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 early 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.

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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.

Trails in Morris County

There are a number of old trails that cross Morris County.  Some we are familiar with and others we know very little about.  I would like to take some time for us to learn a little more about these various trails and what they were used for.

The first trail I’ll mention is the Santa Fe as it appears to be the first major trail.  It is very accurately mapped and we know a good deal about it, so I won’t go into much detail on it.  In the early 19th century a number of adventuresome individuals were trying to find a good route to Santa Fe in order to establish trade with the south and west.  William Alexander Becknell was fortunate enough to be the first to arrive in Santa Fe with his men in November of 1821.  He has ever since been known as the father of the Santa Fe Trail.

Becknell had not had very good luck up till this point.  Around 1818 he had bought the Boone family’s salt works near Arrow Rock Missouri.  In 1820 he ran for the Missouri legislature and borrowed money to do so.  He was unsuccessful and the panic from the previous year had already taken a huge toll on his pocket book.  Owing his creditors more than $1,200 he was thrown in jail until a friend bailed him out.  So, you can imagine the troubles that weighed on Becknell’s mind as he headed out across the godforsaken prairie.  Failure was not an option, he had to come home with something.  And he did!  The people in Santa Fe paid handsomely for his merchandise, and he returned to the States with his saddle bags loaded with silver.

One thing I would like for us to consider is the fact that not everyone who traveled the Santa Fe Trail was necessarily going to Santa Fe.  Like many of our highways today, such as 56 and 77 south of Herington, many of the old trails intersected and even converged.  Some travelers on the Santa Fe Trail were going down to Chihuahua in Mexico to trade.  Some were going on to southern California by way of the Gila Trail.  Others might find their way to California by taking the Old Spanish Trail which led up through Colorado and Utah by various routes.   Although the Mormon Trail ran through Nebraska and followed the Oregon and Old California Trails, in the 1840s Mormon immigrants would be using the Santa Fe Trail.   We know that in August of 1846 the Mormon Battalion passed through Council Grove taking the Santa Fe Trail on their way south during the Mexican-American War.  John Maloy states that during the year of 1860 an average of 50 wagons per day were passing through Council Grove on their way to Pike’s Peak.  Also, we cannot claim the only Santa Fe Trail.  There was a lower route, known as the Fort Smith route, which passed from Fort Smith Arkansas through Oklahoma to Santa Fe.

The Kaw Trail is the next oldest trail in the County.  It was put into use about the time the Kaw were moved to the reservation in Morris County in 1847.  The treaty signed with the Osage in 1825 in Council Grove, made the Santa Fe a right-of-way for the white man and the Indians were not suppose to utilize it.  Because of this, the Kaw Trail ran about a mile south of the Santa Fe Trail but nearly paralleling it.  It started at Big John Creek south of Council Grove on the Kaw reserve.  It passes through the counties of Morris, Chase and Marion where Florence now stands and continued on west to Turkey Creek where it intersected the Santa Fe Trail.  Some remnants of this trail can be seen near Diamond Springs, and Florence.  The trail was used by the Kaw going and returning on their annual buffalo hunts out west.  John Maloy, in his History of Morris County, gives a description of the Kaw returning from one of these hunts.  In April of 1869 “the Kaw Indians returned from their winter’s hunt on the plains, looking gaudy and feeling gay.  They had plenty of robes, and their accustomed business of pony stealing had proved both successful and lucrative.  They were met by those who staid (sic) at home with an ovation and the biggest thief, according to custom was permitted to wear a pair of polished horns.”

The next trail we have of significance goes by a few different names; the Ft. Scott & Ft. Riley Road*, the National Historic Military Trail or the Government Trail.  We may with reason date the beginning of this trail with the birth of Ft. Riley in 1852-53.  This trail leads from Ft. Riley and passes near Skiddy, White City, Kelso through Council Grove and on southeast to Ft. Scott.  There were two branches of this trail.  The previous mentioned which followed the Santa Fe Trail for a short distance west of town and the second which takes a more northerly route out of of Council Grove.  It is possible that goods were hauled from Ft. Riley to Council Grove by this road.  We know that in April of 1854 the 79 ton stern-wheeler Excel made her first run on the Kansas River from Weston Missouri to Ft. Riley.  She was carrying 1,100 barrels of flour.  More steamboats were employed until trade on the Kansas River finally came to an end along with trade on the Santa Fe Trail in 1866.

