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Seth Millington Hays

Hays, SethBorn: April 23, 1811, Callaway County, Missouri. Died: February 3, 1873, Council Grove, Morris, Kansas.

Seth Hays, the first white settler of what was to become Council Grove, Kansas, was born April 23, 1811. Hays came to the Council Grove crossing on the Santa Fe Trail in the spring of 1847 to open a trading post for the Westport mercantile firm of Boone & Hamilton. He constructed a log structure west of the Neosho River on the north side of the Santa Fe Trail, now Council Grove’s Main Street. Within five years Seth Hays bought out Boone and Hamilton and traded under his own name. In 1858 to 1859, after taking on G. M. Simcock as a business partner, Hays built a two-story wood-frame store building and named the business S.M. Hays & Co. Widely known as the “oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi River,” this building stands today in Council Grove and operates as the Hays House.

Hays, who never married, brought Sarah Taylor, a slave, with him when he came to Council Grove. In addition to keeping house and cooking meals, “Aunt Sally,” as she was commonly known, helped Hays in the trading post and served as cook for those who frequented the store. When Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state January 29, 1861, Sarah chose to remain with Hays as a servant.

In 1859, with hundreds of travelers coming through Council Grove on their way to find gold in the Rocky Mountains, business was booming. By 1860 times were so prosperous that the newly formed Council Grove Town Company began selling lots and soon there were many homes under construction in the town. Hays moved into a brick house he built near the bank of the Neosho River northeast of the store.

On November 16, 1861, Kittie Parker Robbins was born in the mail station to her mail-carrier father James and his wife. When serious complications during childbirth resulted in the death of Kittie’s mother, the baby was brought to the Hays home to be cared for by Sarah. Robbins placed two older sisters in foster homes and the family was never reunited. In 1867 James Robbins allowed Hays to adopt Kittie. At 50 years of age bachelor Seth Hays became the father of Kittie Parker Robbins Hays. James Robbins died the next year.

Hays sold his business interest in M. S. Hays & Co. to his parter, G.M. Simcock, in 1862, retaining ownership of the store building and renting it to Simcock. Hays then moved to a ranch in Colorado where he lived for about three years, returning to Council Grove in 1865. On January 1, 1866, Simcock moved his business across the street to the building that is known today as the Trowbridge building and Hays resumed trading in the original store building.

Hays' house at 203 Wood Street, Council Grove, KansasIn 1867, Hays built a new brick house at 203 Wood Street, further away from and south of the store. Today this home is owned and operated as a museum by the Morris County Historical Society.

Hays was known as a prominent leader in Council Grove. In 1870 Hays started a newspaper called the Council Grove Democrat as well as the first bank in town, the Council Grove Savings Bank, which was sold in 1872 and renamed the First National Bank. A limestone bank barn, which Hays built in 1871, still stands about a mile east of Council Grove. The barn is named for the manner in which it is built into the side “bank’ of a hill to create a two-storied structure with entrances on both floors at ground level.

Eventually Sarah’s health began to fail and Hays decided to send Kittie to live with John Hamilton’s family in Westport. When Sarah died in 1872 Hays insisted that she be buried in his lot in Greenwood Cemetery. Blacks were customarily buried in the northwest corner of the cemetery at that time. Hays died a year later, February 3, 1873, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

Entry: Hays, Seth Millington

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: December 2011

Date Modified: April 2016

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