In the Beginning


When shallow seas covered the land. During the Pleistocene Epoch (Ice Age), ice sheets blanketed northeastern Kansas and melted creating a valley by the Kansas River with remains of mammoth, giant beaver, and stag moose found in the Pleistocene sediments. For example, north of Eudora, fossil hunters found a mammoth shoulder blade weighing 65 pounds; a mastodon shoulder blade; a femur from a giant ground sloth; bison bones dating back 8,000 years; and many shark teeth.

Marine invertebrates, including brachiopods, mussels, clams, and oysters, that once lived in the shallow oceans covering the Eudora area also left behind their fossilized remains. LaVerne Brecheisen and Mary (Brecheisen) Rodewald, who bought their parents’ 115-acre farm in Johnson County (Section 28) in 1953, wrote in a section of Douglas County Family Histories:

“There is proof on our farm that Kansas was part of the inland sea before the glaciers came dragging across the land. To the south of the lane by the mail box, there is a patch of soil about five acres that is white and nothing grows on it. It was known as a deerlick. The Indians would hide and kill the deer when they came to lick the salt.”

According to the Kansas Geological Survey, Plattsburg Limestone is the lowermost and oldest outcropping formation in Douglas County. It can be seen in the bluffs along Kansas River east of Eudora, and along the lower part of Captain Creek and parts of Little Wakarusa Creek. Exposed in this formation is Spring Hill Limestone, which is light-gray to light-tan, wavy-bedded, about 13 feet to 22 feet thick in the Eudora area. Fossils typically here are echinoids and crinoids.

Vilas Shale also can be found east of Eudora along Kansas River and Captain Creek and south of Eudora along Little Wakarusa Creek. Gray or greenish-gray silty shale in the upper part and sandy shale or silty sandstone in the middle and lower parts, this shale thickness ranges from about 10 feet to 26 feet in the Eudora area and contains plant fragments and some mollusk fossils.

Also exposed along Eudora’s bluffs is Stanton Limestone, which comprises three limestone and two shale levels. The lowest level, named for the exposures east of Eudora along Captain Creek, is called Captain Creek Limestone. Gray or gray blue, it contains fusulinids and small cryptozoons. Shale beds above hold conodonts and plant fragments. The thickest portion of the Stanton seen in outcrops and quarries contains numerous, thin shale partings and numerous brachiopods, crinoid and echinoid fragments, bryozoans, and fusulinids.

Kansa Indians. In more recent history, Kansa (also known as “Kanza or “Kaw”) Indians lived in he Kansas River area in permanent villages with cultivated corn, beans, pumpkins, watermelons, and muskmelons. David Dary, in his 1982 history of Lawrence, said that a village in the late 1700s is thought to have been located where the Wakarusa River meets the Kansas River.

William E. Unrau, author of The Kansa Indians: A History of the Wind People, 1673-1873, said current thought is that the Kansa, Osage, Ponca, Omaha, and Quapaw, members of the Dhegiha-Siouan division of the Hopewell cultures of the lower Ohio valley, lived together in the lower Ohio valley before the white invasion of North Americans in the late fifteenth century until the tribes migrated west about 1750. The Kansa, Osage, Ponca, and Omaha moved near present St. Louis; later, the Kansa settled around present-day Kansas City and to the west along the Kansas River in northern and eastern Kansas. Starting in 1825, the federal government transplanted other tribes to the land claimed by the Kansa who were removed from Kansas to present northern Kay County, Oklahoma, by an 1872 act.

Under Spanish, French, and British rule. Spanish explorer Vasquez de Coronado on his quest for gold claimed the state of Kansas and other areas for Spain in 1541. French explorers in the late 1600s also claimed the state of Kansas, and fur trappers from France roamed the Eudora area. By 1763, Britain and Spain ruled almost all North America. A few decades later, Spain ceded the Louisiana Territory, which included most of the future state of Kansas, to France, which sold it in 1803 to the United States.

Explorers and the rivers. Major Stephen Long and his detachment followed the 170-mile long Kansas River through Eudora to near Manhattan in 1819. Long dubbed Kansas “The Great American Desert” and the Wakarusa River “a stream,” which suggests Long came through the area during a drought. Jedediah Smith, fur trapper and map maker, also followed the Kansas River through the Eudora area in 1824, before going on to Nebraska.

In 1842, General John C. Fremont, on his first exploration to the Rocky Mountains, left Cyprian Chouteau's trading house on the Kansas River, six miles west of the Missouri line, on June 10, and traveled two days to reach the future Lawrence area. Fremont wrote:

"We encamped in a remarkable beautiful situation on the Kansas bluffs, which commanded a fine view of the river valley, here from four to five miles wide. The central portion was occupied by a broad belt of heavy timber, and nearer the hills prairies were of the richest verdue."