There is a trail shown on an 1856 map in my possession that enters Council Grove from the northeast.  I have not been able to determine the name of this trail.  It passed from Uniontown through or near present Alma to Council Grove.  To the best of my ability, I have determined that Uniontown was south of the Kansas River on Vassar Creek approximately 2 miles west of present Valencia.  Also on this map, is a road that at one time passed through the northeast corner of Morris County.  It begins at 110 mile station, simply marked ‘110’ on the map, also on the Santa Fe Road.  From there it heads west and slightly north a few miles from Council City, now Burlingame.  The trail passes a little south of present Eskridge then runs west until approximately the present Morris/Wabaunsee County border just a little south of Alta Vista.  From there it starts veering north and eventually converges with the Ft. Riley Road.  Since the county boundaries have changed in the northeast corner, we have lost most of this old road.  The Kansas Cyclopedia of 1912 identifies this road as one of the many lesser branches of the Mormon Trail.

One of the trails we know least about, and I know so little about it I’m almost embarrassed to mention it, is the Shawnee Cattle Trail.  This trail was brought to our attention a couple of years ago when a man who was very knowledgeable on the subject came to the Historical Society to research it.  He seemed certain that the trail passed through Morris County, and I have found two generic maps of Kansas that show a lesser branch of the Shawnee Trail passing through the area that Morris County would occupy on the map.  This was a north-south trail that went down through Texas to Dallas and Waco.  We do know that some time in the 1870s Council Grove passed an ordinance to prevent cattle drives from coming through the city.  We can safely assume from this that the trail did not come through Council Grove.  A map of historic trails provided by the Kansas Department of Transportation, shows Cottonwood Falls as a trail head for the Texas Cattle Trail.  Again, I don’t pretend to know much about the Shawnee Trail, but with the Texas Trail so close to us, it makes sense that the Shawnee Trail passed through here and may well have joined with this Texas Trail.

*Actually appears as Council Grove Ft. Riley Road on the 1856 map, I have also seen another map of the same year by the same maker but the road appears as C Grove Ft. Riley Road.  I question how accurate the map is as many of the towns and stream names are no longer the same, and in fact it shows Big John and Little John near Council Grove reversed.

I have a little more information to include about our local trails thanks to Larry Timm who has loaned me some maps he’s acquired during his research on the Military Trail.  There are a number of different maps that show trails and roads criss-crossing our County.  Depending on which map you look at you might find the same road running in what seem two different routes.  I have found some mistakes on some maps such as stream names and locations, or as in the case of an 1861 survey map the Kaw Mission appears on the east bank of the Neosho rather than the west.  For the most part I believe these maps are pretty accurate in showing where the road runs.  One explanation for alternate routes is, as Larry Timm put it, “fair weather route.”  When the bottom fell out of the road an alternate route was taken.

We know that the Santa Fe Trail has a ‘high route’ and a ‘low route’ west of Council Grove.  The low route follows along Elm Creek to Helmick.  The high route lies about halfway between town and the City Lake then gradually heads southwest until it joins the Elm Creek route about a mile west of Helmick.  There are also two different routes to the town site of Diamond Springs.  One leads from the intersection of the two Santa Fe routes just mentioned, down to Diamond Springs and on to Marion Center form there.  The second called the Diamond Creek Road shown on an 1870 map, branches off the Cottonwood Falls Road at 4 Mile Creek south of the Grove and follows that creek south and west.

The road I mentioned last week that comes into Council Grove from the northeast and looks like it passed near or through Alma, I have confirmed to be the Council Grove Alma Road and actually shares the course of the Topeka and Duffield roads for a number of miles.

