Albert White Simcock

Albert W Simcock 1884

Albert White Simcock in 1884 Courtesy Morris County Historical Society.

Have you ever driven around Council Grove and noticed Simcock Street? Or passed the large two-story limestone Simcock House just north of the Cottage House? Ever wonder who the Simcocks were or what they did? I’m going to tell you about one of them in particular; an early Flint Hills musician who not only helped cultivate the performing arts in Morris County, but left us a mystery as well.

Albert White Simcock was born at Council Grove September 23rd 1857, in a log cabin built by brothers Fredrick and Cyprian Choteau at 131 West Main.[1] Albert’s father, Goodson McDaniel Simcock, a Virginian by birth, was one of the original stockholders of the Council Grove Town Company which organized in the spring of 1857. The aforementioned large stone house was built by him in 1860, and if the size and quality of that structure speaks of Simcock’s ability as a businessman, then he must’ve done alright. Goodson was also the “Co.” in Seth Hays’ S. M. Hays & Co., but in 1861 he purchased Hays’ interest and went into business on his own, while Hays moved to Colorado to try his hand as a stockman.[2]

We could say more of G. M. Simcock, but Albert is the one of interest for now. Albert appears to have been a pretty sharp and talented boy. In Lalla Brigham’s The Story of Council Grove on the Santa Fe Trail published 1921, she more than once mentions Albert, at the age of 16, composing Grasshopper Waltz  after said Orthoptera devastation of 1873. A tune for which he was famous, locally at least. In addition to Albert’s early musical ability, he was also quite business minded. In 1877 he became postmaster at Council Grove, sort of. He was officially appointed in September 1879, but had pretty much run the office under Seth Soule who acted as regent since Albert was not of legal age.[3]

In addition to serving as postmaster, Albert had worked as clerk in an attorney’s office and a dry goods store. He also had a stationary shop for a short time[4], and served as register of deeds for Morris County. One wonders how he found time for music and performance with so many responsibilities, but Lalla Brigham ensures us that “During his fifty years residence in Council Grove he was the leader in all musical affairs.” [5]

Beginning in 1877 a number of annual conventions were held at Council Grove directed by Professor Henry S. Perkins of Chicago. Perkins, an 1861 graduate of Boston Music School, traveled the nation from California to Maine conducting music festivals and conventions. He served as principal of Kansas Normal Music School five consecutive summers. An attendance of about 75 people was reported at an early Council Grove convention, some individuals travelling over 100 miles to attend!

In a letter to the editor of an 1878 Folio, a music periodical published in Boston, a writer from Council Grove identifying themselves only as ‘C Natural’ wrote, “we are indebted to Mr. A. W. Simcock of this place for this convention…” They went on to say that Albert had “attended Prof. Perkins’ Kansas Normal Academy of Music, &c. He is a pianist of considerable ability and evident culture.” [6]

Oh! Didn’t I mention Albert played piano? Well, neither did Lalla Brigham. It wasn’t until I came across the following ad, in an 1880 Folio, that I finally knew what instrument he played. “Mr. H. S. Perkins will conduct the fourth annual Convention at Council Grove, Kas., May 11th-14th, assisted by Prof. Otto Schmidt, the brilliant violinist and pianist; Albert W. Simcock, pianist, and other talent…” [7]

The locals, no doubt stimulated by these conventions, exercised their recent study. In the winter of 1881 Albert directed a production of the somewhat recent and internationally popular opera Fatinitza. His future wife Mary (or Sarah) was the accompanist. A performance was held in the Morris County courthouse, and another in Emporia which was said to have been well received.[8]

May 21st 1887 the Council Grove Opera House Company was organized. President-Frank Lower. Treasurer- Geo. E. Irwin. Secretary and Manager-Angus McDonald. Directors-Frank Lower, E.E. Gibbs, Geo. E. Irvin, Chas. Sage, A. McDonald, A.W. Simcock, C.W. Talmadge, Ed. Dill, E. Sharp, W.F. Waller. The company has rented H.W. Gildemeister’s hall.” [9] Henry Gildemeister’s two story building was being constructed at that time at 102 & 104 West Main. It stood east of the Masonic building where the former Duckwalls, now Rerun Consignments, stands. The building would be christened Etta Opera House, which opened its doors in December 1887.[10]

Council Grove post card 1

This circa 1909 postcard shows the view west from the Main Street bridge. Seen at right is Henry Gildemeister’s Etta Opera House, named after his daughter. The building was razed in 1959.  Author’s collection

As if Albert lacked activity, in July of 1887 he entered into partnership with Ed Gibbs and Angus McDonald who owned a book, stationary and music store.[11] Later, in 1898, another music club, The Philharmonic, was organized. Albert directed four other operas performed by that company.[12]

In 1907 Albert moved his family to Kansas City[13], where it appears he continued a prominent businessman until his death, April 8th1928. He returned to Council Grove late June early July of 1921 for the Homecoming celebration which was a reunion of old settlers and a centennial observance of William Becknell’s passing through on his way to New Mexico. Albert was instrumental in procuring some 150 slides of old settlers and historic places projected for a public viewing. He led the crowd in singing old time songs,[14] and one more time played his Grasshopper Waltz.

Now the great mystery Albert has left us is, no one has ever found music for his Grasshopper Waltz. It has tantalized me for years. Having inquired at any archive that could possibly have such a piece in their collection, it looks doubtful that it was ever published. The Library of Congress has no copyright registration for Simcock. There is a Grasshopper Waltz in their collection, but not Albert’s. You’ve heard of a ‘haunting melody’? Well, this lost melody continues to haunt me.

