I was asked to write some historical sketches for the Chamber’s Sunflower Sampler Ghost Tours on September 24th. Folks took a self guided ghost tour down town and got to learn some things they probably didn’t know. Now, whether or not there are any ghosts attached to these stories I will not pretend to know. Since we are nearing that time of year when spooks are thought of I figured it would be fitting to share these stories of mystery and tragedy with you.
Tragedy at the Neosho River Crossing
As told by John Maloy. “On the night of the 14th of May  occurred a most appalling catastrophe; one that sent a thrill of horror through the entire community, and pierced with keenest agony the hearts of more than one household. We allude to the drowning of J.B. Somers, Mrs. Annis Baker Somers, Miss Susie Huffaker and Phillip B. Roberts. Somers, his wife and Susie Huffaker had been attending the anniversary exercises of the Methodist Church South Sabbath School, held at Huffaker’s Hall, now over R. M. Rigdon’s store. About 9 o’clock in the evening, and not long before the exercises were to close, Mr. Somers goes to P.B. Roberts, who kept a livery stable and employed him to take a two-seated buggy and convey the party to the residence of Judge T.S. Huffaker, where Somers and wife, who had but recently married, were temporarily staying. The night was rainy and stormy, and the Neosho river rising very rapidly. Somers directed Roberts to cross at the ‘Mission ford,’ a crossing place near the old Kaw Mission building above town. W.F. Shamleffer and the writer saw the party getting into the vehicle and heard Somers’ directions about crossing the river at the ford. We immediately represented the danger of such an attempt, and begged him to cross the river on the Main street bridge. But Somers, who was stubborn and unyielding when he once made up his mind, persisted in carrying out his original intention, and the entire party were driven into the swollen stream at headlong speed, the approach to the water being a rapid descent. The river was very high and the water was running like a mill-race. When the buggy was struck and turned with the current a shriek of despair went up, and every soul in the party went down to be seen no more alive. A man who was living in the mission building hurriedly ran down town and spread the news. The horses had kicked loose from the buggy and swam out. Soon the banks were lined with an anxious crowd, but nothing could be done but construct boats and rafts and go to work and search for the drowned. It was a wild, dark and stormy night. Day came but not a body was found, though the subsidence of the waters during the day enabled the searchers to recover all four of the bodies before night, and restore them to their friends. The funeral took place on the 16th. It was the largest attended funeral that ever took place in Morris County. Somers was a rising young lawyer of our place, and at the time of his death County Attorney. His wife was the widow of Judge Baker, who was murdered on Rock Creek in 1862, and was the happy bride of but one short month. P.B. Roberts was one of our most estimable citizens, a man of strict integrity and beloved by all who knew him. He was a brother of P.S. Roberts of Council Grove. Miss Susie Huffaker was a young lady of amiability and accomplishments, a general favorite, and of a happy, joyous nature. She was born within a hundred yards of where she met her sad fate, in the Mission building which had once been used as a school for Indians when her father was teacher. The Kaw Indians testified their esteem for the family by turning out to the funeral to the number of about two hundred.”
The Ghost of William Hess
The alley behind what is now Aldrich Apothecary seems to have been a favorite place for folks to try out their pistols on one another back in the 1860s. We do not know exactly how many have bit the dust behind the Apothecary, but we do know of one William Hess. Hess and another William with the last name of Polk had some disagreement and thought it a good idea to shoot out their differences. The duel ended in Polk killing Hess after which Polk fled the area. After a few months Polk was found in Illinois and was brought back to Kansas. After two years having passed by, Polk had swift justice exercised upon him and was tried in Cottonwood Falls and acquitted. He afterwards lived in Wichita.
As for Hess, well I really don’t know, but I think I would not care too much to walk down the alley late at night. Just never know who you might run into.
Addenda- For what it’s worth, while I was looking through some old photos of Council Grove in the Historical Society I found more details to the Hess story written in pencil on the back of an 1873 photo of the town. It was difficult to make out everything and it looked like some other things not pertaining to the story were written on it as well. But it read, “Bill Polk killed Bill Hess, Kahl sheriff. Polk went to 100 mi west of [Chicago?] for 2 years. Kahl went after him. John Wise depty shf. Trial at Cotton Wood Falls. Polk cleared by Negro witness who swore Hess tried to kill Polk first. Bill was on north side of Main st. He was informed a man was drunk over across the street on the west side of the Regulator Store Bldg. While a salvation meeting was in progress or dedicating a new two step elevated rock front porch on Main St. Polk had been playing the same woman as Hess and this was his opportunity.”