George Duffield came through Morris County in 1866 driving a herd of cattle to Iowa.  He came up through Indian Territory and on the 17th of August struck the Santa Fe Trail 5 miles west of Lost Springs.  The 18th found him camped at the Six Mile Creek Ranch.  He traveled 6 miles to Diamond Springs then 8 more to Elm Creek on the 19th and by the 20th had reached Council Grove and camped east of the Neosho.  His trail north begins approximately one mile east of town.  This is the cattle trail I mentioned last week as the Shawnee Trail (some maps show it as such).  On a U.S. Geological map it is labeled as the Topeka and Council Grove Road as it leaves the Santa Fe, taking a sharp turn east about six miles north of town, basically following the route of Old Highway 4.  The cattle trail branches off from this road and continues north and is labeled the Duffield Texas/Iowa Cattle Drive 1866.  This was supposed to be the longest cattle drive in history and was the inspiration for the TV series Rawhide.  Head ‘em up, move ‘em out!

Duffield kept a diary of his drive.  I have not had a chance to read this diary but I suppose we might be able to connect his drive with the following incident that John Maloy relates.  “In August (1866) a Mexican herder was shot dead by a Texan.  The latter ordered the former to go to camp, the Mexican refused to go, when the Texan drew a revolver and shot him dead in front of the old Hays building.”  A question that comes to my mind is where did they bury the departed?  Did they carry him back to camp and bury him east of town somewhere?  Or did he end up in one of the many unmarked graves in Greenwood Cemetery? What about the Texan who shot him?  Was he contained in Council Grove and tried, convicted, hung?  Or did he go scot free? We may never know.

The Council Grove Cottonwood Falls Road and the Americus Road were both in use by the time the 1861 survey map was drafted.  The former very closely followed the route of highway 177; the latter followed the route of the old Katy Railway.

A road of great interest to me is one shown on the 1870 map of Kansas Indian Lands; the Rock Creek Road.  Only about two and a half miles of it are in our County’s border, but the thing that interests me is where it joins the Santa Fe Trail at the first Agnes City site.  If you don’t remember, that is about a mile north of highway 56 east of Council Grove just before the Lyon County line.  Knowing that two roads met at Agnes City gives us a better idea of the importance of the place and the amount of activity that must have occurred there.  The road continues north following the creek and joins the Alma Road about where Chalk Mound is in Wabaunsee County.

Upon comparing these old trails and roads with a modern map, you will find, as I have already stated, that they nearly follow our present streams, highways and railroads.  The reason for this is it’s hard to improve upon perfection.  The old roads were established where they were because it was easy traveling.  Few hills to go up and down, few streams to cross and good solid ground that you weren’t likely to sink in when it got muddy.  When the railroads came along they went ahead and followed these routes as they were ideal for the rail’s needs.  There is one old road however, other than the Santa Fe, that did not follow the rules and it just cuts out across the country with no rhyme or reason, other than its final destination.  That is the Salina Road, which we know was in use by 1869.  It headed northwest out of Council Grove and cut through the southwest extremity of the City Lake.  It passed about a mile north of the Delevan Airbase and within a mile south of Latimer.  From Latimer it climbs slightly north then heads southwest until it leaves the County approximately a mile north of highway 4.

Benny King told me that he knew an old man who, when a young man, drove a couple of old ladies to Junction City.  This would have been in the nineteen-teens and there was no paved highway at that time.  They just headed out across the country in the general direction to get there.  It is possible that this man may have driven on or crossed some of these old trails on his way to Junction.

Another trail shown on the U.S. Geological Survey map shows an old trail from Ft. Riley forking off from the one we are familiar with at Skiddy and heading west a bit.  It passes west of present Latimer and eventually joins the Santa Fe Trail in the extreme southwestern corner of the County. It is identified as having been in use in 1854.  It also shows a branch forking off of this old road south of Latimer, passing about two miles west of Delevan and then joining the Santa Fe at Six Mile Creek.

Well, I think it’s fair to say that you now know about as much as I do on the subject of trails in Morris County!

I can’t post maps because the ones I have are too big to scan and would be too small to see on this site, or some that I have are poor copies.  You may follow the links below to check out some of the old maps of Morris County.

1870 map of Kansas Indian Lands.  http://specialcollections.wichita.edu/collections/maps/detailsframes.asp?var=1870-0006

KDOT map of historic trails.  http://www.legendsofkansas.com/trails.html

1863 Kansas & Nebraska map.  http://www.kansasmemory.org/item/211766

1856 map of Eastern Kansas.  http://blogs.spencerart.ku.edu/map-of-eastern-kansas-1856/

 

Council Grove Oklahoma

I’ve heard it said before that Council Grove is unique in that no other town in the United States bears the name.  Of course, to defend anything you must first challenge it.  So, I had to challenge the statement.  It may presently be true that no town bears that name, but there once existed a Council Grove, Oklahoma.  It shared some striking similarities with Council Grove, Kansas.

