The History of Eudora, Kansas
The History of Eudora, Kansas
When shallow seas covered the land. Shallow seas covered the region millions of years ago and left behind marine life remnants deposited in sediment layers. Wrote a nineteenth-century geologist, “At Eudora, Kansas, fossils are abundant and well preserved.”
Said Dan Kuhlman, a Eudora Middle School earth science teacher, who took students fossil hunting from 1987 to 2012, “You’ll find a variety of invertebrates, mainly brachiopods, crinoid stems, bivalves, and a few more exotic ones from about 300 million years ago. They’re on K-10’s exposed roadcuts, especially on the Edgerton exit where we used to go.”
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, and 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 the 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 brachiopods, crinoid and echinoid fragments, bryozoans, and fusulinids.
LaVerne Brecheisen and Mary (Brecheisen) Rodewald, who bought their parents’ 115-acre farm in Johnson County (Section 28) in 1953, wrote of the seas 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.”
People also have found the remains of a mammoth, giant beaver, and stag moose in Eudora’s Pleistocene sediments. North of Eudora, fossil hunters found a mammoth shoulder blade weighing 65 pounds; a mastodon shoulder blade; a femur from a giant ground sloth; and bison bones dating back 8,000 years; and many shark teeth.
Photograph: Arrowheads from Lorene Cox collection
More familiar to fossil hunters around Eudora and farmers who till them up are long-ago nomadic hunter remains. “People have been in the Great Plains a lot longer than anyone thinks—at least 13,400 years,” said Brad Logan, Kansas State University research associate professor of archaeology.
The earliest known indigenous people on the Great Plains, the Paleo-Indian hunter-gatherers migrated from Asia when the climate warmed and glaciers melted. They and migrating bands who followed them in time trailed animal herds and supplemented their meat diet with fish, freshwater mussels, nuts, fruits, and edible plants.
Rare in Kansas but plentiful in neighboring states, Paleo-Indian campsites typically are along waterways where people have lived off and on for thousands of years. Early human inhabitants in Eudora’s pre-history left little else to mark their existence except shaped stones to process their game and chipped stone projectile points (“arrowheads”) for hunting. Attached to shafts as darts, projectile points also served as knives and were thrown with atlatls, spears used for many more centuries than the relatively recent bow and arrow.
Kansa Indians. In more recent history, Kansa (also known as “Kanza or “Kaw”) Indians lived in the 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. When Europeans came to North Americans in the late fifteenth century, 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 northeastern Kansas. Starting in 1825, the federal government transplanted other tribes to the land claimed by the Kansa. In 1872, the Kansa were relocated to present northern Kay County, Oklahoma.
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.
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, 1842, 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. W. H. Goode, in his 1863 book Outposts of Zion, told of venturing to the Wakarusa Mission from Kansas City and wrote of crossing the river 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."
W. H. Curruth concurred. An October 20, 1888 Lawrence Journal contained a Western School Journal excerpt by 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.’’’
John Rydjord, author of Indian Place-Names, wrote the hip-deep meaning was popular but not reliable. Rydjord wrote: “According to Andreas, Wakarusa meant the ‘river of weeds’ or the ‘river of big weeds,’ or ‘it was so named from a wild plant, partly covered with fine, hairy fibre, that once grew along its banks.’ A long-time resident on its banks, Dr. Jesse D. Wood, was of the opinion that in the Shawnee language the name means ‘the river of big weeds.’ White Plume of the Kansa Indians told Colonel Holliday that Wakarusa was ‘the river upon whose banks grew the wild milkweeds.’” William H. Gray in Journal of His Journey East, 1836-1837, too, wrote the name was from a plant, one that was eaten: "proceeded onto a beautiful stream called the WaKorusah from a root found in abundance on its banks made use of for food by the Natives."
Root 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.’’’
This winter and early spring when freeze-thaw cycles break up rocks and expose newly-visible fossils explore Eudora’s geologic record and archaeological past.
There’s plenty to discover in Eudora’s sediment layers deposited by shallow seas that covered the region millions of years ago.
In these rock layers, marine life remnants abound. Wrote a nineteenth-century geologist, “At Eudora, Kansas, fossils are abundant and well preserved.”
