|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
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
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,
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