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Morris County, Kansas Santa Fe Trail -  Page 2

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Neosho River in Council GroveNeosho 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.

Historic Neosho River Crossing, Kansas"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 Hays, Founder of Council Grove, KansasSeth 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.


Hays witnessed many changes in Council Grove over his 25 years as a community leader: the Kanza/Kaw Indians were relocated to their reservation in this area; the settlement he started grew into a town; and Kansas evolved into a territory, and then achieved statehood. Hays lived in this home until his death in 1874.


This is one of just a few trail homes in the area that has been preserved near its original condition. Today, the home is operated as a museum by the Morris County Historical Society. There is an historical marker on the property. It is located on Wood Street near Hall Street (two blocks south of Main Street).


Other historic properties that once belonged to Seth Hays are the Historic Barn east of Council Grove, and the Hays House Restaurant on Main Street.




Hays Store, 1868Hays House Restaurant, Council Grove

The Hays House Restaurant, located at 112 West Main, was built by Seth M. Hays, a grandson of Daniel Boone and cousin of Kit Carson, who came to Council Grove in 1847 to trade with the Kanza Indians. He originally built a log house here, out of which he traded with the Indians, who purchased guns, blankets, flour, and tinware from him.


In 1857, he put up the large building originally called the Frame Store. The store then served citizens a trading post, restaurant, hotel, courthouse, post office, printing office, meeting and social hall,and an early, bawdier form of dinner theater.


In October, 1858, the first term of court was held in Morris County in Hays' Frame Store. The jury deliberated upon their verdict under the shade of a tree that stood in the yard.


Business was lively: in a four day period in 1860, the Kaw Indians spent $15,000 here and across the street at the Conn Store. The Santa Fe trade became increasingly lucrative. In 1863, Hays' former partner, G.M. Simcock, estimated that $40 million in freight was hauled in ox-and mule-drawn wagons through the town. In addition to supplies, the Hays House offered meals and rooms to weary traders on their eight-week trip between New Mexico and Missouri. Early patrons included Jesse James and General George Armstrong Custer.


Hays House, Council Grove, Kansas

The Hays House Restaurant today, Kathy Weiser.

This image available for photo prints & commercial downloads HERE.


It was later remodeled as the Hays House Restaurant and today, is famous as the oldest continuously operated restaurant west of the Mississippi River. Its interior provides a look at many historical artifacts, including artwork, arrowheads, other American Indian relics, and a notable crystal collection. There is an outdoor exhibit in front of the building.




Those who have occasion to stop at Council Grove, on the Santa Fe Road, will do well to 'put up' with Charles A. Gilkey [Hays' hotel clerk] ... mine host of the Hayes House. [They] ... cannot help feeling quite at home.

-- Kansas Press, July 11, 1859


Pioneer-Conn Store, Council Grove, KansasPioneer/Conn Store, Council Grove

Built in 1858 by local merchant Malcolm Conn, the Conn Store was one of the two most important trading posts in Council Grove during the Santa Fe Trail era. It first catered to the Kanza/Kaw Indians and Santa Fe Trail travelers, and later to local settlers. One of the oldest buildings still standing in Council Grove, the Conn Store provided accommodations, meals, and stables for freighters, in addition to retail operations. Rivaling the outfitting firm already run by Seth Hays on the opposite side of the street, business was brisk, so much so, that in 1864, Conn sold $24,000 in merchandise in a single month.


The Conn Store has been added on to and remodeled over the years. The outline of the original store is defined by the light-colored stone on the building's west side. Today, the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is utilized by a local business. It is located at 131 W. Main St. An outdoor exhibit is located across the street.


Simcock House, Council Grove

In 1860, Council Grove merchant Goodson M. Simcock constructed the southwest portion of this 2-story stone house. Simcock was a partner of Seth Hays
, providing goods and services for the Kaw a Indians and the Santa Fe Trail trade. He was one of the organizers and original stockholders of the Council Grove Town Company, formed in 1857. Upon Hays' retirement in 1862, Simcock became the sole owner of the business for the next 11 years, retiring in 1873. The "Simcock House" was added on to in 1863 and in the early 1900s. The house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is located at 206 W. Columbia St. The building is a private residence and not open to the public.




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