The famous frontier town Dodge City is located on the Arkansas River.
The state of Kansas contains three major navigable rivers: the Missouri, the Kansas and the Arkansas rivers. While the Kansas River flows into the Missouri, the Arkansas and Missouri rivers are tributaries of the Mississippi River. The major river basins contain most of the major population centers in Kansas, and have been key in developing commerce and agriculture in the state.
The Missouri River is the largest of Kansas’s rivers, and forms the northeast corner of the state border. At one time the Missouri was the longest river in North America, and was prone to extensive flooding and course changes. It has undergone extensive engineering, which has straightened, channelized and dammed the river, reducing its floodplain and making it more suitable for commercial uses. In Kansas, the city of Leavenworth is located on the banks of the Missouri. Kansas City lies at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers.
The Kansas River is located in northeastern Kansas, forming at the confluence of the Smoky Hill and Republican rivers at Junction City. It flows 170 miles to meet the Missouri at Kansas City. Historically, the river served as an avenue of transportation, including the use of steam ships in the 19th century. Although the river is not used for commercial transportation today, the Kansas River valley is an important transportation route for railroads and highways. The largest cites on the Kansas are Topeka and Kansas City.
The Arkansas River flows through the southeastern portion of Kansas. Originating in the Rocky Mountains, the Arkansas is the sixth longest river in the United States, flowing 1,469 to meet the Mississippi River. In Kansas, the Arkansas tends to be a braided river, forming several small channels within the river bed. Traveling through a semiarid region, the river has deposited fertile sediments and is used extensively for irrigation. Notable cities include Dodge City and Wichita.
Significance of Rivers in Kansas History
Kansas is a central plains state, with flat topography and an average elevation of 2,000 feet. The river valleys of the state have been inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years. Fort Leavenworth, the first United States settlement, was established on the banks of the Missouri in 1827. The state’s largest city, Wichita, is located at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers, a location that has been used as a trading center for as long as 11,000 years. The state’s major river valleys contain most of the larger cities and towns in Kansas, providing irrigation for the state’s important agricultural sector.