History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs


Morris County, Kansas

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Morris County, Kansas


Towns & Places

Extinct Towns

Border Troubles in Morris County

Morris County Slideshow (Next Page)

Santa Fe Trail Through Morris County

Seth Hays - Founder of Council Grove



Morris County, Kansas, 1899

Morris County map, 1899.





One of the oldest and most historic counties in the state, Morris County is located in eastern Kansas and was one of the original counties formed, first called Wise County. Its history pre-dates Kansas becoming a territory with the site of Council Grove first mentioned by travelers as far back as 1820. The region was first held by the various Indian tribes as neutral ground, upon which all had a right in common to hunt on its soil and fish in its streams.


In a treaty concluded with the Indians in 1825, the U.S. Government procured the right of way for a public highway from the Missouri River to the eastern boundary of Mexico, which, having been established, passed into history as the "Santa Fe Trail." This trail ran through Morris County, and part of it now constitutes Council Grove's Main Street.


Kaw Indian Conference, 1857A treaty was made with the Kanza Indians in the latter part of 1846, or early in 1847, by which a tract of land twenty miles square was obtained for a reservation, which included the land on which is built Council Grove would later be built.


In the spring of 1847 the Kanza tribe was moved on to the land embraced within the limits of the reservation. Up until this time no white men had settled in the area. However, that changed in the fall of 1847 when Seth M. Hays, a citizen of Westport, Missouri, obtained a license from the government to trade with the Indians. He soon resettled near the Kanza reservation and established a trading post at what would become Council Grove. Other traders followed soon followed including the Choteau Brothers in 1848, and a trader named Kennedy in 1849.


The Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico having been established, Waldo, Hall & Co. gained a contract with the government in 1849 to carry the United States mail to Santa Fe, a point 700 miles west of the Missouri River. For a number of years after the trail was opened Council Grove was the only trading post between Independence, Missouri and Santa Fe, and, as a consequence, became a point of considerable importance to westward bound travelers.


In 1850, the Methodist Episcopal Church, entered into a contract with the government to establish a school for the education of the Kanza Indians. The same year, the Board of Missions also erected a stone mission at Council Grove. Besides the mission school several other buildings were also constructed in 1850, and among them a depot for the storage of government supplies and other military material. The mail company also put up several buildings, and all the inhabitants in Morris County, were those either employed by the government or working for companies who had contracts with the government, numbering about 25 in all.


At that time the Kanza Indians on the reservation numbered about 1,700 where relations with the Indians remained peaceful until 1854, when Kansas became an official territory. Seth M. Hays built the first house in Morris County, which was a log store on the west bank of the Neosho River on the Santa Fe Trail.


In 1854, Kansas became a Territory by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. Andrew Horatio Reeder was appointed as the first governor of the new territory and soon thereafter, with a full corps of staff officers, arrived at Council Grove, which he contemplated making the capital. In this he failed; however, owing to the fact that the land required for that purpose could not be obtained from the Indians.


Up to this time no attempts at settlement had been made in anywhere else in the county until a man named J.C. Munkers took a claim upon what became known as Munkers' Creek in 1854.

One of the first official acts of Governor Reeder was to order an election for members of the Territorial Legislature. During this time excitement was running high in the region as new settlers sought control over the territory as a Free State or a Pro-Slavery State. Two men, one from each party, were submitted for the legislature.  


Kaw Mission, Council Grove

The Kaw Mission still stands in Council Grove. The Kansas State Historic

 Site is a museum today.


A.I. Baker was the Free-State candidate and Mobillon McGee, the pro-slavery candidate. The election was held on March 30, 1855 and Baker fairly won. However, McGee, on some trumped-up cause, contested the seat with him, and as the first legislature was largely comprised of pro-slavery advocates, Baker was denied the seat and replaced with McGee. One of the first duties of the legislature, since referred to as the “Bogus Legislature” was to divide a large portion of the territory into counties. What would later become Morris County was first named Wise County, for Henry A. Wise, who would later become the Governor of Virginia during the John Brown seizure of Harper's Ferry.  The county was first combined with other adjacent counties for its management, judicial and revenue purposes.


However, the county was separated from the others in 1858, and separate officers and officials were put in place and the county seat was designated as Council Grove. In the meantime, the Free-Staters had taken control of the territory and in February, 1859, the county’s name was changed from Wise to Morris in honor of Thomas Morris, a United States Senator from Ohio in 1832, who distinguished himself as an opponent of slavery. The population in 1859 was about 600 people.



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