Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Driven by visions of economic freedom, pioneers set out by the thousands ...

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Driven by visions of economic freedom, pioneers set out by the thousands ...

Article excerpt

Driven by visions of economic freedom, pioneers set out by the thousands on the Oregon Trail in the mid-19th century.

Departing from Independence, Mo., many arrived at what is now Topeka to be met by the Pappan brothers, who charged high prices to ferry travelers across the Kansas River.

Topeka historian Doug Wallace said this week that some of those travelers later penned accounts voicing dismay about "those blankety- blank Frenchmen" and the exorbitant amounts they charged.

Wallace is among community residents working to try to establish an Oregon Trail Riverfront Park celebrating Topeka's ties to the historic pathway.

Topeka appears to be in a good position to turn that dream into a reality, said Beth Fager, chairwoman of the Topeka/Shawnee County Riverfront Authority.

That is illustrated by the fact that the National Park Service is providing four of its employees Monday through Friday for activities targeted at developing the proposed tourist attraction.

The park would be located along the Kansas River just south of the Great Overland Station, 701 N. Kansas Ave., in the area where brothers Joseph, Etienne and Louis Pappan operated the ferry.

The brothers were married to three half-Indian sisters who owned the land just north of the river, according to the website for Heartland Visioning, which is among organizations taking part.

"Pappan's Landing" became an early stop for those using the 2,170- mile Oregon Trail, where an estimated 300,000 immigrants, traders, gold hunters and missionaries traveled between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean between 1840 and 1869.

Most had left the eastern United States seeking opportunity at a time when it had seen an increase in population and a decrease in available land, said Donna Rae Pearson, local history librarian at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.

Residents often began the trek after hearing about rich farmlands in Oregon, Wallace said.

"They had no clue as to what lay between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean," he said. "And if they had known, a lot of them would have said 'To hell with it.' "

Those making the trip often dealt with illness and death. Topeka Capital-Journal archives show the trail came to average 17 graves per mile.

Pioneers tended to start the trip in the early spring so they could make it to the Pacific coast by winter, Wallace said.

At Topeka, the Pappans ferried many of the travelers over the Kansas River, going from south to north. Their departure and landing points along the river varied throughout the history of the ferry.

Wallace read from an account written by Peter Burnett, who arrived here in May 1843.

Burnett, who would later become the first governor of California, wrote in his diary that he and his family were in a 110-wagon train when their party tried to hire a Frenchman named "Pappa" to ferry them across the river. …

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