|This year the Kaw Mission State Historic Site
celebrates the 150th birthday of the historic Kaw
Mission. This is the twelfth in a series of articles describing
themes, events, and personalities associated with the Kaw Mission
150 years ago.
In November 1851 the operation of the school in the Kaw Mission
was beset with problems.
Superintendent of the Methodist Missions in Kansas, Thomas
Johnson, wrote a dismal report about the Kaw Mission to the
Commissioner of Indian Affairs:
You will perceive from accounts that the number of scholars was
only fifteen. The number might have been much larger but .
. . 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.
At this time the "Mission family" consisted of the
young teacher, Thomas Huffaker; the farmer, W. H. Webster, and his
family; and the housekeeper, Mrs. Baker and her fifteen-year-old
daughter, Eliza. Initially, the Methodists planned to educate
fifty Kaw children at the Mission, although thirty appears to be
the maximum number ever to attend school there at any one time.
The buffalo hunts were semi-annual treks to a region north of
the Arkansas River in present-day McPherson, Rice, and Barton
counties. Ordinarily, after harvesting their crops in early
October, the entire Kaw tribe would journey west to their hunting
grounds. Here they would spend several weeks killing bison and
processing the meat, then return to their Council Grove
Reservation by late December.
In the spring the Kaws would repeat the cycle: plant their
crops in early May, then travel west en masse to hunt
buffalo, returning by late June or early July. Ordinarily these
hunts were happy occasions for the Kaw people because food was
usually plentiful and they could roam largely unencumbered by
their white overseers.
Methodists, then later Quakers, operated schools sporadically
for Kaw children from the 1830s until the tribe’s removal from
Kansas in 1873. Frequently the churchmen’s reports refer to the
incompatibility of these seasonal buffalo hunts and the successful
schooling of their Indian charges.
Thomas Huffaker’s description of the actual operations of the
Kaw Mission school is characteristically terse: "The
branches taught were Spelling, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.
None of them received instructions in the trades. The boys worked
well on the farm."
"The Indians did not receive any religious instructions at
this time. I mean the tribe as such. Religious observance was kept
in the School and families."
The pupils were described as "generally orphans and
dependents of the tribe and were all boys." Huffaker was
assisted by an interpreter, a Kaw full-blood named William
Johnson. Kaw historian George P. Morehouse described him as
". . . fine looking, intelligent, alert and a good man."
Four rooms upstairs served as a dormitory. The classrooms and
living quarters for the instructors and their families were
located downstairs. The boys worked in fields across the Neosho.
Although a detailed description of the Kaw Mission school is
lacking, the section below describes the 1855 operations of the
Shawnee Mission, the Kaw Mission’s parent institution and place
where Huffaker received his schoolmaster training shortly before
coming to Council Grove.
"At five a.m. they [the Indian students] are
awakened by the ringing of a bell, . . . they do light work around
the farm until seven, when they breakfast.
"At nine, the school bell summons them to their
studies, which are kept up, with a short interval for recess,
until twelve, M. They dine between twelve and one o’clock, and
then resume their mental pursuits until four.
"Their tea-hour is six, p.m., and their evenings are spent
in the preparation of lessons for the ensuing day until eight o’clock;
they are then allowed to indulge themselves in indoor recreation,
until half-past eight sends them to their dormitories for the
"The only religious services which are held during the
week are the reading of a chapter in the Bible, followed by
prayer, just previous to the morning and evening meals. Saturday .
. . evening is spent in the bathroom in ‘cleaning up for Sunday.’
The Sabbath is devoted to devotional services . . . .
"They speak, as a general thing, no language but their
own upon entering the school; the first care of their instructor
is, therefore, to teach them English; this they soon learn to
speak well, though a slight, yet not unpleasant accent.
"If they misbehave, the system of discipline is nearly the
same as formerly in vogue in New England. They do not, however,
care much for any species of punishment, save that of the
Most Indians, including the Kaws, were shocked at the
missionaries’ frequent thrashing of their students as a mean of
discipline. The Indians regarded the firmly-entrenched practice of
corporal punishment as abhorrent and degrading.
This was one of many cultural dislocations compounding the
difficulties faced by both the Kaws and their white supervisors at
the Kaw Mission. The weight of these difficulties is reflected in
Thomas Johnson’s January 1852 Kaw Mission report:"But I
hope in the future we may be able to do better; though I am
compelled to acknowledge that the prospect is not very