By Ron Parks

Construction Begins in September 1850

Next year the Kaw Mission State Historic Site and Council Grove residents will be celebrating a special event–the 150th birthday of the Kaw Mission. This sesquicentennial will be observed by programs focusing on the history of the Kaw Mission and its associated themes and personalities. During the next several months a series of articles summarizing the events of 150 years ago will be published in the Republican and the Prairie Post.

Today the Kaw Mission State Historic Site is one of seventeen historic sites administered by the Kansas Historical Society, which has operated the site since 1951. The beautifully-crafted limestone building is among ten of the oldest buildings still standing in the state. Today it houses exhibits which tell the story of early-day Council Grove, the Santa Fe Trail, and the Kaw (or Kansa) Indians. Operating hours are Tuesdays–Saturdays 10–5 and Sundays 1–5.

Although the Kaw Mission did not begin to operate as a school for Kaw boys until May 1851, its construction began one hundred fifty years ago in September 1850. The foreman of the Kaw Mission construction crew was Allen T. Ward, an employee of the Shawnee Mission, located in present-day 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 Wah-pon-ke-qua.

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 quite 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, bust his health not being very good of late he is afraid to undertake it–"

In fact, Ward’s construction party did not depart for Council Grove until three days after he wrote this letter. Their journey along the Santa Fe Trail to Council Grove would have taken about ten days.

October 2000Council Grove in 1850

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