[1] Historian Kenneth McClintock

[2] History of Morris County by John Maloy pg. 41

[3] History of Morris County by John Maloy pg. 74

[4] History of Kansas A. T. Andreas 1883

[5] The Story of Council Grove on the Santa Re Trail by Lalla Maloy Brigham pg. 98

[6] FOLIO Vol. XVII July 1878 No. 7

[7] FOLIO Vol. 18, 1880

[8] The Story of Council Grove on the Santa Fe Trail by Lalla Maloy Brigham pg.62

[9] Council Grove Republican Friday May 27th 1887

[10] Information from historian Kenneth McClintock

[11] Council Grove Republican, 01 July 1887

[12] The Story of Council Grove on the Santa Fe Trail by Lalla Maloy Brigham pg.85

[13] Historian Kenneth McClintock

[14] Kansas City Kansan 07 July, 1921

Death of a Namesake

I published this story some time ago under the tab Anecdota, but am going to publish it here, on my main page, because I’m afraid it is easily overlooked on the other and this is an important story to me. I’m not a tree hugger, per se, but I do have a great appreciation of nature and respect for historic landmarks. Council Grove, the people, long ago grasped the sense they were a significant place. An important place, not only to Kansas but nationally. In many instances Council Grove has made a fair, even laudable, effort at preserving and sharing their heritage. Unfortunately, they have also lost a great deal through carelessness or even thoughtlessness. The former is forgivable, for one may, while intending to do good, act without appropriate care; but the latter is simply shameful, for it requires not only the lack of care but also implies the deliberate and callous rejection of consideration; being ill-considerate, ill-advised. Not just inadequately so, but wrongly so.

Five years ago, when I was working on the book for Morris County, my wife and I were looking through the many photos scanned, and too often when she asked about this building or that building I would comment ‘oh, it was torn down a long time ago.’ Finally, she said I could write a book about buildings that use to be in Council Grove. And she’s right, I easily could. And it would not be a short book either. I understand that not every structure can be saved, but it seems far too many were torn down, not because they were dilapidated or dangerous, but because we wanted something bigger, newer, and tragically more modern.  I wish that everyone in Council Grove knew the following story.  It is an important lesson. A lesson that I hope could prevent our allowing such a thing to happen again. It is up to Council Grove to protect what they have, it always has been. No one else can be counted on to take care of it for them.

Death of a Namesake

            Sometime in October of 2012, I attended a city council meeting for one thing and learned another instead.  The city had decided to take bids to have two of the ancient oak trees at the park by the swimming pool cut down. To my recollection, this item was not on the agenda which appeared in the paper, hence my surprise when it was brought up.

Councilman Mark Brooks had someone come inspect the trees, and the conclusion was that both trees showed signs of decay and would have to be removed.  At that meeting, the decision was made to seek bids on having the removal done, and tentatively plan for having them removed by October 30th as I recall.

When this was made known to me I called Councilwoman Debi Schwerdtfegger and made a request on behalf of the Morris County Historical Society that if the tree (which stood at the northwest corner of the old pool) must be cut down, that the persons doing so save a section of the main trunk for us to study and preserve.  The city did so; to their own incrimination.  That section of trunk is in possession of the Morris County Historical Society, and I assure you it shows no sign of decay.  The tree was not hollow, it was not discolored, and most likely would have stood for another 200 years.

The tree which stood in the little circle drive by the old pool, I will admit showed signs of decay, so I never had any complaint about it being removed.  But the other tree was purely a victim of progress.  The only reason it was removed is because it stood where the new water slides were going to be.

Several individuals that I spoke with on the matter were aware that the city was going to remove trees, but had no idea it was the 200-year-old oaks for which our town got its name.  They assumed it was probably some locust or other smaller, insignificant trees that were to be removed.  If I had, at the time, made this information known to the public, we may have saved that tree.  I assure you I considered it carefully.  As it was, the city already had an attorney on retainer (or so I was informed) because I had caused them quite a bit of heat during the swimming pool bond issue; that story I might share later.

In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania they have what are known as ‘witness trees’.  What a fitting name. These are massive old trees, sycamore, that stood 155 years ago to witness the clashing of two great armies.  When people pass by these trees, they stop and put their hand upon the trunk.  It’s kind of like shaking the hand that shook the hand of some great man.  Council Grove has 15 or 16 of their own witness trees.  Gigantic burr oaks that have stood through 250 years of Kansas storms.  In the 1840s they witnessed the freighters of the Santa Fe trade encamped beneath their bows.  By the 1930s, tourists parked their model Ts in their shade and picnicked. Today, I enjoy walking among them in the quiet of the evening, contemplating these things.

Final thoughts; We lived across the street from the park where these great oaks stood. I remember clearly, that after the tree trimmers had cut away all the branches, we could plainly see the towering trunks of those trees from our home. It was something of a surreal sight. It was like seeing something you shouldn’t. Like when the wall of the building on Neosho Street fell out into the alley and all the rooms upstairs could be seen as though it were a little child’s dollhouse; it was still there, didn’t look like it always had, couldn’t undo what had happened.  It were as if someone should take the remains from the Unknown Indian Monument and lay them out for all the world to gawk at.  Just unnecessary and sickening.

The Hays House

Hays House 1868

This 1868 photograph captures the frame warehouse built by S. M. Hays & Company in the summer of 1859. Courtesy Morris County Historical Society.

