William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 3] [part 1] [Cutler's History]


The history of Council Grove may be said to be the history of Morris County, as it has been the scene of almost every interesting incident that has transpired in the county, not only since its organization, but for long before. The point from which commences the history of the county ante-dates Territorial days, and begins as far back as 1847.

What is now Council Grove has been mentioned by travelers as far back as 1820, but this mention has no bearing whatever upon any of the facts, incidents, happenings and transactions that go to make up the history proper of the county, all of which transpired in 1846, and subsequent thereto. It may assist the reader so conspicuously in Kansas History to state here, that by a treaty concluded with the Indians in 1825, the United States Government procured the right of way for a public highway from the Missouri River to the eastern boundary of Mexico, which, having been established, passed into history as the "Sante Fe Trail." This trail ran through Morris County, and part of it now constitutes the Main street of Council Grove.

Until 1847 the territory now embraced in Morris County was held by the various Indian tribes as neutral ground, upon which all had a right in common to hunt on its soil and fish in its streams, and the wooded belts along the Neosho and its tributaries formed excellent hunting fields. A treaty was made with the Kaw tribe of Indians in the latter part of 1846, or early in 1847, by which a tract of land twenty miles square was obtained for a reservation, which included the land on which is built the town of Council Grove.

In the spring of 1847 the Kaws were moved on to the land embraced within the limits of the reservation. Up to this time not a white man was settled upon the soil of Morris County. In the fall of the same year, one Seth M. Hays, a citizen of Westport, Missouri, having obtained a license from the Government to trade with the Indians, came to the Kaw reservation and established his trading post at Council Grove. Other traders followed soon after, the next that arrived being the Choteau Brothers, in 1848, and a trader named Kennedy in 1849.

The Sante Fe Trail to New Mexico having been established, a contract was let by the Government, in 1849, to Waldo, Hall & Co., to carry the United States mail to Santa Fe, a point seven hundred miles west of the Missouri River. For a number of years after the trail was opened Council Grove was the only trading post between Independence, Mo., and Santa Fe, and, as a consequence, became a point of considerable importance to westward bound travelers.

The Methodist Episcopal Church, with a commendable desire to cultivate and enlighten the mind of "Lo, the poor Indian," did, in 1850, enter into a contract with the Government to establish a school for the education of the Kaws. To further the plan of enlightenment, the Board of Missions did, in the same year, erect a stone mission or schoolhouse, at Council Grove, and sub-contracted with T. S. Huffaker to teach the school, who acted in the capacity of teacher until 1854, when the school was discontinued. Besides the mission school several other buildings were put up in 1850, and among them a depot for the storage of government supplies and other military material. The Mail Company also put up several buildings, and all the inhabitants of Council Grove at that time, and, in fact, in Morris County, were those either in Government employ or in possession of permits from the same, numbering some twenty-five in all.

At that time the Kaw Indians on the reservation numbered about 1,700, and the agent of the tribe resided at Westport, Mo., that law at that time not requiring these gentlemen, to whom was entrusted the care and overseership of the Indians, to reside upon the agency. Things at the "Post," as it was called, moved along peacefully and quietly until 1854 each year adding a few to the population, and as a trading post Council Grove was well known. Seth M. Hays built the first house that was erected, not only in Council Grove, but in Morris County, which was a log store on the west bank of the Neosho River, on the old Santa Fe trail, near to the east end of the bridge which now spans that stream, and directly opposite the ground on which now stands the Commercial House.

In 1854, Kansas became a Territory by the passage of the act by Congress known as the Kansas-Nebraska bill. Soon after the passage of the bill, Mr. Reeder was appointed Governor of the new Territory of Kansas, and soon thereafter, with a full corps of staff officers, arrived at Council Grove, which he contemplated making the capital. In this he failed, however, owing to the fact that the land required for that purpose could not be obtained from the Indians.

Up to this time no attempts at settlement had been made in any other portion of the county than Council Grove, but in 1854 we find that one J. C. Munkers took a claim, and settled upon what is now known as Munkers' Creek, in Neosho Township.

About one of the first official acts of Gov. Reeder was to order an election for members of the Territorial Legislature. In the election proclamation, the Territory was divided into election districts, and the district of which Morris County then formed a part, placed two candidates in the field, one of whom was A. I. Baker, and the other Mobillon McGee.

At that time party excitement ran high, one party being designated as "Free-state" men, and the other as "Border Ruffians." The Territory at that time was not divided into counties. The Free-state men put forth Baker as their candidate, and the "Border Ruffians" placed McGee in nomination. The real issue was whether Kansas should, ultimately, be admitted to the Union as a free or slave state, and as both the free States of the North and the slave States of the South had been planting colonies over the populated portions of the Territory, preparatory to the struggle that was sure to take place for the ascendance, the agitation and excitement attending the first Territorial election was exceedingly high, and but very little friction would have been required to create a blaze.

