Arkansas City Traveler, April 23, 1879.


We publish this week J. D. McKown's report of the upper Arkansas river to Maj. Charles R. Suter, Corps of Engineers, U. S. A. Also the endorsement of the latter officer and recommendation of the work to Brig. Gen. A. A. Humphreys, Chief of Engineers, U. S. A. The same was forwarded to Hon. M. R. Leonard, by our Congressional delegation, and left with the TRAVELER for publication. Senator Plumb writes a very interesting letter on this subject, and will spare no pains in securing the necessary appropriations for this purpose.



St. Louis, Mo., January 27, 1879.

Major: I herewith respectfully submit the following report of the examination of the Arkansas River from the mouth of the Little Arkansas River to Fort Smith.

In accordance with orders received from this office, I proceeded to Wichita, Kansas, and commenced the examination of the river at the mouth of the Little Arkansas. The latter stream empties into the main river a short distance above Wichita, part of the water is diverted from the natural channel to supply a mill, but again comes into the main river some two and a half miles below the city. The Arkansas River is very tortuous in its course, that portion from Wichita to Arkansas City passing through a prairie country, and has very little timber on the banks, a thin growth of cottonwood and willow prevailing.

The bed of the stream is very wide for the amount of water running, and is of a light sandy nature, quicksand prevailing in a large degree. In many places where the current is strong, there is a thin layer of gravel over the sand, which once broken through, shows the soft sand underneath. As we go down the river rock becomes somewhat frequent, rock ridges often crossing the stream, sometimes almost amounting to rapids, and leaving but little room for passage of boats at low water. I had the advantage of seeing the river at a very low stage of water and in its worst condition. At no time during the examination was there a rise of more than six inches, and that lasted but a few days.


From Wichita to Arkansas City 65

From Arkansas City to the State line 14

From State line to Grand River 236

From Grand River to Ft. Smith 94

TOTAL: 409

The small amount of money available rendered rapid work necessary, and hurried reconnaissance was all that could be made. On such information as I could obtain, I respectfully submit the following approximate estimate of the cost of improving the river for steamboat navigation at low-water.

The Little Arkansas River empties into the Arkansas about three quarters of a mile above the bridge at Wichita. The bed of the main stream is from 600 to 800 feet wide from there to the bridge. The slope of the river from the mouth of the Little Arkansas to a point 1 mile below is 8.03 feet; high water mark at Wichita from the best information obtainable is 7.45 feet above low water, but as the landing would probably be below it, it need not be taken into consideration.

From Wichita to El Paso, a distance of some 15 miles, the slope of the river is about 3 feet per mile, or 45 feet for the whole distance. The bed of the river is generally wide, and to within 2 miles of El Paso needs a continued series of dikes and dams to contract it to a proper width, which would be about 150 feet. This would take a dike of 600 feet every half mile for 13 miles, or 7,800 feet in all. About 2 miles above El Paso the river narrows down to about the required width, with not less than 3 feet of water in the channel. This extends for nearly 2 miles.

About one-half mile above El Paso there is a rocky reef extending across the river, running out from the left, where there is a rocky bank. The expense would be but slight to place it in good boating order: $2,500 would be sufficient.

From El Paso to Oxford the distance is 25 miles. The difference of level between the two places is about 69 feet, giving a slope of 2.75 feet per mile. This piece of river is a continual series of comparatively short bends, and the water being forced on the convex side of them, forms a good channel in most places. It will require about 78,000 feet of dam for this distance, or 312 feet per mile.

About one and one-fourth miles above Oxford there is a brush and rock dam which is built for the purpose of throwing in a race or ditch, where it is used for mill power. The dam is a slight, irregular built affair, angling down stream. The difference of the level of the water above and below it at the left bank is 1.37 feet. The right bank here is about 40 feet high and of talcose slate.

At Oxford there is a pontoon bridge. A roadway built to it is made of rock, brush, and prairie hay, the latter predominating, and seems to make an excellent dike, closing the river in to about 150 feet, and making a good channel along the bluff for about a half mile.

