Once on the other side of the Kansas River, the Donner and Reed families joined up with the much larger Russell Company, which was made up of at least 72 wagons and more than 300 travelers. I followed the company’s general direction up Kansas-99, across Kansas-9 and up US Route 77 to the Big Blue River Crossing (now known as Independence Crossing).
The Russell Company camped on the shores of the Big Blue River which, like the Kansas River, was swollen from the recent rainstorms. While waiting for its waters to recede to a safe level, some pioneers built a raft by carving out canoes to use as pontoons, and then building a platform on top of them. Others strengthened axles and repaired wagon wheels. Occasionally they would relax and picnic near a calming waterfall at a nearby spring. The pioneers named this area Alcove Spring, and many carved their initials in the surrounding rocks. Some wrote home about the beautiful area, and it became a regular stopping place along the trail for later pioneers.
Virginia Reed’s father James was said to have carved his initials at Alcove Spring. During my research I’d seen old photos of this carving, but I didn’t expect to find it myself because I’d read the rock had deteriorated since those photos had been taken. Just the same, I looked around for a rock with his initials–and there it was. Dated May 26, exactly 163 years ago to the day! Eerie, but thrilling too.
I was eventually joined at Alcove Spring by a retired historian from nearby Marysville, Kansas. (Am I lucky or what?) She informed me that the rock bearing James Reed’s initials had been recently restored and cast. (See the photo above, left.) She even showed me where the rock had originally been a part of an overhang before breaking off and falling to the bottom of the spring decades ago. And then she took a photo of me standing next to Alcove Spring.