5th, the Arkansas Traveler loaded with excursionists, made a trip to Salt City (Geuda Springs) without trouble. Becoming too confident, they then endeavered to return to Arkansas City after dark and stuck on a sand bar, till morn­ing. This caused many persons to return home on foot. The next morning after getting off the sand bar, it only took 45 minutes to return the seven miles.
Saturday June 15, 1878, E. G. Bartlett launched a stern-wheeler at Oxford to operate on the Arkansas River.
Saturday June 29, 1878, the Wichita Beacon reported that the fast “flat” named Wichita, left island number three bound for Arkansas City.
Mr. I. H. Bonsall, an experienced engineer and prominent citizen of Arkansas City, had been in correspondence with busi­ness men of Little Rock and induced them to send a boat on a trial trip to the upper country. The little steamer “Aunt Sally” was selected and manned. Her length is 85 feet, width 18 feet, and she draws 12 inches light and 18 inches loaded. She is registered at a capacity of 65 tons.
They left Little Rock of June 18 and arrived safely at Harmon’s ford in Arkansas City, Sunday morning, June 30, 1878, and had on board a gentleman who was sent here to buy old wheat for ship­ment. The boat offered an excursion at 4 p.m. and three hundred and seventeen embarked and had a delight­ful voyage. The only difficulty was when A. A. Newman fell into the river while trying to board the ship.
The plan in navigating this river was to run a line of barges. A solid, compact boat, with a powerful engine, could have made a fortune soon in plying between this point and Little Rock. The facts were self evident, yet a few figures may not be unin­ter­esting. the pine flooring which our people bought cost but $15 per thousand in Little Rock, and we had to pay $60 for the same quality at Wichita. Pressed hay could not be bought in Little Rock for less than $15 or $18 per ton, while we could lay it down at the wharf here for $5. Corn was worth 60 cents per bushel there, and in September, 1878, you could buy all you wanted here for 15 cents per bushel. It will cost less than one-half to ship wheat to New Orleans than it costs to ship it to Kansas City from Wichita by rail.
The “Aunt Sally” left Arkansas City to return to Little Rock on Saturday, July 6, 1878. The boat left without any loading because the captain had doubts about being able to get through. The boat took two passengers, C. R. Mitchell, who is an attorney from Arkansas City, and L. C. Harter, who owns the Tunnel Flour Mill in Winfield.


After the “Aunt Sally” returned south, Henry and Albert Pruden and O. J. Palmer, of Salt City (Geuda Springs), started for Little Rock with a “ferry-flat” loaded with seven hundred bushels of wheat. The wheat was bought by a Little Rock firm for shipment on the “Aunt Sally” but the Captain declined to load it so it was sent on the “ferry-flat”. This wheat brought 90 cents a bushel in Little Rock though only 50 cents a bushel could be obtained by hauling it to Wichita. The gentlemen returned, report­ing a successful trip and a good state of water.
Mr. Mitchell returned Friday, July 26, and reported that they found low water among the islands at the mouth of the Salt Fork river, and down in the Creek Nation, but that the greatest difficulty in finding a channel lay in the fact that the water was constantly falling, which made it impossible to tell exactly where to go. This is the case in any river where there are sand bars, or where the channel is liable to change. Mr. Mitchell further reports that with but little improvement the river is navigable the greater portion of the year, except probably in extreme low water.
By a system of jetties the diffi­culties at the Salt Fork and in the Creek country could be removed with but very little cost, when the river from Arkansas City to Little Rock would furnish better facilities for naviga­tion than the lower portion of the River does. Our wheat would bring from ninety cents to $1.10 per bushel, instead of only seventy-five cents, as had been reported. It is far superior to Texas wheat, the latter being dried and shriveled.
Mr. Mitchell interviewed four ship owners who are planning to come up next spring. He then went on to St. Louis to obtain estimates in boat building and found that many river men of that city were manifesting considerable interest in this project and who propose sending boats next spring.
Mr. L. C. Harter returned from Little Rock on Friday, August 10, and said they made the trip to Little Rock in 12 days. Some three or four days of this time was spent in laying over and delays which were unnecessary had the boat desired to make the trip in as short a time as possible. The channel was very erratic and difficult to trace. They had to find a channel with at least 20 inches of water.
John McClaskey and J. H. Seymour decided to build thenselves a steamer. They hired Cyrus Wilson to superintend at the shipyard on the west bank of the Arkansas River, just oppo­site Arkansas City. The hull of this boat was 83 feet long and 16 feet wide on the bottom. It was 86 feet long and 18 feet wide on the boiler deck. She carried two twenty horse-power engines, and with all her machinery, drew less than eight inches of water. This steam­boat was named “Cherokee” and was launched Wednesday afternoon of November 8, 1878. The “CHEROKEE” was the first steamboat built in Kansas.
Lois Hinsey reported “Local merchants, still determined to establish an inland shipping point, purchased the “KANSAS MILLERS,” which had been built at Fort Smith. She was loaded with flour and attempted the trip back, but so many sand bars were encountered that the whole project was abandoned. Later the boat was rechristened the “BELLE OF THE WALNUT” and served as a local pleasure boat for years.”
Sept. 25, 1879. “Some gentleman from the north part of the state is building a small steamboat for the Walnut, which he intends to run between here and Arkansas City when the water isn’t too low. He proposes lifting the boat over the dams with a windlass. The hull is already built, and is thirty feet long and six feet beam. It will be a “side-wheeler,” and will be pro­pelled by a Paine engine of three horsepower. We hope he will succeed with his enter­prise, and are quite certain that he will find enough pleasure-seekers to make it a paying investment.

