Kansas State Historical Society.

The Kansas historical quarterly (Volume 20) online

. (page 46 of 76)
Online LibraryKansas State Historical SocietyThe Kansas historical quarterly (Volume 20) → online text (page 46 of 76)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

was closed. The generation of 1853 and 1854 had its own problems,
and claimed the right to solve them in its own way, upon the basis
of existing facts, and untrammeled by the decisions of a past genera-
tion in which it had not participated. The claim of the right of
settlers to decide their own institutions under the doctrine of the
Compromise Measures of 1850 was much more than a controversy
over slavery, or over state rights versus centralization; it involved
the basic issue of human culture freedom of men to be let alone
and to manage their own affairs, even freedom from the past, from
decisions of the past in which they had not participated. The
theoretical aspects appear clear and unanswerable. The conflict
came in their application. Extreme abolitionists might have argued
that humanity is the basic unit of application, and thus have justified
interference with slavery in distant states and territories. How-
ever that might be, the Nebraska argument was grounded in geo-
graphical localism as the unit of decisions in applying the concept
of the "consent of the governed," inherited from the Declaration
of Independence.

An unidentified writer, "H," contributed an article to the St. Joseph
Gazette, of February 22, 1854, in which he discussed the proba-
bilities involved in the repeal of the Missouri Compromise:

Once it took half an age to settle and bring in a State. Now, a few months
or a year or two at most, is the required time. Once, the man of business
could give himself a year or two to close his business, select his 'choice site*
and his new home. But how is it now? The few months delay, the neces-
sary year or two, to wind up business, not only insures the loss of choice
locations, but it gives him no voice in the constitutional fabric which is to
regulate the future Institutions of the State. It is not necessary to show
that Northern men, with small farms, or men engaged in business, which
can be closed up in a few days have a decided advantage over a slave holding
population. . . . Northern men like the ancient Hordes which overrun
Europe, are emphatically the emigrating men of this age.

This writer argued further that the issue was not one of slave-
holding men entering Nebraska north of the compromise line of
36 30': "North of the compromise line there is but a strip of
country that a slave holding population would have. It must and
will be settled by northern men/' What "H" was worrying about
was that the repeal of the Missouri Compromise would be the
signal for a rush of Northern men into Texas and the Southwest:

is it good policy for southern men to ... unbar the last door
and invite the eager land hunter of the north to plant his light foot there first?


South of 36 and 30 minutes is the territory through which some of our great
national highways are to pass to the Pacific. Who are to construct these great
thoroughfares? Who are to develop the vast mineral wealth of this region?
Foreigners and northern men mainly. And will they not pour in one constant
stream along these Rail-ways to find homes and fortunes. If so, it will not
be difficult to tell whether the country will be a Pro or Anti-slavery one.
What then is to be gained? Some think Kansas. But can we hope to gain
Kansas? Where are the facts? If we take those Emigrants who are now
lingering (and their name is legion) all along the Missouri River, ready, at
a moment to step across, as a basis for calculation, we shall find that more
than two out of three will vote for a free State. If we get the real sentiments
of these Emigrants who will soon crowd our Rivers to find homes in Kansas,
the same result will be seen. Or if we wait till the Pacific Railroad is located
and the ten thousand voices speak from the extended line, no question but they
will declare her a free State. What then I ask is to be gained? Absolutely
nothing. While we lose much. When Missouri came in our wise men made
the compromise, not to keep slaveholders from having equal rights with
others, but to point out a necessary terminus of Congressional interference,
on a vexed question.

One of the Whig candidates for congress from northwestern
Missouri, John E. Pitt, was even more blunt. As late as May 17,
1854, he opposed, in a public address at St. Joseph, the organization
of the Indian country. The newspaper paraphrase credited him
with saying: ". . . So soon as that country is opened for
settlement, it will be settled mostly by Yankees who will outstrip
us in enterprise, and build railroads while we are talking about
them/' Referring to the Hannibal and St. Joseph railroad, he
declared "if Nebraska is now organized we would lose that road,
it would go north of us to Council Bluffs." 3

