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Kaw Mission

Kaw MissionWhen the Santa Fe Trail was the great highway between the Missouri border, then the western limit of American settlement, and the Spanish town of Santa Fe, Council Grove was an important waypoint on the route. Situated on the Neosho River, it was a natural stopping place, well watered with abundant grass and timber.

At this grove in 1825 the U.S. commissioners negotiated with the Osages for a passage across their lands. This right-of-way, surveyed by the government in 1825-1827, became the Santa Fe Trail as it is known today, and from this council with the Osages the town took its name. 

Seth Hays

In 1846 a treaty with the Kansa or Kaw gave them a diminished reservation 20 miles square that included the site of present-day Council Grove. Traders and government agents soon followed the tribe to the new location. Seth M. Hays, the first white settler at Council Grove, established his home and trading post in 1847 just west of the Neosho River on the north side of the Santa Fe Trail. 

The treaty of 1846 had provided that the government would make an annual payment of $1,000 to advance the education of the Kaws in their own country. In 1850 the Methodist Episcopal Church South, which had ministered to the tribe since 1830, entered into a contract with the government, and construction of the mission and school building was completed by February 1851.

The building was of native stone, two stories high, with eight rooms, and was designed to accommodate 50 students as regular boarders, in addition to teachers, missionaries, and farmers. School began in May 1851 under the direction of Thomas Sears Huffaker, a 24-year-old teacher who had served in the same capacity at the Shawnee Manual Labor School near present-day Kansas City.

Approximately 30 Kaw boys aged 6 to 17 years, moved into the mission to live upstairs in four dormitory rooms. It was the goal of the Methodist Episcopal Church South to teach the boys academic subjects, farming, and Christianity at the Kaw Mission.

Classes for Indian children were held until 1854, when the school was closed because of the excessive cost—$50 a year—of maintaining each student. The Kaws never responded well to the efforts of the missionaries and sent to the school only boys who were orphans or dependents of the tribe. Girls did not attend the school.

During this period the school averaged about 30 pupils a year. Instruction was given in spelling, reading, writing, and arithmetic. The Indian boys showed facility in learning the principles of agriculture, but they received no instruction in the trades.

A treaty with the Kaws in 1859 provided that the reservation be further diminished to an area nine by 14 miles. These lands were relinquished in the 1870s, and the Kaws moved to a reservation in present-day Oklahoma.

Thomas HuffakerThe mission building and grounds were sold to Thomas Huffaker in 1865, and he continued in possession for 14 years. Thereafter, several individuals owned the property until 1926 when Carl I. Huffaker, one of Thomas' sons, bought the land on which the mission building stands.

In 1951 the Kansas Legislature authorized the purchase of the mission property from Huffaker, and the Kansas Historical Society, as trustee for the state. Kaw Mission was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and now operates as Kaw Mission State Historic Site.

Entry: Kaw Mission

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: August 2002

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.