DECEMBER 8, 2000

by Ron Parks

"I Accomplished the Work I Had to Do"

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

One hundred and fifty years ago, Allan T. Ward, the foreman of the Kaw Mission construction crew, fought his way through a bitter snowstorm while making the 125-mile journey east on the Santa Fe Trail from Council Grove to near Westport, Missouri. Ward and his men, most of whom were masons, were headed home to the Shawnee Mission after three months of work laying the limestone foundations and walls of the Kaw Mission. In a December 21 letter Ward described what happened:

". . . the rest of the workmen started for home as the winter had set in and the weather very cold and snowing when we left Council Grove, we had some doubt whether we could make the trip across the plains without freezing, the snow had drifted in some places that took all our forces at the wagon to get through but after five days of hard labor and severe suffering with cold we arrived at home.

"A person unacquainted with a prairie country can hardly form an idea of the danger in being caught in a snow storm on the large prairie. On the day we traveled from 110 Creek to Willow Spring, a distance of 26 miles without a stick of timber or a drop of water, the snow in many places very deep, it was so very cold that we could only keep from freezing by exercise of walking and running. We encamped however every night in the timber where we could have a large fire."

Ward and his men had come to Council Grove in early September ". . . to put up a building for a mission and school" on the Kanza (or Kaw) Reservation. He had expected ". . . 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 . . ."

Considering the size of the project, Ward’s original expectation to complete the building in two months seems wildly optimistic. The dimensions of the main building are thirty-six by fifty-one feet. The outer walls, faced with both ashlar and rubble rock, are twenty-two inches thick. These walls are twenty feet high on the north and south ends and rise to gable peaks twenty-seven feet off the ground on the east and west.

Four stone chimneys, each five feet wide, tower thirty feet above the ground on the gabled ends. And inside, two eighteen-inch thick stone walls thirty-two feet long and ten feet high line the downstairs hallway.

The twenty-five-man construction crew had to do more than just lay up the walls. The stones would have to be quarried, probably from the east side of Belfry Hill. They were then hauled to the Kaw Mission site were they were shaped and fitted into the walls by skilled masons laboring without modern construction equipment.

The individual stones vary considerably in size and weight. One of the largest, a stone laid on the fourth course in the northwest corner, measures fifteen inches by fourteen inches by forty-four inches. It weighs an estimated 924 pounds.

The mortar for the joints would probably have been made on site by means of large, round lime kilns. These clay ovens would have been placed along steep banks to provide maximum support for their chimneys. The men would have placed alternating layers of limestone and wood inside the belly of the kilns.

The wood was set on fire and allowed to burn inside the kilns until the limestone became soft and easy to pulverize into lime. The sand and gravel in the Neosho streambed would have been mined and screened to produce the mason’s sand, which was very coarse by modern standards. The Neosho also supplied the water which was mixed with the lime and sand to produce the mortar.

The men would have worked from dawn to dusk six days a week. Other factors limiting their productivity would have been the diminishing of daylight hours as autumn matured and the time and energy they had to expend to provide themselves with food and shelter in rugged frontier conditions.

Given the challenges he and his men faced and the quality of the building’s stonework, it is easy to understand Ward’s understated pride reflected in his December 21 letter: "I accomplished the work I had to do, built a large substantial stone house, with eight rooms and two halls or passages, besides two log houses and dug a well."

January  2001A Horrible Trip for Men So Poorly Provided
Back to list of Sesquicentennial Articles

Back to Mission Construction

Back to Kaw Mission Today