For emigrants going westward by wagon train on the Oregon Trail, "The Hill", as Mount Oread is now commonly referred to by residents of Lawrence, was the next big topographical challenge after crossing the Wakarusa River near today's Haskell Indian Nations University.
According to the United States Geological Survey, Mount Oread is located approximately 1037 feet above sea level. By way of comparison, downtown Lawrence is about 846 feet above sea level. Mount Oread is perhaps best known for being the staging area of William Quantrill's raid into Lawrence on August 21, 1863, during the American Civil War. Presently, the campus of the University of Kansas rests on Mount Oread.
Early History of Mt. Oread
by Frank W. Blackmar (1912)
Mount Oread, the height upon which the University of Kansas is located at Lawrence, was so named by the first immigrants who pitched their tents there in Aug. 1854, after the Mount Oread school at Worcester, Mass., of which Eli Thayer was the founder and proprietor. The view from Mount Oread is one of the finest in the state, the landscape including the valleys of the Kansas and Wakarusa rivers for several miles. The Agora Magazine for April, 1893, says: "There is no place in Kansas where one's breast swells with pride more than on Mount Oread at Lawrence. From it one can get a view of the best that nature has given the state, and on it is the best that man has given it."
Even Earlier History of Mt. Oread
by Rev. Richard Cordley (1895)
While ...(other)... gentlemen were exploring the territory, their friends were getting ready to send out the first. party of, emigrants. There were only twenty-nine in this first party, but they went out to prepare the way for others, and to show that the thing could be done. They were accompanied as far as Buffalo by Eli Thayer himself, the founder of "The New England Emigrant Aid Company." We quote a few paragraphs from his "Kansas Crusade:"
"The pioneer colony left Boston July 17, 1854. Immense crowds had gathered at the station to give them a parting God-speed. They moved out of the station amid the cheering of the crowds who lined the track for several blocks.
"The emigrants remained in Worcester the first night, and received a suitable ovation. Several of the leading citizens called upon them, and applauded their patriotic devotion, and pledging remembrance in any emergency.
"The next day we were met in the evening at Albany by a good number of citizens who welcomed us with great cordiality. The next day we were cheered at all the principal stations as we passed on our westward journey. The president of the Monroe County Bible Society made an address, and presented the colony with a large and elegant Bible."
They crossed Lake Erie in the steamer "Plymouth Rock," and went by way of Chicago to St. Louis. Here they were met by Dr. Robinson, who gave them the benefit of his experience. He procured transportation for them on board the steamer "Polar Star," and they left St. Louis July 24th and arrived at Kansas City the Friday evening following, July 27th. The journey from here is well described in a letter by Mr. B. R. Knapp, published in the Boston News, and dated August 9, 1854:
"We prepared ourselves at once for starting. An ox team was purchased to transport the baggage and at ten o'clock Saturday evening we started on foot for our destination across the prairie. We traveled as much as possible during the night as the weather was very hot during the middle of the day. We saw occasionally a log house as we passed along, inhabited by farmers, of whom we obtained milk, etc. On the evening of Sunday we encamped on the lands of the Shawnee Indians. On Monday morning we started early, and in the evening arrived at the Wakarusa river, within ten miles of our destination. Here we camped, and the next day reached our new home. Here we established our camp, and pitched our twenty-five tents, which made a fine appearance though somewhat soiled. On Wednesday the second day of August, we went to work setting up our claim to the lands, and preparing for permanent settlement."
The following are the names of this first party: E. Davenport, A. Holman, Ben. Merriam, J. F. Morgan, A. H. Mallory, J. W. Russell, E. Conant, F. Fuller, G. W. Hewes, Dr. S. C. Harrington, A. Philbrick, J. D. Stevens, E. White, W. H. Hewes, John Mailey, Sam'l F. Tappan, D. R. Anthony, H. Cameron, G. W. Hutchinson, George Thatcher, J. M. Jones, Dr. John Doy, A. Fowler, G. W. Goss, August Hillpath, O. Harlow, Arthur Gunter; J. C. Archibald, B. R. Knapp.
This party arrived August 1st. They ate their first meal on the hill where the old University building now stands. Of course they held a "meeting" and "organized." Someone has said that "wherever two or three Yankees are met together there they hold a meeting and organize." The meeting chose Ferdinand Fuller as chairman. They were in good position to "View the landscape o'er,"
which they proceeded to do. They also had some speeches, and discussed the merits of the location and the best methods of procedure. The situation seemed to please them, and they voted to "stay here." They named the bill on which they met "Mount Oread," a name which it bears "unto this day." They remained on the hill a day or two, and then moved down, and camped near the Kansas river a little west of where the bridge now crosses that stream. The members of the party spent several days "claim hunting," and selected claims all around the proposed town site. After this was done, about half the party returned east, with the intention of bringing their families in the spring.