Council Grove Oklahoma was a grove of cottonwood, elm and oaks located approximately 8 miles west of Oklahoma City.  The City has since grown and enveloped the old Grove.  Initially the land was inhabited by the Creek Nation but many of the Plains Indians gathered there due to the good water and plentiful timber.

The year 1858 finds Jesse Chisholm of the illustrious Trail operating a trading post at Council Grove, Ok.  We don’t know for sure how early or often Chisholm traveled the Santa Fe Trail, but it is evident that he was familiar with Council Grove Kansas.  He is said to have guided a party in search of buried gold on the Arkansas River in 1836.  In May of 1866, Chisholm brought the largest bunch of buffalo robes ever to Council Grove Ks.  While here Chisholm purchased $7,000 worth of goods from Ledrick & Robbins.  Augustus O. Robbins was an older brother of Kitty Hays, adopted daughter of Seth Hays.  Ledrick & Robbins Mercantile was established in 1863 and located on the site of the western most building of Aldrich Apothecary.

Anyway, it is possible that Chisholm had passed through our Council Grove prior to his post in Oklahoma.  A number of other early Morris County entrepreneurs made it into the Indian Territory for various business ventures and we may only guess that the Council Grove of Oklahoma was inspired by the one of Kansas.

In 1859 Col. B. L. E. Bonneville escorted Congressman J. S. Phelps and the superintendent of Indian Affairs to meet with the Comanche at this grove to talk of peace and better the relations between the nearby settlers and Plains Indians.  It all fell apart before the talks ever began because the Indians were alarmed at the number of soldiers that tagged along.  Consequently, the Indians fled to the north to prevent what they thought may have been another attack on their camp like they had experienced the previous year.

A granite marker placed by the D.A.R. at the site of Council Grove states that a council between the Comanche, Kiowa and ‘Confederate Leaders’ was held there.  This statement is a bit ambiguous and it took me a great deal of research to find out if it meant the Confederate States of America or confederate bands of Plains Indians.  I believe the council referred to on the marker was between the confederate Indian tribes.  In late April of 1865, after Lee had surrendered at Appomattox, Confederate Lt. General Kirby Smith was making an effort to maintain an alliance with the Indian Territory.  However, the Indian leaders aware of the fall of the Southern Confederacy found it in their best interest to make a confederacy of their own.  Their Nation found no protection from either the North or the South, and fighting among themselves had decimated their tribes.  They were to meet on May 15th at Council Grove, but rumor of Federal troops coming to break up the meeting forced them to remove to what was called Camp Napoleon on the Washita River, May 24th 1865.

For a time in the 1870s-80s, Montford T. Johnson was operating a ranch at Council Grove.  He thought he was in Chickasaw country and therefore, contrary to government wishes, was settled on the ‘Unassigned Lands’.  Sometime later Johnson was forced to move and the U.S. Government set aside nine sections of this timber land to provide wood for Fort Reno which was established in 1874.  In 1884 William Darlington, who was an engineer and mechanic, moved a steam powered saw mill from the Darlington Indian Agency, near Fort Reno, to Council Grove.   I have not confirmed it, but I assume William was a son or some relation to Brinton Darlington who served as Indian Agent for three years before he died in 1872.  Barracks were built for the troops detailed to cut timber for the Fort, and an 1895 Rand McNally Oklahoma map shows the section marked as ‘Council Grove Mil. Res.’

In 1889 Oklahoma was opened for settlement; however the timber land around Council Grove was closed to settlers.  Folks were allowed to cut fallen timber to use for their fuel, but they soon abused that privilege by felling a tree one day and returning the next to claim it.  A few years later the land was finally available to settlers.  An advertisement in the New York Times of April 10th 1895 lists various government lands that were being opened for settlement, including ‘the timber reservation known as Council Grove, near Fort Reno, Oklahoma, containing 5,706 acres.’

Morris County may not be able to claim the only Council Grove in the nation, but we might be able to claim the only Beman, Helmick, Latimer, Skiddy and Wilsey in the nation.  And that my friends, is something.

