Collision - Kaw Mission Text


The intent of the U.S. Indian policy was to discourage the Kaws from hunting buffalo and trapping, and to encourage them to adopt a sedentary life devoted to agriculture. For twenty years prior to the construction of the Kaw Mission, the government had sought to direct the Kaws into a way of life that would be more acceptable to white culture.

One means of effecting this cultural transition was to educate the Kaw children. Through schooling, Kaw children could be molded into accepting white ways. As adults, these educated Indians would become the leaders of the Kaws tribe and pave the way for their people to give up their traditional hunting and religious practices and become Christian farmers.

The agents for this cultural transformation were to be Christian missionaries. Their efforts among the Kaws would be funded by the U.S. government. The government derived its revenues by the sale of Kaw lands that the tribe had forfeited in the Treaty of 1825.

In 1830, the Missouri Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church organized an Indian Missionary Society. Reverend Thomas Johnson was appointed missionary superintendent of the Shawnee Indians and his brother, William, was appointed to the same position for the Kaws. William Johnson established a mission for the Kaws near Mission Creek just west of present-day Topeka. This mission met with little success.

White Americans had little appreciation for what problems would accompany this attempt at imposing a cultural revolution on the Kaws. Many American policy-makers believed that only a few details remained to be worked out for this transformation to be a success.

In fact, there were a number of deep-seated problems that obstructed the missionaries’ progress in the 1830s and 1840s among the Kaws:

1) The semi-sedentary life of the Kaws proved resistant to attempts to change the culture.

2) There was a great deal of conflict among various Kaw villages.

3) The Kaws lived in extreme poverty.

4) There were few reliable interpreters of the Kaw language.

5) Indian agents were not enthusiastic about the missionaries’ efforts.

Despite continuous setbacks, the Methodists persisted in their efforts to sustain a school among the Kaws at Mission Creek. However, the Methodists became convinced that the only effective way to change the Kaws was to remove Kaw children from their village environment to a boarding school. Efforts were made, with limited success, to send Kaw children to the Shawnee Mission Manual Labor School near present-day Kansas City.

When the Kaws were relocated to the Neosho River Valley in 1848, the government and the Methodists saw another opportunity to pursue their education of Kaw children. In the winter of 1850-51 the Methodists from the Shawnee Mission, with government funding, constructed a boarding school on the banks of the Neosho River in Council Grove. This was the Kaw Mission.


Although the Kaw Mission did not begin to operate as a school for Kaw boys until May 1851, its construction began in September 1850. The foreman of the Kaw Mission construction crew was Allen T. Ward, an employee of the Shawnee Mission, located in modern Johnson County near the Missouri border. Ward was both a well-traveled and well-educated man. He had arrived at the Shawnee Mission in 1843, where he spent the next few years teaching Indian students and assisting the school superintendent, Thomas Johnson. While at the Shawnee Mission Ward married an Peoria Indian woman named Wahponkequa.

Allen Ward’s letters sent from the Shawnee Mission to his relatives in the East contain our best documentation of the construction of the Kaw Mission. The following is an excerpt of a letter Ward wrote to his Sister, Elizabeth, on September 1, 1850:

"...just at this time I am employing men (mechanics & laborers) to go out West 125 miles to council grove to build a School house & Missionary Station for the Kansas tribe of Indians; as all the tools & provisions have to be taken from here it is no small business to make the outfit– Tomorrow is the day appointed to start with 25 men & a number of wagons loaded with lumber &c–"

"The building is to be stone sufficiently large to accommodate 50 students as regular boarders, besides teachers, missionaries, farmers &c &c– I will be gone probably between two & three months– As I shall have some spare time I will try & write to you from the grove if I can find a conveyance to the State line– I feel some reluctance to quit my comfortable quarters here & undertake such a job where I will be exposed to many hardships & privations, but I see no way to excuse myself from going. Mr. Johnson our Supt had intended to go himself & leave me to manage the business here, but his health not being very good of late he is afraid to undertake it–"

By December 21 Ward had returned to the Shawnee Mission where on that date he wrote a letter to his family. In this letter he described the construction of the Kaw Mission.

"I started on the 4th of September with a force of about 25 hands expecting to get through the job in two months, but owing to sickness we were nearly three months in getting done the mason work; I then left the carpenters to finish their work; let out contracts for fencing and breaking two hundred acres of prairie and making some other improvements and with the rest of the workmen started for home..."

