The Early History of Council Grove
by William G. Cutler (1883)
A great deal of the history of Council Grove is embraced in the narrative history of the county, some of which it will be necessary to repeat in order that the history of the organization and growth of Council Grove as a city may be the better understood. The city is located on the Neosho River, and is 170 miles west of the Missouri River. The greater portion of the city, probably three-fourths of it, is situated on the west bank of the stream. The land upon which the city is built was once part of the territory embraced within the Kaw Reservation. The first white person that settled in Council Grove was Seth M. Hays, who came in 1847 to establish a trading post for the purpose of trading with the Indians.
The first house built in Council Grove was by him, which was a log cabin, and which stood on the north side of the old Santa Fe Trail, and but a few rods from the west bank of the river. This cabin served the double purpose of being both a dwelling and a store. In the following year, 1848, Mr. Mitchell came to the Grove as Government blacksmith, and with him came his wife, and to her is due the credit of being the first white woman that ever resided in Morris County. In 1850 E. Mosier succeeded Mitchell as Government blacksmith, and he brought his family with him.
During 1849, 1850, 1851 and 1852 several other traders found their way to the Grove and put up trading establishments. As a trading point it was well located, being on the great public thoroughfare known as the Santa Fe Trail, and being also the last point west where parties bound for Old or New Mexico or the territories farther west could purchase supplies. Being the last point westward it was, by reason thereof, the first trading point eastward from Santa Fe, so that, in point of trade, it had a double advantage.
From 1849 to 1854 was a very prosperous period for Council Grove, and the reputation it had acquired as a trading post made it a point well known, as least to all those who mediated a trip across the plains.
It may be worth noting, before proceeding farther, how the place obtained its name, which, as told by the early settlers, was in the following manner. People from the States who were engaged in trade with Mexico and emigrants bound for the far West would meet here and made up trains, and the council together as to what should be done to secure the greater safety while traveling across the plains. Hence the name "Council," and the fact that their place of councilling was in a beautiful grove on the bank of the river furnished the word "Grove," and to these two facts the city is indebted for its name. At that time all danger to be apprehended from Indians lay west of this point, and it frequently occurred that the distance from Council Grove to danger was not very great.
In 1854 the men doing business in Council Grove were S. M. Hays, Choteau Bros., Columbia Bros. and C. H. Withington; and these, with a few employees, and several men in the employ of the Government, constituted the entire settlement, not only of Council Grove but of Morris County.
In 1858, the Legislature passed a special act by which the Town Company of Council Grove was incorporated, the incorporators being T. S. Huffaker, Christopher Columbia, S. M. Hays and Hiram Northrup. Under the corporate authority thus conferred, the town site was surveyed, and although Council Grove had an existence as a trading post since 1847, its corporate existence dates only from 1858. In 1860 there were but two stores in town, one conducted by S. M. Hays and other by M. Conn. The first hotel in the town was built by M. Gilkey in 1856, on the south side of Main street, directly opposite the log cabin erected by S. M. Hays, in 1847.
The first house built in the town, aside from the log cabin referred to, was erected by Baker and Sewell. Although from its first start the place had done considerable business, yet its permanent growth was rather slow. Its business was derived chiefly, if not wholly, from the Indians and from trains traveling over the Santa Fe Trail, all of which had to pass through Council Grove, the main street of which is part of the old trail. When it is understood that the population of the entire county in 1860 was 770, it will be seen that Council Grove at that time could not have had many inhabitants.
For the next year or so the population rather diminished than increased, owing to the terrible drouth (sic)of 1860, which left Kansas waste and desolate. In 1866, the prosperity of the town received another serious blow by the removal of the Stage Line Company to Junction City, thereby cutting off its heretofore prosperous trade with the West and with the trains crossing the plains. On the 30th of April, 1869, the town was raised by virtue of an act of the Legislature to the grade of a city of the third class.
