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


[TOC] [part 4] [part 2] [Cutler's History]


Prior to the organization of Kansas into a Territory, and for a long time subsequent thereto, great trouble was experienced arising from the uncertainty which existed as to what was the true boundary of the land set apart for the Kaw Reservation. Settlers were commencing to come in considerable numbers, and, being ignorant of the boundary lines of the Reservation, many of them took claims and settled within the prescribed limits. This caused no little amount of trouble between the settlers and the Indians, which, on certain occasions, threatened to be serious. This state of affairs coming to the knowledge of Gov. Reeder, he, shortly after his appointment as Governor of the Territory, requested the authorities at Washington to furnish him with a correct and authenticated map of the Territory, on which would be clearly defined and marked the lands embraced within the Indian Reservation. In due time the request was complied with, and the Governor received one of "Eastman's Maps," which was duly certified as being correct by Col. Manypenny, the then Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The location given to the Kaw Reservation by this map was west and south of Council Grove. This indicated that the lands lying between Council Grove and the eastern boundary line of the county were open for settlement by the whites, and being thus understood, many settlers made claims and located in the vicinity of Rock Creek, and also in the Neosho Valley north and south of Council Grove, under the impression and belief that in so doing they were locating upon the public domain.

Each year brought its complement of settlers, and in those days of trouble and uncertainty, each sought a location as near to the center of population as possible, and as a consequence, the lands located along the Neosho River were eagerly sought and readily taken. Two causes, and, probably, a third, contributed to the desirability of these lands. The first, doubtless, was the heavy belt of timber on either side of the stream; the second, the choice and fertile soil of the valley; and the third, their proximity to Council Grove, which, by this time, was a point of considerable importance as regards trade, and, also, as considered, in point of population. Council Grove being then the extreme western trading post, and being surrounded upon three sides by Indians, who, however peaceable they seemed might, at any moment, be moved to acts of hostility, had a tendency to cause the settlers to avoid isolation, and to make their settlement as compact as the circumstances would admit of.

Year by year the Indians beheld their territory encroached upon by the whites, and their best hunting grounds gradually slipping from their control, and soon began to exhibit signs of restlessness. This spirit of restlessness developed itself in 1857, by loud complaints being sent to the Great Father at Washington, in which the grievances of the Indians were set forth. On these being made known to the authorities, the then agent for the Kaw tribe, John Montgomery, was ordered to have the lands of the Reservation re-surveyed and the boundary lines distinctly marked. The survey made in accordance with this order unsettled things generally, as according to the boundary lines of the Reservation as established by this survey, its limits extended five miles west of Council Grove, and fifteen miles east, and ten miles north and ten miles south, so that had Council Grove been located five miles further to the east, it would according to the Montgomery survey, have been the exact center of the Kaw reservation.

The result of this survey was, that all the settlers who had located on any portion of the territory embraced within the twenty miles square defined in the Montgomery survey as the Kaw Reservation, became trespassers upon Indian land and were notified to leave. This promised to give rise to serious complications between the whites and Indians, and also between the settlers and the Government. The people had taken their claims and made settlement in good faith, having all due respect for the lands embraced in the Reservation as described by the Eastman authenticated map, furnished by the Government to Governor Reeder and without any intention whatever, of perpetrating any wrong upon the Indians; and when notified to surrender their claims after having made valuable improvements thereon, became justly indignant and exasperated. It was now their turn to send up their grievances to Washington, which they did, and upon proper presentation of their case to the authorities, Commissioners were appointed to appraise the value of improvements made, and award compensation in accordance therewith. This was done, and each settler was awarded what was considered adequate compensation for the improvements he had made, and thus the threatened complications were, for the present, overcome. Had they received the full face value of their awards, the compensation would have been reasonable fair, but the United States Treasury being at time in a somewhat depleted condition they were given what was known as "Kaw Land Scrip," from which they only realized about fifty cents on the dollar. The year 1859 will long be memorable in Morris County. At that time the population of the county was about 600, most of whom were settled either in Council Grove, or its immediate vicinity. The Indians, though apparently friendly, would occasionally, whenever good opportunity presented, steal the settlers' horses and whatever else they could lay their hands upon, if they thought they could do so without detection. In their practice of these peculations, they had stolen two horses, and these were demanded of them by the whites, and also that the thieves should be surrendered for punishment. While the settlers were never without their apprehension of trouble from the Indians, yet at this particular juncture they little thought it was so near at hand. At an early hour on the morning of June 2, 1859, the whole community was thrown into commotion, if not consternation, by a band of about one hundred Kaw Indians who came galloping into Council Grove all painted, feathered, and fully equipped for war. The older settlers, who had been taught by experience the meaning of these warlike indications, saw at a glance that the savages were bent on mischief, and that great danger was impending. Taken thus unawares for a short time they were at a loss how to act, but they knew they were at the mercy of the Indians. If they were fearful of the consequences, they knew enough not to make their fears known to the newer settlers, lest an alarm might be created that would lead to a panic, and they also knew enough to present as bold a front as possible to the Indians, and thus the wiser heads determined to await further developments.

