French Settlers in Kansas
More than 100 years after Coronado visited the area that is now Kansas, French explorers from Kansas followed waterways to make their own discoveries. Louis Jolliet first used the names Kansas and Missouri on a map. He did not visit the area himself but helped gather information for others who would come.
The French first entered Kansas looking to create trade relations with the native people. The French traded guns, metal, and alcohol for furs. In great demand across Europe, fur collection from the New World made fortunes for many Frenchmen. Claude Charles du Tisne came to the area to form a relationship with the Comanche, one of the most powerful nations on the plains. Although he failed to make contact with the Comanche, he did establish trade with the Osage and Pawnee. It proved profitable for all sides.
As the French built trade relations with American Indians, they began to intermarry with native people. As time went on and the United States bought the Louisiana Purchase, which included the area of Kansas, the children of these unions fought to protect the rights of their tribes.
After Kansas was established as a territory, French settlers continued to settle in the state. Ernest Valeton de Boissière, a former French army engineer, came to the U.S. in 1852. He was a free thinker who envisioned a Utopian community where all would share in the responsibilities and the rewards. Franklin County was chosen for the experiment. He named the community Silkville.
Although the Kansas weather was different from that of France, de Boissière felt that it was similar enough to experiment with silkworms. He planted mulberry trees, which flourished, and imported silkworms from France and Japan. He also built a three-story, 60 room building to house members of Silkville. He then added a silk factory, barns, a winery, an ice house, and a schoolhouse. The looms turned out 300 yards of finished material a day. The Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 ranked the silk with that produced in France, Italy, and Japan.
The members of Silkville were largely French colonists, although all were welcome, who joined the community for $200. For that price they were promised lodging and food, and an equal share of the profits, in exchange for working. The community flourished for a time.
After a few years, however, Silkville faced competition from cheaper labor in foreign countries. The community shifted to dairy production, which was also initially successful. The profits from this industry also began to decline. Since members were unable to make the living they wished within the community, many went to other parts of Kansas to find employment. In 1892 de Boissière disposed of Silkville. He died in his native France in 1894.
Portions from The Kansas Journey.
Entry: French Settlers in Kansas
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: December 1969
Date Modified: July 2011
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.