Phantom Horses of the Race Track
On your way to Fairgrounds Park you will notice a stone at the fork of the road. The stone reads, “Tennessee Hal track record 1910 2-11 1/4 ~ Died 7-16- 1910; Maple Sign record 2-20 ~ Died 7-30-1910” No one seems to know for sure the story behind these two horses, but local legend goes something to this effect. The race horses were of good breed and owned by a prominent family in Morris County. Supposedly the horses were drugged and they won setting a new record. They died shortly after the race.
Horses were highly valued by families and served for work and travel; they were often a status symbol. In fact, I was told by a descendent of A.G. Alexander that A.G. made a point to send his boys to school on a horse just because his boys were too good to walk.
Horse racing was once a very big deal in Council Grove. Hockaday Street was used as a race track for a time; the horses had a straight run. At the Morris County Fairgrounds where our present ball diamonds are, there was once a race track and stables and several out buildings. Hale White when only 10 or 12 years old had a horse he was very proud of. He wanted to put this horse in a race because he thought it would do very well. He actually raced the horse himself, and won. He was a bit embarrassed after the race however. As soon as the horse crossed the finish line he headed straight for the stables clippity-clop.
So my friends, if you ever take a stroll down to the base ball diamonds on a cool summer night, down among those ancient oak trees in the quiet near the woods, when the mist of the evening sets in, just listen closely. Hold your breath. You may likely hear the galloping of the horses as they round the track; the cheers of the crowed as they chant their horse onward. And, if you are so fortunate, you may hear the whinny of the wining nag as she thunders across the finish line.
The hanging of two Kaw Indians
Shortly before 8 o’ clock on the morning June 2nd 1859, somewhere around 90 Indians came down Main Street from the west and halted in front of Seth Hays’ store. The Kaw had stolen two horses from a Mexican trader and were ordered by Hays to return the horses and hand over the Kaw that had stolen them. Chief Ah-le-gah-wah-ho was the head of this band and did the speaking through an interpreter. The horses were brought with but Ah-le-gah-wah-ho said that they would not turn over the Indians without a fight.
The Kaw also derided Hays for meddling in this affair, as Mexicans and Indians are more closely related than the whites and the Mexicans. These words exasperated Hays who told his clerk to bring him two revolvers that were kept behind the counter. Hays fired off both revolvers intending to scare the Indians away. The Indians in the rear off course could not see what was happening. One of the braves cried out, “Hays is shooting at us, shoot him!”
Hays responded to this by barricading himself in the store, leaving two or three other men outside. Charles Gilkey was struck in the chest with an arrow and a man by the name of Parks was shot with a rifle. Parks was thought to be dead and Gilkey mortally wounded. Both, however, recovered from their wounds. The interpreter, Judge Huffaker told the Indians that they should leave immediately as the town folk would desire revenge for this outrage. So the Indians left town at a gallop and quickly removed their camp south of town on Elm Creek to Four Mile Creek where they could make a stand.
The townsmen gathered in the old Kaw Mission and held a council deciding to go fight the Kaw and wipe them out. A few thoughtful personages saw the futility of forty whites armed with shotguns and old squirrel rifles attacking 400 well armed and entrenched Indians and talked the men into holding their horses. It was decided that Judge Huffaker would go and talk to the Kaw and have them turn over the two Indians who had shot Gilkey and Parks and that the fate of said Indians would be decided by a council of citizens.
At the council, the Kaw handed over the brave that shot Parks but claimed they did not know who shot Gilkey. A young chief in the council was the one who had done it. The Kaw were not willing to give him up. When Huffaker insisted that nothing short of complete compliance with his request would satisfy the settlers, the Kaw tied up the chief and surrendered him.
The two Kaw were taken into town where, without judge or jury, they were promptly hung from the framework of a building that was in mid-construction. That building was located directly west of our present Carnegie Library building. The bodies were cut down and hauled to the Kaw Reservation by oxen. When the women of the village saw the bodies coming they broke loose in the most chilling, lamentable wails ever heard. This noise frightened the oxen causing the cart to be overturned dumping the bodies on the ground.