On came the Indians down Main street from the west until the head of the line came in front of the store of S. M. Hays, where a halt was ordered. Their leader was Ah-le-gah-wah-ho, who, about a year before, had been deposed as chief of the tribe and another put in his place. After halting his warriors, the leader rode up to Mr. Hayes and, still sitting on his pony, addressed his as follows: "You sent for these two horses which my boys stole from a Mexican trader. You sent us word that we must not only give up the horses, but that we must turn over to your people the two men who stole the horses, that your people may punish them. The horses you can have, but the men you can't have without a fight." Hays controlled himself as best he could, well knowing that if a fight should ensue the Indians would have all the advantage, as they had come fully prepared for such an emergency. Ah-le-gah-wah-ho, taking his silence for fear, began to taunt and insult the whites, and to heap abuse upon them for interesting themselves about a Mexican, who was not a white man, and who was no better than an Indian, and also told them very plainly that they should not meddle with what did not concern them. The abuse was too much for Hays and he lost his temper, and told his clerk to reach him two revolvers that were lying behind the counter in the store.

While this parley was going on, the Indians had broken their formation; some went galloping through the cross streets while the main body gathered around their leader, and completely filled Main Street in front of Hays' store. When Hays had received the revolvers from the clerk he fired them into the air in front of the Indians, in doing which he had a double purpose, one was to frighten the Indians, and the other to warn the settlers to get armed and be ready for whatever might occur. The Indians only wanted a pretext to commence the fight, and instead of being frightened by the firing of Hays, some of the more impetuous among the warriors cried out, "Hays is shooting at us, shoot him." On hearing this, Hays retired within his store and shut the door, but two or three white men who were on the street became targets for the Indians. Whatever words were exchanged between the Indian leader and Mr. Hays, was done through Mr. T. S. Huffaker, who acted as interpreter.

Some of the young bloods among the Indians, more fiery than the others, on hearing the cry, "shoot him," fired, and one man by the name of Charles Gilkey, who was standing beside the interpreter, received a dangerous arrow wound in the lower part of the neck. Another young man by the name of Parks, while in the act of crossing the street received a dangerous bullet wound which stretched him senseless on the ground. Everybody supposed that Parks was killed. Mr. Huffaker, who had been the Indian school teacher from 1850 to 1854, and who spoke the Kaw language fluently, and who was greatly respected by the tribe, on seeing what had been done, and knowing well that still greater danger was threatened, told the Indians that they had killed one man and probably mortally wounded another, and that they had better leave town as soon as possible, as the white people would surely avenge the outrage and injury.

