Enroute to our next destination, we left the interstate in Gardner, Kansas and continued on US Highway 56 which most closely follows the SFT. US 56 is a little narrow with few spots to pull over, so I took the photo through the windshield. And it’s true, you CAN see for miles in Kansas! But the scenery was beautiful as was the weather. We stayed at a Corps of Engineer (COE) campground, Canning Creek, located on Council Lake. The campsites were beautiful, right on the water, with a cabana, table and grill. It was hot and very humid the first three days until a pretty good storm came through with heavy rains and winds up to 80 mph! We were fairly well protected, but there was some damage to nearby trees (a large limb landed about 20 feet from the rig) and one of the campsites about ¼ mile away was pretty hammered.
All four routes into Council Grove are marked by a unique black metal silhouette, placed by the Community Arts Council. We were unable to get “front” views of two of the silhouettes due to placement and traffic.
Council Grove is one of the most historic places on the SFT. It was a natural stopover, with plenty of water, pasture and timber. No hardwood trees grew on the plains past this point, so spare axles were cut along the Neosho River and stored under the wagons for later use. Council Grove was named in 1825 when Commissioner George Sibley made a treaty with the Osage Indians guaranteeing safe passage for wagon trains and providing a right of way to Santa Fe. We have included a photo of what remains of the tree under which the treaty was made, as well as the “new” Council Oak. The official Santa Fe Trail DAR Marker is located in front of the Council Oak Stump.
The wagon wheel monument is carved from a limestone block and depicts the hardships endured by travelers along the SFT. The Terwilliger Home was built in 1861 and was the last house in Council Grove that SFT travelers passed as they headed west. The Last Chance Store was built in 1857 and was, for a brief period of time, the last opportunity to pick up supplies for their journey. It is also the oldest commercial building in Council Grove. Hays House was built in 1857 by Seth Hays, the town’s first settler. It is known today as the oldest, continuously operated restaurant west of the Mississippi River, and as one of Kansas’ finest restaurants. (We only stayed four days in Council Grove and the day we intended to eat there, it was closed due to power loss from the big storm!) Seth Hays Home was built in 1867.
Legend has it that, while patrolling along the SFT with companies of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, George Armstrong Custer camped under a huge elm tree which measured over 100 feet tall and 16 feet around. This is all that’s left of the tree and, as you can see, it has been covered and protected. There is nothing left to see of the Post Office Oak which is believed to have been 270 years old when it died in 1990. It is said to have served as an unofficial post office for travelers on the SFT from 1825-1847. Passing caravans could leave messages for future travelers in a cache in the base of the tree.
The Old Bell Monument was brought to Council Grove in 1863 and was used to warn the settlers of Indian raids. The Hermit’s Cave was the temporary abode of an eccentric Italian priest for a brief time in 1863; in the fall he left with a wagon train, walking the 500 miles to New Mexico. The Guardian of the Grove Statue honors the Native American Kaw or Kansa Tribe. It sits next to the Neosho River Crossing. The Madonna of the Trail was erected in Council Grove in 1928 by the Daughters of the American Revolution and depicts a pioneer mother with her two children. These pink algonite stone statues have been placed in communities on the National Old Trails Road in 12 states.
Phew! As you can see, we had an action-packed couple of days here. Next stop along the Trail will be Dodge City.