Crossing of the Arkansas River
Where it all Begins

     On the Santa Fe Trail, one of the most referred to and researched crossing is the Crossing of the Arkansas to the Cimarron Route or Cutoff. Numerous writers mentioned these crossings and routes in diaries and mileage charts. Many give the distance from known point on the Trail, most are not just vague references such as a day's journey. These routes and crossings of the Arkansas River in Western Kansas are probably the most talked about and researched places on the Trail today. The confusion about the crossing starts with there being so many of them. Starting from present day Great Bend, Kansas to near Syracuse, Kansas a distance of about 175 miles. Along this route there were many crossings that were used by the Santa Fe Trail trade.

     The crossing was of the Arkansas River, beginning what was later to be called the Cimarron Cut-off. The main reason for these crossings was to save miles and days on the trip between the eastern terminus of the Trail and Santa Fe, New Mexico. This route was also flat in nature as opposed to the Mountain route that went west along the north side of the Arkansas River to Bent's Fort in Colorado, at this point the Santa Fe Trial took a turn too the south and over the mountains and Raton Pass on it way to Santa Fe.

     After crossing the Arkansas River the Santa Fe Trail would lead to the Cimarron River to the south and west. The most used crossing of the Arkansas was between present day Dodge City, Kansas and Chauteau's Island in present Kearny County, Kansas. There were, however, records of crossings made farther down stream. The Aubry Crossing was located farther up river, but the Aubry Route only crossed the Cimarron River and didn't follow it as most of the other routes did.

     The earliest route of the Santa Fe traders struck the Arkansas River near the "Great Bend", at the present day town of Ellinwood, Kansas, and continued along the north bank to Bent's Fort area in Colorado before crossing the river to go over Raton Pass and on to Santa Fe. Early commercial ventures used pack animals. Not until the 1840's was wagon travel possible over the Mountain route over Raton Pass. The route along the Arkansas was the safest trail because of the available water in the river. Sometimes a little digging was required to find water in the river of any amount as it would be nearly dry.

     In 1822 William Becknell made his second trading expedition to Northern Mexico with three loaded wagons, the first known use of wheeled transportation was recorded. Becknell's party crossed the Arkansas below the present town of Great Bend, Kansas. His exact route is not recorded, but it is almost certain he followed the Mulberry Creek from where it empties into the Arkansas River east of present day Ford, Kansas to near its head, and then continued on to the Cimarron River to the south.

     Farther down the Arkansas near present Ford, Kansas another crossing was mentioned by Joseph C. Brown in his field notes of the 1825 Survey Team. He stated; "it would be much nearer to cross the river here and ascend the Mulberry Creek . . . and then . . . to the lower spring on the Semaron; but on trial of the way travelers has discontinued it as unsafe. It is discommodious of water. . . . On this route has been much suffering; in a dry time 'tis dangerous'."

     Several Trail sites are noted as reference to where these crossings took place. Fort Dodge, is located five miles east of Dodge City. The site of Fort Mann, is two miles west of Dodge City, Fort Atkinson and The Caches are all just a mile apart in the same area.The Cimarron Ranch and Stage Station was located about two miles west of present Cimarron, Kansas, near the junction of the river trail and the bottom of the Nine Mile Ridge trail. One of the most used crossings was at this location, also a crossing just below the present day Ingalls Feedyard at the upper end of Nine Mile Ridge.

     Farther up the Arkansas, the well known landmark of Chouteau's Island was another crossing of the Arkansas. Some parties crossed to the south side of the river before reaching the Island, but stayed close to the Arkansas. At Chauteau's Island to the south through the sandhills was a shallow pass which made it easy to cross the deep sand of the area with the oxen and mules pulling the heavy freight wagons. It was six miles south of the Arkansas River in this pass called Bear Creek Pass, that a trader by the name of Charles Bent was attacked by Indians. The route to the Cimarron River headed almost straight south from Chauteau's Island for about thirty five miles to the Lower Spring. In addition along the way there were several watering places on which they could rely on as being with water.

     Crossing the Arkansas at this location was often dangerous because of high water and quicksand. It also became a place of frequent Indian attacks because the wagon trains were so spread out with some on both sides of the river and some crossing the river. The river at this location was at times three fourths of a mile wide. Many Indian attacks occurred at or near Cimarron Ranch. After the crossing, there began the most hazardous segment of the journey, across the "Jornada."

Several locations and dates for the crossing of the Arkansas are listed below:

  1. 1822 -- Below Great Bend, "crossed the Arkansas before reaching the Great Bend," Louise Barry, The Beginning of the West, page 105.

  2. 1825 -- Mouth of Mulberry Creek: "ascend Mulberry creek . . ."; 3 miles west of Caches: 3 miles southwest from . . . Gravel Rocks (near Caches)," Joseph C. Brown, "Field Notes," KS St. Hist. Soc., 1913, page 120.

  3. 1825 -- 4 miles west of Garden City: (from Point of Rocks to) "near an old Indian camping ground. . . Distance today 16 Miles . . . to the crossing place of the Arkansas then West 2 miles," George C. Sibley Field Notes in Kate Gregg, ed., The Road to Santa Fe, pp. 85-86.

  4. 1828 -- 2 miles west of Caches: "Anderson's caches . . . two miles farther reaches the ford of the river," Alphonso Wetmore Diary in A. B. Hulbert, Southwest on the Turquoise Trail, pp. 188-189.

  5. 1829 -- Chouteau's Island: "crossing of the Arkansas at Chouteau's Island," Seymore V. Connor and Jimmy M. Skaggs, Broadcloth and Britches, page 82.

  6. 1831 -- Caches: "crossed the Arkansas on June 11; pitched camp that evening opposite the celebrated Caches," Louise Barry, The Beginning of the West, page 203.