The Indians instantly wheeled their horses and galloped out of town, and in less than an hour's time all their tents, which before had been visible on the high ground south of Elm Creek, which runs immediately south of Council Grove, were struck and packed, after which the tribe took up its march in the direction of Four Mile Creek, where, in addition to artificial means of defense they could also have the advantage of those, which, in this locality, nature offered. No sooner had the Indians left town than the whites assembled to counsel together as to what was best to do. Messengers were sent all over the country and into the neighboring counties to apprise the people of what had happened, and to warn them of the impending danger, and for as many of them as possibly could come, to hasten to Council Grove as soon as possible. The whites decided upon a war, and, if necessary, to prosecute it to extermination. Of those present a company of forty men immediately organized of which H. J. Epsey was elected Captain, and W. H. White, Lieutenant.

Immediate war was decided to be inevitable, all believing, as expressed in council, that if the Kaws were allowed to go unpunished for the outrage committed by them that morning, there would be no safety for the whites thereafter. The company, forty strong, armed with various kinds of weapons, some with rifles, some with shot-guns, and some with revolvers, marched off in the direction of where the Indians had taken up their position. They found the Indians prepared to meet them, having sent all their squaws, papooses and old men of to a safe distance. When within about two hundred yards or so of where the Indians had posted themselves, the company halted for further deliberation.

The Indians were about four hundred strong, and had posted themselves to the best advantage. They tantalized the whites after they had halted, and beckoned them to come on. Notwithstanding their paucity of numbers and inferior arms, many of the whites were very anxious to be led against the red men, although to have done so, could only have resulted in their utter destruction. Were it not for their earnestness in the matter, the idea of forty men, poorly armed, insisting on being led against four hundred savages, all well armed with rifle, bow, and tomahawk, and all trained to fight from boyhood, might be set down as Quixotic. It may speak well for their bravery, but is a poor recommendation of their discretion.

Wiser counsel prevailed, however, and a few of the older settlers who clearly saw the terrible consequences that would result from too hasty action on the part of the company, interposed, and asked the officers to postpone further action, while some one authorized to speak for them, went forward to communicate with the Indians, and, if possible, avert further bloodshed. In doing this, another object would be accomplished, inasmuch as it would give the settlers from the surrounding country and adjacent counties time to reach Council Grove, form, and march to their assistance. The older heads among the settlers saw that to undertake to carry out the desire of those who were anxious for immediate fight, would only lead to useless slaughter, and would put in jeopardy the life of every white person within a radius of twenty miles, very wisely counseled delay. This was the trying moment for the settlers of Morris County, because not only their own lives and those of their wives and children, but the lives of those in adjoining counties depended upon their action.

When the word of that had been done and was going on went abroad, the settlers were not slow in responding to the call, and in a short time they commenced to assemble in Council Grove as fast as horses could carry them. Those who had wives and children, brought them with them, deeming it safer to have them in town than to leave them unprotected at home. All the women and children were placed in the Kaw Mission, a substantially built stone building, 36x50 feet, and two stories high, which was erected in 1850, as a school-house, in which to educate these same Indians they were now going to fight. That afternoon about 150 men organized and marched to reinforce the company of forty men that had gone down in the forenoon.

Having decided to communicate with the Indians, the next thing to be considered was who would be the man to undertake it. The man that would undertake it would risk his life in so doing, but T. S. Huffaker seeing that the slightest mistake would bring on a conflict, volunteered to be the negotiator between the whites and the Indians, than whom no man was better qualified for the undertaking. Having taught the mission school from 1850 to 1854, many of the Indians had set under his instructions, and he was perfectly familiar with all their habits and customs, and also with their language, and, in addition to these the Indians looked upon him with a kind of reverence.

There was a space of about two hundred yards between where the whites halted and there the Indians had taken up their position, and from where they were stationed the Kaws could see that the whites were being rapidly reinforced, because as parties arrived at Council Grove from the more distant places they immediately hastened to join their brother whites where the danger was most threatening. The whites could now press their demand with a show of strength which if not sufficient to insure compliance, would cause the Kaws to treat with seeming respect, at least, any person sent by the whites to treat with them. Mr. Huffaker was authorized to go to the Kaws and demand in the name of the whites the surrender of the two Indians who had that morning shot Gilkey and Parks, to be dealt with as should be decided upon by a council of whites. The settlers preserved their line formation and as Mr. Huffaker proceeded slowly down towards the Indians each man stood ready to advance at the first indication of treachery towards him.