In June, 1870, the first election was held for city officers, at which R. B. Lockwood was chosen Mayor, A. J. Hughes, City Attorney, and S. M. Strieby, City Clerk. Prior to be raised to a city of the third class, the town government consisted of a board of trustees. In July, 1870, a savings bank was instituted, and commenced business with the following officers: G. M. Simcox, president; T. S. Huffaker, vice-president, and J. W. Simcox, cashier. The bank was a company affair, whose management was under the direction of a board of directors.
On the night of May 14, 1870, occurred one of the most appalling disasters that could befall a community. It was not one of those catastrophes by which, in a few hours, many are impoverished and many more rendered homeless by some accidental conflagration, or the demon-like work of some incendiary, but one of those touchingly sad and heart-rendering occurrences that falls like a pall over a neighborhood and awakes a chord of sympathy even in the most adamantine heart. It was on the evening of the anniversary of the organization of the Methodist Sabbath School at Council Grove, and to commemorate the even, exercises were held in Huffaker's Hall, over the room now occupied by Mr. Rigdon as a grocery store.
There exercises were largely attended, and among those in attendance were J. B. Somers and Mrs. Annie Baker Somers, his wife, and in their company was Miss Susie Huffaker who was the first white child born in Morris County. Somers and his wife had been but recently married, and were staying, temporarily, at the home of Mr. Huffaker, on the east side of the river, and in going to the exercises Miss Huffaker accompanied them. For some time previous considerable rain had fallen, and the river was well up, but still fordable.
Early that evening, however, one of those terrible storms set in, the approach of which comes with the suddenness of a thunder clap, and whose fierceness suddenly awakens people to full realization of what terrible danger lurks in the fury of the elements. Impenetrable darkness seemed to envelop the earth and it was only by the momentary flashes of light, occasioned by the red and lurid lightning, to be succeeded by darkness more dense, that things became visible. Peal after peal of thunder sent forth their startling sounds and rolled away until the rumbling noise resembled the roars occasioned by the firing of some hundreds of pieces of artillery in some distant battlefield.
Water fell in torrents, and as it rushed down the hillsides and through the ravines seeking the Neosho it sounded like a great cataract. In a short time the river was full to its capacity and fording at any point was utterly impossible. It was on this evening and while the storm was yet raging that Mr. Somers, before the exercises were over, left the hall and went to the livery stable kept by P. B. Roberts, and induced him to hitch up a double-seated buggy for the purpose of taking himself, wife and Miss Huffaker home. The storm was not yet over when Roberts drove up to the hall, and Somers and his wife and Miss Huffaker got into the buggy.
Somers directed Roberts to cross at the ford north of town by the old Mission School. Some of his friends, on hearing the directions he had given the driver, remonstrated with him against undertaking to cross the ford upon such a night. They pointed out to him the great danger he would incur by taking such a step, told him of the swollen condition of the river, begged him to give up the idea of crossing at the ford and urged upon him to cross on the bridge. All the advice given was unheeded by Somers and telling the driver to cross at the ford they started.
The river was very high and constantly rising, and the approach to the ford from the west was very steep. The horses went dashing though the darkness and going down the descent from the old Kaw Mission had acquired unmanageable speed. Into the water they plunged furiously, but scarcely had they entered it when the buggy was upset and its four inmates thrown into the angry stream. A wild shriek of despair rent the air and in a short time, through darkness and storm, men and women were hurrying towards the scene of the disaster.
Soon large crowds were gathered on either side of the river, but to aid them was impossible, for with that last despairing shriek they were carried by the rushing waters far beyond the reach of human succor. It was a wild night, and although the fury of the storm had, to some degree, abated, it still raged with considerable wrath. Rafts were constructed and search made for the bodies, although upon such a night it was a hopeless task. All night long people kept watch along the banks of the river, and lanterns moving to and fro shone like so many ignes fatui through the darkness.
