DECEMBER 20, 2001

by Ron Parks

The Kaw Mission: An Epilogue

This year the Kaw Mission State Historic Site and area residents celebrate the 150th birthday of the historic Kaw Mission. This is the thirteenth and final article in a series describing themes, events, and personalities associated with the Kaw Mission 150 years ago.

By the winter of 1851 Methodist Church officials acknowledged that their efforts to educate and civilize Kaw Indian children at the Kaw Mission already appeared doomed.

In his January 1852 quarterly report to the Office of Indian Affairs, Methodist superintendent Thomas Johnson, supervisor of the Kaw Mission teacher Thomas Huffaker, listed the major problems besieging the Kaw Mission operations that winter. The "mission family" was sick, the Kaw students absent on a bison hunt, and the weather was miserable.

"I am at a loss to determine how we can support a large school among them," Johnson wrote prophetically. During the three years of operating the Kaw Mission, Johnson, Thomas Huffaker and his wife Eliza, and their government sponsors never found answers to sustaining their mission here. In 1854, the Kaw Mission ceased to function as a school for the Kaws.

In 1855, a Kaw agent pronounced a final gloomy assessment of the Kaw Mission effort: "at present [the Kaws] have no school, and it seems that what they have had has been only a dead expense to the government; those who have enjoyed the privilege of the school heretofore are now no more than common Kaws in dress, manners, and everything else."

In addition to the school for the Kaws, the Huffakers operated a school for white children in the Kaw Mission in the early and mid-1850s. The burgeoning Huffaker family lived in the Kaw Mission until 1863, when Thomas, Eliza, and their five children moved one-quarter mile northeast to a new fourteen-room house. Here the Huffakers had six more children; the youngest boy, Carl, was born in 1880.

During the Huffakers’ occupancy of the Kaw Mission, the building served as a church and Sunday School for the Methodist Episcopal Church South and as a meeting place for the community. During the "Indian scares" of 1859 and 1868, the Kaw Mission was a safe refuge for Council Grove women and children.

For a short time in 1866 the Kaw Mission was a hotel called the "Neosho House." In an advertisement in the April 20, 1866 edition of the Council Grove Democrat, proprietor John F. Schmidt promised the very best accommodations:

The undersigned has just fitted up the Mission House for a first-class Hotel. The table will be furnished with the best the market affords. The rooms are large and comfortably furnished. The utmost attention will be shown to guests and strangers who may favor the Neosho House, to make their stay as pleasant as possible.

From the late 1870s until 1903 the Kaw Mission was the residence of one of Council Grove’s most educated and prominent citizens, Oliver S. Munsell. This versatile Illinois native was an attorney, Doctor of Divinity, author of a college psychology textbook, president of Illinois Wesleyan Seminary, banker, Kansas state legislator, publisher and editor of the Council Grove Republican, and judge.

From 1903 until 1907 Thomas and Anna Johnson and their two teen-age children lived in the Kaw Mission. Johnson, who was the probate judge of Morris County during this time, paid fifteen dollars a month rent. He conducted court in the Kaw Mission and performed many marriage services here. The Johnson’s granddaughter, Helen Torgeson Jaecke, recorded a dramatic incident in the Kaw Mission:

During the 1903 flood the water was three feet and four inches deep in the house. Grandma had baked bread the day before the water came up. She had put it in a wash boiler with the lid on top. They had moved to the upstairs rooms and when the boiler came floating by the stairway, they were able to catch the boiler and so had fresh bread.

The 1903 flood was the first of five floods that inundated the Kaw Mission, which also flooded in 1928, 1938, 1941, and 1951. Since the Council Grove Reservoir was completed one mile upstream in 1964, flooding has not been a problem at the mission.

In 1907 Thomas and Eliza Huffaker moved back into the Kaw Mission. There the elderly couple resided with the new owners of the historic building, their daughter Anna Huffaker Carpenter and her husband Homer. Thomas died in his old mission in 1910. In 1920 Eliza died in the same room in which she and Thomas had been married sixty-eight years before. One year later Anna, who was then a widow, passed away.

In 1926 Carl Huffaker, his wife Bertha, and their three-year-old daughter, Marjorie, moved to Council Grove from Oklahoma and took up residence in the Kaw Mission. In that same year the Huffakers spent thirty-seven thousand dollars to remodel the building. Today visitors to the Kaw Mission can view many of these 1926 alterations including the oak floors, luxurious rosewood woodwork, steam heat system, light fixtures, and porches. In the mid-1930s the Huffakers constructed a large stone garage to the north of the mission building.

Marjorie graduated from Council Grove High School in 1941 and moved away. Bertha died in the mission in 1949. In 1951, a century after his father Thomas started to teach at the Kaw Mission, Carl Huffaker sold the property to the Kansas Historical Society for $23,5000.




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