Mr. Huffaker was met by the chief to whom he made known the proposition he was authorized to make, whereupon a council of Indians was held and the decision arrived at was that they would surrender the Indian who shot Parks, but not the one who shot Gilkey, as they could not tell by whom he was wounded. This was only a device to save the Indian by whom Gilkey was shot, because they knew at the time that he was sitting with them as one of the council. He was a young chief, much loved and honored by his tribe and their great desire was to save him if possible. Mr. Huffaker told them he would go back and notify his people of their decision.

By this time the number of whites had increased to be about equal that of the Indians, and Mr. Huffaker knew that every minute's time gained was to the advantage of the whites. He returned to the Indians and told them that nothing short of a surrender of both Indians would satisfy his people. On hearing this the Indians offered $8,000 and forty ponies as satisfaction for the shooting of Gilkey, but Mr. Huffaker refused to entertain the proposition.

On hearing this ultimatum of the whites the young chief who was guilty of the shooting arose and left the council, but returned in a short time all armed and prepared for fight. Addressing the council he said that inasmuch as they had about decided to surrender him to the whites, thereby sanctioning his death, he would sell his life as dearly as possible, and signified his intention of first killing his own chief and then the white man who demanded his surrender. This address was a little too late in coming, because had a fight ensued then the advantage in numbers and arms was on the side of the whites. The fiery speech of the youth had no effect towards stirring up the older warriors, but still they hesitated to give him up. They tried every way to save the young chief, but to no purpose. They increased the money offer to $10,000, but Mr. Huffaker told them that money was no object. They had committed an outrage upon the settlers, and had shed the blood of two of their people, and unless both were given up his people were determined to fight.

"You may kill some of us," said Mr. Huffaker, "but it will be the last of your tribe, because white men will come who will avenge us, and even now soldiers are on their way from Fort Riley. Now, I shall walk to my people and remain there while I count twenty, and will then walk back half way to where I shall set this stick, and there I shall again count twenty, and if both Indians are not surrendered by that time, I shall return to my people and upon you rest the consequences."

Having thus conveyed his intentions to the Indians Mr. Huffaker turned around and deliberately walked back to where the whites were standing in line, resting upon their arms. Having counted to twenty he slowly walked back to where he had set the stick and again counted twenty, but no sign was given by the Indians to indicate their willingness to comply with his demand. Believing the Indians meant to fight he turned again to rejoin the whites, and had gone but a few steps when the Indians called to him and told him the two guilty ones should be given up. They were then brought forth, bound and tied, and delivered over to the whites. They were tried in no court, no judge heard their case, no attorney plead for them, no jury deliberated upon their guilt or innocence, they had wantonly shed the blood of two white men who had done them no injury, and, according to the Western notions of dealing with such offenders, justice demanded that they should suffer death. This was the verdict, and in compliance therewith both were hung where the lumber yard now stands, on the south side of Main street, between the river and the court house.

The Indians came and took away their remains, and whether they merited such condign punishment or not, it was certainly a pitying sight to see the mother of the young chief cut and lacerate her head, neck and breast, and with the blood that flowed from her self-inflicted wounds rub the post on which her son had breathed his last. Some time after this the United States grand jury took cognizance of the matter and indicted for murder several of the parties supposed to be implicated in the hanging. They were tried, but nothing came of it beyond the expense and inconvenience they suffered in consequence thereof.


Up to this time and for some time subsequent Morris County had been exceedingly slow of settlement. Three causes contributed to this result. First, Kansas was still considered by many as part of the "Great American Desert," altogether barren and unproductive. Second, it was the home of various tribes of Indians who were either openly or secretly hostile to white settlement; and third, and the one that bore most against the settlement of Morris County, was the uncertainty that attached to the Kaw Reservation lands. If people located upon desirable claims they had no certainty of being left in peaceable possession. They did not know but that after having made valuable improvements it might be discovered, as had been the case once before, that they had settled upon Indian lands and would be dispossessed.