  7. 1837 -- 7 miles east of Cimarron Anderson's Caches . . . Pond Camp west of Arkansas river. 7 mi.," Wetmore's Gazeteer of the State of Missouri," KSHS, page 267.

  8. 1844 Ingalls: "Caches . . .Ford of Arkansas 20 mi.," Josiah Gregg, Commerce of the Prairies, page 313.

  9. 1846 -- 5 miles east of Cimarron: map shows 9 mi. from Fort Mann and elevation chart states "Caches . . . Crossing of Arkansas" (9 mi.), Ingalls: table shows "Night camp on Caches . . . night and noon camp at crossing . . . 20 mi.," Frederick Wislezenus, A Tour to Northern Mexico, 1846/1847, pp. 10 - 11, 118 - 123.

  10. 1846 -- Ingalls: "camped at 'The Caches'; next day . . . about 20 miles up . . . arrived at the usual fording place of the Arkansas," Albert Speyer in Louise Barry, The Beginning of the West, page 588.

  11. 1846/49 Ingalls Feedyard: "Fort Mann . . . Crossing of the Arkansas 20 mi., "Dyer - Carlton Survey in Louise Barry, The Beginning of the West, page 815.

  12. 1848 -- Ingalls Feedyard: "Fourteen miles from the Caches near Mann's Fort and eight miles form the crossing of the Big Arkansas," John McCoy in Louise Barry, The Beginning of the West, page 754.

  13. 1848 -- Charleston: "Mann's Fort . . . Crossing of Arkansas 30 mi.," John A. Bingham in Louise Barry, The Beginning of the West, page 814.

  14. 1849 -- Ingalls: "Near Fort Mann . . . Crossing of Arkansas 22.00 mi.," Maj. Henry L. Kendrick in Randolph B. Marcy, The Prairie Traveler, pp. 261 - 262.

  15. 1849 -- Ingalls Feedyard : "from Fort Mann to 'Lower Crossing of the Arkansas' as 25.34 miles," Author unknown, in Marcy, Prairie Traveler, pp. 260 - 263.

  16. 1850 -- Ingalls Feedyard: "Twenty six miles east of the Cimarron Crossing (to Fort Atkinson)," Lt. Col. E. V. Sumner in Leo E. Oliva, Soldiers on the Santa Fe Trail, page 95.

  17. 1851-1852 Ingalls Feedyard: "Fort Atkinson . . .is Twenty six miles below the 'crossing of the Arkansas,'" Asst. Surg. A. T. Ridgely, Kansas Historical Quarterly (1973), page 347.

  18. 1852 -- Ingalls Feedyard: "From Cimarone crossing to Fort Atkinson was 25 miles," Francis X. Aubry, Missouri Republican, in Kansas Historical Quarterly (1973), page 346.

  19. 1852 -- Ingalls Feedyard: "the Arkansas . . . striking that river 12 miles above Chauteau's Island and 58 above the point where the Cimarone road crossed the Arkansas," William S. Allen in Louise Barry, The Beginning of the West, page 1090.

  20. 1852 -- Cimarron Ranch: "Crossed the Arkansas about 18 miles from the Fort (Atkinson)," William Carr Lane in Louise Barry, The Beginning of the West, page 1115.

  21. 1852 -- Aubry's Crossing: "take Francis X. Aubry's new route. Fifteen miles above Chauteau's Island." 2nd Lt. William D. Whipple in Louise Barry, The Beginning of the West, page 1092.

  22. 1852 -- Aubry's Crossing: "The mail party . . . tried Aubry's new route," Charles L. Spencer in Louise Barry, The Beginning of the West, page 1121.

  23. 1852 -- Aubry's Crossing: "Aubrey was met at Aubrey's crossing of the Arkansas," Capt. William Steel in Louise Barry, The Beginning of the West, page 1122 - 1123.

  24. 1853 -- Howell: " Fort Atkinson 1st crossing of S. Fe trail 5 mi." Cimarron: "2nd crossing of S. Fe trail 10 mi.," G. Harris Heap in Louise Barry, The Beginning of the West, page 1018.

  25. 1853 -- Kearny County: "followed Aubry's route - continuing up the Arkansas (to present Kearny County) before crossing the river," Gen. John Garland in Louise Barry, The Beginning of the West, page 1164.

  26. 1853 -- Aubry's Crossing: "at Aubrey's crossing . . . with Bent himself in charge, went on to Santa Fe," "Bent's Old Fort and its Builders," Louise Barry, The Beginning of the West, page 1164.

  27. 1859 -- Cimarron Ranch: "Fort Atkinson . . . at 17 miles pass a ford," Marcy, Prairie Traveler, page 298.

  28. 1865 -- Cimarron Ranch: "from Fort Atkinson to Cimarron Crossing: 16.99 miles," Kansas City Daily Journal of Commerce," in Kansas Historical Quarterly (1973), page 350.

  29. 1866 -- Ingalls Feedyard: "from Fort Dodge to Cimarron Crossing: 27 miles," Kansas City Weekly Tribune," in Kansas Historical Quarterly (1973), page 199.

  30. 1867 -- Ingalls: "from Fort Dodge to Cimarron Crossing: 25 miles," J. West Goodwin, "Pacific Railway Business Guide," in Kansas Historical Quarterly (1973) page 199.

  31. 1867 -- Cimarron Ranch: "a short distance west of Cimeron Crossing on Nine Mile Ridge," Junction City Union in Kansas Historical Quarterly (1973), page 362.

Back to Research Articles

Santa Fe Trail Research Site

Santa Fe Trail Research Site
"E-Mail & Home Page"
Larry & Carolyn
St. John, Ks.
© "Forever"