Admittedly these are only selected illustrations, but they are of
fundamental importance and must serve only as a preview of a
re-examination of the problem studied as a whole situation. If there
was any reality in the aspirations of northwestern Missouri to make
Nebraska a slave state under the Hall bill of 1852-1853, or a similar
bill in 1853-1854 under the formula that it was being organized
without mention of slavery; then certainly, the Douglas bill, in
any of its several successive forms put the free states on notice about
what was being undertaken. No clearer case can be found to
illustrate how a genuine historical document, when interpreted
literally and removed from its context, has been made to say just
the opposite of its true intent and purpose. Instead of damning
Douglas on the charge of betraying freedom, the free states should
have honored him as a hero for putting them on notice about what

3. St. Joseph Gazette, May 24, 1854.


was to be attempted under subterfuge, after which congress was
expected to admit Nebraska, the whole of it (prior to the division
into Kansas and Nebraska) as a slave state. Of course, there is
question whether there was any real possibility of either Nebraska
prior to the division, or Kansas, being made a slave state in any case
' railroads and "light-footed'* men must be reckoned with me-
chanical-power versus muscle-power had already tipped the scales
in favor of freedom from chattel slavery. But there were other
forms of freedom, the shapes of which were not so clear, that were
yet to be won.

Capt. L. C. Eastern's Report:

Fort Laramie to Fort Leavenworth
Via Republican River in 1849


WHO first explored the length of the Republican river? Pike,
Fremont, and quite possibly others traveled sections of the
stream earlier, but it appears that the first known complete explora-
tion of the main channel of Republican river was undertaken in
1849 by an expedition led by an officer of the Quartermaster De-
partment of the United States Army. After assisting in the estab-
lishment of a new military station at Fort Laramie, outpost on the
great Platte route to Oregon and California, Capt. L. C. Easton
was assigned the task of exploring the Republican river as an alter-
nate supply route between that post and Fort Leavenworth on the
Kansas border, then the base for all military operations on the

The discovery of the Easton journal in the War Department
Records of the National Archives was a coincidental by-product of
two distinct historical research programs of the National Park Serv-
ice, an agency of the U. S. Department of the Interior. A national
monument since 1938, Fort Laramie has long been the subject of
intensive archival study by Service historians. In 1946 the Region
Two office of the Service, in Omaha, began a systematic survey of
historic sites in proposed Missouri river basin reservoir areas. Many
of these water control projects are in the Republican river basin.
The two lines of inquiry converged in the documentary records
relating to early frontier military posts.

The tongue of land at the junction of the North Platte and Lara-
mie rivers, in Goshen county, Wyoming, has been a concentration
point for many significant events in the history of the trans-Missis-
sippi frontier. 1 There has been a "Fort Laramie" here ever since
1834. In that year the fur traders, William Sublette and Robert
Campbell, erected a log-stockaded post dubbed by them Fort Wil-

MERRILL J. MATTES is regional historian of Region Two, National Park Service,
Omaha, Neb.

1. Note the fitting subtitle of the standard reference on the subject: LeRoy R. Hafen
ami Francis Marion Young, Fort Laramie and the Pageant of the West, 1834-1890 (Glen-
dale, 1938).



liam, more commonly called by trappers, missionaries, and early
travelers "the fort on the Laramie." In 1841 this was replaced
by an adobe-walled establishment of the American Fur Company
christened Fort John, but still "Fort Laramie" to thousands of emi-
grants to Oregon and Utah, to the Donner party, to Francis Park-
man, and finally to worried government officials.

Even before the gold fever, with increasing numbers of its citi-
zens migrating westward across the hostile plains, it was perhaps
inevitable that the federal government would set up a chain of mili-
tary posts along the Great Platte route, and the idea had been
broached at various times by such respected authorities as Fremont,
Parkman, and Fitzpatrick. It was officially set in motion by Presi-
dent Polk in a message to congress in 1845, which resulted in the
enactment, on May 19, 1846, of "an act to provide for raising a
regiment of Mounted Riflemen, and for establishing military sta-
tions on the route to Oregon." 2 The Mexican War delayed action
until 1848, when Fort Kearny, the first military post on the trail,
was established on the Lower Platte. Then destiny pointed its
finger at "Fort John on the Laramie/*

By order of Gen. D. E. Twiggs, dated April 9, Maj. W. F. Sander-
son, mounted riflemen, was instructed to leave Fort Leavenworth
by May 10 with Company E "to locate a post in the vicinity of the
Laramie/' Hard on the heels of an army of covered wagon emi-
grants, the troops arrived at the scene on June 16. On the 26th of
that month Lt. Daniel P. Woodbury successfully completed nego-
tiations with "Bruce Husbands acting as agent and attorney for
Pierre Choteau Jr. & Company" for the purchase of the post for
$4,000. 3 After a hasty inspection of the dilapidated adobe post
and a reconnaissance of the countryside, Major Sanderson set the
troop to erecting new quarters.