Ever since 1854 promises had been made by the Government or by parties speaking for it, that the Indian title to the lands would be extinguished and that they would be thrown open for settlement, but years of feud, strife and uncertainty had passed without anything in this direction having been done. The effect that this state of uncertainty had upon the settlement of the county will be better understood when it is known that nearly one-half of the entire land in the country was embraced within the Kaw Reservation. The Indians were desirous of parting with their title to the lands, and had repeatedly expressed a willingness to dispose of them and move further west, but no notice had ever been taken of their offers.

In 1859, one Alfred B. Greenwood was appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and was either sent, or came upon his own motion, to negotiate with the various tribes of Indians for their lands. Whatever schemes or plans were gotten up by the agents of the Government for their own benefit in connection with these lands, is no part of this history, and will only be mentioned in a passing manner, in order that the work may be better understood. Without notifying the local agent, stationed upon the lands, of his coming, Greenwood one day made his appearance at the old Kaw agency, four miles east of Council Grove, and immediately called a council of the Indians, to whom he made known the contents and stipulations of a treaty that purported to have been prepared at Washington.

Some of the Indians came to Council Grove and apprised the citizens of what was going on at the agency, and instantly nearly every one in the place hastened to the spot to prevent what they considered a gross and outrageous swindle. The settlers presented their case to the Commissioner and insisted upon a modification of the treaty, and, to some extent, succeeded; but their demand to have a provision inserted recognizing the rights of those who had settled upon the lands prior to the Montgomery survey, was not conceded. The treaty was signed, and among its many provisions was one providing for the sale of 150,000 acres of the land to the highest bidder. The bids were to be submitted under seal, and a commission was to be appointed by which the lands were to be appraised. When the appraisers were appointed the settlers presented a statement of their case to them, and succeeded in having the lands appraised at a maximum of $1.75 per acre, the minimum being fixed at seventy-five cents.

The treaty made by Greenwood with the Indians gave rise to great dissatisfaction among the whites, and a public meeting was called to give expression to their feelings upon the same. It was decided by the meeting to send a delegate to Washington to prevent, if possible, the ratification of the treaty by the United States, and Judge Elmore was chosen to delegate. When the treaty came up for ratification in the Senate, it was amended so that all settlers who had made improvements upon their lands prior to 1857, licensed traders, and all other persons lawfully residing on the lands, should have their claims adjusted by the Secretary of the Interior, and that they should have the lands upon which they had settled and made improvements, at the appraised value of $1.75 per acre.

Another difficulty now arose, which relates more particularly to Council Grove history than to that of Morris County. Under the law that gave parties the right to organize themselves into town companies, those who had made improvements upon the land known as the "town site" formed themselves into a town company, and claimed the land in common except one, and he was the agent of Jacob Hall. His refusal to take part in the organization arose from the fact that Hall claimed a section of land by virtue of act of Congress, as mail contractor, and the section that he claimed embraced that included in the town site. After the Greenwood treaty had been amended and ratified by the Senate, the Town Company immediately presented its claim for the land to the Secretary of the Interior and asked for a patent. They now learned for the first time, that Hall had anticipated them, and had made application for the same land, basing his claim on an act of Congress, and ignoring the treaty recently made and ratified. From these opposing claims arose a fierce and bitter contest, both sides employing the ablest counsel they could procure. The contest was a protracted one, but finally the land was awarded to the Town Company and they received patents therefor. For a long time the decision was supposed to have settled forever all disputes between Hall and the Town Company over this land, but Hall dying about seven years afterwards, his heirs brought suit for the recovery of the land, which suit is still pending, or was until recently, in the Circuit Court of the United States.

[TOC] [part 4] [part 2] [Cutler's History]