"I accomplished the work I had to do, build a large substantial stone house, with eight rooms and two halls or passages, besides two log houses and dug a well. This improvement is on the Ne-o-sho at Council Grove on a tract of land lately ceded to the Kansas Indians 125 miles west of this place..."

On February 23, 1851, Ward wrote ". . . They [the carpenters] have just got back & report the house ready to be occupied."

The Huffakers

Early in 1851 twenty-six-year-old Thomas Huffaker came to the recently-completed Kaw Mission to instruct Kaw boys in basic academic skills and Christianity. The boys occupied the four upstairs rooms as boarding students. On May 6, 1852 Thomas was wedded to sixteen-year-old Eliza Baker in the southeast room on the second floor. The Huffakers established a household and conducted classes on the ground floor. On July 4, 1853, the first of their eleven children, Susie, was born in the Kaw Mission.

In 1854 the U.S. government, acting on the advice of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, closed the school for the Kaws. The Huffakers continued to reside in the mission building until 1862 when they moved into a new house one-quarter mile northeast. Thomas Huffaker had a long and distinguished career in the Council Grove community as a businessman, probate judge, and legislator.

On May 14, 1872, tragedy struck when Susie drowned in the Neosho River within one hundred yards of the Kaw Mission. Soon after the turn of the century, Thomas and Eliza moved back into the Kaw Mission. Thomas died here on July 10, 1910. On July 5, 1920, Eliza passed away in the same room where she and Thomas had been wed sixty-eight years before.


Carl and Bertha Huffaker

In 1926 Carl Huffaker, the youngest child of Thomas and Eliza Huffaker, purchased the Kaw Mission. Huffaker had a profitable business career in Fairfax, Oklahoma before returning to his hometown of Council Grove to retire at age 46.

He and his wife, Bertha, renovated the old mission building into a fine home at a cost of $37,000. The oak floors, fireplace veneers, steam heat radiators, and chandeliers are products of this 1926 remodeling. Especially prominent is the dark brown wood composing the baseboards, ceiling moldings, doors, windows, and stairway. This is rosewood, a rare and valuable tree of the tropical rain forest.

Today the Kaw Mission orientation video is played in the room where the Huffakers and their daughter Marjorie dined. The kitchen pantry was located opposite the ladies restroom. The two-room kitchen, now a staff office, occupied the northwest corner. The large room on the west side was the living room. Upstairs were four bedrooms and two full bathrooms. One of the bedrooms was occupied by young women hired as maids.

Bertha died suddenly in the home in February 1949. In 1951 Carl sold the Kaw Mission to the state of Kansas for $23,500. Over a span of one century two generations of Huffakers had begun and ended occupancy of the historic Kaw Mission.

School Years 1851–54

" [The Kaw Mission School] averaged about thirty pupils, all boys. The branches taught were spelling, reading, writing, and arithmetic. None of them received instruction in the trades. The boys worked well on the farm."

–Teacher Thomas Huffaker, 1905

The Treaty of 1846 had provided that the government would make an annual payment of one thousand dollars to advance the education of the Kaws in their own country. In September 1850, the Methodist Episcopal Church South entered into a contract with the U.S. government, and construction of the mission was completed by February of 1851.

School began in May 1851, under the direction of Thomas Sears Huffaker, a 25-year-old teacher who had served in the same capacity at the Shawnee Manual Labor School near present Kansas City. At the most, thirty Kaws boys lived upstairs in four rooms. There were two classrooms downstairs on the west side and two rooms which served as living quarters for the staff on the east side.

Classes were held for the Kaw boys until 1854, when the school was closed because of the excessive cost–fifty dollars a year–of maintaining each student. The Kaws never responded favorably to the efforts of the church and sent to the school only boys described as "orphans and dependents of the tribe." Many members of the tribe considered the ways of white people degrading. Also, the teaching methods and cultural assumptions of the school administrators and teachers probably impeded effective cross-cultural instruction.

The white perspective on the operation of the Kaw Mission is best captured in a quarterly report penned by Shawnee Mission superintendent Thomas Johnson, who was Huffaker’s supervisor. Writing to the Office of Indian Affairs on January 21, 1852, Johnson expresses his frustration with the Kaws:

"You will perceive from the accounts that the number of scholars was only fifteen. The number might have been much larger but at the commencement of the quarter everyone of the mission family was sick & they could not take a large number & many of the Indian children were sick also, & their relations insisted on taking them with them on their Buffalo hunt.

But I hope in future we may be able to do better; though I am compelled to acknowledge that the prospect is not very encouraging. For this entire tribe of Indians are so much in the habit of stealing from every body in their reach, I am at a loss to determine how we can support a large school among them."