DEC 11, 1879. Last Saturday we took a trial trip on the miniature steam­boat, the “Necedah,” of which we have spoken before as being built by Mr. E. R. Appleby for the Walnut at this place. The boat is a perfect little beauty, is 31 feet long, and 7 feet wide, will carry 40 persons, and is propelled by a “Corney” engine, three-horse power, built especially for this boat. We steamed up the river over five miles, made several stoppages, and returned in less than two hours. The boat was as smooth as a Mississippi river steamer, and can be propelled at the rate of 8 miles an hour. It is the intention of the builder to run it as a pleasure boat, and no person could pass an hour more pleasantly than by taking a ride up the river on the little “Necedah.”
May 21, 1903. Speaking of navigating the Arkansas river brings to the minds of all old settlers the few times that steam boats were ever run this far up the river.
“The Arkansas is not the river it was fifteen years ago,” said L. A. Wismeyer, for nearly thirty years an Indian trader at Gray Horse, in the Osage nation. “High water began coming in March and the river was full till July, augmented in June by the snow water from the moun-tains. It may seem like fiction, but I once received from Arkansas City, Kan, a cargo of flour by steamboat which was unloaded near where the Santa Fe railroad crosses the Arkansas above Ralston. It was a sure enough steamboat, too, but the Arkansas traffic was unremuner-ative, and was abandoned.”
This boat was the Kansas Millers and was owned at Arkansas City. Its history was told by Mr. C. H. Searing, of the Arkansas City Milling company, who said:
“The idea of building this steamer originated with James Hill, who built the canal here, two roads and was interested in one of the mills. Mr. Hill’s purpose in building the boat was to distribute the products of the mills down the Arkansas river. He succeeded in interesting the Bliss-Wood Milling Co. of Winfield, V. M. Ayres, of Arkansas City, and Searing & Mead, of Arkansas City, besides his own mill. Each agreed to pay one-fourth of the expense of building the boat, which was a very good flat-bottomed stern wheel, iron steamboat, about 200 feet long.
“It was built at Carondelet, Mo., at a cost of about $10,000. After using it awhile it was thought best to get two steel barges, which was done. The whole outlay was about $14,000. It was paid for equally by the four mills interested.
“The boat was named the Kansas Millers, and made, as I remember, one trip to Little Rock, one to Fort Smith and several other shorter ones, which were not profitable. It lay idle for a while and then was sold to an old steamboat captain, who ran it down the river. The last I ever heard of it was ten or twelve years ago, when it was sold to be in the lumber and wool trade on the lower Arkansas. The people who put their money in the boat lost it all, and naturally are not very enthusiastic as to navigating the Arkansas river this far up. But I would state that at that time there was certainly several times as much water in the Arkansas river in the summer season as there is now, as no water was taken out for irrigation in Colorado.”

                                       STEAMBOATS - ARKANSAS RIVER.
                    Item from the Arkansas City Tribune, Page Nine, February 25, 1943.
                                            Arkansas City Planned for Sea Shore
                         Pioneer Citizens Here Had Dreams of Making Arkansas River

