Pioneering the Trail

Virtual Kansas




Whitewater River Crossing

Whitewater River Crossing

"The present Whitewater River is fordable only at this spot. which Kansans would later call the 'ford on the old California Trail.' or the 'California Crossing in Plum Grove Township. (Fletcher 42) This site was subject to an archaeological excavation by the Kansas Archaeological Association and results may be located under the case #'s 14BU583, 14BU506, 14BU507, 14BU508, 14BU509, 14BU51O, and 14BU511. (Reiss & Goodness 1980) What is now Plum Grove Township received its first settlers in the spring of 1857, when a colony of people from Douglass County, Kansas, settled along the Whitewater River at the ford on the old California Trail, which started at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and united with the Santa Fe Trail near [McPherson]. This colony surveyed and platted a town which they called Whitewater City and many of the stakes were still in the ground in the spring of 1870. They built several houses, mostly of logs, which were afterwards torn down and moved to the claims of the later settlers along the Whitewater and its tributaries, as all the original settlers left during the year of the great drought, which was in 1860.

The first man to make a permanent settlement in the township was Joseph H. Adams, who originally came from Illinois, and located on the Whitewater, one mile southwest of the present city of Potwin, in the spring of 1860, and lived there until fall, when he moved to Whitewater City, living there until the next spring, when he moved to the northeast quarter of section 7, Plum Grove Township where he lived until his death in October, 1875. (Mooney)

Although the years of 1855-56 and 57 might have brought bountiful harvests, many of the citizens of the Territory were unable to take advantage of the favorable weather to do more than raise a few summer vegetables for immediate consumption, and those who succeeded in raising crops for winter use, often had them destroyed by the marauding bands of insects that infested the Territory. During 1858, immigration to Kansas was large, and the new-comers, of course, could produce little more than enough to supply their present needs; their time and labor and means being necessarily employed in providing a shelter for the winter and getting things in readiness for spring. The drought commenced in June and summer and winter vegetables were entirely destroyed. Thirty thousand settlers left the Territory for the old homes from whence they came abandoning claims, improvements, and all hope of success in the West." (Cutler Part 61)

About the year 1876, there were two Mennonite boys that had been to El Dorado. They were twins, about twenty years old, and their last name was Dyck. They lived near where Elbing now is. On their way home there was a big storm coming up from the north. The lightning struck the prairie grass right near and set it on fire. It scared the boys so much that they drove to my house and wanted to stay all night. In those days a traveler was never turned away. They stayed, but the rain did not reach my house; the cloud rained out on the head of Whitewater. In the morning they hitched up and started from my place to their home. When they drove into the ford on the Whitewater they did not think of the creek being up and the team, wagon and all were washed down the stream and the boys were drowned. The body of one was found a few rods below the ford, the other about a half-mile below. (Mooney)