Since the old Hays House has had a facelift, I thought it might be appropriate to give a briefly abridged history of the property.  To begin with, in 1847 Boone & Hamilton of Westport had a crude log structure built on the west bank of the Neosho River at the Santa Fe Trail crossing.  According to local historian Ken McClintock that structure stood immediately east of the present Hays House.  Seth M. Hays was employed by Boone & Hamilton to do business with freighters there.

In February of 1858, Hezekiah Brake came through Council Grove on his way to New Mexico.  Brake writes, “An old negress who worked for Mr. Hayes (sic) roasted coffee, made cakes, and gave us a keg of pickles and sauerkraut as relishes.”  Sarah Taylor, commonly called Aunt Sally, was Hays’ slave that accompanied him to Council Grove.  Sally continued with him until the end of her life and is buried in Hays’ lot in Greenwood Cemetery.

By 1852 Hays had bought out Boone & Hamilton, and around 1856 took on a partnership with Goodson M. Simcock.  It was Hays and Simcock who, under the title of S. M. Hays & Company, built a new frame warehouse to accommodate the growing trade on the Trail.  According to newspaper accounts of the day it appears this structure was completed in early summer of 1859.  At that time it had a gable roof; it wasn’t until about 1888 that the roof was raised in the fashion we see today to make a full two stories.

July 21st of 1859, Hays held a little party to celebrate the opening of the new store.  Hall’s Quadrille Band of Emporia came to provide music for the dancers, and a generous supper was provided for the attendees.  The Lawrence Republican of September 1859 also mentions the new warehouse opened by Hays & Co., and how it was suitable for a town such as Leavenworth or Lawrence.

Upon moving to Colorado in 1861 Hays sold his interest to Simcock, which took effect January 1st 1862, but retained ownership of the building.  Upon Hays’ return in 1866 Simcock relocated to what is currently the Trowbridge building which the two had built as a harness shop in 1860.  The final years of Hays involvement in the building is a bit sketchy, but it is safe to say he ultimately ended his interest in it February 5th 1873 when he passed from this life.  It wasn’t until 1878 that the administrator of Hays’ estate sold the property.

Prior to 1885, which is the earliest Sanborn Insurance Map in the Morris County Historical Society’s archives, the function of the Hays House is uncertain.  Using these maps we can draw a pretty good picture of the evolution of the building over the years.  We know that in February of 1885 it was divided into three separate businesses.  There was a store on the west end, restaurant in the middle and dwelling on the east side.  At that time (1882-1888) it was operated as Farmer’s Hotel by J. F. Atchison.  By July of 1887 the partitions are not noted and the whole building was designated as Farmers Hotel, except for a little insurance office in the southwest corner of the building.

Then from about 1890 to 1902 it was called Grove Hotel.  Another partition noted in the Sanborn Maps was made on the west side behind where the insurance office was located and extended to the rear of the building.  By this time the vacant lot west of the building had been developed and was listed as a restaurant.  It’s not clear if this restaurant was part of the structure or a separate entity, but it stood where the western most end of the Hays House is presently.  The building that once occupied that space was a barber shop in the 1870s but at the time of the September 19th 1886 fire was vacant.  It was ‘torn down’ with the intent to prevent the Hays House from catching fire.

Main St. Hotel circa 1908

Main Street Hotel circa 1902-1911.

In 1902 the front porch was built on by W. L. Stickel, who sold the building the following year. The building changed owners several times at this period, but by December of 1908 the name had been changed to Main Street Hotel and a restaurant and confectionary were listed as well as hotel rooms. From around 1914 to 1930 the building was called the Ar-Way Hotel which boasted a café and confectionery.

Hays House 1934

Although this photo is dated 1934, the cars are obviously from the 40s. Notice the striped porch post advertising a barber shop which occupied the eastern front portion of the building. It is believed that a barber shop occupied this space as late as 1958.  Courtesy of Morris County Historical Society.

Over the following decades the building housed a number of other businesses as well, such as a barbershop, appliance, restaurant, hardware and dry goods store to name a few.  It is also known that rooms were let in the upstairs through WWII, as late as 1947.  In 1954 V. A. Ward was proprietor of the Hays Tavern and it was then advertised as ‘the Oldest Place to eat between Council Grove and Santa Fe, N.M.’.

In 1974-75 Charlie and Helen Judd took over and renovated the Hays House Restaurant and Tavern and made it the destination eating establishment we all know and love today.  The recent renovation of the Hays House façade is intended to emulate the appearance of the building as it stood shortly after the turn of the 20th century.  And so it stands offering good food within, and historic charm without.

Council Grove Barber Shop

Circa 1880 back bar and circa 1923 Paidar chairs.

June 14th of 2003 I completed my 1500 hour course at the Old Town Barber and Beauty College in Wichita, Kansas.  After having passed the State Board examination I set out to seek employment around my home near Lyndon in Osage County.  After much searching and disappointment I recalled one of the instructors at barber school mention that Council Grove had no barber shop.  At the drop of a hat, with no further thought, I jumped in the car on a hot summer afternoon and drove to Council Grove to investigate.  Arriving in the Grove shortly before the town closed up, I pulled up in front of Bluestem Brokerage and there met Bill Wilkerson who would afterward prove a faithful and entertaining customer.

Tools of the trade.

Well, to skip ahead, I purchased the old Council Grove Telephone office at 210 W Main, which also had living accommodations above, making it a very convenient opportunity.  The deal was closed on September 22nd of 2003 and by the last week of October the Council Grove Barber Shop was open for business.  It hasn’t changed all that much since then, but the first thing patrons saw when they entered was a five mirrored oak back bar with marble top dating to the 1880s. There were two antique chairs, one an Archer from 1894 and a Climax from 1887.  The Climax chair was used for a number of years to cut hair in.  Since it had no hydraulics a box was used to stand on while cutting hair much as was the custom 150 years before.

