Thomas Sears Huffaker

Thomas Sears Huffaker was the husband of Eliza Ann Baker Huffaker, daughter of Joshua Wells Baker and Agnes Miller Inghram. Joshua Baker was a blacksmith for the Sac and Fox in Iowa. Eliza’s brother, W.W. Baker, on March 4 1849 in Wapello County, Iowa, married Isabel Frances “Fanny” Hackney”, daughter of William Hackney and Sarah Shannon. Though Isabel is not direct line, she is a sister of direct line,and I find it often useful with family history to get a better picture when we know not only what was going on with family but with their relations. Thus I include information on Thomas Sears Huffaker here.

Thomas Sears Huffaker was born in Clay county, Missouri, March 30, 1825, and died at Council Grove, Morris county, Kansas, July 10, 1910. At the time of his death he was the earliest living settler in the state as far as was known. His eventful career and prominence in Indian and public affairs was such that a history of Kansas would be imperfect without some mention of his life. In the year 1820 his parents came from Kentucky to Clay county, Missouri, and during the formative period of his life they surrounded him with such advantages as that period afforded; which, with his own studious habits, gave him a good education. He became a teacher in the schools when quite young and always possessed great skill in imparting information to others. In 1849, when he was but twenty-four years old, he came to Kansas, where he lived five years before Kansas was organized as a territory. His first employment was as superintendent of the Manual Labor School for Indians at the Shawnee Mission in Johnson county. He was devoted to educational work among the Indians, a close student of men and affairs, and there began a career of active interest, highly honorable and historically interesting, in the improvement of the red man. This extended through the most momentous and heroic epoch of the pre-territorial, territorial and state existence and makes “Judge” Huffaker one of the interesting characters in Kansas history. In 1850 he went to Council Grove and took charge of the Kansas or Kaw Indian Mission School, which had just been organized under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and was supported by the United States government. Council Grove, at that time, was the most important town and trading point on the Great Santa Fe Trail west of the Missouri river in Kansas, and the Kansas Indians had been moved from their homes along the Kaw river to their reservation in the Neosho valley surrounding the old town. The Kaw Indian Mission building, a substantial stone structure, still stands on the west bank of the river, in the north part of the present beautiful little city of Council Grove, and is one of the most interesting historic buildings in the state. It is owned and occupied by Judge Huffaker’s youngest daughter, Anna, widow of the late F. B. Carpenter, and makes a most historic, romantic and commodious residence. The walls are very thick; there are two large fire-place chimneys in each gable and its general appearance s quaint and ancient. It has been used for many purposes, such as school house, council house, church and meeting house, and during the Indian raids and scares of frontier days, it was the refuge and stronghold, to which early settlers fled for safety. It was in this building that Mr. Huffaker taught an Indian mission school and incidentally had some classes of white pupils, which makes it the first school for white children in the state and him the first teacher. Governor Reeder and his staff were entertained here when on their expedition to select a site for the capital of Kansas, and only the uncertainty as to land titles prevented Council Grove from being chosen. Judge Huffaker was married in this same old building, on the 6th day of May, 1852, to Miss Eliza Baker, who was an assistant teacher in the mission school. The officiating clergyman was a Rev. Nicholson, a missionary on his way over the Santa Fe Trail to Old Mexico, and it was the first marriage in that part of Kansas. Mr. Huffaker had charge of this mission school until 1854. It was extremely difficult to induce the Indians to interest themselves in education, for they considered it degrading to adopt the white man’s ways. For several years Mr. Huffaker had charge of the Kansas Indian trading house, and in 1861 was the official farmer of the tribe. At other times he filled other positions of trust in Indian affairs and was not only a fluent linguist in the Kansa or Kaw dialect, but also familiar with the language of the Osage, Ponca, Sac and Fox, Shawnee and other tribes. Few, if any, ever had his influence with the Kansa nation; and they properly gave him the name, “Tah-poo-ska,” which means, white teacher, the Indian name by which he was known till his death. The remnant of the tribe has lived in Oklahoma for many years, but often small bands have returned to their old haunts and to visit the Huffaker home. There they were always welcome and received a hospitality they never forgot. Before Judge Huffaker’s death, through the inducement of his friend, George P. Morehouse—the present official historian of the Kansas or Kaw Indians—he dictated much of their language and legendary lore as he had received it from the old sages and warriors of the tribe.

