A few months ago I wrote a series of blog posts about my great-great-great grandfather, Ambrose Bowen Epperson, expanding on his autobiographical story "The Stolen Boy". One portion of the story described how Ambrose and his family traveled from Iowa to Kansas in the spring of 1855. He specifically mentioned passing through Kansas City and camping at Indian Creek. "Crossing the surging Missouri River at a little two horse town called Kansas City, he drove on out to Indian Creek, went into camp twelve miles southwest of Westport. While in camp he had the pleasure for the first time since 1831 of seeing his oldest sister. In a few days, they struck camp and were on the road again."
This weekend, we were in the Kansas City area for a family vacation. When I realized that we were only a few miles from the site of this campground (now part of Flat Rock Creek Park in Lenexa, Kansas), I had to visit! As we drove toward the park, I was struck by how much travel has changed in the last 150 years. My ancestors bumped over rough trails in a horse-drawn wagon. The twelve mile journey from Westport to Indian Creek campground would have taken most of a day. I wonder if they had a map to follow or if they just relied on directions from strangers. In contrast, our vehicle rolled smoothly over the grid of paved streets, able to cover 12 miles in a matter of minutes. While my husband drove, I watched my cell phone as GPS satellites tracked our movement along the route that Google had plotted for us.
As we pulled into the parking lot next to a public swimming pool, it was hard to imagine that this spot had once been a campground for pioneers. My first stop was a historical marker (see photo above) at the edge of the creek, which confirmed that the site was once known as Indian Creek Campground. We crossed the creek on a small footbridge.
Standing in the grassy area on the other side of the creek, it was a little easier to picture my ancestors camping there. My daughter made a beeline for the playground and I let my imagination wander. Did Ambrose's children run and play here too? My great-great grandfather, WIlliam, was ten at the time. Did he climb that massive oak tree in its younger days?
I walked down the bank to the creek. It was smaller than I had imagined, but very picturesque. I stood for awhile on one of the flat rocks that gave the area its name. The creek alone seemed unchanged by time. I thought of how my ancestors probably drank water from this creek, unknowingly risking their lives. Many early travelers died from cholera, contracted from contaminated drinking water in campgrounds like this. That was only one of many dangers faced by my ancestors as they made their way to their new home in Kansas. I marveled -- as I often have before -- at their hardiness and courage.
I was a little disappointed that the site had changed so much from its days as a campground. In 1846, Edwin Bryant camped there and noted its beauty. "The margin of the small stream is fringed with a grove of timber, and from the gentle slope, where our wagons are drawn up, the verdant prairie, brilliant with flowers of every dye, stretches far away on all sides, diversified in its surface by every conceivable variety of undulation" (1). Thankfully such prairie vistas are still common in Kansas, if you just drive a little further west. After a few days in the big city, I was longing for those scenes again. And so like Ambrose and his family before us, we crossed the creek and were soon traveling over the prairie towards home.
1. Bryant, Edwin What I Saw In California (Google Books version) retrieved from books.google.com
Teresa is the the owner of KinSeeker Genealogy Services. She has a Ph.D. in Biology and a lifelong fascination with genealogy. She been researching her own family history for over 20 years and loves helping others "find their stories."
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