Downing and Kelso

On Sunday October 7th, starting at 4 o’clock, the public will get an opportunity to visit the Downing Cemetery and learn a bit about the history of Kelso and Downing from the folks who live there.  Kelso is 6 miles northwest of Council Grove as the crow flies, and Downing Cemetery is less than a mile west of the Kelso Cemetery.  Larry Timm, lifelong resident of Kelso, will share what he has learned about the cemetery and the historic Military National Road.  Ralph Peterson will give a talk on the Railroad, and following there will be a dinner provided by Steve and Diane Euler at the old Kelso School, now Methodist Church.  Meal is by reservation only.

Photograph of Kelso school taken March 30, 1906. Built in 1887. (Courtesy of Carole Day.)

According to family history, William Downing settled in the Kelso area in 1858.  It was this same year that the Board of Supervisors, or what we call commissioners today, established three new voting precincts in the county.  One at June Baxter’s on Clarks Creek, one at Conn’s Ranch on Diamond Creek and one at Downing’s on the Neosho.  We are not told which Downing this was; there were two different Downing’s that had land on the Neosho River just south of Kelso.

Although Mr. Downing settled at such an early time, the history of the Downing/Kelso area goes back a little farther.  We may, with propriety, date its beginning to the time Ft. Riley was established.  In the fall of 1852 a surveying party selected a location where the Republican and Smokey Hill Rivers flow into the Kansas River.  This spot was thought to be the geographical center of the United States (and so it is marked on an 1856 map of Kansas) therefore it was named Camp Center.  On June 27th 1853, Camp Center was renamed Ft. Riley in honor of Major General Bennett Riley who is credited with leading the first military escort over the Santa Fe Trail, huzzah!

But what has this to do with Downing?  Well, the military road between Ft. Riley and Ft. Scott passes right by Downing Cemetery and Kelso.  The great number of unmarked graves in Downing Cemetery suggests that it was in use before the Downing and neighboring families were using it.  From the C.G. Rep under Kelso news of June 21st, 1895, we read that there were more than 100 burials in the Downing Cemetery at that time.  We find that Siloma Downing deeded the cemetery to the County June 5th, 1893.  In 1895 the county put up a new wire fence and gates at the cemetery.

What we know today as Kelso began as Downing Station in 1870. The Katy Railroad finished the line through there and established the station but gave no facilities.  A few years after this a side track was put in, the citizens providing the timbers and doing the work.  We learn quite a bit about Downing Station from the Report of the Board of Railroad Commissioners of November 30th, 1895.  Although the Station was established in 1870 it wasn’t until October 11th of 1895 that the depot was completed and the doors were open.  J. L. Downing, acting as trustee of Neosho Township, along with 46 other citizens of Downing Station filed their request for a depot on December 30th 1894.

From the records of the Katy Railroad Historical Society we find a description of the depot.  It was a one story frame building with office, waiting and freight rooms.  It had a 1,000 square foot platform and stock yard with two cattle pens.  One measured 36 by 33 feet and the other 26 by 48 feet.  It also had a scale, drilled well, and a passenger platform.

To date there are no known photographs of the Downing depot. However, this floor plan of the depot has been preserved. At some unknown date (possibly in the 1930s) this depot was moved into Council Grove and placed on the property of Bill Young at his Rainbow Gardens. It was believed to have served as one of the motels on the grounds. Whatever became of the structure after that is a complete mystery.

We also learn from the Commissioner’s Report that between 1883 and 1892 one firm shipped from 100-300 car loads of grain annually from the station.  There were also a good number of cattlemen in the area and it was stated that a great number of cars of livestock were shipped.  1893 to ’94 was a poor crop year and the shipments in and out of the station were only 42 car loads for a nine month period ending April 21st 1894.  The previous commission used this as an excuse to not build a depot at Downing.

After a study was complete, the current commission decided there was good reason to put up a depot.  They listed 26 buildings and 60-75 people living at the station proper.  Plus, the 500 or so people living in the area made it a promising location for a depot.

From the historic paper trail we have, it appears that Downing Station and Kelso were one and the same.  The Railroad recognized it as Downing Station, while at the same time the State recognized it as Kelso.  We can date the name of Kelso to the time the post office was established August 1st, 1881; the post closed June 30th, 1942.  The first plat we find of Kelso is dated the 11th of August, 1884.

