by Carlyle Hinshaw
Home of the Shawnees and locale of Blue Jacketís Crossing
The Wakarusa arises in limestone hill country southwest of Lawrence, Kansas
and flows east, passing that town just to the south of itís city limits. About
eight miles east of Lawrence, it empties into the Kansas (Kaw) River.
The outcropping rocks at river level are the
Haskell Limestone of Pennsylvanian geological age. These thick beds caused great
difficulty for fording wagons. Emigrants needed to ford here to get out on the
alluvial plain of the Kansas (Kaw) River, away from the limestone hills south of
the Wakarusa. Thus, the reason for Blue Jacketís Ferry operation at Sebastian,
Kansas Territory, beginning in May of 1855.
The Oregon California Road headed up at Independence, Missouri, which is
south of the Missouri River and east of itís confluence with the Kaw. Just
after passing into Kansas Territory, it went by the Shawnee Methodist Mission,
now in the middle of Kansas City, Kansas. About 35 miles west, the trail passed
just south of where the Wakarusa emptied into the Kaw. About two miles further
west, travelers with wagons had to bite the bullet and cross the Wakarusa.
In May of 1853, wagoneers wrote of this small but formidable stream. Wagons
had to be dismantled and lowered down the limestone beds, towed across and roped
up the opposing bank. It was said that the Shawnee Indian, Paschal Fish, charged
$5.00 to help in one of those operations.
Although signed in May, the 1854 Shawnee Treaty was not ratified by Congress
until November and Shawnee ferry operations at Blue Jacketís Crossing were not
initiated until May of 1855. Their installation would have had ramping on both
banks to eliminate dismantling and roping and the ferry boat would have made
passing a very quick trip compared with the olden days.
Not all was peaches and cream at the Blue Jacket operation however. The
Lawrence Rebublican of February 21, 1861 reported that "James Moore
in attempting to cross the Wakarusa at Blue Jacketís crossing on Tuesday last,
was drowned. He was driving a team attached to a wagon, and had his wife in with
him. While crossing in the ferry, the horses got frightened and jumped over. The
horses, as well as the dirver, were drowned, but the lady was rescued."
Blue Jacketís was an important point in its day, and as early as 1855 the
legislature passed an act establishing a territorial road from Shawnee Mission
Church, south, to Tecumseh, by way of this crossing. Two years later, the
legislature of 1857 established a territorial road from Olathe on the Santa Fe
Trail, on the most direct and practicable route to the crossing of the Wakarusa
at Blue Jacketís.
With the settlement of the Wakarusa valley, there was a demand for a more
expeditious mode of crossing by the old ferry. As early as 1855, the legislature
authorized James Findlay to establish a bridge across the Wakarusa River at the
crossing of the territorial road leading from the Missouri line to Lawrence and
Tecumseh, requiring him to complete the bridge within three years. At the same
session, John G. McClelland and Clarkson M. Wallace were authorized to erect a
toll bridge across the Wakarusa River, where the road leading from Ft.
Leavenworth to St. Bernard crosses the river. (Kansas Historical Quarterly, Vol.
6, p. 19.)