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Morris County Santa Fe Trail

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Santa Fe Trail through Morris County, KansasMorris County

Just about a mile beyond Agnes City in Lyon County, the trail made its way into present-day Morris County, Kansas.

The trail entered Morris County about seven miles east of Council Grove, and in crossing the county dropped south some six miles.


Seth Hays Barn, Council Grove


About one mile east of Council Grove, north of the Morris County Fairgrounds off of US 56 is an old stone barn that was built by Council Grove founder Seth Hays in 1871. Later, the 76 foot long native stone barn became part of the Morris County Poor Farm which was situated on the site from 1889-1945.


Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the historic barn was in danger of collapse until repairs were made in the 1990's. Gatherings at the Old Stone Barn in June are re-enactments of the Santa Fe Trail rendezvous.




Seth Hays barn, Council Grove, Kansas

This limestone barn was built by  Seth Hays for his livestock. It was later used as a "Poor House." Today, it is listed on the national Register of Historic Places. Kathy Weiser, September, 2009. This image available for photo prints & commercial downloads HERE.


The route then continued into Council Grove once crossing Big John Creek and running close by the Big John Spring, which, at one time, held numerous stones bearing inscriptions, names and dates. Unfortunately, today, Highway US 56 travels right over this historic site.


The trail then entered Council Grove, the most noted stopping place between the Missouri River and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Here, a treaty with the Osage Indians was made on August 10, 1825, for a right of way of the trail across the Plains, and for years it was the last chance to obtain supplies. Council Grove's Main Street, on both sides of the Neosho River, marks the course of the trail.


Council Grove


One of the busiest places on the Santa Fe Trail, soldiers, freighters, gold seekers, Council Grove to form caravans before crossing the 624 miles of mostly treeless plains. Here, travelers would elect officers for the caravan and establish rules for travel. During the trail's heydays, Council Grove was a place of early morning racket, dust, and confusion as wagons bound for Santa Fe rattled and jockeyed for position to form a train. Wagon masters shouted, "Catch up!" to the teamsters -- then "Stretch out!" as the wagons began to move.


“The warmest description will scarce convey to the untraveled readers even a faint picture of this very beautiful grove…A crystal stream meanders over its pebbly bottom while the sun blazes upon the surrounding desert we sat…fished, bathed, read, sang, talked of home, and of the strange country we were about to visit, of the wild travel we had yet to encounter.”

— Matt Field, Council Grove, 1839


Council Grove, Kansas, 1885

The Santa Fe Trail ran right down Council Grove's Main Street. Vintage photo, 1885.

This image available for photo prints & commercial downloads HERE.


Council Oak, Council Grove


Council Oak Treaty, Council Grove, KansasLocated on U.S. Highway 56 (E. Main Street), near N. 4th Street, is the old Council Oak. This old tree received its name from a council that was ostensibly held under this tree on August 10, 1825. This council, which was attended by three U.S. commissioners and the chiefs of the Great and Little Osage Indians, resulted in a treaty that - in return for an $800 payment - gave Americans and Hispanics free passage along the Santa Fe Trail through Osage territory. This meeting was also the namesake of Council Grove, a trailside community that was founded in the late 1840s, because of the mile-wide grove of hardwood timber in the area.The council was comprised of US Commissioner George C. Sibley, and two others, who negotiated with Pa-hu-ska (White Hair), head chief of the Great Osage tribe; and Ca-he-ga-wa-ton-ega (Foolish Chief), head chief of the Little Osage tribe. A mountain man, known as "Old Bill" Williams, served as translator.


The treaty not only granted passage through Osage Territory, but, also authorized that a road would be marked from the western frontier of Missouri to New Mexico. In addition to the $800 payment, the Osage also received ribbons, tobacco, calico, and other good from the US Commissioners.


At the time of this negotiation, the Kanza/Kaw Indians were hunting buffalo to the west. Sibley caught up with them at Dry Turkey Creek (a few miles south of the Santa Fe Trail near present-day McPherson) and signed an identical treaty with them six days later.


The tree itself was destroyed by a storm but, the stump remains under a protective canopy. It is located on East Main Street, where an outdoor exhibit can also be found.


Post Office Oak, Council Grove


Also located on East Main Street is the Post Office Oak and Museum. The old Oak tree once served as the unofficial post office for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail from 1825-1847. The oak tree that stood here had a hole in its base that was used by Trail travelers as a cache for mail and messages left to  inform others of trail conditions. The tree died in 1990 and only the trunk remains of this 300-year-old bur oak today. The adjacent stone house was built in 1864 as a residence, with a brewery in the basement. It now is a museum operated by the Morris County Historical Society.




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Post Office Oak, Council Grove, Kansas

Post Office Oak in Council Grove, Kathy Weiser,  October, 2006.

This image available for photo prints & commercial downloads HERE.


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