Bridge over the Neosho River south of Kelso. (Courtesy of Morris County Historical Society.)

There are a couple stories I have come across as to how Kelso got its name.  I personally don’t believe either of them, but I’ve found a lot of things lately that I don’t believe.  Since I have no better explanation I give them for your own consideration.  It was passed down through the Downing family that William donated the land that the depot was built on, under one condition.  He did not like a Mr. Kelso and desired that the depot be named Downing rather than after Kelso.  The reason I don’t believe this is true is because I have only found one Kelso[e] that ever lived in Morris County, and he lived in the 20th century, long after Kelso was established.

The other story was found in the Morris County Historical Society archives, from ‘A Brief Sketch of the History of the Kelso United Methodist Church’.  “The conductor of the first passenger train that ran thru Kelso asked, ‘who owns that small building over there?’  Someone said, ‘Kahl’, the conductor said ‘Kahl, so?’  The town was called Kelso.”  W.D. Kahl was a landowner around Kelso and he was a charter member of the Council Grove Odd Fellows Lodge which started April 29th, 1869.  Since the railroad named and recognized the stop as Downing Station in 1870, I don’t think a conductor had any cause or authority to name the stop otherwise.

There are currently just a few farmhouses where Kelso once stood and Downing Cemetery, although public property, is surrounded by private land with no access road.  It’s funny, the commissioners were petitioned over 100 hundred years ago to put in a road to the cemetery and it is still pending.

Kelso United Methodist Church 1891-1960. (Courtesy of Carole Day.)

Addenda:  Ken McClintock found a warranty deed dated June 18th, 1892, conveying lots 3 &4 of Block 2, Kelso, to J.H. Kelso, of Kelso.  In turn, he deeded those lots to John B. Rader on September 13th, 1892.  Rader was a great-great uncle of Ken’s.  This could be the Kelso the town was named after.

During the presentation Ralph Peterson gave of the Katy and Kelso history, he stated that Ralph Scott and some other old timers that once lived there remember the side track.  Peterson wass doubtful that there ever was a side track because there is no evidence of it, the plats never show a side track, and it doesn’t appear there would be enough room for the main line, depot and a side track.  But the old timers remember the depot sat between the tracks, and it was the practice of the MKT to place sidetrack at each town it passed through, and the Railroad Commission Report stated that a sidetrack was put in.

James M. Moore was the first appointee to the Kelso post office.

Diamond Springs

Bird’s eye view of Diamond Springs.

White man claims to have discovered the waters of Diamond Springs on August 11th of 1825.  No doubt the American Indians were drinking from it centuries before that.  Ben Jones is given credit for finding the spring, and in fact, it was first named Jones’ Spring by George Sibley when the company made their survey of the Trail in 1825.

Passing by the spring two years later, Sibley writes in his diary on June 10th, 1827, “This spring gushes out from the head of a hollow in the prairie, and runs off boldly among clean stones into Otter creek, a short distance it is very large, perfectly accessible, and furnishes the greatest abundance of most excellent, clear, cold water, enough to supply an army. There is a fountain, inferior to this in the Arabian Desert, known as ‘The Diamond of the Desert.’ This magnificent spring may, with at least equal propriety, be called ‘The Diamond of the Plain.”  And so, accordingly, Sibley had the name marked on an elm tree near the spring.  The Above mentioned Otter Creek would later be known as Diamond Creek.

It is important to know that the spring and the town site were in two different locations.  The spring is located about three miles southeast of Delevan in township 16 S range 6 E section 34.  The town site is about five miles south of the spring.  I do not know for sure when the town proper was established.  It is not shown on the 1887 plat, but we do know from the following historical accounts that there were buildings and activity there very early on.

Diamond Springs was the next camping spot after Council Grove, and some say it even superseded the Grove as a rendezvous for the preparing wagon trains.  In 1849-50 Waldo Hall & Co. established a mail station at Diamond Springs.   This company had contracted for several stations along the Santa Fe Trail and they also had one in Council Grove which I have covered elsewhere.  In 1858 a new voting precinct was established at Conn’s ranch on Diamond Creek.  This shows us that there was enough population in that area to justify another precinct.  Prior to that, all elections were held in Council Grove.