On July 26 the small garrison of 58 men and 5 officers was aug-
mented by Company C, mounted riflemen, 2 officers and 60 men,
under Capt. Benjamin S. Roberts. On August 12 Company G,
6th infantry, composed of 2 officers and 33 men, brought in a train
of wagons from Fort Leavenworth. This completed the Fort Lara-
mie garrison of 1849. 4

Accompanying this last contingent was Col. Aeneas Mackay, sent
by headquarters to inspect the new post. In a report of July 31 to

2. J. D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents
(1905), v. 4, p. 396.

3. "Fort Laramie Microfilm Document No. 27," War Records Office, National Archives.

4. Merrill J. Mattes, Fort Laramie and the Forty-Niners (Rocky Mountain Nature Asso-
ciation, Estes Park, Colo., 1949).


Thomas Jesup, quartermaster general, he describes the deplorable
condition of the adobe works and the new building program,
praises the hitherto unappreciated "advantages of this station," and
then writes:

. . . having arrived at the Termination of our Route, to take all the ad-
vantage possible of our retrograde movement, I have ordered Captain Easton
with a portion of our party to return to Ft. Leav by the way of the Republican
Fork and Kansas River ... to make a critical examination of it. ...
For myself I prefer to return by the way of Ft. Pierre and the Missouri River
to Ft. Leavenworth. 5

Analysis of the Easton journal, utilizing base maps of the U. S.
Geological survey, reveals that the amateur explorer took a rather
devious route to reach the headwaters of the Republican. Drop-
ping southward from Fort Laramie to Lodgepole creek, at a point
east of present Cheyenne, Wyo., Easton followed this directional
stream only briefly before dropping southward again, crossing the
South Platte near present Sterling, Colo., and then continuing south-
easterly until bumping into the Arickaree fork of the North Repub-
lican. During the rest of the journey the party closely followed the
main course of the Republican to its junction with the Smoky Hill.

Captain Easton's instructions were to make "an examination of
the country with a view of establishing a better route from the Mis-
souri River to Fort Laramie, or a more direct or a better one, for
the emigrants to Oregon." He had the honesty to make two un-
equivocal admissions upon his return first, he committed errors of
judgment which unduly lengthened his journey; second, he discov-
ered that the Republican river route offered no weighty advantages
over the Platte route, while it did offer some great disadvantages.
Either point was enough to deprive the captain of a reputation as
a first-class explorer!

The Great Platte road was the inevitable route to Oregon, Cali-
fornia, and Utah for one overwhelming reason. It went in exactly
the right direction! Even after Colorado came into the emigrant
picture in the late 1850's, and Missouri and Kansas communities
were definitely interested in a more direct road westward, the
Platte-South Platte remained a heavy favorite over the Repub-
lican or the Smoky Hill. These latter streams simply dried up and
disappeared long before the traveler reached the mountains which
were his destination. The Republican river not only disappeared
too soon, requiring a long "dry run" overland to South Platte, it

5. "Fort Laramie Microfilm Document No. 11," War Department Records, National
Archives. On his journey to Fort Pierre (opposite present Pierre, S. Dak.) Colonel Mackay
WHS accompanied by an escort of ten riflemen commanded by Capt. Stewart Van Vliet.


was bent like an oxbow, making for a circuitous route. 6 Although
his destination was southeast of Fort Laramie, Captain Easton spent
many days traveling in a northeasterly direction. His route, total-
ing over 800 miles, should not have been more than 700 miles.

A better case for the Republican might have been made if, instead
of trying to negotiate its uppermost headwaters, Easton had com-
bined the best directional features of the Republican and Platte,
that is, descend the North Platte from Fort Laramie to Fort Kearny,
and then cross overland to the Republican in the vicinity of Frank-
lin county, Nebraska, a distance of merely 40 miles. Or an overland
crossing could have been made almost anywhere along the stretch
of over 100 miles that the two large rivers closely parallel each
other. The fact remains, however, that this not unreasonable route
was never used by emigrants of record. The strip between the
Platte and Republican rivers was traversed frequently by military
parties operating between Fort Riley and Fort Kearny during the
1850's, and patrolling out of Fort Kearny and Fort Cottonwood
(McPherson) during the Indian wars of the 1860's, but these were
local actions. 7 The crossing between the two rivers as a factor in
transcontinental travel never materialized.