The clock that hung in the first Frisco depot at Augusta, Kansas in 1880.

On the wall was an oak clock that originally hung in the Frisco Depot in Augusta Kansas when it was first built in 1880.  When the depot was torn down my great uncle Melvin ‘Hap’ Bailey, rescued the clock from the trash heap and it has run faithfully ever since.  Many have often pointed out to me that the second hand on my clock is broken.  Much to their surprise I tell them it doesn’t have a second hand.  The red hand with a crescent moon points to the day of the month.

Eventually newer chairs were purchased for the shop.  Two matching Emil Paidar chairs dating to about 1923.  I got a good deal on these chairs and drove to Oklahoma to get them.  Some other additions since opening were a National cash register from the turn of the century, glass display cases for the tonic and talcum powder, and an ongoing collection of shaving mugs and other paraphernalia.  The Council Grove Barber Shop has always made an effort to fit the historic atmosphere of the town and to give patrons the feeling that they are walking into a turn of the century barber shop.

It was about a month after opening that the barber shop started hosting a weekly jam session for musicians.  Every Tuesday at 7 people from all over would gather in or in front of the shop depending on the weather.  This went on for maybe a year when the jams were held on the last Tuesday of each month only.  Sometimes the last musicians didn’t leave until 2 in the morning.  That made it very difficult to get up and go to work the next day.  The final jam was held this past Tuesday with food and drink to mark the 10th anniversary of the barber shop.  I will not be hosting any more jams at the shop.

Personalized shaving mug collection.

I have many special memories in the Council Grove Barber Shop.  One is of my regular customer from England; at least he was more regular than some in this town.  About once a year John and his mother would fly to the states to visit a friend in Emporia and they always made an effort to come see me.  My wife and I also received a card from them when we got married.  It’s the only wedding card we have that came from England.

Ten years have passed and young boys that I remember sitting on the booster seat are now about to graduate high school.  I’ve witnessed some, whose hair has turned grey over the years and others whose hair has turned loose.  But I have noticed some grey in my hair as well.  I’ve also had many patrons go to their long home in this time.  And so, thinking back on the past decade I have mixed emotions; joy, sorrow, excitement, disappointment, frustration, anticipation, a sense of achievement but at the same time a feeling of inadequacy.  I think, however, that the good has outweighed the bad.

One of the original cigar advertisements on the old back bar.

I have been very fortunate to make the friendships I have, which in turn have lead me to discover my family’s deep roots in this area.  So much of my family history here was unknown to me until I started meeting folks who turned out to be relation.  They were generous enough to share what they knew.  Now, instead of feeling like I have made Morris County my home, I feel that I only just returned home.

Addendum:  The Council Grove Barber Shop closed its doors on July 17th, 2015, just three months short of 12 years in business.  Although my customers have been very good to me over the years and very supportive, the increasing cost of keeping a business operating, along with the poor economy and continual decline of the town, have left me no choice but to throw in the towel.  I will very much miss visiting with customers and hearing their stories.

Cemetery Tour (continued)

Continuing with our Cemetery Tour from last week, we will look at some of the living history presentations that have been given, symbolisms of the stones and forgotten practices of funerals.

Christy Alexander played the role of Susie Huffaker at our first Cemetery Tour.  She told her tale of how she drowned in the swollen Neosho River on the night of May 14th 1872.  Susie’s funeral announcement is preserved in the archives at the Morris County Historical Society.  It is a plain half page piece of paper with a black border that gives details for the service.  This was very typical of 19th century announcements.

Another grim artifact in possession of the Morris County Historical Society is a wicker coffin.  In the last half of the 19th century these wicker ‘body baskets’ were primarily used by funeral parlors to transport the body from the home to the parlor, but they were also used for burial.    These decomposing coffins were very popular in the crowded graveyards of England, and supposed to allow the corpse to decompose quicker and more efficiently.  One Englishman was purported to say, “Bury me, when I am dead, bury me in an earth-to-earth wicker coffin, so that I may get out again into God’s pure air just as soon as possible.”   From the Dallas Weekly Herald of July 10th 1875: “Willow coffins are now the rage in England. They are more comfortable in hot weather, it is claimed.”  Going ‘green’ is not a new idea at all.   In fact, wicker and decomposable coffins are still made and used by those who are concerned about their carbon footprint.

Beside wicker coffins were the common plain wood coffins the wagon maker often turned out upon demand.  One documented story we have is the drowning of the Poole children near Parkerville in November 1879.  The wagon maker at Parkerville made two coffins and two children were placed in each.  Also in use in the 1870s were coffins with a glass window so one could look upon the countenance of the departed.  Early Morris County pioneer Percy Ebbutt mentions the funeral of a young girl near Manhattan who was buried in such a coffin.

IMG_8376

Headstones tell us a story through the images carved on them.  Some symbols are easy to interpret such as a broken tree trunk or column signifies a life was cut short.  Others can be less evident.  An urn, wreath or ivy vine symbolizes immortality or eternity.  The willow and anything that is draped represent mourning.  A dove or lily indicates the resurrection.  Two hands clasped together are indicative of a farewell handshake as Earthly acquaintances are parted.  A hand pointing upward seams to say ‘do not look for me here, but look to Heaven,’ while a hand pointing downward represents God reaching down for the soul.   The Bible or books often stand for the Book of Life in which the departed’s name is written.  A lamb is often found on the stone of a small child and symbolizes Jesus Christ the Lamb of God.   A sea-shell signifies baptism or rebirth.

