Santa Fe Trail Revisited

Council Grove is one of the best places to experience the history of the Santa Fe Trail. The course of the historic trail follows Main Street (U.S. 56 Highway) through the middle of the town. It is still possible to see the flat stone streambed where the trail crossed the Neosho River.

Ten Council Grove sites are listed by the National Park Service as National Historic Santa Fe Trail sites:

Kaw Mission State Historic Site 
Built during the winter of 1850-51 by the Methodist Episcopal Church South, the Kaw Mission served as a boarding school for Kaw (Kanza) boys until closing in 1854. One exhibit and bookstore feature the Santa Fe Trail. The Kaw Mission is administered by the Kansas Historical Society. Open Tue.–Sat. 10 am–5 pm, Sun. 1–5 pm Phone 620-767-5410.

Hermit’s Cave 
This cave was the temporary abode of an Italian hermit, Giovanni Maria Augustini. Born in 1801, this religious mystic lived here for a brief period in the spring of 1863. Later in 1863 he left Council Grove in the company of a wagon train, walking the five hundred miles on the Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico.   

Last Chance Store 
Erected by Tom Hill in 1857, the Last Chance Store was, for a brief period of time, the last opportunity for freighters bound for Santa Fe to pick up supplies for their journey, hence its name. It also the oldest commercial building in Council Grove. For several years, the building housed post office facilities and also served as a government trading house and polling place.

Conn Stone Store 
Built in 1858 by local merchant Malcolm Conn, the Conn Store was one of the two most important trading posts in Council Grove during the Santa Fe Trail days. It shared the business provided by trail travelers, the Kanza Indians, and later, by local settlers. The Conn Store has been added on to and remodeled over the years. The outline of the original store is defined by the light-colored stone on the building’s west side.

Hays House 
The Hays House was built in the late 1850s by famous Santa Fe Trail trader Seth Hays. It is known as the oldest continuous restaurant west of the Mississippi. Over the years the building has been used as a mail distribution point and a gathering place for court cases and church services. Today the Hays House is one of the finest restaurants in Kansas. It also houses an interesting display of Santa Fe Trail–related photographs and artifacts.

Seth Hays Home 
This brick house was built by Seth Hays in 1867. Hays’ slave, "Aunt Sally," lived in the basement and cared for the family until her death in 1872. While Hays never married, he did adopt a daughter in 1867. The home, operated as a museum by the Morris County Historical Society, is open in the summer on Sunday afternoons and by appointment.

Neosho River Crossing 
North of the river bridge is the main Neosho River crossing of the Santa Fe Trail. Riffles in the stream indicate the presence of a flat, hard rock streambed which would have helped make the crossing easier.

Post Office Oak and Museum 
Believed to have been over three hundred years old, this bur oak is said to have served as an unofficial post office for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail from 1825–1847. Passing caravans could leave messages for future travelers in a cache in the base of the tree. The tree trunk stands next to a stone building erected in 1864 for use as a brewery. The Morris County Historical Society has a fine museum in this building, open Sunday afternoons in the summer and by appointment.

Council Oak  
The Council Oak received its name from the council held under this tree August 10, 1825, attended by three U.S. commissioners and the chiefs of the Great and Little Osage Indians. The resulting treaty gave Americans and Hispanics free passage along the Santa Fe Trail through Osage territory in return for eight hundred dollars. Its was also at this time that Council Grove got its name. Before it blew down in a windstorm in 1958, the oak was approximately seventy feet high and measured sixteen feet around.

Simcock House 
In1860 a Council Grove merchant, Goodson M. Simcock, constructed the southwest portion of this two-story stone house. Simcock was a partner of Seth M. Hays, providing goods and services for the Kaw Indians and the Santa Fe Trail trade. He was one of the organizers and original stockholders of the Council Grove Town Company, formed in 1857. Upon Hays’ retirement in 1862, Simcock became the sole owner of the business, retiring in 1873. The "Simcock House" was added on to in 1863 and in the early 1900s. 
Join the Santa Fe Trail Association:
One of the best ways to learn about the Santa Fe Trail is to join the Santa Fe Trail Association. Headquarters of the SFTA are located at the office of Secretary-Treasurer Ruth Olson Peters, Santa Fe Trail Center, RR 3, Larned KS 67550. Telephone: 316-285-2054. E-Mail:

Publication - Wagon Tracks
Wagon Tracks
is the outstanding official publication of the SFTA. Annual subscriptions are obtained through membership in the SFTA, whose dues are fixed per calendar year. Checks should be made payable to the Santa Fe Trail Association and sent to the secretary-treasurer. Membership categories are Benefactor–$1,000, Patron–$100/year, Institutional $40/year, Business $40/year, Family $30/year, Individual $25/year, and Youth $15/year.

Join the Local Chapter - "Heart of the Flint Hills"
The Council Grove-area chapter of the SFTA is the Heart of the Flint Hills Chapter. Trail Tales is the official publication of the Heart of the Flint Hills Chapter. Subscription is obtained by membership in the Chapter and SFTA. Contact the Heart of the Flint Hills Chapter of the SFTA, 130 W. Main St., Council Grove, KS 66846.