View of Diamond Springs 1906. (Courtesy of Martha Senne.)

July 21st of 1859 a post office was established and George Newberry was the first postmaster.  February 9th of 1863 the post office was moved to Six Mile Creek, named for its distance from the spring, and remained there until October 3rd 1866.  By August 21st, 1868 the post office was opened again at Diamond Springs and operated until February 15th, 1930.

In 1906 Colonel Percival Green Lowe published a book of his experiences entitled ‘Five Years a Dragoon ’49 to ‘54.’  He tells of an encounter his company had in the fall of 1852.  “Nothing of special interest occurred until we reached Diamond Springs, now in Morris County.  The weather had been frosty at night and days sunny-a continuous Indian summer all the way-grass dry as powder.  We had barely a quart of corn per day for each horse, and they were poor.  All day we had seen little bands of Indians a mile or two off the road traveling the same direction that we were and apparently watching us…  Of course the Kaws knew our troop by the horses, and we knew they had no love for it, but were slow to believe they would attempt to do us any harm.  We camped on high ground a little east of Diamond Springs, on the south side of the road…  We had finished dinner, about two hours before sunset when, as if by one act, fire broke out in a circle all around us not more than a mile from camp.  A stiff gale was blowing from the south, and when we noticed it the fire in the tall grass was roaring furiously and the flames leaping twenty feet high.  Quickly we commenced firing outside our camp, whipping out the fire next to it, thereby burning a circle around it.  Every man used a gunnysack or saddle blanket and worked with desperate energy.”

After a fifteen minute firefight the men were able to save their camp. They then soaked their blistered hands and scorched faces in the creek and collapsed with exhaustion.

May 4th of 1863 Dick Yeager and his band of Missouri guerillas camped south of Council Grove approximately where Sample town is.  Yeager had a toothache and paid a visit to Dr. J.H. Bradford to have it pulled.  Meanwhile, about a dozen of his thugs road to Diamond Springs the following day and around ten that evening three of them road up to the store of Augustus Howell.  They politely shot Howell dead and shot his wife as well.   She however, recovered and remarried.

In 1865 Samuel Kingman, Chief Justice of Kansas and namesake of Kingman County, passed through Diamond Springs.  He remarked, “The remains of three buildings of stone two stories high tell their story of violence.   A good monument for the builder.   A small room used as a dramshop is all that’s left fit for use save a large stone corral surrounding 5 or 6 acres with a small supply of hay.”

Early general store in Diamond Springs. In 1911, Alex R. Gibb sold the store to Charlie Harris who went broke in 1918 after extending too much credit to customers. The building burned down shortly thereafter. (Courtesy of Martha Senne.)

By 1910 Diamond Springs had a population of 27.  Now, it doesn’t appear that the Springs was ever highly populated, but there were numerous large families that lived in the area, including Delevan and Burdick.  It did have a church, a general store and, according to the 1901 plat, two schools.  One of these schools is shown as a store on the 1923 plat.  It was a station on the Strong City & Superior division of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe by this time.  Originally it started as the Chicago, Kansas & Western in 1886 which then merged with the AT&SF February 15th, 1899.

I have a copy of Colton’s Kansas and Nebraska map that has no date on it.  Someone had penciled in a guess of ‘1863?’ but I believe the map was more likely made between 1857 and ’59.  It shows ‘Diamond City’ on the Santa Fe Road.  Today there are only a few remains of what was ‘Diamond City’ but the spring is still there and still flows.  It has been piped into a concrete trough to water the beef critters.

Addenda:  Samuel H. Shaft was the post master of Six Mile Creek.

Agnes City

Since we learned about the murder of Judge Baker by Bill Anderson, let’s talk about Agnes City some more.  Let’s start at the very beginning with the establishment of counties and their boundaries.  Wise County was established August 25th, 1855; named after Henry Wise a congressman and governor of Virginia who was pro slavery and a brigadier general in the Confederate Army.  At the time Wise County was formed the east boundary was two miles west of the present.  Breckinridge County (now Lyon) named for John C. the Kentucky congressman, later vice-president under Buchannan, later a Confederate general, was established at the same time.  When Chase County was established February 11th, 1859, Wise County was changed to Morris and lost some of its territory to Chase, but gained some of Davis County (now Geary).  February 5th, 1862 Breckinridge was changed to Lyon in honor of General Nathaniel Lyon who died at Wilson’s Creek Missouri the previous year.  In 1864 Morris gained the two mile strip on the east which contained Agnes City.