The variety of stones is endless.  You can make a family outing by going to your local cemetery and seeing who can find these different symbols and who can find the most.  Also see how many different fraternal organizations you can find, such as Grand Army of the Republic; Free Masons; Odd Fellows; Knights of Pythias; Modern Woodmen of America; Ancient Order of United Workmen, etc.

Besides marble, granite and other stone markers, there are white bronze markers.  White bronze markers, which are actually sand cast zinc, were manufactured by the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  The company produced these markers from 1874 to 1914.  They were about one third the cost of what a stone monument of similar size would be, and they held up better in the weather.  I am aware of two white bronze markers in the County, perhaps my readers know where there are some more.  There is one in Greenwood Cemetery and one at Kelso Cemetery.  The one at Kelso has Western White Bronze Co. cast in it.  The Western White Bronze Co. at Des Moines, Iowa was a subsidiary of the Monumental Bronze Company at Bridgeport.  Western White Bronze operated from 1886 until 1908.  Although it doesn’t make sense to me, information I have come across claims that Western White Bronze never cast these markers, they only assembled them.

White bronze (zinc) marker in Greenwood.

A notable historic figure that was portrayed at the first tour was Jack McDowell, who was hung by persons unknown.  D. J. Bremer dressed the part with army revolver and all, and made quite the impression on folks.  McDowell is one of the numbers in Greenwood whose final resting place is unknown.  Another obscure character who lies in an unmarked pauper’s grave is Indian Juan.  The early years of Indian Juan are unknown, but he is said to have been half Apache half Mexican.  Charles Parker adopted the orphaned boy in his Santa Fe freighting days.  It may be possible that Indian Juan was a victim of a Navajo raid on Mexicans, but this we surely can never know.

The Alliance Herald-Guard of Friday, June 19th 1891 announced the death of Indian Juan.  “Indian John, commonly known as ‘Juan’ died at the poor farm east of Council Grove Tuesday night.  He was brought from New Mexico by C. G. Parker, of Parkerville, twenty-four years ago, and has lived around in different portions of the county ever since.  He was a character well known in Council Grove, Kelso and Parkerville and was kindly regarded by everyone who knew him.  He has been under the weather for the last six months and suffered terrible agony, but he has now departed to the ‘happy hunting grounds’ of his forefathers where trials and tribulations will no more molest him.”

No one attended the burial of Juan, save the grave diggers and a curious Republican ‘imp’ who followed the wagon to the cemetery to discover who had died.

The final resting place of Indian Juan may not be known, but at least we have this only photo of him. (Courtesy Bob Strom collection.)

It occurs to me here that we could easily continue with this subject, but I’m a feared I must stop at this.

Cemetery Tour

Sarah Conn, the first interred in Greenwood Cemetery.

There is no Greenwood Cemetery Tour planned in Council Grove for this October.  For my readers who have not taken one before, I have decided this would be a good opportunity to give you a tour without leaving the comfort of your home.  At previous tours we have asked five or six locals to dress up as individuals buried in Greenwood.  As groups are lead through the cemetery we stop at each grave and hear a short biography of the individual.  Besides biographical information we also like to learn about the stones and the cemetery’s history.

In 1862 Samuel Wood donated a tract of land just west of the original town site for a city cemetery.  Shortly after, Seth Hays donated another tract just inside the city limits adjoining Wood’s.  Sarah Conn, wife of merchant Malcolm Conn, was the first interred in the new cemetery in 1863.  However, if you pay close attention as you walk around the cemetery, you will find stones that pre-date Greenwood Cemetery.  Council Grove historian Ken McClintock has done considerable research that explains why this is and points to the first white burial ground in the County.

Stone of James White.

On August 27th 1846 the Mormon Battalion arrived at Council Grove on the Santa Fe Trail.  They just crossed what was commonly called Council Grove Creek and camped upstream about half a mile.  This Council Grove Creek we know today as the Neosho River, and a half mile up the Neosho from the crossing puts the campsite in the vicinity of the Kaw Mission (which of course was not yet built).

In company with the battalion was an elderly couple by the name of Bosco.   Jane died on the 27th and her husband John followed her the next morning.  William Bigler, who was present, described the burial of the Boscos.  “John Bosco by the side of his wife Jane.  As rock was handy we overlaid and enclosed in one, their graves, with a stone wall to prevent wild beasts from disturbing them.”  Other diaries also mention the burial site and describe the stone wall as two feet high, seven feet wide and ten feet long.  No doubt this grave was recognized as such for many years after.  We can only suppose that this heap of stones may be the reason the Kaw Mission was later built nearby.

As Council Grove grew from a small trading post to a hamlet, there was obviously need for a graveyard.  Since the Bosco’s grave was clearly known, others were buried next to them and the old graveyard grew.  Early settler Christopher Columbia passed away November 16th 1861 and was laid to rest in the graveyard near the Mission.  After Greenwood Cemetery was established Columbia’s remains were removed to that new cemetery.  Bonnie McClintock has stated that Mahala Milleson was also moved from the old graveyard; her grave can be found directly north of the restrooms.  In light of this evidence it is reasonable to presume that the others in the old graveyard were moved at the same time, and that is why there are stones in Greenwood that pre-date its establishment.

Stone of Nicholas Shamleffer.

Prior to 1870, when the Odd Fellows took over the cemetery, it was not platted and burials were made in a somewhat haphazard fashion.  The Odd Fellows purchased additional land from Hezekiah McNay to square up the cemetery.  Then in 1871 they erected a stone wall around the cemetery.  Only the south wall along Main Street remains today.  In 1917 the Odd Fellows turned the cemetery over to the city.

