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.