WATHENA, Kansas — Almost 40 Doniphan County residents turned out Sunday afternoon to recall the heroics and sacrifices made by their ancestors nearly two centuries ago.
Those residents watched as the Doniphan County Historical Society and its partners unveiled a marker that pays homage to the Bellemont Landing, just north of Wathena, Kansas.
The society had placed the monument at a location near the Missouri River about two months ago, and the project itself has been some six years in the making and deemed worthwhile by members.
Former society president Pete Duncan said the landing was the site where migrants headed west arrived after boarding ferries near Francis Street in present-day St. Joseph.
“We felt it important and necessary that this spot be marked with a monument to identify where migrants landed as they crossed the Missouri River,” he said. “With the approval of the historical society and the (Doniphan) county commissioners and others, we elected to place a monument that will be permanent for future generations ...”
The migration took hold from the early 1840s on through the mid-1860s. Some of the travelers were lured by the promise of gold in California, while others opted for Oregon as their future home.
The monument, Duncan said, is a nod to “those brave souls” who were involved in the history of westward expansion. He said many of the migrants failed to reach their hoped-for destination.
“A lot of them didn’t make it too far ... People started dying of cholera,” he said. “They died all the way to California.”
Many of the travelers were buried west of Fanning and south of Sparks, Kansas, while others were laid to rest near Troy. The river eventually changed course, moving farther east and away from the landing area.
Permission was obtained from the commission to place the marker on the right of way.
“They were all for the idea,” said Duncan, adding the city of Wathena also assisted with the project. “A lot of people helped with this project.”
Byrd Monument in Atchison, Kansas, was secured for preparing the stone and its engraving. The design was inspired by a postage stamp that commemorated the Oregon-California Trail.