Jump to Navigation

Ferries in Kansas, Part V, Solomon River

by George A. Root

November 1934 (Vol. 3, No. 4), pages 339 to 342

THE Solomon river, the largest affluent of the Smoky Hill, is formed by two branches, both of which rise in the northwest part of Kansas. The north fork has its source in the southwestern part of Thomas county, flows in a northeasterly direction across Sheridan, thence easterly across Norton and Phillips, southeast across the southwest corner of Smith, the northeast corner of Cloud, southeast across Ottawa, across the northeast corner of Saline, and joins the Smoky Hill just east of the Saline-Dickinson county boundary line. The south fork also rises in Thomas county, and takes a course almost due east across the counties of Sheridan, Graham, Rooks and Osborne, uniting with the north branch in the northwest corner of Mitchell county, about two and one-half miles from the west line of the county and near the village of Waconda.

The river had two names bestowed by the Indians, one being "Wus-cu-pa-lo." 1 The other was "Ne-pa-hol-la," meaning "water on a hill." The Great Spirit Spring lies near the junction of the two branches and was called by the Kaw Indians "Ne-woh-kon-daga" "Spirit Spring." 2 The Pottawatomies called it "Menaton'beesh," and on passing it would make an offering. 3

In Pike's account of his trip to the Pawnee village in 1806 is probably the earliest printed mention of this stream. He recorded on September 23: "Marched early and passed a large fork of the Kansas which I suppose to be the one generally called Solomon's. One of our horses fell into the water and wet his load." 4 Carey's Atlas,of 1817, shows the stream as Solomon's Fork. Capt. John W. Gunnison, the explorer, reached the mouth of Solomon's Fork, July 6, 1853. 5 Francis T. Bryan, lieutenant of engineers, in a report to Gov. John W. Geary, dated at St. Louis, Mo., December 26, 1856, calls the stream the Solomon's Fork. 6

The Solomon is approximately 300 miles in length, two-thirds of this distance being above the forks of the river. It drains an area



of 6,882 square miles. 7 The river has often been spoken of as the most rapid stream of western Kansas. Lieut. Julian R. Fitch, in his report on the river in 1864, stated that it was a rapid stream with high banks and had a watercourse eighty feet in width. 8 The bed of the stream, however, is said to be muddy. 9

Disastrous floods have occurred from time to time on this river, that of June, 1903, being one of the most serious. 10 In order to obtain accurate information of the quantity of water carried by this stream during normal and flood years, a gauging station was established at Solomon, September 4, 1904. 11

There were only a few ferries located on the Solomon. The first across the river was established at the mouth of the stream in 1858, by D. Bruce. He also started a town known as Bruce City, 12 which was located at the mouth of the Solomon, and in all probability never attained greater proportions than the rude shanty of its projector. A diligent search has been made through early records for something about Mr. Bruce, but aside from the meager statement that he laid out the "city" and operated a ferry, no other information is available.

About one year later, on June 4, 1859, Henry Whitley settled on land near the mouth of the Solomon, and likewise started a ferry. He was a native of England, born on September 4, 1830. In 1858, the year before he settled on the Solomon, he married Catherine Hall, daughter of Deacon Jabez Hall, of Toronto, Canada, and had come west with his bride, settling near the present Dickinson-Saline county line, and close to the military road which crossed the Solomon near its mouth. His nearest neighbor at this time lived at Mud Creek (now Abilene), nine miles away. The nearest post office was Junction City, thirty-five miles distant, and the closest grist mill, at Council Grove, was sixty miles distant. His chief market was Leavenworth, 170 miles away. When he went to mill or market, Mrs. Whitley remained alone in their shanty cabin for days at a time while he made the slow and laborious trip by ox team for necessaries. On such occasions it is more than likely Mrs. Whitley was frequently obliged to assist in running the ferry. Not long afterwards Whitley took as partner a relative, probably


Luther Hall, and for several years operated this crossing as the Whitley & Hall ferry. 13 Whitley was the first postmaster of Solomon City, and served a number of years. He opened a store in connection with his ferry in 1863. He was elected commissioner of Saline county in 1861.

In 1865 much travel went west and southwest over the military road, and this year Henry Whitley, John Williamson and Luther Hall organized themselves as a town company and laid out Solomon City on lands belonging to Whitley, the SW 1/4 S. 18, T. 13, R. 1 E., and the E 1/2 of SE 1/4 S. 13, T. 13, R. 1 E. The town was located on the west line of the county, a portion being in both Dickinson and Saline counties. 14

The Whitley & Hall ferry probably had some opposition, for the Junction City Union in the early 1860's said that Capt. Asaph Allen, who ran a ferry across the Republican between Junction City and Fort Riley, also ran a ferry on the Solomon, the item not specifying the exact location.