                                                Naviga­ble and Made the Effort.
                              Two Steamboats Came Up Arkansas in Days Gone By.
                                                         (By R. C. Howard)
In the middle seventies Arkansas City had a dream of making the Arkansas river navigable, but failed. However, it made a heroic effort to do so, demonstrating the town was on its toes then as now. In those days there was much more water in the Arkansas and Walnut rivers than in these later years.
In the early eighties Federal Secretary Dern at Wash­ington, sponsored a waterway program which revied This Good Town’s dream of making the Arkansas river navigable to Arkansas City, making it the head of navigation. The idea then was to come up the Arkansas, then enter the Walnut which flows into the Arkansas three miles south of the city. The place selected for the sea shore was at a location then called Harmon’s park, on East Madison avenue, just north of the present Walnut river bridge where the water was deepest, and was used for canoeing and as an “old swimming hole.”
To the late J. E. Wolfe, born here and who lived here for years, but at the time of his death resided at 1016 Victoria avenue, Los Angeles, California, I am indebted both for the pictures and write-up. He will be remembered here by oldtimers as Emmet. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. W. P. Wolfe, were pioneer residents of this city. From his father, Emmet inherited the picture of the “Aunt Sally,” which appears in this article. Also the story of the Aunt Sally, the first steamboat to navigate the Arkansas river as far up the stream as Arkansas City. Accompany­ing the small picture of the Aunt Sally was a report of the event, taken from the Wichita Beacon, both of which Emmet sent me in August, 1935, and which have been stored in my “private archives” since and which had been almost forgotten by me. In a recent desk cleaning job, I unearthed the picture of the Aunt Sally and the story of its coming as reported at that time.
The Beacon’s story follows.
“The long cherished dream of southern Kansas pioneers of making Arkansas City the head of navigation on the Arkansas river may still be realized through the waterways program being spon­sored by Secretary Dern.
“Water transportation for Arkansas City reached the height of its agitation on Sunday morning, June 30, 1878. On that date the ‘Aunt Sally’ steamed into ‘port’ at Arkansas City, after completing a trip on the Arkansas river from Fort Smith, Arkan­sas, with a rich cargo of merchandise.
“The arrival of the ‘Aunt Sally’ climaxed a fight of more than five years to put Arkansas City on the commercial waterways map. In the early 1870s the town made an earnest effort to open river navigation on the Arkansas and asked con­gress for a $30,000 appropriation for that purpose.
“The surrounding communities fought the plan and laughed at it.
“Failing to obtain federal aid, public spirited citi­zens raised purses and sent Samuel Hoyt, long since dead, to the East to interest river boatmen in the scheme. He first made one trip to Washington to wrangle with congress. He failed. He then went to Pittsburgh, purchased a small steamer, and started out for Arkansas City with the captain and the crew of the vessel.

“The steamer nosed its way down the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers and then started back up the Arkansas. But the steamer’s power was not suitable to the cantankerous Arkansas and the ship was docked at Little Rock, Arkansas, and Hoyt made the rest of the trip to Arkansas City overland.
“The trip cost Arkansas Citians nearly $4,000. The steamer itself had cost $3,000 and the owners were glad to take $300 for it to get it off their hands.
“Despite this staggering blow, Arkansas City still dreamed of water navigation on the Arkansas. Finally the news came that the ‘Aunt Sally’ had started from Fort Smith and was expected to arrive in Arkansas City on Tuesday, June 25, 1878.
“The main topic of conversation for days was the steamboat. Many laughed at the idea of a steamer docking at Arkansas City. The boat failed to arrive on schedule and every­body asked every­body else, ‘Have you heard anything of the ‘Aunt Sally’?
“The Saturday before the arrival of the steamer, an Indian runner came into town and said the boat was on its way and might arrive the following Monday.
“Arkansas City was dutifully at church Sunday morning when the blasts of a steam-boat whistle stopped the sermons and the congregations poured out of the churches to ‘gather at the river.’ The ‘Aunt Sally’ had arrived.
“Headlines in the city’s weekly newspaper three days later screamed:
“‘Aunt Sally’! Here We Come! And You Can’t Head Us Off! A Steamboat at Arkansas City!’
“One article started off, ‘Leave your scrub town and come to the sea shore! Be wise today! ‘Tis madness to deter!’
“Another was an invitation to the Santa Fe railroad to lay its line through Arkansas City as a coming waterways and commer­cial center. It read, ‘Santa Fe come tickle us under the chin! A glorious day!’
“‘This, said the enthusiasts, means quick and lasting prosperity for the community. Profitable markets can be reached. The Arkansas is navigable and here is the ‘Aunt Sally’ to prove it.’
“Before sending the steamer back to Little Rock, more than 350 persons were taken for a ride up the river on the sturdy little vessel. Her length was 85 feet, she was 18 feet wide, and drew 12 inches of water.”
The “Aunt Sally” left us in the good old days never to return. But This Good Town never gave up its dream for some years.
Herewith is what Howard had to say in his 1943 article. He referred to “Kansas Miller,” which is wrong. The correct name was “Kansas Millers.”
                                                      “The Kansas Miller.”