Many were the prayers that went up from sorrowing hearts that night on the banks of the Neosho for those that had perished. Fruitless was the all-night search, and when the morning of the 15th broke in not a trace of the lost had been found, nor were their bodies discovered until the afternoon of that day when they were taken out of the water and restored to their mourning relatives. This sad disaster fell like a pall over the entire community, and gloom and despair seemed to have entered every household. The victims of the catastrophe were all well known and much respected and had a large circle of relatives in Morris County.
The sad fate of Miss Susie Huffaker was for a long time very deeply felt, and even now, twelve years after the sad accident occurred, those who speak of her mention her name with feelings of deepest tenderness. She was a young lady possessed of high talents and rare accomplishments, and her always happy and joyous disposition made her a great favorite in the community. Within a few rods of where she was hurled to her untimely end she first saw the light of day, having been born sixteen years before in the Kaw Mission building that stands at the end of the west approach to the ford, and in which her father had endeavored to teach the Indians from 1850 to 1854. She was a great favorite with the Kaw tribe, and to show the great respect they bore her and her family, about 300 of the tribe attended her funeral. It was a sad, sad accident, and many were the stricken hearts that were left to mourn.
By enactment of the Legislature, in 1862, where two or more school districts consolidated they could form a graded school. By virtue of this law a graded school was established in Council Grove in 1868, of which F. P. Nichols was the first principal. A very fine school building was erected and the school was prospering finely when, on November 9, 1875, the town was visited by a fire which destroyed not only the school building, but Shamleffer's mill and other property, entailing a total loss of $35,000. No steps were taken to rebuild the schoolhouse until the present year, and there is now in course of construction a very elegant stone building for school purposes which will be ready for occupancy about the close of the year.
Council Grove is the seat of justice in the county, and the court house is a commodious solid stone structure, built with the double object of convenience and durability. Here all the county officers have their offices, all of which are large and well ventilated.
The town is beautifully located, the greater portion of it being situated on the high level land lying between the west bank of the Neosho and Elm Creek, these two streams forming a junction almost at the limits of the corporation. Although the town is surrounded by a large tract of rich and beautiful country, its growth has been somewhat slow, which, doubtless, is attributable to the doubtful and protracted litigation that has but recently terminated, over the title to the land embraced in the town site. The business houses of the town are mostly constructed of brick or stone, although several inferior frame buildings are still in use.
In East Council Grove there is a large steam flouring mill, two small stores and one hotel, the Neff house. In the west part of town there are nine grocery stores, five dry goods and clothing, one boot and shoe store, one hardware exclusively, three drug stores, one millinery and dry goods, one furniture, two hardware and groceries combined, three restaurants and confectioneries, two jewelers, three livery stables, one lumber yard, three hotels and four churches.
The Farmers' and Drovers' Bank was incorporated March 20, 1882, by W. H. White, president; H. W. Gildemister, cashier; P. S. Jones, vice president; and six others, A. W. Hinchman, B. R. Scott, James Watkins, J. W. Dumm, Jacob Barth and J. M. Henson, who, with the president, vice-president and cashier, compose the board of directors. The bank has a paid-up capital of $50,000 represented by 500 shares, consisting entirely of Morris County capital, its stockholders being all residents of that county. Council Grove has now a population of about 2,000.
The Press, Churches, and Societies
The first newspaper started in the county was in 1859, and was named the Kansas Press. S. N. Wood was editor and proprietor. In 1861, Wood sold to A. I. Baker, who changed the name of the paper from the Kansas Press to the Council Grove Press. After running the paper for about a month of so Baker suspended publication, nor was it revived again until 1863, when Col. S. N. Wood, having returned from the army, re-took possession of the paper and resumed its publication. It remained under his management until 1865, when it passed into the control of Rev. J. E. Bryan, who, in the same year sold it to one E. F. Campbell, who published it as a Democratic paper until 1866, under the name of the Council Grove Democrat, at which time it was removed to another county.