Some 4 miles above Oxford the Ne-Ne Scah Creek empties into the river, adding something to the volume of water.

Brush for mattresses is quite scarce on the river from Wichita to this place; but there is but little doubt that the tall, rank prairie grass, which is indigenous to this region, and grows in great abundance, could be used to advantage in the work by mixing it in with the brush, and in all probability would be economical.

About three-fourths of a mile below Oxford the river widens out and is full of bars. At five miles from Oxford, the banks on the right are high and contain considerable loose slate. The river bottom is of rock, but there is a fair depth of water: from 2-1/2 to 6 feet. About fourteen miles above Arkansas City, the banks on the left are about 30 feet high, of sand and clay, underlaid with loose rock.

The slope of the river from Oxford to Arkansas City, a distance of 25 miles, is 65 feet, or 2.6 feet per mile. There will be necessary for this piece of river about 16,500 feet of dike and dam: 660 feet per mile. The approximate amount of water in the river at Arkansas City is 575 cubic feet per second. At this place there is a wagon-bridge about 600 in length, with the lower chord 20 feet above low-water. A draw would be necessary to allow the passage of boats. In the present state it is an obstruction to navigation.

From Arkansas City to Kaw Agency, the distance is 44 miles. The fall of the river between these points is 110 feet, or 2.5 feet per mile. It will take about 16,500 feet of work to improve this part of the river, or 375 feet per mile.

The river banks are becoming better timbered, and the river improving. Walnut river empties about six miles below Arkansas City and adds a fair amount to the volume of water in the river.

Below the Walnut the river changes somewhat in character. The banks and bluffs are higher and more rocky, the bed of the river more narrow, and timber more plentiful. Oak, hickory, pecan, walnut, blackberry, and many other varieties are common. Cottonwood, of course, is always to be found on the banks and low grounds. Below and near the State line, and a few miles farther down, about the mouth of Chaloca Creek, a quantity of loose rock, apparently piled up during freshets, shows itself in the river. Some of this rock should be removed and a dam thrown in to concentrate the water. About $3,000
would do it.

On this piece of river, from Kaw Agency to Salt Creek, the distance is 62 miles. The slope of the river is 136 feet, or about 2.3 feet per mile. It will take about 28,000 feet of dam to improve it, or 451 feet per mile. On this part of the river snags are becoming more plentiful. Between Kaw Agency and Salt Creek the Salt Fork empties; it throws in considerable water.

From Salt Creek to Black Bear Creek, a distance of 15 miles, the river is wide and bad, and will take about 14,000 feet of dam to improve it, or 933 feet per mile. The slope is about 2.2 feet per mile, or 33 feet for the distance of 15 miles. Black Bear Creek comes in on the right, and adds something to the amount of water in the river, even when very low.

From Black Bear Creek to Cimarron River, the distance is 62 miles. The bed of the river is very wide and sandy, sometimes getting as wide as 2,000 feet. It will take some 20,500 feet of dam to improve this part of the river, or 500 feet per mile. The slope of the river is about 1.8 feet per mile, or 112 feet for the distance of 62 miles.

The Cimarron or Red Fork of the Arkansas comes in on the right, and contributes a considerable amount of water to the main river. Its deep red tinge is in strong contrast with the muddy water of the Arkansas, and the waters running side by side some distance before mingling have a marked and unique appearance.

From the Cimarron to the mouth of Grand River the distance is 87 miles. The slope of the river in this distance is about 152 feet, or 1.75 per mile. It will take about 38,000 feet of dam to improve this portion of the river, or 437 feet per mile.

About 3 miles above the mouth of Grand River is the bridge of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad. The length is 800 feet; there are four spans of 200 feet each, and the lower chord is 34 above low-water. The bridge is a strong and handsome structure, built of wood and iron. It has no draw, and may be considered an obstruction.

About one-fourth of a mile above, the mouth of the Verdigris empties and makes quite an addition to the volume of water. The Grand River discharges still more than the Verdigris, and together they make a very perceptible difference in the main stream.

Below the mouth of the Grand, the river changes very much in its character. The bed of the river is not so wide, the channel much better, and the bars and banks contain more gravel.