Said Dan Kuhlman, retired Eudora Middle School earth science teacher, who took students fossil hunting from 1987 to 2012, “You’ll find a variety of invertebrates, mainly brachiopods, crinoid stems, bivalves, and a few more exotic ones from about 300 million years ago. They’re on K-10’s exposed roadcuts, especially on the Edgerton exit where we used to go.”
More familiar to fossil hunters and farmers who till them up are long-ago nomadic hunter remains.
“People have been in the Great Plains a lot longer than anyone thinks—at least 13,400 years,” said Brad Logan, Kansas State University research associate professor of archaeology.
The earliest known indigenous people on the Great Plains, the Paleo-Indian hunter-gatherers migrated from Asia when the climate warmed and glaciers melted.
They and migrating bands who followed them in time trailed animal herds and supplemented their meat diet with fish, freshwater mussels, nuts, fruits, and edible plants.
Rare in Kansas but plentiful in neighboring states, Paleo-Indian campsites typically are along waterways where people have lived off and on for thousands of years.
In Eudora along the Kansas River, skeletal remains have been found of Paleo-Indian prey. Town newspapers of the past told of a mammoth shoulder blade weighing 65 pounds; a mastodon shoulder blade; a femur from a giant ground sloth; and bison bones dating back 8,000 years.
Early human inhabitants in Eudora’s pre-history left little else to mark their existence except shaped stones to process their game and chipped stone projectile points (“arrowheads”) for hunting. Attached to shafts as darts, projectile points also served as knives and were thrown with atlatls, spears used for many more centuries than the relatively recent bow and arrow.
Frank Kramer, Medicalodges Eudora resident, and his family donated 800 of these projectile points, pottery sherds, and other surface finds from 8000 B.C. to 1300 A.D. to the Tonganoxie Community Historic Site, 201 W. Washington St. The museum debuted these artifacts September in a permanent exhibit.
Logan, who worked on the Kramer property said the collection has a “variety of diagnostic artifacts from different time periods and represents a variety of Indians around Stranger Creek and adjacent areas.”
Finding fossils and artifacts isn’t difficult. “They’re just everywhere,” said Lorene Reetz Coz, who has many of hers displayed at the Eudora Community Museum, 720 Main St.
Watch the ground when walking, she advises. “I found a scraping specimen—and it was a very hard quality limestone— on top of the hill by the river. You always look down. You’ll find them before the grass turns green and gets tall.”
“I’ve never dug and wouldn’t know where to start digging. Plus, you don’t want to cause erosion,” she cautioned.
Cox said she has found specimens used for pounding and other functions. “When they shaped rocks, they had a reason for doing that.”
The Eudora Community Museum has several of Cox’s finds on display. Besides projectile points and petrified wood, her artifacts include pottery fragments from the Delaware (also called the “Lenape”) who built homes on her property. Relocated north of the Kansas River by the U.S. government in 1829, the Delaware’s short stay ended after a subsequent 1866 relocation to Oklahoma similar to the Shawnee relocated south of the Kansas River.
Two archaeology enthusiasts using metal detectors also spotted Delaware items on Cox’s property. Among their findings were tool fragments, square nails, lantern parts, lead bullets, and a 3-cent coin dated 1850.
Before the Delaware and the Shawnee, the Kansa (also known as “Kanza or “Kaw”) lived in the Kansas River area. According to historian David Dary, some Kanza had a 1700s settlement where the Wakarusa River meets the Kansas River.
Interested in discovering your own long-ago relics? Besides pinpointing artifacts in exposed rock, check out plowed ground and other disturbed topsoil, especially after a lengthy rain.
“Look in ground has been worked after rain and have a little bit of luck,” Kramer said.
Another good bet are sandbars during low water levels and stream shorelines after flooding has carved into shore soil deposits made hundreds of thousands of years ago.
“Know that under your feet, the ground hasn’t always been there,” Logan advised. “Streamways flush artifacts out and move them. You won’t find Indian points unless they have been eroded out on a channel or gravel bar or on bluff tops that don’t get eroded quickly.”