There was an old settlement in Atchison County called Oak Mills located on the Missouri River in Walnut Township. It had the distinction of being the first governmental center in Kansas where white men lived, erected buildings and transacted business in the late 1700,s. Both Spain and France desired to own the area where they soon learned about the wealth of trapping beavers along the Missouri River. Many of the French traders got along well with the Indians by living with them and marrying Indian wives. They encouraged the natives to trap beaver, otter and muskrat because their hides were prized in Paris in exchange for material goods.
The news of the French in the area upset the Spaniards who feared they would lose the trade of the Plains Indian tribes. So in 1720 Don Villazur marched from Santa Fe to drive the French back to Canada but the Indians who liked the French, attacked the invaders and destroyed their army. In the summer of 1724 Etinne Venyard de Bourgmont who was commissioned by the French government, undertook an expedition for the purpose of establishing better friendly relations with the Indians who might assist in preventing any further advancement of the Spanish. At the present site of Oak Mills, de Bourgmont met with the Indians who had a village there
Lewis and Clark wrote in their journals that there was had been an old Indian village on the bank of the river and at the rear of the village was a small fort. By then there were no traces of the village but a few outlines of an early fort could be seen. A spring was located at the spot which supplied water into Turkey Creek. Later when Kansas opened for settlement the first white settlers came to Oak Mills in 1854 and met an old Kickapoo Indian known as Jim Corn who had a little colony up in the hollow. Once the post was established and the Indians moved out, the white settlement of Oak Mills grew. There was a saw mill at the village site which sawed much lumber until it burnt down in the 1860’s. The mill was rebuilt and operated as both a saw and grist mill. John Waddle from Kentucky in 1856 was an early merchant and served as their first postmaster.
The early 1860s with the river boat traffic proved to be the hey-day for the town. There were 3 general stores, a blacksmith named Charles Masterson, a ferry run by Len Wright and a tavern that did good business. Oak Mills was known as “Slabtown” because of a very rough bunch at the little town engaged in fights and brawls at the tavern almost daily. (It was named after an East Leavenworth area of town with the same name.) In 1869 a division of the Missouri Pacific Railway was completed and Oak Mills was made a flag station and telegraph office.
The annual output of the old trading post alone made the area so well known. The business handling the trade and sale of fur and skins of deer, otter, wolf, badger, muskrat and mink had been tremendous. Oak Mills is still printed on the county maps as a geographical place but nothing exists there but a stone building and a sign erected by the Future Farmer’s of America.
Stopping by there now, it would be hard to believe that Oak Mills had such a large amount of activity in the old days. Well documented as the first permanent establishment of white man’s authority, protection and enterprise within the borders of Atchison County, Oak Mills was a hotspot over 200 years ago. Only the sounds of a train rumbling through the old site can be heard today.