River transportation was one of the most favored modes of transportation in the West of the 1850s. Although a Great Central Water Line to the Rocky Mountains failed to materialize, Kansas rivers saw a number of steamboating attempts.
Tales are told of steamboats so light of draft that they could proceed over a moderately heavy dew, however, most did better in a river channel. Steamboats transported many settlers to Kansas and ascended rivers to heights that now seemed incredible. The Excel in 1854 nosed its way some distance up the crooked Smoky Hill, the Financier No. 2 once probed the Republican as far as Clay Center. Even the Arkansas River was ascended by steamer as far as Oxford in Sumner County.
By 1855 steamers were operating with some regularity from Kansas City to Lawrence and Topeka and a few ran to Fort Riley.
Commercial steamboating on the Kaw was doomed, however, by an act the legislature approved February 25, 1864. In the interest of the now powerful railroads the act declared the river non-navigable and authorized railroad and bridge companies chartered under state law to bridge or dam the rivers without restriction.
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: June 2003
Date Modified: June 2011
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