Arkansas City’s dream of a sea shore, after the visit of the “Aunt Sally,” went glimmering for almost ten years. However, it was still held in abeyance in the minds of the town builders of Arkansas City and somewhere in the latter 1880s, possibly 1887 or 1888, the idea of navigating the Arkansas river from Fort Smith to Arkansas City was taken up and resulted in the building by local millers in business here at that time, of a steamboat which was christened “The Kansas Miller.”  It wasn’t as large a boat as the “Aunt Sally,” but it was thought to be suitable for water traffic from here to Fort Smith. “The Kansas Miller” drew from eight to ten inches of water when loaded.
The idea of navigating the Arkansas river between Fort Smith and this town, I believe, originated with James Hill, long since deceased. He was one of the “Big Five” town builders who were doing much for the growth and progress of our town at that time.
The “Big Five” was composed of Mr. James Hill, A. A. Newman, Major William Sleeth, C. H. McLaughlin, and Stacy Matlack, all of whom have been dead for some years.
In addition to the “Big Five,” the millers of this city and Winfield were included in promoting the project. Several meet­ings of the group were held and finally the millers, believ­ing so strongly in their idea, concluded to build a flat bottom boat that would draw but a few inches of water and endeavor once more to start the navigation of the Arkansas.
A committee was sent to St. Louis and arrangements were made there for the building of the flat bottomed steamer, which was to perform such a great wonder as navigating the Arkansas river and also bring about a reduction in the freight rates.
Mr. Hill believed so strongly in his idea that he made the statement that they could build a boat that could be run on a very heavy dew. When he made this assertion, however, he forgot to take into consideration the sand bars that floated around in the Arkansas river and still do.
Upon completion of the boat, it was started for this city, coming down the Miss-issippi to the mouth of the Arkansas and then up that river to this Good Town. The coming of the steamboat, “The Kansas Miller,” was announced by the cowboys and Indians, who rode into town telling just how far the boat had come and when it would be here.
Upon the arrival of the boat here a large crowd gath­ered at Harmon’s park, just north of the Madison Avenue bridge to witness the docking. The boat was here for some weeks and was operated for a short time up and down the Walnut, taking excur­sionists as far up the river as Kansas avenue and back for twenty-five cents.
Finally the promoters of “The Kansas Miller” invited the citizens of Arkansas City to come aboard and take a trip down the Walnut and Arkansas rivers to the Kaw County, where they held a picnic. There were possibly one hundred people who accepted the invitation. Upon the boating party’s return, “The Kansas Miller” was anchored in the Walnut river as mentioned above. The party indulged in a dinner on the deck of the boat as indicated by the above picture when the purpose was explained and those present asked to subscribe stock. A number of them entered their sub­scriptions and everything was all set for starting the naviga­tion of the river.
Finally, after being here some weeks, the boat was loaded with flour from the mills in this county and it started for Fort Smith on its tour south.
In attempting to make this trip, the boat had much trouble and landed on sand bars where it had to wait for more water or be pushed off by manpower.
Arriving somewhere in the vicinity of Tulsa, the boat got stuck and refused to budge. Then the promoters of the project were in a quandary as to what to do. Finally it was determined then and there that the dream of navigating the Arkansas river and having a sea shore at this town, must be given up. The boat and the load of flour were disposed of to Indian agencies or to other parties who wished to purchase.

Thus, “The Kansas Miller” project became a memory and never since has any attempt been made to navigate the Arkansas river and make a sea shore for which we so hankered in the early days.
The photograph of the dinner party on “The Kansas Millers” was taken by the late I. H. Bonsall, who was the first photogra­pher in this city. Several parties have copies of this photo, among whom are myself and Mrs. Grace Finney, daughter of the late Dr. Sparks. As an interesting study I am suggesting that you look over the faces in this old picture and see if you recognize any one of them.
The famous historical Aunt Sally steambot of which you have heard so much talk ever since it came up the Arkansas river to demonstrate it was navigable, but failed to establish that fact. The above photo shows a large excursion party of early day citizens all ready for a trip up the river. The Aunt Sally was anchored in the Walnut river at the then Harmon park north of the East Madison avenue bridge across the Walnut river.
Dinner party of pioneer citizens of Arkansas City, held on the deck of the steamboat, “The Kansas Miller,” in 1888, as it was anchored at the then Harmon Park, north of the East Madison avenue Walnut river bridge. Study the picture and see how many you recognize. At the time this picture was taken I knew all who attended, but I cannot recall them all now. Those I can recog­nize in the picture are as follows.
The fellow who was trying to get a chicken leg in his mouth is your humble servant [R. C. Howard]. The man who is attempting to prevent him is the late Henry Endicott. The next man to Mr. Endicott was the late C. Mead, miller. Next is F. M. Steinberger, old time druggist. Then follow two or three whom I am unable to figure out because their likenesses are blurred. The man sitting sidewise at the end of the table was the late Jack Collins, a former real estate man in this city. The next man was the late Major L. E. Woodin, and the man standing up, leaning over, was Tilly Crawford, employed in a drug store in this city in those days. The next man I recognize as the late Tom Kimmel, a former groceryman in this city. Then follows the late Dr. J. W. Sparks, who was at one time mayor of this city, and who practiced medicine here for a number of years. The man with the whiskers was the late Peter Pearson, furniture dealer and undertaker in the early days. The man next to him is the late W. E. Moore, who was a groceryman at that time. Mrs. Moore still lives here.
So far as I know the entire assemblage of these good citi­zens in those days have passed on except the man trying to eat the chicken leg.
                                   1875 Attempt to Float Down Arkansas River.
During the fall of 1875, A. W. Berkey and A. C. Winton, of Cowley County, built a small flat boat at Arkansas City, loaded it with flour, and started down the river bound for Little Rock.