Another ferry enterprise was started early in 1863, the Junction City Union of January 19 stating, "A ferry boat has been placed on the Solomon, which will expedite travel greatly. It was built by Fletcher, Cobb & Marvin, who are a 'hull team,’ consequently it must be a 'hull' boat." No further mention of this enterprise has been located.

On May 1, 1866, the Whitley & Hall enterprise was reorganized as the Solomon River Bridge and Ferry Company. Its incorporators included Guerdon E. Beates, 15 Elias S. Stover, 16 Luther Hall, George B. Hall and Henry Whitley. The object of the new enterprise was to erect, construct and operate bridges or ferries across the Solomon river, where said river crosses the township line between township 12, ranges 2 and 3, west, and the mouth of the Solomon river. The principal office of the company was located at Solomon City. Capital stock was placed at $60,000, in shares of $100 each.


This charter was placed on file with the secretary of state May 5, 1866. 17

At times these early-day ferries did not operate to the entire satisfaction of everybody. J. A. Slover, writing from Solomon, under date of July 1, 1867, said:

. . . Our ferries on Solomon and Saline are, at certain times of the year, a perfect nuisance. The one on Solomon especially, though not through the fault of the owners, or those in charge of it, but through causes over which they have no control, is anything but satisfactory at times. Twice already this season while the water was high, has the ferry been compelled to lie idle, to the great inconvenience of the traveling public. Now, why cannot Dickinson county and Saline county, unite on this, to them, important question and build a bridge across Solomon at the most convenient and accessible point to the county road of Saline county. It will be to the interest of Solomon City, and they can certainly give their support, and when the citizens of the county think of the matter, they will see at a glance, its necessity and benefit. . . , 18

The next ferry point of which we have information was at the town of Waconda, Mitchell county, about eighty miles upstream. Aside from this bare mention no further history has been located. The Waterville Telegraph, of August 11, 1871, quoting the Beloit Mirror,says: "Our people are getting out the timber for a ferry, and soon we shall have accommodations for crossing the river at this point."

A state road was established by the legislature of 1866, running from Henry Whitley's, in Saline county, up the Solomon river, by way of Fort Solomon to Boblett's mill. George Hall, Henry Whitley and J. C. Boblett were commissioners appointed to lay out the road. This same year another state road was laid out from the forks of the Solomon river, via the State Salt Springs, on Salt creek, thence south, via Scripps and Mays' settlement on the Saline, to Salina, thence south, via Sharp's creek to the Santa Fe road. Charles Holtzman, Alexander C. Spillman and Mr. May were appointed commissioners to lay out the road. 19

Probably there were other ferries on the Solomon river, but no record of them has been available for this paper.


1. Junction City Union, May 6, 1876.
2. McCoy, History of Baptist Indian Missions, pp. 411, 412.
3. Kansas Historical Collections, v. 4, p. 306.
4. Coues, Pike's Explorations, v. 2, p. 408.
5. Ibid.
6. Kansas Historical Collections, v. 4, p. 669.
7. U. S. Department of Agriculture, Weather Bureau, Daily River Stages, Pt. XI, p. 113.
8. Ware, Eugene, F., The Indian War of 1864, p. 585.
9. U. S. Geological Survey, Water Supply and Irrigation Papers, No. 37, pp. 249, 250.
10. Hollibaugh, History of Cloud County, pp. 146, 147.
11. U. S. Geological Survey, Water Supply Papers, No. 131, p. 111.
12. Andreas, History of Kansas, p. 685; "Dickinson County Clippings," v. 1, p. 178, in Library of the Kansas State Historical Society.
13. Andreas, History of Kansas, pp. 692, 693.
14. Ibid., p. 691.
15. Guerdon E. Beates was an early resident of Davis and Saline counties, first settling at Junction City. When the Civil War broke out he enlisted in the Second Kansas infantry, and served four years and seven months. He took a prominent part in early Davis county politics, and was deputy revenue collector during 1877-'79. In 1885 he was elected to the legislature and served one term. He held many other positions of trust. His death occurred at Salina early in January, 1888, burial being at Junction City.
16. Elias Sleeper Stover was born in Rockland, Me., Nov. 22, 1836. At the age of fifteen he became a sailor, and visited nearly all the principal seaports of the United States, as well as many of those of foreign countries. He came to Kansas in 1856, settling in the vicinity of Junction City, and helped in the Free State cause. He was a Civil War soldier and participated in fifty-one different engagements. He was appointed Kaw Indian agent in 1872. Later he removed to Albuquerque, N. Mex., served in the legislature of that state, and was the first president of the University of New Mexico. He was prominent in G. A. R. circles of New Mexico, and was a past commander. In 1920 he married Margaret Zearing, of San Diego, Calif. He died in Albuquerque, February 3, 1927.
17. Corporations, v. 1, pp. 144, 145.
18. Junction City Union, July 6, 1867.
19. Laws, Kansas, 1866, pp. 225, 227.