In the winter of 1815-1816, August P. Chouteau and Jules de Munn tried to extend the Chouteau trading territory into the upper Platte and Arkansas River valleys and overland, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, blazing parts of what would later be known as the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail.
In the spring of 1816, they were making their way back to Missouri with the furs collected during the previous winter. Shortly after traveling east of the present-day Colorado/Kansas state line, they were attacked by about 200 Pawnee Indians near the Arkansas River. Chouteau and his men quickly crossed the shallow water of the river to a large island of timber where they took refuge.
The trappers utilized their packs of furs for barricades. One trapper was killed and three were wounded. However, seven of the Pawnee Indians died in the battle. The Pawnee would later say that it was the most fatal affair in which they were ever engaged, having never seen guns in the past.
The island was afterward known as “Chouteau’s Island” to travelers along the Santa Fe Trail and described as a “beautiful spot, with a rich carpet of grass, delightful groves, and a heavily timbered bottom.” Located about six miles west of Lakin, Kansas in Kearny County, Chouteau’s Island has long since disappeared due to erosion by the Arkansas River.
©Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated December 2020.