In August of 1979 between the hours of 2:15 and 3:05 a.m. the cemetery was vandalized.  140 feet of the limestone wall was knocked over as well as 74 tombstones, mostly the tall pillars, which is why so many stones you see in the old part are broken or the finials are missing.  One crowbar, wrecking bar and two sledge hammers were found at the scene.  The following day citizens went to work uprighting the stones.  The damage was estimated at more than $5,000.

At the highest point in the cemetery is a group of stones originally from a small cemetery four and a half miles north of Council Grove.  Sometime before the reservoir was completed in 1964 these graves were removed from the floodplain and placed in Greenwood.

We will continue this subject next week by deciphering the symbols on tombstones and uncovering some obsolete practices of body preparation and bygone customs revealed by artifacts and documentation at the Morris County Historical Society.

Mistur Editur…

I found this cryptic letter to the editor from 1859 amusing and hope you do too.  But before you read it I must put it into context, otherwise you’ll be left in a state of befuddlement.

This letter came after, and in response to, the incident between the Kaw Indians and Seth Hays on June 2nd 1859.  In short, the Kaw had stolen a couple horses from a Mexican trader and Hays demanded the return of them.  About 90 Kaw rode into town and met Hays in front of his store.  Words were exchanged; Hays was irritated and fired off his revolver[s]; in return two Kaw each shot a white man and fled town.  After a council between whites and Indians the two Kaw were handed over and hung by town folk.  Thomas Hill, who was at the ‘Last Chance’ store when this event played out, was the first to write an account of what had occurred for the paper.  The following week H. J. Espy wrote another letter to the paper to correct a few things that Hill had said.

It is not clear who wrote the following letter but it appears to come from someone in Council Grove and is addressed to the editor of the Kansas Press, Sam Wood, who was operating out of Cottonwood Falls at the time.  The coaxing in this letter must have worked to some extent, because Wood moved his paper to Council Grove September 5th of 1859.  It appears to be a jab at Council Grove for their eagerness to hang the Kaw Indians and an insult to their intelligence is evident by the phonetic spelling.  There is also a jab at Tom Hill as the ‘stoan stor-house, on the hill’ was the location of the day long hanging.  Hill had exaggerated in his letter that the people were ‘perfectly blood thirsty’ after the Kaw.

“Counsel Groave, Kanzas June 29, ’59.  Mistur Editur—Deer Sir: The peeple hear hev selected me as a sootable, purson to rite to you.  We wont you to moove up, and fetch your paper, and fixens to make papers with you.

            The peeple will pleg themselves to firnish local mater ennuff every weak, to fabrickate a substanshal sheat.  You will not then be rejuced to the necescity of saying at the cloase of an article, “Exchange,” as Editurs hev to doo sometimes.  Yu cood hev a winder too your sanctum , overlooking the city; and thor yu cin set and rite with one hand and look out at the winder with tother, and let your hed run along to keep hit in a condishun for publickashun.  Then wee wood not  heve to rite yu the nuse, or ecspress the wooshes of the peeple; fur tha cood poak in thare heds nou and then and speek fur themselves.

            Sense yu wor up hear times hev, bin poorty brisk, we hev haid one hangen, but the material warent good—nuthen but Cau Injens, you ort tu hev bin here to witnessed that.  They gin them ar Caus one of thee jewhilicanest stretchens ever yu sou.  They hung em tel they war ded ded, ef yu call a day and nite any thing.

            On the 21st ov next munth, we or gowing to hev a hangen what is a hangen.  That is general hang day fur this county.  We will hev materal selected that cant bea beet in these parts.  It is expected that ther will bee quite a number of specktaters; allso a good meny that wood rather be specktaters than tu take as active a part as thare populararity will foce on ‘em.  Hang ours, from ten A. M. tel, foar P.M.; and continued from day tu day tel, all ar hung, ef yu sea any body down your way that wants hangen, tel them tu bea hear, at the stoan stoar-house, on the hill [the Last Chance store], at the time pinted, with there meeten close on, and wee will try  mity hard to commodate them; as wee Counsel Groave fokes make it a pint of oner tu alwaze tend tu strangers furst.

            Wee will look fur yu up on that ‘kashen; and yu will spair no meens in given it publikashun threu the country.

            I must close my letter for feer thee peeple think that I am gowing fudder nor I was ‘structed, and rote all I knowed; theirfour I am dun.  Respeckfully, yours, FESSOR.”

First Congregational Church

congregational church post card

Postcard from 1910.

This past Sunday the First Congregational United Church of Christ of Council Grove marked its sesquicentennial.  Along with the festivities of the day (such as ice cream, pie and the releasing of 150 balloons) Pastor Christy Alexander was officially installed as minister.  It was a fitting time to reflect upon the past and look forward to the future.

On December 17th 1862 a group of interested citizens met in the home of Robert M. Wright for the purpose of organizing a Congregational Church in Council Grove.  Then on January 23rd 1863 a meeting was held at the Brown Jug school house to incorporate the new church.  The trustees elected at that meeting were Robert Wright, Charles Columbia, Henry Akin and Samuel Wood.  For a number of years the congregation continued to meet in the Brown Jug.  Brown Jug or Little Brown Jug school house (as it is known either way) was built in 1860-61.  It got its name from the native wood that remained unpainted for many years causing it to turn brown.  In later years it was painted brown to perpetuate the name.  In 1919 the Brown Jug was moved north of its original location to 218 Chautauqua Street where it stands today as a residence.