“Between the two cities lay 450 miles of an unknown river frequented by semi-barbarous peoples who had no particular good feeling towards frontiersmen.” The outlook was anything but cheerful but the trip was made without incident and in a reason­able length of time.
The produce disposed of, and the boat sold, the naviga­tors returned overland to Arkansas City. They reported a fair depth of water and a lively current from the State Line to Fort Gibson.
The only drawback lay in the fact that their boat could not breast the current of the return trip, and hence had to be sold, at a disadvantage, downriver. Consequently the next step was to investigate the possibility of acquiring a light steamer which hopefully might be able to make the return trip to Arkansas City against the current.
A joint stock company was formed to finance the ven­ture. An agent was sent to the Ohio River to purchase a suitable steamer to play between Arkansas City and Little Rock.
A light-draught packet was procured, and was started up-river toward Arkansas City. The boat reached a place known as Webbers Falls between Little Rock and Fort Gibson. Here her engines gave out, and it was found she had insufficient power to stem the current, so she was taken back to Little Rock and there sold at a loss to her owners of $2,500.00.
“This failure temporarily dampened the ardor of even the most enthusiastic. Nothing further was attempted until the summer of 1878, when W. H. Speer and Amos Walton, two leading and public-spirited citizens of the county, equipped a “ferry-flat” with a ten-horse-power steam threshing machine engine. The flat was 50 feet long, 16 feet wide, and drew 10 inches of water.
“The boat made several trips up and down the river from Arkansas City, visiting Grouse Creek, the Walnut River, Salt City in Sumner County, the Kaw Indian Agency, Oxford, and other points along the river, and attracting crowds of people wherever it went.
“At Oxford, a public reception was tendered its offi­cers and crew. Those experimental trips were all made while the river was at its lowest stage and prior to the annual June rise.”
While this ferry-flat was still being displayed to an enthusiastic public, I. H. Bonsall, an experienced engineer and citizen of Arkansas City, induced businessmen of Little Rock to send up a boat on a trial trip. The little steamer, Aunt Sally, was a tug-boat built for the sluggish bayous of Arkansaas and was used there in the local cotton trade.
“Although the boat was not designed for swift running water, the Aunt Sally in command of Capt Lewis and Baker, and with a Mr. Chapman as pilot, landed safely at Arkansas City and was moored there in the Walnut River, Sunday morning, June 30, 1878. The officers aboard the steamer expressed the opinion that a boat built especially for the purpose could run regularly between Kansas and Arkansas every day of the year.”
Soon afterward, citizens of Salt City in Sumner County, named Henry and Albert Pruden and O. J. Palmer, loaded a ferry-flat with 700 bushels of wheat. The wheat was sold at a good round figure at Little Rock and the men returned, reporting “a successful trip and a good stage of water.” It must be assumed that, like the Arkansas Cityans three years previously, these men were forced to sell their boat at a sacrifice at the down-river port and return overland.

