The Oregon and California trails crossed the Vermillion River about 3 miles east of the present community of Louisville, Kansas. White travelers used this crossing as early as 1819 and it was regulary used by the 1840s. Kit Carson and John C. Fremont crossed here in 1842 and the Donner Party in 1846. When Fort Riley opened in 1853, the military road from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Riley crossed here.
The west side of the river was the first major campsite about a days journay from St. Marys Mission, and many stayed here overnight. There were several cholera outbreaks in the area and in 1849 about 50 cholera victims were burried near the bank of the river. This impromptu cemetery was also used for others who died along the trail. There are 3 grave markers there today.
Fording the river was difficult and risky. Wagons had to be lowered down the steep bank with ropes, floated across the Vermillion River and hauled up the other side, while livestock waded or swam across the sometimes swift current. A large wagon train might take two days to cross.
In 1857, Louis Vieux and his family established a homestead on high land east of the river and built a toll bridge crossing the river. The cost of using the bridge was $1 for a six ox team and wagon. It is estimated that some days nearly $300 in tolls werecollected. Luis Vieux had Potawatomie and French parents, and he was a leader in the Potawatomie nation. This location is known today at Vieux's Crossing and the closest community in Louisville.
In 1859, the stage to Denver started crossing here and
stagecoach stable was established at the Vieux's farm. The Vieix family
also sold grain and hay. The expansion of the railroads reduced the importance
of the bridge. It fell out of use after Louis Vieux's death in 1872.
Nearby, on the banks of the river, is a cholera cemetery from 1849, which is estimated to contain at least fifty graves, although only two stones — both native sandstones — remain. The Louis Vieux Elm Tree is across the river and is estimated to be over 300 years old. The tree had been afflicted with Dutch Elm disease, a lightning strike and vandalism and efforts were taken to protect and shelter the tree's stump. In August 2011, the stump was destroyed by fire. Near the tree are the graves of seven unknown soldiers.
The large Elm tree, estimated to be a sapling in 1716, was declared to be a Kansas Champion in 1978, and the U.S. Champion in 1979. It was subsequently named the Louis Vieux Elm. It was destroyed in 1998.
The crossing was named for Louis Vieux, a Potawatomi leader of French and Native American lineage who established a toll bridge there in the 1850s. Charging a dollar per outfit, he is said to have made as much as $300 per day during busy times. In addition, he supplied emigrants with hay and grain.
As early as 1819, Thomas Say, zoologist for Stephen H. Long's expedition, camped near the crossing. John C. Fremont came in 1842, guided by Kit Carson, and in 1846 the ill-fated Donner party passed by. Beginning in 1853 the military road from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Riley crossed here, as did the stage line to Denver in 1859. Horace Greeley, a famous newspaper editor and onetime stage passenger, described a meal he had at the crossing as "the hardest I ever paid half a dollar for."
In 1849 tragedy struck when cholera took the lives of emigrants camped at the crossing. They were buried on the creekbank, as were others who died on the trail. On a nearby hill the graves of Louis Vieux, some of his family, and other early settlers can be seen in the Vieux Cemetery.
Louis Vieux Elm Tree Park
copyright 2015-2020 by Keith Stokes