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.

Uncle Dick

In the summer of 1836, 18 year old Richens Lacy Wootton arrived in Independence, Missouri. He had spent a couple years in Mississippi on his uncle’s cotton plantation and decided to head to the West to see new sights and meet with what adventures he may.

It was at Independence that he found a wagon train consisting of seven wagons belonging to Bent and St. Vrain loaded and ready to head out for Ft. Bent. At that time, each wagon required 10 to 12 mules to pull the load. Wootton had no difficulty in getting on as a wagon man for his first trip out west. This train was to catch up with a larger train of 57 wagons and about 150 men that had started a couple days earlier. This would be Wootton’s first trip to the Council Grove, and certainly not his last.

The reader may not recognize the name of Richens Wootton, but it’s likely the nick name of ‘Uncle Dick’ Wootton would ring a bell. It appears that he was christened Uncle Dick upon his first freighting trip to Ft. Bent, and the moniker stuck ever after.

Uncle Dick spent the rest of his life, over 50 years, in the West and is well known as a mountain man, trapper, freighter, Indian trader or fighter (as the occasion called for), farmer, rancher, toll road builder/operator, shop keeper and whatever else he needed to be. His accuracy with a gun, particularly the old flintlocks, is nigh fantastic. Uncle Dick has admitted to missing shots, but those were seldom. Once he was chased by two Indians on foot when all he had was a flintlock rifle to defend himself. He stopped, took aim and dropped the leading Indian at 100 yards, then continued to load his gun for the second Indian while running.

Uncle Dick was known by practically everyone west of the Mississippi River and he knew anyone who was worth knowing. Dick hobnobbed with such notables as Kit Carson, August Claymore, Chief Conniach, James Denver, Chief Ouray, Chief Uncotash, Col. Ceran St. Vrain, Lucien Maxwell, brothers Charles and William Bent, John Fremont and even Seth Hays.

In a book about Uncle Dick Wootton written by Howard Conard in 1890, Wootton shares a short story about Seth Hays that can only tickle our fancy. It was the 1st of March 1856 that Uncle Dick started out on his first freighting trip from Fort Union to Kansas City. I’ll give you Wootton’s account in its entirety;

“When we reached Council Grove, we found the Kaw Indians about to go on the war-path. Seth Hayes (sic), who was there as a government sutler, had gotten into some trouble with one of the Indians, and killed him. The Indians swore vengeance, and things looked very warlike. I stopped there two days, waiting for matters to quiet down, and helped Hayes patch up a truce. I was better acquainted with the Indians than he was, and knew better how to settle a quarrel of that kind. He asked me what should be done, and I told him that the way to make peace with the Indians, was to pay them for the one that had been killed. I knew that this was what they expected, and that they would not be satisfied until the affair was fixed up that way. He requested me to go ahead with the negotiations, and I invited the chief to hold a conference with me. We sat down together, and after we had had a long talk, it was agreed that if the sutler would give the Indians a pony and a hundred dollars worth of goods out of his store, they would be entirely satisfied, and peace would be established. My friend the sutler was satisfied with this arrangement, the Indians got the pony and their goods, and I left them smoking the pipe of peace with Hayes, when I went on my way, congratulating myself on my success as a peace commissioner.”

Upon first reading this story I thought it may be another account of the incident Hays had with the Kaw in June of 1859; resulting in two Kaw being hanged. However, if Uncle Dick is not mistaken about the date (1856), the incident he relates above is most certainly a different episode. Given this morsel of information, it appears Seth Hays may have had more problems with the Kaw than our local history has been willing to admit to us.

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.”