OCTOBER 2, 2000

By Ron Parks

Council Grove in October 1850


In 2001 the Kaw Mission State Historic Site and area residents will celebrate the 150th birthday of the historic Kaw Mission. This is the second in a monthly series of articles describing themes, events, and personalities associated with the Kaw Mission 150 years ago.

One hundred fifty years ago if you had stood for a time where the Hays House Restaurant is today, you would have witnessed a succession of large military supply trains passing westward every few days along the Santa Fe Trail. As dozens of the wagons creak and rumble slowly past, men curse, bullwhips crack, oxen bawl and mules snort and squeal. There’s no escaping the dust; it gets into your eyes and nose and mouth and leaves a gritty film on your hands and face. Hundreds of fresh manure piles litter the road, baking and stinking in the sun, each adorned with a dark halo of flies.

You walk to the edge of the west bank of the Neosho immediately east of the Duckwall’s building. Below in the streambed, a narrow ribbon of water trickles over the flat, stony surface of the Neosho River crossing. For many weeks the country has been dry and hot. Across the Neosho to the east, hundreds of oaks, hickory and walnuts stand tall. Over the past three decades men with axes and saws have nibbled at the famous grove, opening gaps here and there for their campsites and wagons and animals, but most of the huge forest canopy has survived in tact, offering sun-weary travelers a respite of cool shade.

You turn back to the west and regard the tiny village with six houses and three "shops" scattered along both sides of the Road. At the location of the Farmers and Drovers Bank squats a crude log "supply depot" flanked by haystacks and a split-rail-fenced corral containing a dozen horses and mules. This is the Waldo, Hall & Co. Mail Station where each month one eastbound and one westbound stagecoach thunders in carrying mail back-and-forth between Santa Fe and Independence. The familiar clink-clang, clink-clang of a blacksmith’s hammer reverberates in the air.

Just to your right sits the modest log trading post owned by Albert Gallatin Boone. Inside, Boone’s kinsman, shrewd Seth Hays, wheels and deals with his Kaw Indian and Santa Fe-bound customers, making money hand-over-fist. The Kaws are spending their recently-issued government annuities in exchange for powder and ammunition they need for both the next buffalo hunt on the plains and a retaliatory raid they’re planning against their enemies--the Pawnees. You’re impressed with the stature of these six-foot-tall warriors with their shaved heads excepting a small braided scalp lock dangling down the backs of their necks.

Perhaps you walk into the middle of the road, turn west and look up the trail now overlain by Main Street. In front is a rough dirt surface about one hundred feet wide stretching out in a broad band across the prairie. Along the edge of the road are dusty clumps of grass and weeds. Further out the short-cropped grasses predominate, here hardly recognizable as "tall grass" prairie. To the southwest a thin, broken line of trees traces the meandering course of Elm Creek. Above and beyond the trees loom the grassy hills, stretching for miles beneath the southwest horizon in a clean, sinuous line.

To the northwest an imposing north-trending ridge, now "Belfry Hill," towers over the valley, its steep slopes covered by a wine-colored carpet of grass splotched grey with rocky out-crops. There’s movement on the lower half of this slope. About twenty men and five teams of mules are working there. Wielding shovels, sledgehammers, saws, chisels, and drills, the men work briskly at scraping dirt to expose underlying rock, then hacking and sawing and drilling into the grey limestone, removing chunks that other men swinging stone hammers shape into rough cubes. These stones, some weighing as much as three hundred pounds, will be loaded onto flatbed wagons which the mules will haul about three hundred yards northeast to a lovely point on the west bank of the Neosho River where the Kaw Mission is being constructed.

November  2000The Kaws 150 Years Ago
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