From the mouth of Grand River to Greenleaf's Creek, about 28 miles, generally good; 5,000 feet of dam will suffice for this distance, but it is almost impassable in places on account of snags, which in some locations almost fill the water-way.

At Greenleaf's Creek the river was closed with ice, and the examination had to be abandoned. But as Mr. Albert had made a survey of that part of the river in 1869, his report will give information concerning it. The distance from Grand River to Fort Smith is 94 miles, and I should think that $150,000 would be sufficient as most all of the work would be in shallow water.


Locality. Distance, miles.

Wichita to El Paso ............................ 15

El Paso to Oxford ............................. 25

Oxford to Arkansas City ....................... 25

Arkansas City to Kaw Agency ................... 44

Kaw Agency to Salt Creek ...................... 62.5

Salt Creek to Black Bear Creek ................ 15

Black Bear Creek to Cimarron River ............ 41.5

Cimarron River to Grand River ................. 87

Grand River to Fort Smith ..................... 94

Total: 409

Locality. Linear feet of dam.

Wichita to El Paso ............................ 7,200

El Paso to Oxford ............................. 7,800

Oxford to Arkansas City ....................... 17,000

Arkansas City to Kaw Agency ................... 16,500

Kaw Agency to Salt Creek ...................... 28,000

Salt Creek to Black Bear Creek ................ 14,000

Black Bear Creek to Cimarron River ............ 20,500

Cimarron River to Grand River ................. 38,000

Grand River to Fort Smith

Total: 149,000

Locality. Cost of rock excavation.

El Paso to Oxford ............................. $3,000

Arkansas City to Kaw Agency ................... 3,000


Locality. Total Cost.

Wichita to El Paso ............................ $ 32,400

El Paso to Oxford ............................. 38,600

Oxford to Arkansas City ....................... 76,500

Arkansas City to Kaw Agency ................... 77,250

Kaw Agency to Salt Creek ...................... 126,000

Salt Creek to Black Bear Creek ................ 63,000

Black Bear Creek to Cimarron River ............ 92,250

Cimarron River to Grand River ................. 174,000

Grand River to Fort Smith ..................... 150,000

Total: $826,500

Add for contingencies and Engineer expenses: 73,500

Total: $900,000

The Arkansas River passes through the Indian Territory, from the southern boundary line of the State of Kansas, to Fort Smith, Arkansas, a distance of about 330 miles by river. Little trade could be expected from the Territory except in the Cherokee Nation, between Fort Smith and the Grand River, where perhaps some business might be done.

That portion of the country tributary to the river in Kansas, from Wichita to the State line, is rich, fertile, and well cultivated, and would derive great benefit from the opening of the river to navigation.

Very Respectfully,

J. D. McKOWN, Assistant Engineer.


Corps of Engineers, U. S. A.

In accordance with your instructions of July 8th, 1878, I have caused a reconnaissance to be made by Mr. J. D. McKown, assistant engineer, of the Arkansas River from the mouth of Little Arkansas to Fort Smith, and a copy of his report thereon is herewith submitted.

Except in the upper portion before mentioned, the navigable low-water depth is about the same as that of the Arkansas River between Little Rock and Fort Smith, and it would of course be useless to attempt to get a greater depth until the balance of the stream was correspondingly improved.

The estimates presented by Assistant McKown are for removing snags and rocks and so contracting the width of the stream as to give at low-water a depth of about 2 feet, but this estimate is only a rough approximation at the best, and no work on this scale should be undertaken, even if deemed advisable, until a thorough survey of the stream has been made, the cost of which is estimated at $16,360.

I am, however, of the opinion that by removing the snags and constructing slight dams at some of the worst shoals the navigation would be so much improved as to render it as good as that between Little Rock and Fort Smith, and this would seem to be all that is worth doing until the general improvement of the river is undertaken. The cost of this work would be about $100,000, which could be expended in one season.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

CHAS. R. SUTTER, Maj. of Engineers.

Brig. Gen. A. A. HUMPHREYS,

Chief of Engineers, U. S. A.

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