Two other exploring expeditions involving the Upper Republican,
falling within a seven year radius of 1849, will stand brief com-

On his westward journey of 1843 Captain Fremont started to
ascend the Republican but became impatient with its northerly
course. From "Big Timber," roughly at the bend near present Con-
cordia, he chose to head directly westward, following for a while
the Solomon and the North fork of the Solomon. Rather than
descend into the valley of the Republican, he kept up the parallel
valleys of Prairie Dog, Sappa, and Beaver creeks, then crossed the
Republican near present Benkelman, at the junction of the North
and South forks. From this point he veered in a west-northwest
course to reach the South Platte near present Fort Morgan, proceed-
ing then to Fort St. Vrain, not far from present Greeley, Colo. 8
Fremont's slower supply train, under the veteran guide Thomas

6. See LeRoy R. Hafen, Overland Routes to the Gold Fields . . . (Glendale,
1942). The famed but short-lived Leavenworth and Pikes Peak Express touched the main
course of the Republican river only briefly near the forks at Benkelman, Neb. See map
with George A. Root and Russell K. Hickman, "Pike's Peak Express Companies," Kansas
Historical Quarterly, v. 13 (November, 1944), facing p. 240.

7. War of the Rebellion, Series 1, v. 48, pt. 1, pp. 279-284, 354-355. See, also, "Out-
line Map Indicating Line of March of Scouting Parties in the Department of the Platte in
1868 and 1869," War Department Records, National Archives.

8. Bvt. Capt. J. C. Fremont, Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountain*
in the Year 1842, and to Oregon and North California in the Years 1843-44 (Washington,
1845), pp. 107-113.


Fitzpatrick, appears to have approximated this same course. 9 Thus,
Fremont, though first to the headwaters, in no way robbed Easton
of the hitherto unpublicized distinction of being first to explore the
length of the Republican.

In 1856 Lt. Francis T. Bryan, Corps of Topographical Engineers,
followed down the course of the Republican practically in Captain
Easton's footsteps, except for the approach to the headwaters.
Bryan headed an expedition to survey a practical route from "Fort
Riley to Bridgets Pass." The party proceeded up the Republican
to the bend just across the present Nebraska line, then went over-
land to Fort Kearay on the Platte, thence up the Platte, the South
Platte, Lodgepole creek, and across the Medicine Bow Range to
their objective. The return journey was via the Cache la Poudre
and the South Platte to a point near present Fort Morgan, thence
southwesterly to "Rock Creek, a tributary of the Arickaree fork of
the Republican," actually, it seems, the North fork, near Wray, Colo.
Bryan followed the south or right bank of the Republican to a point
near present McCook, Neb., then crossed over to the left bank,
rejoining his outgoing trail near present Superior, Neb. Like Easton,
Bryan felt that the valley of the Republican had the advantage of
virgin grass and timber, but everything considered, "the route fol-
lowed on the outward journey was the most advantageous." 10
There is no evidence, however, that Lieutenant Bryan of the Topo-
graphical Engineers was in any way acquainted with the earlier
expedition of the Quartermaster Department.

There remains a brief biographical examination of our explorer
and his associates. Langdon C. Easton, a native Missourian, ranked
22d in the West Point graduating class of 1838. He served in the
Florida War of 1838-1842, and was stationed at Fort Towson, In-
dian territory, until 1846. He was on quartermaster duty at Fort
Leavenworth from 1847 to 1849, and became chief quartermaster,
Department of New Mexico, in 1850. In 1852 he returned to duty
at Fort Leavenworth, becoming a member of the board of officers
who selected the site of Fort Riley in 1852. He returned to New
Mexico until 1858. During the rebellion of the seceding states, as
staff major, he was successively in charge of the quartermaster depot

9. Charles H. Carey, editor, The Journals of Theodore Talbot, 1843 and 1849-52
(Metropolitan Press, Portland, Ore., 1931).

