Archive for Thursday, June 25, 1998


June 25, 1998


Just south of Kansas Highway 10, below County Road 1057, lies an almost forgotten passageway across the Wakarusa River. Covered wagons, mounted soldiers and settlers, picnickers and travelers frequented it in years past. Immigrants on the Oregon Trail and many others came to this spot to cross the steep-banked Wakarusa because here, unlike any other stretch along the river, erosion has provided a solid footing under the wheels of wagons, and significantly shallower than the reaches to the north and south.

Here, too, in the early days of the trail, came Charles Bluejacket.

Bluejacket, a Shawnee Indian, smelled opportunity and opened a trading post at the crossing along the river. The crossing came to bear his name and was popularly known in the last half of the 1800s as Bluejacket Crossing.

Today, the crossing is part of our family farm. Because the Wakarusa River dissects our farm diagonally, cutting off pasture from barns and silos, the crossing has been used most recently to drive the cattle we have had from pasture to feed. More often, though, the Crossing has been used as a beloved family haunt for cookouts, fishing, walking and gazing. Sandstone bluffs rise in golden heaps 20 to 25 feet above the river on the east bank. Shaped and softened by the rise and fall of thousands of years of water, they undulate gently for about a quarter of a mile along this section of the river.

Although a few local historians in years past have placed the locale of Bluejacket Crossing a mile to the east of the site on our farm, we feel certain our site was the original Bluejacket Crossing. First, the title history of our farmland lists Charles Bluejacket as the original titleholder. In addition, experts such as John Leamon and Craig Crease of the Oregon-California Trails Assn., and Gregory Franzwa, author of ``The Oregon Trail Revisited,'' ``Maps of the Oregon Trail,'' and other fine historical references, have examined the ruts and geography of our crossing site and are convinced it was the main Bluejacket Crossing.

Other crossings, including the Louisiana Street crossing near Lawrence, were certainly used as well. Oregon Trail historians affirm the trail was not one simple path uniformly crossing landscape and rivers at the same locale like a modern highway. It was a prevailing corridor west, traversing uplands and chasing waterways. Various routes separated for miles and came together again at key points, forming a great roadway west.

It is exciting to feel the brush of history so close at hand, to sit on the west side of the river and wonder how those bulky, overloaded wagons navigated the steep, angling bank to the Wakarusa River. Scores of people are visiting famous and obscure sites along the Oregon Trail from Kansas to Oregon. They are guided in large part by the meticulously researched books of Gregory Franzwa. In his latest edition of ``The Oregon Trail Revisited,'' Franzwa includes the Bluejacket Crossing site on the Gage farm as an integral part of the Oregon Trail. We will continue to enjoy and share our little piece of the trail.

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