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Granddaughters of White Plume

Alice and Isabel Pappan

Early in Topeka’s history a small group of women became landowners, controlling some of its most valuable acreage. These powerful women with resonate French names—Josette, Julie, Pelagie, and Victoire—were each deeded one-square-mile tracts along the Kansas River, long before Kansas was a territory. Their mothers were Kansa and these women were among 23 mixed-blood Kaws who received special reservations.

Their grandfather, White Plume, was a Kaw chief who joined in signing the treaty of 1825. His participation secured land for his mixed-blood grandchildren and their heirs. In a letter to William Clark, superintendent of Indian Affairs, White Plume wrote:

I consider myself an American and my wife an American womanI want to take her home with me and have everything like white people

At the time of the treaty, the family lived at Kawsmouth, the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers, near what today is Kansas City. The treaty of 1825 assigned the Kaws to a reservation 30 miles north-to-south beginning just west of present Topeka and extending far into present western Kansas.

Louis Gonville, a French trader, arrived at Kawsmouth in 1807 to hunt and trap along the Kansas River. Gonville married White Plume’s daughter, Hunt Jimmy, and they had two daughters, Josette and Julie. When their marriage ended around 1818, Gonville married White Plume’s younger daughter, Wyhesee. Several children were born to this marriage—it appears only Pelagie and Victoire lived to adulthood.

The 23 "half-breed tracts," as they were called, began at the eastern edge of the 1825 reservation extending 23 miles east on the north bank of the Kansas River, from present-day Topeka nearly to Lawrence. Josette and Julie received tracts three and four, Pelagie and Victoire received tracts five and six.

Josette, also known as May Josephine, moved to the Kansas City, Missouri, area when she was young to live with the Chouteau family. There she served as an interpreter. Around 1839, Josette married Joseph Pappan. Soon after Julie married Louis Pappan, Victoire married Achan Pappan, and Pelagie married Francoeur (Francois) d'Aubry, who is also known as "Amable Fracoeur de Aubri," "Fronkier," and "Mab Frankier." The families moved to their tracts in the spring of 1840. Seizing an opportunity, the Pappan brothers began a ferry business to transport travelers across the river.

Begun around 1841, the first ferry consisted of one or two log canoes, which were propelled by long poles. The Pappan’s ferry business prospered as more people headed west, until flooding destroyed the ferry and log cabin in June 1844. Following their loss, the Pappans lived in Kansas City until about 1849, when they returned to discover a competing ferry along the river. They purchased a franchise and resumed their business.

The value of the bottomland had greatly increased by the 1850s and the Pappans received many offers to sell their land. Julie Pappan was a wealthy landowner. She and Louis lived comfortably in their log cabin and cultivated between 15 and 20 acres of the prime bottomland. Their daughter Ellen married to Oren Curtis, had two children, Charles and Elizabeth. In an effort to secure the future of her grandchildren, Julie left 40 acres to her daughter and grandchildren, omitting her son-in-law’s name from the deed. When Ellen died a few months later, legal battles ensued. The minor children, Charles and Elizabeth Curtis, were eventually awarded the deed to the property in 1875. Julie sold her remaining property by 1865 and she and Louis lived their remaining years on the Kaw Reservation near Council Grove.

Entry: Granddaughters of White Plume

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: October 2004

Date Modified: March 2021

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.