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.
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.
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. Wagonmastersshouted, “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 Oak, Council Grove
Located 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.
Neosho River Crossing, Council Grove
River crossings on the Santa Fe Trail were tricky business. Ornery livestock and soft river bottoms compounded the hazards of easing a 2-3 ton wagon into the water and struggling up the opposite bank. The best crossing had a combination of shallow water, a rock bed, and gentle slopes.
This natural rock bed crossing site was an important river crossing on the Santa Fe Trail and one of the best documented of those on the trail. The steep banks and high water sometimes made crossings difficult, but ripples in the stream indicated the presence of a flat, hard rock streambed that would have helped make the crossing easier. During the trail era, the riverbanks sloped more gently to the water’s edge than today.
The site is just north of where U.S. Highway 56 (Main Street) crosses the Neosho River. A Riverwalk Park marks the site where an outdoor exhibit on the east side can be found.
“The creek bank, which is short and steep, made some little detention in the crossing of the wagons, they had to double teams several times. It is amusing to hear the shouting of the wagoners to their animals, whooping and hallowing; the cracking of whips almost deafening.” — Second Lieutenant William D. Whipple, 1852
The Neosho Crossing was an important river crossing on the Trail. The steep banks and high water sometimes made crossings difficult. A new Riverwalk Park marks the site located US Highway 56 crosses the Neosho River.
Seth Hays Home, Council Grove
Seth M. Hays was a shrewd, colorful, and successful trader, rancher, tavern owner, and publisher. The great-grandson of Indians in 1847. His businesses became very lucrative. He built this brick home in 1867. It was elaborate for Council Grove at that time. Hays’ black maid (and former slave) “Aunt Sally,” lived in the basement. Hays, though single, adopted a daughter in 1867, and Sally cared for the family until her death in 1872.