10. W. Turrentine Jackson, "The Army Engineers as Road Surveyors and Builders in
Kansas and Nebraska, 1854-1858," Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 17 (February, 1949),
pp. 44-51; G. K. Warren, "Memoir to Accompany the Map of the Territory of the United
States From the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean," v. 11, Reports of Explorations and
Surveys . . . for a Railroad From the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean (Washing-
ton, 1861), p. 84.


at Fort Leavenworth, chief quartermaster of the Army of the Cum-
berland in the field, and chief quartermaster of the armies com-
manded by General Sherman. In September, 1864, he was brevetted
brigadier general "for distinguished . . . services in the . . .
campaign of Atlanta, Ga."; on March 13, 1865, he became brevet
major general "for meritorious services during the rebellion." After
many more years of service, during which he attained the rank of
full colonel and assistant quartermaster general, Easton retired in
1881. He died in New York City, April 29, 1884, aged 70. 11

Lt. N. George Evans, who accompanied Captain Easton on this
journey, ranked 36th in the West Point class of 1848. After "frontier
duty at Ft. Leavenworth" and an "expedition to the Rocky Moun-
tains" in 1849, Evans campaigned extensively in the Southwest,
attaining the rank of captain with the 2d cavalry before resigning,
February 27, 1861, to join in the rebellion against the United States. 12

Col. Aeneas Mackay, who launched Easton on his eastward
journey, was not a West Point graduate, but he had a real army
career. After valiant service in the War of 1812 as 1st lieutenant
of ordnance, he remained with the regular army, rising to the rank
of colonel in the quartermaster corps on May 30, 1848, "for meri-
torious service in performing his duties in prosecuting the war with
Mexico." He died May 23, 1850, just a few months after dispatching
Easton homeward and himself making a simultaneous journey to
Fort Pierre. 13



12-ra OCTOBER 1849.

In obedience to your instructions received at Fort Laramie on
the 1st of August last, to proceed from that Post to Fort Leaven-
worth by way of the Republican Fork 14 and the Kansas Rivers,
making an examination of the Country with a view of establishing
a better route from the Missouri River to Fort Laramie, or a more
direct or a better one, for the Emigrants to Oregon. I have the
honor to submit the following report.

11. Bvt. Mai. Gen. George W. Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Gradu-
ates of the U. S. Military Academy, 1802-1890 (Boston, 1891), v. 1, pp. 710, 711.

12. Ibid., v. 2, pp. 365, 366.

13. Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army,
1789-1903 (Government Printing Office, Washington, 1903), v. 1, p. 670.

14. A satisfying review of "Republican River" etymology and geography is given by
George A. Root in "Ferries in Kansas," Part 4, Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 3 (August,
1934), pp. 246, 247.


My party for this expedition consisted of Lieut. N. G. Evans 1st
Dragoons 15 and of ten Dragoons, as an Escort, Dr. Parks of Boston
(whose curiosity to see the Country induced him to accompany
the expedition), your Son Thomas, 13 years of Age (who accom-
panied me for the benefit of his mind and body), Joseph Hunoit as
Guide, ten Teamsters and Extra hands employed in the Quarter-
master's Department, and two Servants.

The means of transportation (which was more than the party
required, being return teams to Leavenworth, which it was thought
necessary for me to conduct back ) consisted of four six-mule Teams,
and one light Waggon drawn by four Mules The Dragoons were
mounted on indifferent Horses, being the same they had ridden
from Fort Leavenworth, and on leaving Laramie they were low in
flesh, and in a weak condition The whole party was well armed.
We left Fort Laramie on the 2nd of August 1849, with 45 Days

I shall in making this report copy from my Journal, such portions
of it as relate to, or has any bearing on, the object in view; believing
that such a course will better enable you to judge of the nature of
the Country.

AUGUST ND In our first day's march we crossed the Laramie
River immediately at Fort Laramie, travelling from it 9 Miles in
E. S. E. course, to a grove of Cherry Bushes, on a small spring
branch, called by our Guide "Cherry Creek. 16 Our road to day
has been a very good one over a rolling Prairie Grass poor and
no Wood until we reached Cherry Creek, where we found a few
scattering Trees On examination I found, that the Rifle Car-
tridges I had obtained at Laramie were damaged and I sent a man
back to the Fort to procure a better supply These Cartridges
were damaged in the manufacture, by having too much oil on the
Cloth or Patching which covers the Ball, damaging one-fourth of

Online LibraryKansas State Historical SocietyThe Kansas historical quarterly (Volume 20) → online text (page 46 of 76)