In 1868, W. H. Johnson established and published the Advertiser, which was Republican in politics, but in 1870 the press and material were taken to Salina, in Saline County. Before the discontinuance of the Advertiser, S. M. Hays had started, in 1870, an opposition paper named the Democrat, which he continued to publish until October, 1871, when he sold out to John Maloy and J. H. Dyer. Under this management it was continued, with John Maloy as editor, until 1872, when Maloy purchased Dyer's interest. From this time until 1876 the paper was published regularly with John Maloy as sole editor and proprietor. During this year Maloy sold a half interest to F. H. Dunn, and under their joint management the paper was conducted until January, 1877, when Maloy severed his connection with the paper and sold his half interest to Dunn.
In 1871, the Republicans having no organ, procured the services of one H. R. Gregory and started the Chronicle, which was published until late in 1872, when it was discontinued.
In 1872, the Morris County Republican was established, with J. F. Bradley as editor and proprietor, but after a few months he sold to Peter Moriarty, under whose management the paper was published until his death in 1875, when it passed into the hands of his son, F. A. Moriarty, by whom it was edited until September, 1875, at which time the Republican and Democrat, consolidated (strange mixture), and the new paper was published under the contradictory name of Republican and Democrat, with Moriarty and Dunn as editors and proprietors.
Under this name and management the paper was published for several months, when Moriarty bought Dunn's interest, after which the name Democrat was dropped and the paper resumed its original name of Republican under which it is still issued. On the 28th of May, 1881, Mr. Moriarty sold the paper, press and material to O. S. Munsell, who, as editor and proprietor, continues to publish regularly under the name of Republican. Its circulation is 900, has a large advertising patronage, and is issued on Friday of each week.
Morris County Times.--This paper was established in Council Grove, September 5, 1879, by E. J. Dibble, who was and continues to be, sole editor and proprietor. In October, 1871, the name of the paper was changed to the Kansas Cosmos, and under this name it continues to be published. In politics it is Democratic, has a circulation of 850, its advertising columns are liberally patronized, and is published on Thursday of each week.
Methodist Episcopal Church, South.--This was the first religious society established in the county. It was organized in 1857. It was organized with eight members. The pastor in charge was Rev. J. H. Pritchar . Their place for assembling for worship was the old mission building where they met twice each month. The present membership is eighty-seven and pastor is Rev. H. L. Anderson. They now meet for worship in a neatly built church edifice which was erected in 1869. A Sabbath school, which is largely attended, is conducted in connection with the church.
Presbyterian.--Organized in 1859, with eight members. The pastor was Rev. Mr. Nash. The following year the pastor left and the organization became disintegrated. It was not reorganized until 1874, when Rev. Timothy Hill organized a society at Council Grove, and one in Ohio Township. In 1875, another society was organized at Parkerville, by Rev. G. A. Irvin. The three societies number about 125 members. They have no church edifice, but the society at Council Grove rent a hall which is used only for divine service. The pastor is Rev. G. A. Irvin, who officiates for all the societies.
Congregational.--This society was organized in Council Grove, in 1862, with a membership of seven. The pastor was Rev. C. G. Morse. In 1872, the society erected a very beautiful brick church edifice. Its present membership is thirty-five, and the pastor is Rev. L. Armsby. There is also an organization of this church at White City, with a membership of sixty, whose pastor is Rev. W. D. Webb. This society has now in course of erection a frame church building.
Christian Church.--This is the strongest organization in the county. It was first organized by Rev. Solomon Brown, in 1859. It has four organizations in the county. One at Council Grove with a membership of twenty-six; one in Elm Creek Township with a membership of ninety; one in Ohio Township with a membership of fifty-five, and one in Neosho Township with a membership of forty, making a total membership in the county of 211. They have no church edifice. The officiating pastor is Rev. W. F. Parmeter.