Records from the national archives state that the Agnes City post office was established in Wise County on November 1st, 1856.  According to the county boundaries this is impossible; it had to have been in Breckinridge County.  April 9th of 1857 Emanuel Mosier, postmaster of Agnes City, received a paper from the contract office to be filled out in order that the topographer could determine the relative positions of the post offices.  Mosier or somebody crossed out Breckinridge County and wrote in Morris above.  Morris was not the name of the county at the time the paper was dated.  Agnes City could not have been in present Morris County until the eastern two miles were acquired in 1864.  I leave it to a better scholar to reconcile the differences.

About 1972 an archaeological dig uncovered the foundation of Baker’s home.  One source I found said the dig site was on Ralph and Floyd Richards’ land in township 16, range 10, section 7; I assumed Lyon County as that section was very near the actual location.  I will also assume that this location is in accord with a pre-1864 map of Lyon County; a quick glance at a current plat map will show this to be incorrect as Rock Creek is nowhere near this section.  We know from historical accounts that Baker’s home and store were located on Rock Creek near the Santa Fe Trail.  Baker’s land is in township 16, range 9, section 12 of Morris County.  Patents of 1863 show this tract belonging to Baker.

Baker’s house was situated on the west side of Rock Creek and very near the Santa Fe Trail.  Over time flooding has caused the course of Rock Creek to change.  The creek now runs on the west side of the location of Baker’s house.  One source that I can neither prove nor disprove states that the store was located 100 feet southeast of the house.  During the dig performed on the premises the remains of a corset, bone handled toothbrush, pipe bowl, thimbles, spectacles, tintype and a woodwind instrument were found.  Parts of weapons were found around the doors and windows which would seem to confirm the old stories that Baker kept ammunition on his window sills in the event he needed them.  After they were done with the excavation they covered everything up again and left it as it was before, mainly to be forgotten, and prevent looting.  The artifacts that were recovered are in storage at the Kansas State Historical Society.

I must correct myself from last week as I said “So ended Arthur Baker and the first Agnes City.”  I knew this and don’t know why I said it, but that was not the end of the first Agnes City.  There were two more postmasters appointed at the first Agnes City after Baker was killed.  As I have said it is very difficult to recreate the community of the first Agnes City, but it is evident that there were a number of homes and a considerable number of people living in that area, being more or less concentrated.  The 1860 census shows that eleven persons were living in Baker’s home.  Maloy said that the Secors were living on Baker’s land.  Other foundations and ruins in the area are witness to the families who once lived there.

Possibly even greater evidence is in a little forgotten cemetery which lies just over the line in Lyon County.  This cemetery is located about three fourths to a mile east of the first Agnes City and very near the Santa Fe Trail.  Within this cemetery is a family burial plot enclosed with decorative wire fence, no stones to mark the graves, yet it has been passed down through family that a Gilbert with several children are buried there.  There are many other graves in this cemetery but only two stones; Albert and Willie Swenson.  I found the very same Willie Swenson listed on the Agnes City cemetery roll provided by the Lyon County Library in Allen.  Why is Willie listed on the Agnes City Cemetery roll when his stone and I would hope his remains are four miles away from said cemetery?  His brother Albert is not listed on the roll and I cannot figure why these two were buried at this little forgotten cemetery when the Agnes City Cemetery had been in use for nearly a decade.  It is my belief that this forgotten cemetery was the first Agnes City Cemetery.

The second Agnes City, which most readers would be familiar with today, was established in Lyon County on Bluff Creek on June 15th, 1871.  This is approximately four miles due east of the first or ‘Rock Creek’ location.  The post office at the second Agnes City operated until June 6th, 1891.  Now all that remains is a granite Santa Fe Trail marker erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution.  From 1906 to 1912 the D.A.R. placed these markers all along the Santa Fe Trail.  One was place at the location of the second Agnes City but, as I understand it, was moved to the Agnes City cemetery in 1972.