When the Brown Jug became too cramped the congregation moved to Huffaker Hall which was located on the second floor of the building at 200 West Main Street.  July 27th 1871, the trustees discussed constructing a church building the congregation could call their own.  In September of that year, brothers Benjamin and James Scott began construction on the new brick building.  It was erected a bit up the hill north of the present structure.  On the 10th of April 1872, a strong wind storm damaged the church while in construction, but repairs were made and work continued.

Samuel Scott gives us an amusing anecdote concerning construction.  “While B.R. and J.P. Scott was building the old brick Congregational church in Council Grove (as it has been razed) they were raising the steeple or spire, with a very high “gin” pole, and had a colored fellow turning the windlass.  The “gin” pole broke, and everyone yelled.  The darkey started toward Elm creek, which was about one-half mile south, on a swift run, and has never been seen since.  The Scott Bros. contractors owed the darkey $17.00, and to this day.”

The first Congregational Church as seen in the 1873 photograph of Main Street.

The Reverend Lauren Armsby served as the first ordained minister there beginning June 17th 1873, and served until 1902.  In 1898 it was feared the walls of the church building were not sound and so services were held elsewhere until a new building could be made.  Construction on the new church began in March 1899 just south of the old building.  It was completed in time for dedication August 6th 1899.

The house which stands at 19 North Belfry Street was built in 1902 as the parsonage for the Congregational Church.  It stands on the site of the original church.  A barn was also built at that time west of the house.  In 1926 an addition was made to the north part of the sanctuary and the barn was torn down at that time and supplied some of the lumber.

Many other changes occurred over the years but one of particular note was in 1965 when the present lights were installed in the sanctuary replacing the chandelier which now hangs in the Cottage House above the main stairway.

Black Diamonds

The coal mine that never was. From the 1873 Bird’s Eye View of Council Grove drawn by E. S. Glover.

In 1903 coal was discovered near Council Grove while men were drilling a well.  They kept things quiet until there was some certainty that it might be a profitable mine.  The vein was six feet thick and supposed excellent quality coal.

This was not the first time coal had been discovered in the county and certainly not the first attempt to develop a coal mine.  In 1871 W. B. Wilson, P. S. Roberts and several others had been boring for coal west of Council Grove.  The site of this ‘mine’ is located south of highway 56 approximately opposite the highway department.  Folks were made to believe it was a sure thing and so the new city council was persuaded to donate $500 to the project.  John Maloy said, “The five hundred dollars went like a comet glimmering into the dream of things that were.”

In the December 7th 1871 Council Grove Democrat there was a report on the development of the coal mine.  The shaft was down to about two hundred feet and a vein of white marble eight feet thick had been struck.  By January 1872 work had ceased at the mine due to lack of funds and or equipment breaking down, but sometime later drilling started up again.  E. S. Glover, who drew the 1873 Bird’s Eye View of Council Grove, included an inset depiction of what he (as well as others in town) believed the coal mine would become.  He shows a large factory with several buildings situated next to Elm Creek while a steam locomotive pulls a presumptuous string of coal cars off into the west.  This of course was never realized.

Maloy tells us how the coal mine came to its end along with abundant utterances of anathema for the swindlers.  “On the 28th day of January (1874) a proposition to loan or donate to the coal company the proceeds of $65,000 of County bonds which had been received in lieu of $165,000 of our County’s stock in the M. K. & T. R. R. Co. was by the people voted down, after a most exciting and vigorous canvass. This put a settler on the enterprise, and sealed the fate of some of our business men who had conscientiously put every available dollar into the project.”

Maloy goes on to say that W. B. Wilson was a “sanctimonious old fraud” who, through “his knavishness,” soon attracted a professed coal miner by the name of A. B. Stitts who also proved to be a “self-convicted fraud and thief.”  After these two men had got a good amount of investors in their coal mine, they kept their dupes encouraged by salting the mine with coal they had stolen from Strieby and Columbia’s blacksmith shop, and gained a few more investors!  Wilson and Stitts absconded taking about $35,000 of the townsfolk’s money.  The heaviest loss in the town was suffered by Shamleffer, Armstrong and Company.

Maloy ends his narrative on this “nefarious business” thus; “Out of all this was left a shaft several hundred feet deep-too wide for a well and too deep for a cellar.  The only things that could be found to any way relieve the dismal dreariness of the outcome was a vein of excellent salt water, enough of which was manufactured to ascertain that it was of the best, and an eight foot vein of the purest gypsum.  So perished our dream of becoming a mining and manufacturing city.”

One would think after having this magnificent lesson in hoodwinkery and humility that no one would ever entertain the thought of mining coal again.  But alas, coal was a big deal and many individuals continued to find coal and dream of the possibilities for industry in the area.  In December 1880 Frank Parker discovered a good outcropping of coal on Shaffer Creek in Chase County.  Then in January 1882 a Mr. Stump found coal on Humboldt Creek in Davis (Geary) County.  Osage City was leading the way in mining in the area and no doubt Morris County had an itching to get in the running and produce its own cheap fuel.  In 1889 there were 118 coal mines in Osage County employing over 2,200 people.

Parkerville had their own Coal and Manufacturing Company, however there is no evidence that they ever produced or manufactured anything.  In November of 1887 Charlie Parker decided to begin mining on his land.  He had been certain for years that there was coal beneath and so hired an experienced miner and a couple assistants to dig for it.  The Parkerville Times reported that indications were good for a vein of coal, and in fact they eventually hit a small vein.  But, it does not appear that the men had great expectations of their find for we hear no more about coal at Parkerville.  What a boon coal would have been for Parkerville.  It may have changed everything as we know it today.

