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Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Soldier and Brave
Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

National Historic Landmark COUNCIL GROVE

Location: Morris County.

The site and town of Council Grove are primarily significant in the history of the Santa Fe Trail, but they also have associations with the Osage and Kaw, or Kansa, Indians. In 1825 the U.S. Government Survey Commission, surveying the route of the Santa Fe Trail, met at the site of Council Grove and signed a treaty with the Osage Indians that granted the United States right-of-way over that portion of the Santa Fe Trail running across the tribe's lands and guaranteed the safe passage of traffic. Shortly after the commission completed its survey in 1827, the site of Council Grove became a way station on the trail.

Along the Neosho River, 150 miles west of Independence, Mo., where the rolling prairies met the Great Plains in an area of abundant timber, water, and grass, the spot was a natural resting point and rendezvous for emigrants, traders, and soldiers about to embark upon the semiarid and dangerous plains. It was a perfect place to graze stock; repair harnesses, yokes, and wagons; and cut spare axles. To insure mutual safety on the rugged trek ahead, westbound travelers organized quasi-military caravans to decrease vulnerability to Indian attack. The U.S. Army set up a wagon repair depot at the site during the War with Mexico.

Kaw Methodist Mission
Kaw Methodist Mission. (National Park Service)

In 1846 the U.S. Government negotiated a treaty with the Kaw Indians that diminished their lands to a reservation 20 miles square, including the site of Council Grove. The treaty stipulated that the Government provide $1,000 annually for educational purposes. Traders and Government agents soon moved to Council Grove and a settlement sprang up. In 1850 the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, which had maintained a mission among the Kaws for 20 years, contracted with the U.S. Government to found a mission school there. In 1850-51, utilizing Government funds, the church built the Kaw Mission, a two-story native stone structure of eight rooms that was capable of boarding 50 students, in addition to housing teachers and other mission personnel. The school, which had an average attendance of 30, was not successful. The Kaws, opposed to having their children indoctrinated in alien ways, sent only orphan boys or other tribal dependents and no girls. The teachers provided instruction in most academic subjects and vocational training only in agriculture. In 1854, because of the excessive operational costs, the Government withdrew its support of the school and it closed. Reopened that same year, it became one of the first white schools in Kansas Territory.

The town of Council Grove incorporated in 1858. The following year the U.S. Government signed another treaty with the Kaws further reducing their reservation to an area 9 by 14 miles. Finally, in the 1870's the tribe gave up its land in Kansas and moved to a new reservation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma).

The Council Grove area today retains much of the flavor of the era of the Santa Fe trade. To the north and south of the town, the Neosho River is still shaded by giant hardwoods; to the east and west, trail tracks mark the route of the wagon caravans. Within the town are a number of historic sites and buildings, all on or near Main Street (U.S. 56). The one-story Last Chance Store (1857), so called because it provided the last chance for travelers on the trail to obtain supplies before reaching New Mexico, is privately owned and appears unchanged except for new shingles and the repointing of the stone. The two-story stone Kaw Methodist Mission (1850-51) is owned and maintained as a museum by the State historical society. Preserved under an attractive shelter on private property is the stump of Council Oak, believed to be the site of the consummation of the 1825 treaty. The Post Office Oak, also on private property, served as a post office for Santa Fe Trail travelers. The Hays Tavern (1857), a two-story frame hostel, has been considerably modernized by its private owners. Near the town, at the site of the trail crossing of the Neosho River, is Madonna of the Trail Monument Park, a favorite trail campsite.

NHL Designation: 05/23/63

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Last Updated: 19-Aug-2005