The election was held on the 30th day of March, 1855. Baker was fairly elected, and received his certificate of election from the Governor, but McGee, on some trumped-up cause, contested the seat with him, and border ruffian element being largely in the ascendancy in the Legislature, Baker was denied the seat and McGee was seated. The Legislature that convened shortly after, by virtue of this election, divided a large portion of the Territory into counties, and according to the division thus made, the county of Wise (now Morris), was created.

The system adopted by the Legislature for organizing the counties was very simple and easily carried out. In many instances several counties were formed into one district with only one organization, so that the several counties constituting one district would be, virtually, nothing more than municipal townships. Thus Wise (Morris), Breckinridge (Lyon), Madison (Greenwood), were comprised in one district, and the place designated by law for the transaction of business pertaining to the district was Columbia, in Madison County, a point about two miles east of the present city of Emporia, so that for judicial and revenue purposes, Wise County occupied the position of a municipal township attached to Breckinridge County.

The same Legislature that divided the Territory into counties and districts also appointed the several Boards of Supervision for the government of each. Those appointed for the district above described were T. S. Huffaker, C. H. Withington, and Harmon B. Elliott. The law provided that the chairman of the board should be ex officio Probate Judge, and Mr. Huffaker, of Morris, having been appointed chairman, became thereby Probate Judge.


Owing to the belief that prevailed in the greater portion of the country that no corn could be raised in Kansas on account of the severe droughts that visited the "Great American Desert," of which Kansas was considered a part, no attempt was made to raise this cereal until five years after the first white settlers had located in Morris County. The first corn planted in the county was on the farm which was opened for the benefit of the Kaw school in 1851. The rainfall that year was plentiful, and, contrary to expectations, the yield was large. The success of this crop gave the settlers encouragement, and the following year corn was planted extensively. It proved almost a failure, and for the next six years that followed, owing to scarcity of rains and hot winds, not more than half a crop was raised, and some seasons it fell far short of even this.

In 1858 and 1859 the crop was tolerably fair, and 1860 gave promise of abundant crops and a glorious harvest. Throughout the spring the weather was all that could be desired, and the promising crops filled the hearts of the people with gladness. The cup was only raised to their lips that it might be dashed to the ground before they tasted of its sweetness. May came and went, but no rain. June was fast passing away, and yet not the slightest indication of rain was visible in the clear, blue sky. Towards the latter end if June the fierce and scorching siroccos set in, and by the first of July all vegetation was utterly ruined, and the face of the country that in the beginning of May gave such bright promise of yielding an abundant harvest, was so burned and parched that it resembled one great Sahara. Nothing green was visible; not a blade of grass, not a leaf on a tree or bush but what scorched and withered. Wheat, oats, corn garden vegetables, berries, vines, fruit, everything, was all dried up and burned to a crisp. Cattle and other animals sought shelter and protection from the scorching winds by seeking pools of water in the beds of the streams, and standing or lying in them during their prevalence, and men would remain shut up in their houses, unless actually compelled to go out, while they continued to blow, which, usually, would be from 10 a.m. to about 5 p.m.

Not a single bushel of corn was raised in Morris County that year. This was a very severe stroke upon the settlers, all of whom had but limited means and depended upon their crops for a livelihood. Some became discouraged and moved away, and that they did so was not to be wondered at, because very few care to meet starvation, and this was what threatened them if they remained. Others, and by far the greater number, remained, determined to put the capabilities of Kansas soil to a further test. Some would say that "one swallow did not make a summer," adding that, "it was a strange country that had no drawbacks." The question that was uppermost in their minds, however, and one that caused them considerable anxiety was: "How can we procure subsistence during the year, and seed for next season?" To men in their situation this was a very serious and perplexing question, and one extremely difficult of solution. Want became so pressing, and poverty so pinching, that appeals for aid were made to the liberally disposed of other States, not only for the people of Morris County, but for those of the entire State. The appeals were not made in vain, and the supplies came pouring in by the train loads. All the relief supplies were sent to Atchison, which was made the distributing depot for all other parts of the State, but Morris County being then on the extreme frontier, and one hundred and seventy miles from the base of supplies, her people had great difficulty in obtaining relief. The only way of getting to Atchison was by team, and oft and again did poor and needy settlers find their way to Atchison only to discover that they had their pains for their labor. This was a most trying time for the settlers, and during the fall and winter of 1860, and the first half of 1861, the people suffered great hardships. For the first five months of 1861 the people were fed by charity. Food, clothing, and provisions were furnished by the liberal people of the East, and also seed wheat, oats, corn, potatoes, etc. Had it not been for this timely succor most of the settlers would have been compelled to abandon their homes, as they were utterly destitute of absolute necessities and without means to buy. It was some years before the county recovered from the effects of this blow, and the tide of immigration that had set in towards the county began to recede.

[TOC] [part 3] [part 1] [Cutler's History]