Crossing the Kansas River before ferries and bridges presented a significant danger to travelers. A member of federal exploration parties, Heinrich Balduin Möllhausen, a German, in a 1948 Kansas Historical Quarterly said of ferrying across the Kansas River in the 1850s around Eudora that his flat-bottom boat “danced like a feather on the surging waves” after rains and that he dodged huge, drifting tree trunks. Wagons and luggage often sank into the water, he said. W. H. Goode, in his 1863 book Outposts of Zion, told of venturing to the Wakarusa Mission from Kansas City and wrote of his river crossing in a small dugout canoe:

“Leaving my carriage and horses, I set out upon the morning of the 7th (July 1854) upon an Indian pony, in company with Rev. J. M. Chivington and one or two others I passed up. On the north side of the Kaw or Kansas River, through the Delaware lands, mostly fine prairie, interspersed with strips of good black oak timber. The day was intensely warm and we rode at Jehu speed. About three in the afternoon, much fatigued, we reached the Kaw River , opposite the mouth of the Wakarusa; but there was no boat, the only craft being a pirogue, and that fastened at the opposite shore. We exerted ourselves manfully to reach the ears of our friends at the mission. Or of some of the natives residing near and, for a time, seemingly in vain. One of our company at length was preparing to swim the river and bring over the pirogue, when we saw a man coming to our relief. The tottering craft was brought over and our horses were swam by the side to the opposite shore in safety. Reaching the mission, we met a cordial reception from Dr. Still and his kind family.”

The future site of Eudora during this time was referred to as the point where the Kansas River joined with the Wakarusa River. About the Wakarusa, George A. Root, in his 1937 “Ferries in Kansas” article for the state historical society, wrote:  

“WAKARUSA creek or river has its source in a number of small branches that head in Wabaunsee and Shawnee counties. The most westerly of these, as well as the longest, begins in Wabaunsee county, in Township 13, Range 12, about four and one half miles from the Shawnee-Osage and Wabaunsee county boundary, flows across the northwest corner of Osage and enters Shawnee county in the southwest corner of Auburn township, not far from old Grand Haven post office. Through Shawnee county the stream has a west to east course, deviating less than three miles from north to south.

“It enters Douglas county in S. 26, T. 13, R. 17 [Section 26 Township 13 Range 17]. From here its course is to the northeast for several miles, thence after a somewhat circuitous route eastward it joins the Kansas river at the eastern limits of present Eudora. The stream is approximately 75 miles in length, about 35 being in Douglas county, 31 in Shawnee county, six or seven in Osage county, and the balance in Wabaunsee county.

“Wakarusa creek has been known by that name for considerably more than 100 years. It is a Kaw word. A literal translation of the word cannot be printed without offense, although in the Indian tongue there was no vulgarity and the definition is a perfectly proper one. In modern times the accepted version of this translation as handed down by those versed in the Kaw tongue, is ‘hip deep.’ Another and more modern definition is ‘ River of Big Weeds.’”

The Wakarusa River’s name origin, according to Holloway's History of Kansas, comes from an Indian legend, which says a "maiden, during a great freshet, sought to cross the stream on horseback. As she proceeded across, the waters became deeper and deeper, until her body was half immersed, when she exclaimed, 'Wakarusa!' (hip deep). Though she crossed in safety, still the savages from this occurrence, named the stream Wakarusa."

Wakarusa RiverRoot also wrote about the river’s various spellings: “The earliest printed mention of the stream we have located is that by Prof. Thomas Say, of Long's expedition of 1819 to 1820, who made a trip to the Kansas Indian village, and mentioned that the prairies about the headwaters of the ‘Warreruza’ abound in game. Isaac McCoy and his son John C. McCoy, in their survey of Cantonment Leavenworth and the Delaware reservations, in 1830, mentioned the stream, calling it the ‘Warkusa’ and also ‘Wacharusa River.’”

Joel Palmer, in his Journal of Travels Over the Rocky Mountains to the Mouth of the Columbia River, mentions having crossed the “Walkarusha” in 1845. He noted the existence of its various spellings such as “Wakaroosa” and “Wah-karrusi.” Palmer called it a stream “extending back from which, about two miles in width, we discovered a fine bottom covered with heavy burr oak and black walnut timber. After passing through this bottom, the tail strikes into a level and beautiful prairie, and crossing it — a distance of four miles — rises gradually to the ridge between the Walkarusha and the Kaw, or Kansas river.”

An October 20, 1888 Lawrence Journal contained a Western School Journal excerpt by W. H. Carruth, University of Kansas professor, about the river’s name. Carruth wrote: “According to common tradition the word means ‘hip deep,’ being the exclamation of a squaw being sent in to try the depth for her lord.’ Carruth said a Shawnee chief had told him “that the name of the stream is Wata-ka-la-loose, and means ‘you never speak to me,’ being the reproachful exclamation of a women on one side to her neglectful lover on the other.’’’

Copyright 2013. Cindy Higgins. Where the Wakarusa Meets the Kaw: A History of Eudora, Kansas. Eudora, KS: Author.