If you stand at the Huffaker family plot in Greenwood Cemetery you may hear the marble stones whisper a story of heartache. But they cannot fully express the sorrows that encompassed Thomas and Eliza Huffaker.
Thomas Sears Huffaker was born in 1825 in Clay County Missouri. In 1849 he moved to Westport, Missouri, to take over a government school for Indians. A short time after he was transferred to Shawnee Mission and by 1850 had found his way to Council Grove where he and H.W. Webster were contracted to manage the new mission built by the Methodist Episcopal Church. Huffaker was to manage the school and Webster the farm that was attached to the school. The Kaw Indians were to get educated in white man’s bookwork as well as husbandry. The Kaw didn’t take to white man’s ways with as much gusto as the whites would have liked. Most of the Kaw that attended the school were young orphaned boys. Due to the lack of attendance and the cost of operation the mission was closed in 1854. The Huffaker family continued to live in the stone mission while Thomas dabbled in sundry occupations over the years.
A bit of history concerning Thomas has often gone overlooked in our local history, but if you look closely you can find it. I have no intention to vilify Huffaker, but I do wish to humanize him. We often have a romanticized and almost heroic vision of Huffaker, but he was ambitious like many other townsmen and he did what he could to better his own situation as well as that of the town at the expense of the Kaw.
William E. Unrau in his book The Kaw People gives Huffaker most of the credit for the Treaty of 1859-60 which diminished Kaw land. He, as well as other merchants in Council Grove, extended so much credit to the Kaw that they could never repay it. Consequently, the Kaw had no choice but to accept the terms of the treaty which diminished their reservation from 256,000 acres to 176,000 acres. This moved the Kaw reservation line south of Council Grove which prior to the treaty had been unlawfully established on Kaw land. Then in 1862 Huffaker treated with the Kaw again and personally obtained title to 320 acres of some of the best land adjoining Council Grove.
A delegation of Kaw that went to Washington D.C. gave a less than favorable report on Huffaker. They essentially said he was a bad missionary that ‘didn’t teach anything’ and that he made 50 Kaw children work in fields ‘the size of Washington.’ These accusations were supported by agent Montgomery who wrote to his superiors in St. Louis that Huffaker “does all in his power consistent with personal interest to get the Indians to leave their country, for he expects to reap a benefit when the Indians are treated with, as he later told me.” This led to an investigation on March 12th 1862 when Huffaker admitted to Morris County Justice of the Peace John Dodd that he had extended nearly $1,500 in credit to the Kaw while serving as Methodist teacher at the mission.
In spite of all this less than desirable report, Thomas was evidently a very well respected man in Council Grove. This is evident in John Maloy’s History of Morris County because Maloy never alludes to Huffaker’s involvement in the great Kaw swindle. Maloy points the finger at Alfred B. Greenwood (for whom Greenwood County is named), Milton Dickey and Robert Stevens. In 1858 the Town Company of Council Grove was made with Thomas Huffaker, Christopher Columbia, Seth Hays and Hiram Northrup being the incorporators. So, Huffaker was also in a position to manipulate the Kaw in favor of the town company.
Eliza Baker, born in 1836, came to Council Grove about 1850, along with her mother Agnes and two brothers (one being Arthur Baker) and her sister and her husband Emanuel Mosier. After Eliza’s father Joshua Baker had died, the family moved from the Sac and Fox Reservation (present Osage and Franklin Counties) where both her father and brother were employed as blacksmiths, to what would eventually become Morris County. In fact, Cutler’s History of the State of Kansas states that the first house in Council Grove, beside Hays’ cabin, was built by the Bakers.
Eliza married Thomas Huffaker May 6th 1852. This is recorded as the first marriage performed in Council Grove. Then, on March 31st of 1853 Thomas purchased a 30 year old Negro woman named Cynthia for $600. We have no further information on Cynthia; whether Thomas freed her, or whether she remained here and is buried in some unmarked grave. She may have served as a housekeeper at the Kaw mission. Sometime after 1855 Eliza’s mother Agnes was employed at the Kaw Mission as a housekeeper.
Thomas and Eliza’s first child was Susan Huffaker, born on the 4th of July, 1853. Susie is credited for being the first white child born in Council Grove; not to be confused with the first white child born in Morris County, which was Lucy Columbia in 1852. It has been related elsewhere how 19 year old Susie Huffaker drowned in the swollen Neosho River on the night of May 14th 1872. The draped column that marks her grave gives nothing more than her name and age and the verse ‘Let God do His work.’ There was no need for the birth and death dates to be etched in the marble because both events were deeply engraved upon the memory of Thomas and Eliza.
Along with Susie was Eliza’s sister-in-law, Annis Baker Somers, who had ten years prior lost her husband Arthur at the hands of Bill Anderson and his men, of which we have also previously read. After the murder of Arthur, the burning of the home and store, Annis came to live with her in-laws, the Huffakers, in Council Grove. Eliza’s brother Arthur had also lost his first wife Susan, so Eliza was no stranger to tragedy and sorrow.
The Huffakers had twelve children born to them, to the best of my research. From first to last are Susie, Mary, Aggie, George, Fannie, Clara, Anna, Annie, Claudine, Homer, Charles and Carl J. The Huffakers lost at least three more children beside Susie. The fifth born, Fanny Marvin, died at the age of 23 in 1885. They lost their sixth born, Clara, in 1865 at only a year and a half old. Then they lost Claudine in 1876 before she reached her 4th birthday.
Addenda: Who was first-born in the County will always be open to debate. I have come across a number of different people who were always said to be the first white child born in Morris County. Ken McClintock brought to my attention Kate Mosier who was Susie Huffaker’s cousin. Kate was born February 29th 1852, obviously preceding Susie and possibly Lucy Columbia as the ‘first white child.’ Depending on how technical you want to get, These three ladies mentioned here were not actually born in Morris County. Nor were they born in Wise County or even in the organized Territory of Kansas. It would take considerable research to determine who was actually the first born in the region, Wise County and finally Morris County, and even then we are only depending upon very sparse and incomplete documentation.