Methodist Episcopal Church.--This is a separate and distinct organization from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The first organization of this church in the county was at Downing's schoolhouse, several miles from Council Grove, and in 1860. It was organized by Rev. Mr. McNulty. Since that time four other societies have been organized, one at Parkerville, one at Skiddy, one at Council Grove and one at White City. The society at Council Grove has a membership of sixty, and a few years ago erected a very fine stone edifice as a place for public worship. The pastor is Rev. J. W. Wilson.
Baptist Church.--The first organization of this church in the county was effected at Council Grove in 1870, the membership at that time numbering fourteen. The pastor was Rev. Thompson Dean. The growth of the organization has been slow, its membership now numbering only thirty-one. The present pastor is Rev. C. King. It has no church edifice.
In connection with all these churches, Sabbath schools are conducted, which are largely attended. For a number of years all the churches in Council Grove consolidated for Sabbath school purposes, and the scholars all attended one school, which was known as the Union Sabbath School; but of late years each church has conducted its own Sabbath school.
Society of Friends.--This society has quite a strong organization in Valley Township, which was formed in 1867. The organization was formed by a colony of Friends who located in Valley Township about fifteen years ago. They have a very fine stone meeting house, where they meet regularly every Sabbath for worship.
Roman Catholic.--This church is not numerically strong in the county, probably not exceeding in all, 100 members. The county comprises one parish, and it is only at intervals that services are held.
African Methodist (colored).--This church society was organized in Council Grove in 1871. At the time of organization it had fourteen members. The first pastor was Rev. W. Carter. The society has grown until it now numbers thirty-six members. The present pastor is Rev. J. Meyers (colored). The society has a frame church building.
Baptist (colored).--This church has a society in Council Grove of twenty-five members. Its organization is of recent date. The society has a pastor, Rev. John Davis (colored), but no church building.
Council Grove Lodge, No. 43, I.O.O.F.--Organized April 9, 1869, with five charter members as follows: Isaac Sharp, N.G.; J. T. Stevenson, V.G.; H. D. Preston, Sec.; Charles Columbia, Treas., W. D. Kahl, O.G. Present membership, eighty-two. Present officers: A. W. Simcock, N.G.; G. A. McMillan, V.G.; R. M. Armstrong, R.S.; C. H. Shafer, P.S.; A. G. Campbell, Treas.
Centennial Encampment, No. 31, I.O.O.F.--Organized March, 1876, with nine charter members. First officers: J. T. Stevenson, C. P.; A. G. Campbell, S.W.; S. M. Corey, J.W.; M. D. Shields, S.; W. D. Kahl, Treas.; E. S. Bertram, H. P. Present membership, twenty-eight. Present officers: R. M. Armstrong, C.P.; W. R. Sutton, S.W.; J. J. Croley, J.W.; C. H. Shafer, S.; A. W. Simcock, Treas.; Isaac Sharp, H.P.
Council Grove Lodge, No. 36, A., F. & A. M.--Chartered October 21, 1862. Organized with seven members. First officers: Thomas White, W.M.; C. Carey, S.W.; R. B. Lockwood, J. W. Present membership, seventy. Present officers: W. H. Gildmeister, W. M.; J. J. Croley, S. W.; C. L. Knight, J. W.; M. F. Yeager, Sec.; C. H. Strieby, Treas.; D. A. Reid, S. D.; J. S. Provine, J. D.; H. H. McCardell, T.
Council Grove Lodge No. 6, A.O.U.W.--Organized April 20, 1878, with thirteen charter members. First officers: P. M. W., J. T. Bradley; M. W., E. S. Bertram; F., H. C. Finney; O., H. H. McCardell; R., E. P. Dyer; Rec., W. M. Shamleffer; Fin., A. J. Hughes. Present membership, sixty-one. Present officers: P. M. W., W. R. Tolbert; M. W., J. M. Miller; F., J. G. Henretzi; O., H. Stewart; R., E. S. Bertram; Rec., W. M. Shamleffer; Fin., L. Mead. This lodge has furnished two Grand Masters to the State, E. S. Bertram and J. T. Bradley.