To convince any remaining local sceptics as to the suitabil­ity of the Arkansas River to handle shipping, Thomas Baird, pioneer farmer and building contractor, wrote the follow­ing above notarized signa­ture.
“During the year 1877, I rafted lumber with very great success from Wichita to Arkansas City. I carried enough lumber down on a raft to build the Methodist Church (north of present Junior College), the old Presbyterian Church, and the materials for three dwellings from four to eight rooms each. I could have run down to New Orleans with the same raft, and from a business standpoint it was very successful. I also carried material with the same raft to build a bridge across the Walnut River. I also played in the local band which accompanied the Aunt Sally.”
The Aunt Sally did not return, and other steamboat owners in the South seemed uninclined to venture up so far with their boats. Therefore, the men of Arkansas City, who are always described by historians as intelligent and energetic, resolved to build a steamboat themselves to make regular trips between Arkansas City and the Indian Agencies in the “Territory.”
“Cyrus Wilson began the building of a boat for the purpose and on Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 6, 1878, “The Cherokee,” the first steamboat ever built in Kansas, was successfully launched at Arkansas City.”
The report, written also in 1878, continues, “The hull of this boat is 83 feet long, and 16 feet wide on the bottom; 85 feet long and 18 feet wide on the boiler deck; beam 22 feet with guards extending two feet around a model bow. She carries two twenty-horse power engines, and with all her machinery, draws less than eight inches of water and when loaded to the guards will not draw over 16 inches.
“The shallowest water found between Wichita and Little Rock during the lowest stage of the river was 18 inches. From this it will be seen that “The Cherokee” will answer the purpose for which it was built, and be of great service in transporting supplies from these counties to the Indian agencies lying south and east of Arkansas City.”
With the Arkansas River opened for navigation, and a good line of boats and barges making regular trips between the points named in this article, business of all kinds will receive a fresh impetus in Southern Kansas. There will be no railroad monopo­lies, no poolings of earnings, and no forming of combina­tions to affect the interest of the producers. The farmers of this remote locality will thus have a highway of their own by which they can exchange their surplus wheat, flour, and corn for the coal and lumber of the lower Arkansas. . . . We patiently await the official report of the (Congressional) commission on the subject of navigating the upper Arkansas River.
CAPTION ON PICTURE NO. 1:  LINED UP FOR THE RACE—Part of the thousands of Cherokee Strip runners who made the race on Sept. 16, 1893, are shown lined up south of Arkansas City. Tower at extreme right was for use of photographers.
CAPTION ON PICTURE NO. 2:  CLOSE-UP VIEWS. This close-up view of Cherokee Strip runners at the state line registration booths offers many contrasts in facial studies. The white slips in hat bands are registration slips.

                                 “Kansas Millers” First Cargo Vessel to Reach City.
                           Navigation Here Began 84 Years Ago Today on Arkansas.
Eighty-four years ago today, July 8, 1885, a steamboat left Fort Smith, Ark., bound upriver on the Arkansas River for Arkan­sas City for a load of flour.
Thus navigation was opened on the Arkansas.
The vessel, after arriving here and loading flour cargo, departed July 31, 1885, for the return trip to Fort Smith.
Next year, in 1970, revived navigation of the Arkansas River is scheduled to reach the Port of Catoosa, Okla., near Tulsa.
And by 1990, the U. S. Corps of Engineers, Tulsa District, envisions the possibility of navigation as far upstream to a point near Wichita, Kan.
The predicted Port of Wichita would actually be on the Walnut River near Augusta, Kan. Barge navigation up the Arkansas River would be as far as Arkansas City, then would turn northward into the Walnut River at the latter’s confluence with the Arkan­sas River just southeast of Arkansas City near the Kansas-Oklaho­ma state line.
In the summer of 1885, beginning in July, steamboat traffic on the Arkansas River was comparatively thick with both freight and passengers, and the “ports” of Arkansas City and Fort Smith were doing a fairly thriving business at the two terminals and in Indian Territory.
It was July 8 of 1885 that the steamer “Kansas Millers” shoved off from Fort Smith on her trial trip northwestward through Indian Territory to Arkansas City.
She put in at Arkansas City at a landing on the Walnut River where the U.S. 166 highway bridge now crosses the Walnut at the east edge of Arkansas City.
The landing was adjacent to a huge pecan grove which had been popular for years as a site for the annual Old Soldiers’ Reunion and Fourth of July events.
The 21-ton vessel, 75 feet in length and with a 15-foot beam, was built on a steel barge-shaped hull, especially for the river flour trade. It was constructed in St. Louis, Mo.
It was a source of wonder to all who saw it churning up­stream toward Kansas, and when it passed the Kaw Indian Agency at what is now Washunga, Okla., many Kaw braves on ponies fol­lowed on shore for miles as the steamer continued on its course.
Ironically, the community of Washunga and its neighbor­ing town of Kaw City, Okla., across the Arkansas River, are being evacuated to make way for the $95 million Kaw Dam and Reservoir now under construction on the Arkansas River.

Arriving safely at Arkansas City, the vessel began taking on cargo, most of which was flour milled here, for trade in Indian Territory as the vessel made its way back to Fort Smith. Captain of the vessel was T. S. Moorhead.
The Arkansas City flour milling firm of Searing & Mead, operators of the Walnut Flour Mills here, loaded several thousand pounds of flour aboard the Kansas Millers, and the vessel depart­ed here July 31, 1885, for the trip to Fort Smith and what was supposed to be a booming venture along the way on the return journey.
The first delivery of 2,000 pounds of flour was to be made at the Kaw Indian Agency.
The river was running full, and the steamer failed to make a landing at the Kaw Agency, but did manage to swing into the bank below the mouth of Beaver Creek, and unloaded the flour on meadowland belonging to Frank Lessert.
Lessert himself delivered the flour to the Kaws by traveling in a wagon several miles to an upstream crossing on Beaver Creek, as the usual crossing near his farm home was too deep from backwater.
C. H. Searing, one of the partners in the flour milling business here, later recalled it cost Searing & Mead several thousand dollars to learn that the bottom of the Arkansas River was too near the top, leading to eventual abandonment of navigat­ing the river for commercial purposes.
Searing said he and Mead each put about $4,000 into the venture, “which was practically a total loss, since we were not able to do enough business to justify the expense.”
He said he recalled one trip he made himself when the Kansas Millers started for the Pawnee Indian Agency with a load of flour, but got only as far as Tipton’s Ranch east of the Ponca Indian Agency at White Eagle in what is now Kay County, Okla.
Searing said he was forced to unload the flour at Tipton’s and have Tipton haul it to the Pawnee Agency by wagon.
With business lagging, the ship’s owners tried to interest businessmen from Arkansas City, Winfield, Wichita, and Welling­ton, Kansas, in buying stock in the venture.
About 20 businessmen were taken as guests on a downriv­er trip aboard the Kansas Millers which anchored at a wooded spot near the Ponca Indian Agency. There they listened to speeches and prospects, but they did not buy any stock.
In the spring of 1886, Capt. E. S. Bliss, of Winfield, Kansas, with three spike-shaped barges in front of the Kansas Millers, started downriver. He had 30,000 pounds of flour on the bow of the Kansas Millers, and 30,000 pounds each on the three barges.
“The first two or three days out from Arkansas City were enjoyable,” Bliss recorded in an account of the trip. “We went about 100 miles the first day, and about 60 miles the second day. We finally reached a point with many islands. There being no regular channel, we were 10 days going 40 miles!
“Our method when on a sandbar was to disconnect the barges from the boat in deep water, using the anchors to hold the boat in place with often four to six men standing on the anchors to give them weight and make them hold.”
Bliss reported that sales of flour were made along the route at “very good prices.”
Despite a severe storm enroute, the vessel reached Fort Smith, having sold about half its flour. The remainder was purchased at Fort Smith by Henderson Collier & Co.

However, losses suffered in the flour ventures soured any further navigation enterprises of the Arkansas River from that time on, but the old dream is being revived as projects continue to sprout along the Arkanss River under the guidance of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, with barge traffic eventually seen as far north as the Augusta and Wichita, Kansas, area.
                            Steamboat Navigation Never Too Successful on Arkansas.
KAW CITY, Feb. 28. Steamboats in Oklahoma were more than a dream in the middle 1880s during Territory days; they were an actuality.
But that mode of cheap water transportation was found unprofitable on an unruly and uncooperative Arkansas river that meanders through Oklahoma from Fort Smith, Ark., to the Oklahoma-Kansas line northwest of Kaw City.
Navigation of the Arkansas was a fond hope of many early-day merchants and traders who actually sent some boats up and down the river in 1885, but they gave up the project when both costs and time combined to defeat their ambitions.
Probably the most accurate recollections of the steamer’s trips through Oklahoma were set down by the late T. M. Finney, a trader for the Kaw Indian tribe who was living at the Kaw agency when the “Kansas Millers” went chugging by.
About 40 years after the navigational efforts, Finney gathered his own recollections and some supporting letters and other documents into a copyrighted booklet called “Pioneer Days With the Osage Indians.”
A son of Finney, Frank F. Finney, now lives in Oklahoma City.
Finney described the “Kansas Millers” as being 75 feet long, 15 feet in the beam, and built on a steel barge-shaped hull. She was a 21-tonner, and besides cargo, had capacity for 20 passengers.
Captain T. S. Moorhead was at the helm, and Finney recalls that the Indians were so overcome at wonder at the spectacle that they mounted their ponies and followed the craft on shore for miles.
The vessel was enroute to a landing on the Walnut river at Arkansas City, Kan., just across the territorial line in Kansas, where the Walnut empties into the Arkansas.
Reaching her Kansas destination, the “Kansas Millers” started the return trip to Fort Smith three weeks later, and Finney recalls that he received the following letter on July 30, 1885, from the firm of Searing and Mead in Arkansas City.
“Dear Sir:  The steamer ‘Kansas Millers’ expects to leave here tomorrow morning for Pawnee agency, and intermediate points and as she had little freight, and we are considerably interested in her, and anxious of her success, we take the liberty of putting on about 2,000 pounds of flour for you, which we trust will be O.K.
“Will probably arrive opposite Kaw tomorrow evening or next morning. Please have team there to receive flour. Mr. Searing will probably be on the boat.”
But there was trouble ahead.
“On the day following the receipt of this message, at about four o’clock in the afternoon, I heard the unfamiliar sound of the boat’s whistle, signaling her arrival. Mounting a pony, I was soon on the bank of the river, which was now flowing bank full.

“To see more clearly, I climbed a tall cottonwood tree, but the steamer was not in sight, in the distance, far down the river. I could see a splash of white, on the grass-covered bank. The steamer had failed to make a landing opposite Kaw, but swinging into the bank below the mouth of Beaver creek, had unloaded the flour on Frank Lessart’s meadow land. Mr. Lessart delivered the flour by traveling several miles to an upper ford  on Beaver, the usual ford near his farm house being too deep, from the back water from the river.”
Later, Finney received a second letter from Searing and Mead, notifying him to pay Lessart for freight, and concluding “Hoping we may strike near the agency if we try again.”
The steamer never got the flour to the Pawnee agency. It got only as far as the Tipton ranch in the big bend of the river east of White Eagle, where the flour was unloaded and Tipton was hired to haul it on to the Pawnee agency.
Later, another venture was attempted, this time taking a huge load of flour down the river. It was in the spring of 1886. With three barges, spike shape, in front of the boat, with 30,000 pounds of flour on the bow of the boat, and 30,000 pounds on each of three barges, the trip began down the Arkansas.
For two days the flotilla, under command of Captain E. S. Bliss, had no difficulty and made 160 miles into the Territo­ry.
But, then, Captain Bliss later recalled, he reached a point with many islands in the river. There being no regular channel, he was 10 days going 40 miles.
Enroute the steamer lost her small anchor. It was not found until five years later, according to an account in the Arkansas City, Kan., Traveler, which said:
“The lost anchor of the Kansas Millers was found at the mouth of Gray Horse creek on the river hanging on the limb of a tree, where, no doubt, it had been placed by the Indians, they thinking, perhaps, that the Great Father had been there fishing and had lost his hook, and concluded to save it for his return trip.”
At any rate, Captain Bliss and his ship proceeded downriver without their small anchor, making sales of flour at the agencies along the river. By cutting steps in the river bank, the flour was carried to the top of the bank from the steamer.
“At one point,” Captain Bliss is quoted by Finney, “It was the last day of school, and Indians had come in with families to take the school children home. Teachers, scholars, and parents visited the boat, and viewed it with amazement, and buying a large amount of flour.
“The second night out, we encountered the worst storm I ever saw. The steel of the boat and barges must have drawn the electricity. We placed our loss in this venture at upwards of $5,000.”
Searing and Mead later traded their interest in the boat and enterprise for 120 acres of land near St. Louis, and that was the end of navigation on the Arkansas river.
              The Arkansas City (Kan.) Daily Traveler, Wednesday, September 11, 1968.
In this year of 1968, some local interest has been aroused by recent efforts of the Mid-Arkansas Valley Development Association to promote water navigation in this region.

A report states that government surveys are being made, and studies are continuing, of the feasibility of inland cities such as Augusta, Arkansas City, and Tulsa becoming linked by water to the Gulf of Mexico.
Waterways to be used in the link-up would include the Walnut and Arkansas Rivers, the Kaw Reservoir, and the Keystone Reser­voir. All would be connected where necessary with channels to each other and to the Mississippi River, and thence to the Gulf.
“History repeats itself” and the foregoing sounds like a re-play of a ninety-year old episode of Kansas history, for whereas the citizen here views, with quiet interest and caution, the prospect of water crafts at local ports within the next decade; there was a time less than a hundred years ago, when the same prospect threw the entire community into stages of wild
During the decade between the founding of Arkansas City in 1870 and the year 1880 when the railroad had been terminated at Wichita, for some time, the community had been without ade­quate transportation to dispose of its surplus crops, chiefly wheat, and to import necessities including lumber and coal.
Corn which grew “10 to 13 feet tall” yielded abundantly and could be disposed of locally for horse and mule feed, and to fatten livestock. Wheat, which sometimes averaged 30 bushels countywide, found sales depressed because of distance to suitable markets and lack of transportation, for freight wagons drawn by horse and mules teams were slow, costly, and inadequate.
The first biennial report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture for the years of 1877 and 1878 discloses that the subject of water transportation was of vital interest to the peoples of Cowley and Sumner Counties at that time, and was being actively discussed in farm fields, in Grange halls, and in slogans of politicians.
The book is the property of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Vanskike of 1223 No. 10th St. It states that pressure in favor of water transportation had built up in the state legisla ture, and that Congress had appointed a commission of competent engineers to report on the feasibility of opening the Arkansas River to navigation from some point near the terminus of the Wichita branch of the Santa Fe Railroad to Little Rock, Arkansas.
Article continues, with Rinehart repeating previous article by Howard.


Cowley County Historical Society Museum