Joseph C. Brown - Field Notes
United States Surveying Expedition

From Ft. Osage.FromTaos.



Crossing of the Arkansas [Note; At Holcomb, Kan. G. C. Broadhead, in "The Santa Fe Trail" Missouri Historical Review, IV, 314, states that Commissioners Reeves and Mather, on the approach of winter, turned back at Mile Post 416 and worked and marked the track thus far surveyed while General Sibley proceeded forward to winter in Santa Fe], about 6 miles above the present Garden City and 20 miles east of Chouteau [Island], just below the bend of the river at the lower end of a small island, with a few trees. At this place there are no banks on either side to hinder waggons. The crossing is very oblique, landing on the south side a quarter of a mile above the entrance on this side. The river is here very shallow, not more than knee deep in a low stage of the water. The bed of the river is altogether sand, and it is unsafe to stand long on one place with a waggon, or it may sink into the sand. After passing a few wet places, just beyond the river, the road is again very good up to Chouteau's Island. Keep out from the river or there will be sand to pass.






At Chouteau's Island [Note; near Hartland, Kearny county], the road leaves the river altogether. [Note; This was the largest forested island in the Arkansas and was famous, probably for centuries, before the noted St. Louis trader's name "Choutear" was given to it, 1815/1817. Cf. Early Western Travels, XV, 134; XVI, 275. Later travellers found thereon remains of stockades and rifle pits bespeaking conflicts fought here from time immemorial. Such islands and all wooded spots were strategic wintering places for the aboriginees]. Many things unite to mark this place so strongly that the traveler will not mistake it. It is the largest island of timber on the river, and on the south side of the river at the lower end of the island is a thicket of willows with some cottonwood trees. On the north side of the river the hills approach tolerably nigh and on [one] of them is a sort of mound, conspicuous at some miles distance, and a little eastward of it in a bottom is some timber, perhaps a quarter of a mile from the river. The course of the river likewise being more south identify the place.

On the river [Note; Arkansas] through all the space traveled there is great similarity of features; the hills are commonly very low and the ascent almost everywhere so gentle that waggons may go up them. They are covered with very short grass, and the prickly pear abounds. The soil on the hills is not very good. The bottoms on the river are sometimes good, but frequently not so. They are sometimes a mile or more in width, frequently rising so gently it would be difficult to designate the foot of the hill. It is generally sandy near the river, and the grass coarse and high, consequently the traveling is bad near the river, but a little off it is almost everywhere good. On Cow creek or Cold Water short grass commences, and the short grass bounds the burnings of the prairie. [Note; This exceedingly intersting fact must be understood to mean that, to the eastward of this line, prairie grass was high enough to afford material for prairie fires. The scientific name of "buffalo Grass" is bubilis dactyloides]. This creek is almost as nigh home as buffalo are found, and from this creek they may be had at almost any place until within sight of the mountains near Santa Fe.

Before leaving the river, where fuel is plenty, the traveler will do well to prepare food for the next hundred miles, as he will find no timber on the road in that distance, except at one place, which will not probably be one of his stages; At least he should prepare bread. In dry weather buffalo dung will make tolerable fuel to boil a kettle, but it is not good for bread baking, and that is the only fuel he will have.

After leaving the river the road leads southward, leaving the two cottonwood trees on the right, which stand perhaps a mile from the river. From the brow of the hill, which is low, and is the border of the sand hills, the road leads a little east of south to a place which sometimes [is] a very large pond. [Note; On the northern line of Grant County, Kan., straight south from Hartland]. and continues along the western margin, and after passing some trees standing at the south end, reaches a very slight valley, through which in wet weather flows a small creek, [Note; Bear Creek], coming from the plains beyond the sand hills. From this place the traveler will see some trees in a southwest direction, which he will leave on his right, and will continue along the valley in the bed of the creek [which he can hardly recognize as such] very nearly due south for about four miles to the southern edge of the sand hills, where generally he will find a large pond of water in the bed of the small creek, which is now more apparent. But this pond is sometimes dry; due south from it for about two miles distant are several ponds of standing water, where the grass is fine and abundant. The distance through the sand hills here is about five miles, and the road not bad. These hills are from thirty to fifty feet high and generally covered with grass and herbage. From this place a due south course will strike the lower spring [Note; Wagon Bed spring, near Zionville, Grant Co. Kan.], on the Semaron creek, and as that creek then is the guide for about eighty miles, and waggons can in one day drive across the level, firm plain from the ponds to the spring, the road was so laid out. There is another advantage, namely, the certainty of traveling due south and north from the pass of the sand hills to the spring, and vice versa, is much greater than if the course were oblique to the cardinal points, and at any rate there is but little loss of distance, for the creek bears so much from the southward that the diagonal or long side is almost equal to the two shorter sides of the very obtuse angle that would be made by striking the creek higher up. The road crosses Half Way creek [Note; North Cimarron river, near Ulysses, Grant County Kansas.] at somewhat more than ten miles north of the spring, at which place are water and grass. The creek is about 50 links wide and bears southeast, and may be easily crossed.






Lower Semaron Spring [Note; Wagon Bed Spring, Grant County] is at the west edge of a marsh green with bullrushes. The marsh is north of the creek and near it. The spring is constant, but the creek is sometimes dry until you ascend it ten or twelve miles, where it will be found running. The stream is bolder and the water better as one travels up it. It is the guide to the traveler until he reaches the upper spring near eighty miles. Three miles above the lower spring is some timber, from which place the road is on the hill north of the creek for twelve or fifteen miles. One may then either continue on the hills north of the creek or travel in the bottom, but the hills are best for ten or fifteen miles further, as the valley of the creek is sandy in many places. One must necessarily camp on the creek to have water, but the water is very bad until one travels a great way up it, as it is impregnated [with] saline matter, which, like fine powder, makes white a great part of the valley. The grass in this valley is not so good as that on the Arkansas, the land not being so good either in the valley or on the hills.




Middle Spring, near half a mile from the creek, on the north of it, near a mile below a sort of rock bluff at the point of a hill. [Note; This place is in southwest Morton County, about 7 miles north and 6 miles east of the southwest corner of Kansas. The rock bluff is the "Point of Rocks" on southeast 1/4, 12-34-43, as noted on maps of later date; the old "Point of Rocks" is about 130 miles further on in New Mexico. Point of Rocks in R. 12-T. 34-S 43; not to be confused with historic Point of Rocks on the trail in New Mexico 130 miles further on]. Above this middle spring the road is in the creek bottom, which in places is very sandy. One must pick the firmest ground, and for this purpose must cross the creek occasionally, which may be done almost anywhere, as the banks are commonly low and the bed sandy.






Timber on the Semaron at this place, which is the first timber on the creek above the few trees near the lower spring. The road leaves the creek and continues in a southwestwardly direction to a patch of timber, which may be seen from the hill (near this timber) on the south of the creek. At the patch of timber is a spring, called the upper Semaron Spring, and around it are some mounds of coggy rock several hundred feet high.

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