Crescent Legion No. 7, Select Knights, A.O.U.W.--Organized July 12, 1881, with ten members. First officers: S. C., J. T. Bradley; V. C., B. W. Day; Lt. C., H. Wiegand; R. T., E. S. Bertram; Treas., Ewing Smith; Rec., A. P. Withington. Present membership, thirty-four. Present officers: S. C., E. S. Bertram; V. C., C. L. Knight; Lt. C., A. J. Marks; R. T., F. T. Behring; Treas., W. F. Shamleffer; Rec., A. W. Simcock.
Wadsworth Post, No. 7, G. A. R.--Organized 1877, with fifty members. First officers: P. C., F. P. Nichols; S. V. C., A. J. Hughes; J. V. C., P. H. Titus; Adj., A. B. Spencer; Q. M., J. B. Murray; Surg., S. H. Martin; O. of D., John Thomas; O. of G., George Coffin; Chap., Rev. L. Armsby; Q. M. S., J. B. Munson. Present membership, seventy-five. Present officers: P. C., J. C. Carpenter; S. V. C., J. S. Earlyman; J. V. C., George Coffin; Adj., A. B. Spencer; Q. M., J. D. Munson; O. of D., F. P. Nichols; O. of G., James Monroe; Chap., Rev. G. A. Irvin.
Agricultural Society.--In 1873, a number of citizens in the neighborhood of Parkerville, deeply interested in the pursuit of agriculture and stock raising, organized in accordance with the requirements of law, a county agricultural society, which has been in existence since that time, and which has been conducted very successfully and is now in a very prosperous condition. The published premium list of the society shows very liberal rewards offered to exhibitors and their annual fairs are well attended and always characterized by good display of stock, and articles exhibited, the greater portion of the latter being of an agricultural character.
Their annual fairs generally hold for four days. They have a very fine fair ground close to the town of Parkerville, with excellent accommodations for fair purposes and every convenience for those who attend. The fair grounds are valued at $1,000, and the improvements made thereon at between $400 and $500. The grounds are enclosed by a fence except on the river side. There is a good half-mile track on the grounds, and sufficient trees to furnish ample shade. A good well and river furnish an abundance of water.
Council Grove Exposition Company.--This is a company formed for the same purpose as the Agricultural Society, and is a rival to the regular County Society. It was organized in 1879, by gentlemen in and about Council Grove. This company also has a fair ground located on the east side of Neosho, and about a mile from the business portion of the town. The grounds are enclosed with a board fence, inside of which is a race track. The company holds annual fairs, or expositions, at which premiums are offered, stock and other articles exhibited, and business conducted just as at a fair.
Council Grove is located at 38°39'38N, 96°29'23W (38.660678, 96.489672). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.6 km² (1.8 mi²), all land.
As of the census of 2000, there were 2,321 people, 1,002 households, and 634 families residing in the city. The population density was 500.6/km² (1,293.2/mi²). There were 1,099 housing units at an average density of 237.1/km² (612.3/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 98.23% White, 0.26% African American, 0.22% Native American, 0.22% Asian, 0.47% from other races, and 0.60% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.11% of the population.
There were 1,002 households out of which 29.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.3% were married couples living together, 8.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.7% were non-families. 34.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 19.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.24 and the average family size was 2.90.
In the city the population was spread out with 24.7% under the age of 18, 6.5% from 18 to 24, 23.8% from 25 to 44, 21.7% from 45 to 64, and 23.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females there were 89.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 82.8 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $28,949, and the median income for a family was $37,061. Males had a median income of $29,500 versus $20,625 for females. The per capita income for the city was $20,189. About 7.4% of families and 8.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 8.7% of those under age 18 and 15.6% of those age 65 or over.