Judge Huffaker was the first postmaster at Council Grove, and chairman of the first board of county commissioners, appointed to the latter position by Governor Reeder in 1855. The district then comprised Wise (now Morris county), Breckinridge, Madison (now Lyon), and parts of Greenwood and Wabaunsee counties. He was one of the three incorporators of the Council Grove Town Company, in 1858. In the seventies he served several terms in the Kansas legislature, and was probate judge of Morris county for several years. He was a member of the Masonic fraternity, and one of the founders of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, of Council Grove.

Judge and Mrs. Huffaker were the parents of the following children: Mary H. (Mrs. J. H. Simcock), Aggie C. (Mrs. Louis Wismeyer), Anna G. (Mrs. Fred B. Carpenter), George M., Homer, and Carl. Susie, their first daughter, was the first white child born in Morris county and was a great pet of the Indians. Old settlers remember her as a charming young lady of eighteen years, when she met a tragic death by drowning, in company with three other parties, May 14, 1872, while attempting to cross the Neosho river, at the Old Mission fork one dark and stormy night. When Judge Huffaker and his wife came to Kansas not a mile of railroad existed in the state, and there were only a few small outposts of civilization within its borders—Topeka, Lawrence, Kansas City and the like had not been thought of and truly “wilderness was king.” Early on the ground he had many opportunities to amass great wealth—had he had an eye to money getting; but instead, in all his public and private duties and business relations, his chief aim was the uplifting of humanity and the stable development of the great commonwealth in which he had lived so long. The old Huffaker homestead is situated across the river from the mission and a little further up the course of the Neosho, just outside the city limits. It is a large two-story dwelling, nestled back from the river highway among large native forest shade trees of elm, oak and walnut. It has wide halls and broad porches, and in the many large square rooms old-fashioned fire-places speak eloquently of the blazing fire logs of other days.

On May 6, 1905, the Judge and his wife celebrated the fifty-third anniversary of their marriage, which was an event of more than local interest, as over two hundred friends and relatives, some from various parts of the state, gathered to do honor to the noted couple. All the old-timers were there, and many historic incidents of early days were related. It was recalled that the finished lumber of this noted homestead, except the framing, which was of native oak, was brought from Leavenworth by ox wagons and cost, laid down, nearly $100 per thousand feet. For many years it was the finest and most complete residence that far west in Kansas, and even now is a model for comfort and utility. One of the interesting incidents of the day was the presentation of a handsome purse of gold to the Judge and his wife—the gift of old-time friends. The presentation was made by Hon. John Maloy, and many were visibly affected by his touching remarks. In substance he said:

“Judge and Mrs. Huffaker: This large throng of your old time-tried friends have congregated for the purpose of celebrating with you your fifty-third wedding anniversary. They have commissioned me to address to you words that may feebly convey the affection which one and all feel toward you both. If I fail, it shall not be due to lack of feeling or inclination to perform the task, but rather to the fact that having known you both for thirty-five years, and loved you—as these others have—that my emotions may break the leash and unman my resolutions. I am, indeed, deeply moved; for the red blood of friendship courses riotously in my veins. Fifty-three years ago today you both were young, and you took each other by the hand and went forth into a newer and more limitless world. You have had many joys; you have also had your sorrows. You have enjoyed children and friends, yet reverses and disappointments have at times come in to sup with you. Such is life’s heritage. But there is one thought that must come often to you—a thought far more sweet than language was ever made to express—and that is of duty well performed. And now, in the evening of your days, when ‘the years like birds have stooped to drink the brightness of your eyes and left their footprints on the margins,’ your friends are assembled to pay homage to two blameless lives. They bid me present you a golden coin for every year of your married life and in their name I present the same to you; and, in the name of one and all, I salute you. You have counted off fifty-three milestones of real human life together—twenty more than a generation. May your future years he crowned with happiness; may your lives glide by as gently as a night in spring, with the star of hope eternal above your heads, and when your frail and mortal barques shall leave their moorings on the shores of time, may they drift painlessly, joyously into the great twilight ocean of eternity—where you shall come into your own—is the ardent wish of all your friends.”

The Judge and his wife had celebrated five more years of married life when he passed away—one of Kansas’s interesting historic characters. “Aunt Eliza,” as she is affectionately known, is still living (1912), and is a lady of rare information on the early affairs of the Sunflower State.
Pages 1213-1216 from volume III, part 2 of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. … / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed December 2002 by Carolyn Ward. This volume is identified at the Kansas State Historical Society as microfilm LM195. It is a two-part volume 3.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *