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Ottawa on the Marais des Cygnes (Osage) river. Most, if not all,
of the tributaries of the Kansas river also had great floods, possibly
record-breaking floods.

It staggers the imagination to contemplate the damage had the
1951 flood equaled or exceeded that of 1844. Kansas was not
open to settlement until ten years after 1844. About the only white
men in the territory at the time were a few fur traders, a compara-
tively few military personnel and a few missionaries, mostly in
the eastern portion. In the 107 years between these floods, pros-
perous farm communities, towns and cities were built over the state,
and especially in lowlands along the rivers. This presented a
tremendous flood hazard.

It is a well recognized fact that nature, having produced a great
flood, will eventually produce another as great. A small difference
in the distribution of the heavy rains on July 10-12, 1951, and their
continuation for one day longer, would in all probability have pro-
duced a flood equal to that of 1844.

In a recent article Verne Alexander, area hydrologic engineer,
U. S. Weather Bureau, stated:

The main storm center [the one that produced the torrential rains of July
9-12, 1951] was near the divide between three river basins the Osage, Kansas,
and Neosho. From a meteorological standpoint, if this center had occurred 75
miles further northwest, 40 per cent more precipitation would have been added
to the Kansas Basin. 1

S. D. FLORA of Topeka, a senior meteorologist, retired, was head of the United States
Weather Bureau at Topeka from 1917 to 1949. He is the author of Climate of Kansas, pub-
lished in 1948 by the Kansas State Board of Agriculture.

1. Civil Engineering, Easton, Pa., November, 1951.

(73)



74 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

Had these rains, in addition, continued one day longer there are
many reasons to believe the high-water marks of 1844 would have
been reached, or even exceeded, along the Kansas river.

CRESTS OF THE 1844 FLOOD ALONG THE KANSAS AND MARAIS DES CYGNES

(OSAGE) RIVERS

Crest of 1844 Flood

Height of as Previously

1844 Flood Crest of Crest of Determined by

Over 1951 1844 1951 Reference to

Location (in Feet). Flood.* Flood. 1903 Flood. f

On Kansas River

Manhattan 6.5 40.0 33.5 40.0

Topeka 6.1 42.5 36.4 42.4

Near Topeka, at Bishop 5.8 42.2 ... ...

Near Topeka, at Menoken 3.4 J 39.8 . . . 42.2

Near Lawrence, at Lake

View 5.0 35.4 30.4

Kansas City, Mo.|| 2.0 38.0 36.0 38.0

On Marais des Cygnes
(Osage) River

Ottawa 7.0 49.1 42.1 40.0



* Assuming the difference in height of the two floods was the same at the gage site
as at the high-water mark.

f Taken from Climate of Kansas, 1948, pp. 279, 280.

j Crest of 1951 probably raised by ridge of high ground. See remarks under Menoken
discussion.

S Determined as "More than 5 feet."
Kansas City crest was on the Missouri river and determined from a definite high-water
mark.

Many, if not all, tributaries of the Kansas river also had great
overflows in 1844, but as far as is known, no high-water marks exist
along these streams.

In a paper prepared for the State Historical Society in 1878, O. P.
Hamilton, of Salina, remarked on the 1844 flood as follows:

On the Solomon river driftwood, and a buffalo carcass (pretty well dried
up) were found lodged in trees at a height that would cover the highest
bottoms several feet, . . . indicating . . . high water. Evidences of
great floods were also found on the Smoky Hill, and the water must have
flooded the present town site of Salina, Kansas four feet deep.

This great flood was seen by the Indian trader, Bent, located on the upper
Arkansas river, who was ... on his way to Missouri. He had to follow
the divides as best he could. Every river was full from bluff to bluff. 2

Z. R. Hook, agent for the Union Pacific and present mayor of
Manhattan, a man exceptionally well versed in river lore, stated
that early settlers in the Blue river valley above Manhattan were
told about the great flood by Indians, who advised them to build
their houses well above the valley floor. Apparently, this advice
was generally taken at the time, but later settlers disregarded it.

2. O. P. Hamilton, A Brief Sketch of the Great American Desert .... p. 8.



GREAT FLOOD OF 1844 75

There is also considerable evidence that in 1844 the Marais des
Cygnes ( Osage ) river reached the highest stages ever known along
that stream.

The cause of the 1844 flood, which crested at Kansas City on the
Missouri on June 16, was evidently the same as that of all other
great floods in Kansas prolonged and heavy rains over a wide
area. Precipitation records at the time were kept only at two places
in the territory, at Leavenworth and Ft. Scott. At Leavenworth the
first four months of the year were fairly dry, but during May and
June a total of 20.53 inches was measured. Ft. Scott also had com-
paratively dry weather for at least the first three months of the year,
but recorded a total of 27.43 inches in May and June.

The diary of the Rev. Jotham Meeker, a missionary who lived
near the present city of Ottaw*a, mentioned continuous rains from
May 7 to June 10 and a great flood on the Marais des Cygnes.
Andreas, in his History of Kansas, quoted from the Wyandotte
Herald:

The spring of 1844 was warm and dry until May, when it commenced to
rain, and continued for six weeks rain falling every day. What is now
. . . Kansas City, Mo., [evidently referring to ground along the Missouri
river] was covered with 14 feet of water. 3

The diary of Father Hoechen, of the Pottawatomie Mission on
Sugar creek, stated: "J une [1844]. Here as everywhere around,
it has been raining for forty days in succession and great floods
covered the country. The damage, however, was not great." 4

Investigations show that the 1844 flood at Manhattan was about
6,5 feet higher than that of 1951. The crest of the latter, as regis-
tered at the official gage, was 33.5 feet. Assuming that the dif-
ference in level between the two floods was the same at the site
of the gage as at the location of the high-water mark of 1844, this
would make a stage of 40.0 feet for 1844. 5

The 1844 high-water mark at Manhattan was reported by Z. R.
Hook as follows: "According to Indian legend, 'The Big Water*
( of 1844 ) came to the present location of the southeast corner of the
Campus of the Kansas State College which at its lowest point is
40.0 feet above zero datum of the river gage."

In a letter dated January 13, 1952, Mr. Hook quoted levels run
by the city engineer which show that this high-water mark was

3. A. T. Andreas and W. G. Cutler, History of the State of Kansas (Chicago, 1883),
p. 292.

4. The Dial, St. Mary's, October, 1890, p. 17.

5. S. D. Flora, Climate of Kansas (Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture,
June, 1948), p. 287.



76 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

6.5 feet above a near-by high-water mark of the 1951 flood. He
stated that this is the minimum difference, since no one can say
exactly where the drift line (of the 1844 flood) stopped at the
campus site, where the ground rises very rapidly.

The height of the 1844 flood at Topeka was 6.1 feet above that of
1951, equal to a reading of 42.4 feet on the Topeka gage, according
to the best evidence available.

F. W. Giles, one of the nine men who drew up an agreement for
the town association of Topeka on December 5, 1854, only ten
years after the great flood, mentioned it in his book, Thirty Years in
Topeka:

. . . The Kansas river bottoms were flooded for its entire length. At
the site of Topeka, the river's breadth was from the line of Third street on the
south to the bluffs two miles to the north . . ., the water standing to the
depth of twenty feet, where now, in the first ward of Topeka [North Topeka]
dwell three thousand people. 6

Since all activities and building in the early days of Topeka
centered on lower Kansas avenue, it seems evident that Giles re-
ferred to the intersection of Third street and Kansas avenue, about
one half mile from the present location of the river gage. Third
street dips down each way from Kansas avenue.

This location is confirmed in an early history of Shawnee county
by W. W. Cone, who remarked: "During the flood, Major Cumings
[Richard W. Cummins?], paymaster U. S. Army, wishing to cross
from the south to the north side of the Kaw river, stepped into a
canoe at about the corner of Topeka avenue and Second street
and was rowed by an Indian from there to the bluffs [on the north
side]." 7 A contour map of the Topeka quadrangle, prepared by
the state and U. S. Geological Survey, indicates the elevation of
Second and Topeka is not more than three to five feet higher than
the intersection of Third and Kansas avenue. The ground slopes
away rapidly to the north, east and west of Second and Topeka.
It seems very likely that the place where Major Cummins stepped
into the boat, probably near the time of the crest, was at about the
elevation at Third and Kansas.

George A. Root, a resident of Topeka, and for more than 55
years an official of the State Historical Society, a man exceptionally
well informed in regard to such matters, stated that the level of
Third street at Kansas avenue had never been raised more than
the thickness of the pavement. The slope of the street at that

6. F. W. Giles, Thirty Years in Topeka (Topeka, 1886), p. 156.

7. W. W. Cone, Historical Sketch of Shawnee County, Kansas (Topeka, 1877), p. 7.



GREAT FLOOD OF 1844 77

point indicates that there could have been no reason to lower it.
It is believed that the ground level at this place still marks the
approximate crest of the 1844 flood.

On November 26, 1951, levels were run from a high-water mark
of the 1951 flood near Second and Kansas avenue to Third and
Kansas by Guy E. Gibson and Robert L. Lingo, engineers of the
water resources division of the State Board of Agriculture, with the
following results:

Elevation Above 1951
High-Water Mark

Floor of gutter southeast corner of intersection 7.69 feet

Floor of gutter southwest corner of intersection 7.72

Floor of gutter northwest corner of intersection 5.96

Floor of gutter northeast corner of intersection 6.02 "



Average elevation of four comers 6.8 feet

W. E. Baldry, city engineer at Topeka for many years and a man
thoroughly familiar with all paving jobs, gave it as his opinion the
ground level averages eight inches, or 0.7 foot, below the floor of
the gutter in each case.

Subtracting 0.7 from 6.8, the average of the four gutters, gives
6.1 feet which, according to evidence available, is the height of the
1844 flood above that of 1951 at this point. Assuming that the
same difference in elevation of the two floods prevailed at the site
of the river gage, the gage reading of the 1844 flood would have
been 42.5 feet. The crest of the 1951 flood was 36.4 feet.

In addition to the high-water mark at Third and Kansas avenue,
there exist two other legendary high-water marks of the 1844 flood
a few miles from the city. One is located near the former site of
the Rock Island station, Bishop, a little less than half a mile south
of the river and five miles almost due west from the present loca-
tion of the river gage on the Topeka avenue bridge. The other is
near the former Union Pacific station, Menoken, 4/2 miles northwest
of the Topeka avenue bridge, 1/s miles north of the river, and 2M
miles northeast of Bishop.

The 1844 high-water mark at Bishop was pointed out by B. A.
Snook, 323 Lindenwood, Topeka. He has been familiar with the
Bishop locality for many years. He identified it as the elevation of
the midway point of a sloping northwest-southeast section of a
graveled road, about 300 feet in length, leading southeast from a
bridge across a creek one-fourth mile southeast of the Bishop sta-
tion. This road makes a sharp turn in the vicinity of the bridge
and another turn about 300 feet from it. It is practically straight



78 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

between these two points. It has been graded down somewhat in
the immediate vicinity of the bridge, but there are no indications
that the elevation of its mid-section has been changed materially.

Mr. Snook stated that this high-water mark had been pointed out
to him by a half-breed Indian, called Captain Ernest, who once
lived in a cabin near by. He told Mr. Snook he obtained the in-
formation from an old Indian, name not known, who had been
there during the 1844 flood. The fact that Mr. Snook located this
point definitely on two successive occasions and the fact that the
elevation in relation to the flood crest checks so closely with the
high-water mark in Topeka, indicates much credence is to be given
his statement.

Levels were run to this high- water mark on November 26, 1951,
from a near-by high-water mark of the 1951 flood by Guy E. Gibson
and Robert Lingo, the same engineers who ran levels at Third and
Kansas. The high-water mark of 1951 in question was a one- x two-
inch wooden stake, driven horizontally into a section of steeply
sloping ground beside the road, about 35 feet southeast of the
abutment of the bridge mentioned. It had been set by Phil C.
Gravenstein, county field engineer, shortly after the flood subsided
and while the marks of the high point were visible on the ground.
These levels showed that the 1844 flood at this point was 5.8 feet
higher than that of 1951 and corresponded to a stage of 42.2 feet
on the Topeka gage.

According to an Indian legend, the flood of 1844 covered the
valley from bluff to bluff in the vicinity of Topeka, except for a
small knoll 4/2 miles northwest of the city near the site later oc-
cupied by the Union Pacific station, Menoken. Menoken is on
the north side of the river and about 2/2 miles northeast of the
other high-water mark near Bishop, which is on the south side of
the river.

E. C. Kassebaum, whose residence was located on this knoll,
reported that a half-breed Indian told him this legend. George A.
Root reported the same legend. He learned of it through talks with
Indians on the Pottawatomie reservation, near Topeka, in 1897.

In 1928 levels run by V. R. Parkhurst, a civil engineer especially
interested in floods, from a high-water mark of the 1903 flood then
existing in a shed adjacent to the barn of Mr. Kassebaum, to the
crown of the knoll, indicated that the 1844 flood at this place was
9.5 feet higher than that of 1903 at this location. Assuming the
same difference existed at the site of the Topeka river gage, this
would be equivalent to a stage of 42.2 feet.



GREAT FLOOD OF 1844 79

In 1947 this location was surveyed by engineers from the water
resources division of the State Agricultural Board, under super-
vision of George S. Knapp, chief engineer, and a map was prepared
showing contour lines for each foot. Elevations were determined
by reference to U. S. C. & G. S. bench mark Q-115, near the Menoken
station. Elevation of this bench mark is given as 902.006 ft., 1929
general adjustment. The elevation of the top of the knoll, as de-
termined by this survey, is 902.4 feet.

The 1903 high-water mark near the Kassebaum barn had been
destroyed before this survey was made, but the engineers were able
to locate high-water marks of the 1903 and 1951 floods on what is
known as the Christman house, approximately half a mile south
of this knoll, which they refer to as "The Legendary Island."
Elevation of the 1951 HWM on Christman house 898.33
Elevation of 1903 HWM on Christman house 892.94



Height of 1951 flood over 1903 flood 5.39 feet.

A high-water mark of 1951 near the knoll, "The Legendary Is-
land," was found to have an elevation of 898.5 feet, or 3.9 feet below
the top of the knoll. The contour map shows that with a flood crest
below 900 feet there would have been a peninsula instead of an
island at this place in 1844. If that flood had reached an elevation
of 902.4 feet, water would have covered the knoll and there would
have been no island. It seems logical that the knoll, or island,
must have been at least 0.5 foot above the 1844 flood, making its
height at this point 901.9 feet, or 3.4 feet above the crest of 1951.
Assuming the same difference obtained at the site of the Topeka
river gage, this would correspond to a reading of 39.8 feet.

The following is offered to explain why the difference between
the 1951 and 1844 crests at this site was less than at other points
of record in the Kansas river basin:

The 1903 flood barely reached the high ridge of which the "Leg-
endary Island" was a part and its flow was probably not materially
affected. The 1951 flood came well up on this ridge and was also
obstructed by the ridge of ground that divides Soldier creek basin
from the basin of the river proper. This ridge extends northwest
for at least 11 miles. The ledge on which the "Legendary Island"
was located is over 4,000 feet long and almost at a right angle to
the direction of flow at this place.

Very little of the water of the 1951 flood escaped into the basin
of Soldier creek to the north over this high ridge. The 1844 flood
was so high it overflowed this ridge entirely and a considerable



80 KANSAS HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

part of its water flowed into the Soldier creek basin. Consequently,
its flow would not be retarded as the 1951 flood water was. These
factors, in all probability, account for the fact that the difference
in elevation between the 1951 and 1844 floods was not as great at
this place as in most other parts of the Kansas river valley between
Manhattan and Lawrence.

No high-water marks of the 1844 flood are known to exist in
Lawrence, but there are records of one near Lake View, about
five miles, airline distance, upstream and near the Kansas river.

Levels run from a near-by 1951 high-water mark by Prof. W. C.
McNown, of Kansas University, indicate that the 1844 flood was
"more than 5 feet" higher than that of 1951 at this place. Assuming
that the same difference between the height of the two floods ob-
tained at the site of the Lawrence river gage, this would make a
reading of at least 35.4 feet for the 1844 crest reading. The read-
ing of the 1951 crest was 30.4 feet.

This high-water mark was described in a letter dated February 9,
1952, from Prof. J. O. Jones, an associate of Professor McNown, as
follows:

Mr. Henry Beurman, who is quite an elderly man who has lived on a farm
in the vicinity of Lake View most, if not all, of his life, reported that his aunt
told him facts she obtained from the Sweezer family, one of the early settlers in
the vicinity. When the Sweezer family first settled on Sweezer Creek there
was a spring where Mrs. Sweezer did the family washing. Near the spring
was a tree in the crotch of which was a log. The Sweezers ascertained the
log floated to that location in the great flood of 1844. The tree had been cut
down prior to Prof. McNown's visit but he was able to get a rough idea of the
height of the log from Mr. Beurman's recollection of it. On the basis of that
evidence Prof. McNown determined the height of the 1844 flood was more
than five feet above that of 1951.

There are no known high-water marks of the 1844 flood in Kansas
City, Kan., but prior to 1920 there was a definite high-water mark
cut in the stone of one of the piers of the Hannibal and St. Joseph
railway bridge across the Missouri river in Kansas City, Mo.

Verne Alexander, area engineer, U. S. Weather Bureau, reported
as follows concerning this in a letter dated August 8, 1951:

38.0 feet, from the highwater mark of 1844, established and authenticated
by Octave Chanute, Supervising Engineer of the First Hannibal and St.
Joseph Railway Company bridge in Kansas City, Mo. The mark, which was
cut into the stone of one of the piers, was destroyed in 1920 at the time of
rebuilding the bridge. New piers were erected at that time. The value of 38
feet has been accepted as correct by the U. S. Engineers. Historical books on
file in the Engineers office place the date of the highwater at June 16, 1844.



GREAT FLOOD OF 1844 81

The crest of the 1951 flood on the Missouri at Kansas City was
36.0 feet from 5 to 7 A. M. on July 14.

An approximate high-water mark of the 1844 flood of the Marais
des Cygnes at Ottawa was reported by Warren J. Sheldon, a prom-
inent merchant and life-long resident of Ottawa. He stated that
his father, who settled near Ottawa in 1859, knew of a log left
by the flood near what is now the intersection of Seventh and Pop-
lar streets.

Prior to the 1951 flood, an investigation, based on levels in
the office of the city engineer, indicated that this intersection was
at an elevation of 40.0 feet above zero datum of the river gage and
2.4 feet higher than the crest of the 1928 flood, the highest of record
at that time.

Investigations made by R. A. (Barrett, official in charge, Weather
Bureau Office, Topeka, indicated that the intersection in question
was about seven feet higher than a 1951 high-water mark in that
vicinity. Levels were not run at the time. The difference was
scaled from a contour map furnished by the city engineer and there
is a possibility of an error of plus or minus a foot, according to Mr.
Garrett. Assuming that the same difference in levels of the two
floods obtained at the gage site, this would correspond to a gage
reading of 49.1 feet. The crest in 1951 was 42.1 feet.

The Seventh and Poplar intersection is 4,000 feet downstream,
south-southeast of the gage. This conceivably might affect the
slope of the water at times of high crests. It might account for
the difference in elevation of the 1844 flood arrived at in the two
investigations. It is believed that the value obtained by comparison
with the 1951 crest near the 1844 high-water mark, 49.1 feet, is a
closer approximation of the true value.



Farmer Debtors in Pioneer Kinsley

ALLAN G. BOGUE

HISTORIES of the Plains States in the 19th century seldom omit
the money lender and his dread instrument, the mortgage. But
for the most part the financial burdens of the "embattled farmers"
have been described in general terms. The following study is a de-
scription of how the farmers of a township in the Populist belt of
Kansas obtained their holdings and of the debt they placed upon
them during the first 35 years of settlement. So misinterpreted in
Populist literature have been the mortgage system and the operation
of the land laws that a reconsideration of them is long overdue.
This can be done successfully only through detailed studies, and
later, broader generalizations can safely be drawn. 1

Lying in the valley of the Arkansas river between the 94th and
the 100th meridians is Edwards county, Kansas. The administra-
tive township of Kinsley is situated in the northwest quarter of the
county and lies, but for portions of six sections, to the north and west
of the Arkansas river. In round figures the township embraces
29,000 acres of land. Kinsley, the county seat, is located in the
township. Of this town a correspondent of the Atchison Champion
said: "For a long time it was the westernmost town that really
aimed to get a respectable living [in the Arkansas valley]. Dodge
was further on, but Dodge, in those days, lived on the Government
and its own wickedness/' 2

The bulk of the township is situated on a strip of flood plains and
terraces extending from two to five miles west of the Arkansas. At
a distance of some three or four miles from the river a gentle rise
marks the limits of the "first bottoms." The soil here is of somewhat
different character than that on the flood plains. Portions of six
sections lie east of the Arkansas in what are called "the sand hills." 3

ALLAN G. BOGUE, who did graduate work at the University of Kansas, is assistant li-
brarian at the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.

1. The writer owes much to Prof. James C. Malin of the University of Kansas and to his
ingenious search for new lines of approach to the history of the grasslands of North America.
This study was designed to supplement work which Professor Malin had already published
on Kinsley township or near-by areas. See his articles in The Kansas Historical Quarterly:
"The Kinsley Boom of the Late Eighties," v. 4 (1935), February, May, pp. 23-49 and 164-
187, "The Turnover of Farm Population in Kansas," ibid., November, pp. 339-372, and
"J. A. Walker's Early History of Edwards County," v. 9 (1940), August, pp. 259-284.
See, also, "The Adaptation of the Agricultural System to Sub-humid Environment. Illus-
trated by the . . . Wayne Township Farmers' Club of Edwards County, Kansas,"
Agricultural History, Baltimore, v. 10 (1936), July, pp. 118-141.



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