KS History – Group D

blogs about KS history

Robert S. Stevens September 16, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — emosier4 @ 11:24 pm

Robert S. Stevens was a nationally known man who had numerous careers. He was a very well educated man who came from a farming background and could adapt himself to all sorts of jobs. He spent his life working as a banker, businessman, land speculator, lawyer, railroad promoter, teacher, politician, and even a U.S. Indian commissioner. He was certified as a public teacher and practiced law with the district attorney of Wyoming County. Robert Stevens would work any occupation that was asked of him.

In 1865, Mr. Stevens emigrated to the Kansas Territory and was rewarded by President Buchanan with the position of special U.S. Indian commissioner. Stevens’s task was to arrange for the sale of the Kaskaskia, Peoria, Piankashaw, and Wea tribal land. He was also responsible for the improvement of the Sac and Fox Indian reservations in east-central Kansas. All of the improvements were funded by Robert Stevens and not by the government. He remained in dept for many years following.

By 1869, Stevens was granted permission to supervise the construction of what was to become the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, later known as “The Katy.” With his prior knowledge of the Kansas geography, he was able to construct the first railroad that ran through Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma, with the help of Levi Parsons. The railroad sprang up many small towns along the line such as Parsons, Kansas which became the M-K-T’s headquarters till the 1950s. He spent 20 years as the manager and vice president of the Katy railroad. This would assure Stevens’ place in Kansas history.

By the 1870s Robert Stevens had finally paid off all of his debts and even became quite wealthy. He was a very intelligent and very eager to find new and exciting occupations. He spent many years serving as a mayor, Kansas senator, and in the House of Representatives. Stevens was even one of the very few men who were spared during Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence in 1863. Robert Stevens was involved in many careers, but he will be mostly remembered for the construction and operation of a transportation empire that opened up the southwest to the rest of the United States. This railway corporation hastened the economic development in Kansas.

Eric Mosier

Kansas State Historical Society Robert S. Stevens Collection

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4 Responses to “Robert S. Stevens”

  1. jtku89 Says:

    Mr. Stevens sounds like a very influential man for Kansas History. I wonder how you (Eric) would respond to this question. Considering Mr. Stevens involvement with Native American land in Kansas, do you think that Mr. Stevens was considering Indian well-being when he helped direct the railroad through Native American land? Was this decision to undermine Native American’s living in the area, or was it to help develop the economic well being of the area?

    John Thornton

    • emosier4 Says:

      The article I read never really went into a further analysis of this certain event. To me the way I see Robert Stevens is that he is a very hard working man and very intelligent, but he almost seemed as a man who would do any job that was asked of him. He would not worry about his own personal thoughts and feelings. I think he actually did care a lot for the Native American’s land because he did provide his own wealth for the development of reservations, which led to his lifelong debt. During this time the government was trying to auction and sell of the Indian’s land. I think Sevens was just followed his orders by building the railroad through the their land. That is a very good question and I am very interested to found out more.

      Eric Mosier

  2. jeffalex Says:

    This is a very interesting article because I too am from Parsons Kansas! I never knew much about the MKT rail road. I just saw all the “Katy” stuff every where. I actually didn’t know the head quarters was located in Parsons! Do you know why the MKT was bought out? Were they doing poorly financially.


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