Other factors may have compounded the difficulties at the Kaw Mission. Huffaker, who initially had not mastered the Kaw language, relied on a mixed-blood interpreter to communicate with his students. A year after he came to the Mission, Huffaker married the sixteen-year-old Eliza Baker, daughter of the Kaw Mission housekeeper. A year later the first of their eleven children, Suzie, was born in the Kaw Mission. Considering the diverse individuals assembled under the Kaw Mission roof, chances for a successful mission operation were hardly auspicious: a young teacher and his teen-age wife, both not adept in the Kaw language, Huffaker’s mother-in-law, a baby, and a dozen or more Kaw boys abruptly uprooted from their tepee villages.

In 1855, a Kaw agent pronounced a final gloomy assessment of the Kaw Mission effort: "at present [the Kaws] have no school, and it seems that what they have had has been only a dead expense to the government; those who have enjoyed the privilege of the school heretofore are now no more than common Kaws in dress, manners, and everything else."

The Kaw Mission 1854–1951

In addition to the school for the Kaws, Thomas and Eliza Huffaker operated a school for white children in the Kaw Mission in the early and mid-1850s. The burgeoning Huffaker family lived in the Kaw Mission until 1863, when Thomas, Eliza, and their five children moved one-quarter mile northeast to a new fourteen-room house. Here the Huffakers had six more children; the youngest boy, Carl, was born in 1880.

During the Huffakers’ occupancy of the Kaw Mission, the building served as a church and Sunday School for the Methodist Episcopal Church South and as a meeting place for the community. During the "Indian scares" of 1859 and 1868 the Kaw Mission was a safe refuge for Council Grove women and children.

For a short time in 1866 the Kaw Mission was a hotel called the "Neosho House." In an advertisement in the April 20, 1866 edition of the Council Grove Democrat, proprietor John F. Schmidt promised the very best accommodations:

"The undersigned has just fitted up the Mission House for a first-class Hotel. The table will be furnished with the best the market affords. The rooms are large and comfortably furnished. The utmost attention will be shown to guests and strangers who may favor the Neosho House, to make their stay as pleasant as possible."

From the late 1870s until 1903 the Kaw Mission was the residence of one of Council Grove’s most educated and prominent citizens, Oliver S. Munsell. This versatile Illinois native was an attorney, Doctor of Divinity, author of a college psychology textbook, president of Illinois Wesleyan Seminary, banker, Kansas state legislator, publisher and editor of the Council Grove Republican, and judge.

From 1903 until 1907 Thomas and Anna Johnson and their two teen-age children lived in the Kaw Mission. Johnson, who was the probate judge of Morris County during this time, paid fifteen dollars a month rent. He conducted court in the Kaw Mission and performed many marriage services here. Much later, the Johnson’s granddaughter, Helen Torgeson Jaecke, described a dramatic incident in the Kaw Mission:

"During the 1903 flood the water was three feet and four inches deep in the house. Grandma had baked bread the day before the water came up. She had put it in a wash boiler with the lid on top. They had moved to the upstairs rooms and when the boiler came floating by the stairway, they were able to catch the boiler and so had fresh bread."

The 1903 flood was the first of five floods that inundated the Kaw Mission, which also flooded in 1928, 1938, 1941, and 1951. Since the Council Grove Reservoir was completed one mile upstream in 1964, flooding has not been a problem at the mission.

In 1907 Thomas and Eliza Huffaker moved back into the Kaw Mission. There the elderly couple resided with the new owners of the historic building, their daughter Anna Huffaker Carpenter and her husband Homer. Thomas died in his old mission in 1910. In 1920 Eliza died in the same room in which she and Thomas had been married sixty-eight years before. One year later Anna, who was then a widow, passed away.

In 1926 Carl Huffaker, his wife Bertha, and their three-year-old daughter, Marjorie, moved to Council Grove from Oklahoma and took up residence in the Kaw Mission. In that same year the Huffakers spent thirty-seven thousand dollars to remodel the building. Today visitors to the Kaw Mission can view many of these 1926 alterations including the oak floors, luxurious rosewood woodwork, steam heat system, light fixtures, and porches. In the mid-1930s the Huffakers constructed a large stone garage to the north of the mission building.

Marjorie graduated from Council Grove High School in 1941 and moved away. Bertha died in the mission in 1949. In 1951, a century after his father Thomas started to teach at the Kaw Mission, Carl Huffaker sold the property to the Kansas Historical Society for $23,500.

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