Benjamin Majors

In the summer of 1827, 33 year old Benjamin Majors and 24 other men left their homes in Jackson and Lafayette Counties in Missouri, heading for the Rockies in search of silver that James Cockrell had discovered four years before.  Since Cockrell was the reason for this expedition he was elected captain.  Each man was equipped with one horse, a good gun with enough powder and ball for the duration of the trip, a little bedding, and enough food for about a week.  At that time men had no way of carrying enough food to last more than a week or ten days, they depended upon the fat of the land once their stores ran out.

I do not have great details of this trip, and considering the early period the Santa Fe Trail was not as well defined as it would become in later years with heavy traffic, but it appears that these men followed a path very close to the Santa Fe if not altogether on it.  The party reached the Big Bend or Great Bend of the Arkansas River on their southwesterly route and there found plenty of buffalo for meat.  Before long they had reached the Raton Mountains not far from present day Trinidad.

When Cockrell had reached the area where he had been four years prior he had a bit of trouble locating the silver.  After roaming around in the wilderness for several days the rest of the party were getting anxious, doubting if there really was a silver mine.  Finally the men found some rock flecked with metallic looking bits and that was enough to ease their minds and possibly saved Cockrell’s life.  Of course none of the party knew anything about silver; how to extract it, or even what it looked like.  They had imagined they would be able to cut out chunks of the precious metal with their tomahawks and load their saddle bags then hie for home.

After collecting what they thought good ore, they turned back for Missouri.  The journey went tolerably well until they reached a point near present Dodge City, camping on the banks of the Arkansas River.  After eating their supper of buffalo meat the party prepared for bed.  Two men were placed to guard the horses and changed every three hours through the night.  The Indians were known to do mischief and seeing how each man only had one horse it was crucial they kept an eye out.  On this night the Indians managed to sneak up on their bellies until they were between the guards and the horses.  Then they jumped up firing their guns and shaking their buffalo robes with whoops and hollers, running off the horses, which the owners were never to see again.

Some of the Indians began firing on the men once the horses were run off.  The men sprang from their beds on the bank and into the river up to their knees.  Mark Foster did not cease running once he hit the river and managed to make it to the other side.  He fell several times in his course, the bottom being sandy, and each time the Indians whooped all the greater thinking they had hit him.  The Indians eventually gave up their gyrations and went on their way leaving poor Foster on the opposite bank not knowing if the others in his party were murdered or not.  There he spent the night cold, wet and alone.

When the sun arose in the morning, Foster peered through the fog trying to determine if the figures he saw moving were his men or Indians.  He was convinced it was Indians and so went back to the far side of the river.  The others could plainly hear Foster plashing around in the river but they were pretty well disgusted with his performance of the night before and made no effort to communicate with him.   When the fog had lifted and revealed to Foster that his men were all still alive and the Indians gone, he came within 60 yards and called out to Benjamin Majors, asking if they would allow him to come back into camp.  After a brief consultation they said they would.

Foster walked boldly up to the men and said, “I have something to say to you gentlemen.  It is this:  I know you think I have acted the d—d coward, and I do not blame you under the circumstances.  When you all jumped over the bank I thought you were going to run to the other side, and I did not know any better until I had got so far out I was in greater danger to return than to go ahead.  For, as you know, the Indians were sending volleys of bullets and arrows after me, and really thought they had killed me every time I fell.  Now, to end this question, there is one of two things you must do.  The first is that you take your guns and kill me now, or if you do not comply with this, that every one of you agree upon your sacred honor that you will never allude, in any way, or throw up to me the unfortunate occurrences of last night.  Now, gentlemen, mark what I say.  If you do not kill me, but allow me to travel with you to our homes, should one of you ever be so thoughtless or forgetful of the promise you must now make as to throw it up to me, I pledge myself before you all that I will take the life of the man who does it.”  The men of course considered Foster a very brave man and complied with his wishes.

Now that they were left nearly four hundred miles from home with no horses, the hard part came.  Clark Davis was the heaviest man of the bunch, weighing in at 300 pounds.  The men all agreed that he could not walk the distance and carry his gun and ammo like all the men had to.  So, they were just about compelled to leave Davis on the prairie for the wolves to eat.  All the men loved Davis and that, along with the idea of having to tell his family they were obliged to leave him, prevented them from abandoning him.

Davis’ limbs and feet became very sore and raw after a couple days journey and the men were required to detail five or six men with him for protection as he lagged behind.  The main body would travel on and Davis and the others would catch up with camp about three or four hours later.  This kept on until the men were out of the buffalo belt and quickly consumed what meat they had.  Davis’ extra person he carried upon him then proved to be a blessing as he ended up out-walking the rest of the men who were growing increasingly weaker.

Late in that year of 1827 these worn and weary men arrived at the spot where Council Grove now stands.  All the men, save Davis, were upon the point of starvation and it was Davis who, in their opinion, saved all their lives.  He said, “Boys, I will go kill a deer.”  After a while the men heard the report of the gun and as quickly as Davis could reload, another shot was heard.  “Come here, boys! There is meat in plenty”, Davis shouted, and it didn’t take long for the famished to join him.  They drank up all the blood and ate the livers raw and even scraped the marrow out of the bones, then carried what remained with them.  This tided them over for the next 130 miles to their homes and not one man was lost on this perilous trip.

This story comes to us from Alexander Majors, son of Benjamin and celebrated Santa Fe Trail freighter.  Alexander was continuously engaged in the freighting business from 1848 to 1866, much of that time being contracted with the Government supplying forts in the west.