"The warmest description will scarce convey to the untraveled readers even a faint picture of this very
beautiful grove…A crystal stream meanders over its pebbly bottom while the sun blazes upon the
surrounding desert we sat...fished, bathed, read, sang, talked of home, and of the strange country
we were about to visit, of the wild travel we had yet to encounter."
— Matt Field, Council Grove, 1839
Join the Heart of the Flint Hills Chapter! To download the membership form, click here.
History of the Heart of the Flint Hills Chapter
The significance of the name of our chapter and the relation to the Santa Fe Trail is that the Trail runs right through the rolling Flint Hills. The fascinating fact about the flint hills is they are some the last virgin prairies left in the state of Kansas. The grass that you see waving in the wind today is the same grass that was touched by the settler’s fingertips a hundred years ago. Along with the rolling hills of prairie grass are the flint rocks. These rocks were used for arrowheads, cutting tools, and helped prevent erosion over time. Part of what has kept the flint hills untouched are the flint rocks that make it very, very, hard to bring a plow through.
The Heart of the Flint Hills Chapter started on June 11, 1987 with a two-day trail ride that ended up in Council Grove to celebrate the Wah-Shun-Gah Days weekend. The very first trail ride that our chapter organized had one hundred participants, with ages ranging from one to eighty-five! The first official meeting of the Heart of the Flint Hills Chapter was held in August of 1988, after the second organized trail ride. Santa Fe Trail Association president Marc Simmons extended conditional recognition to the new chapter, and final action was taken at the SFTA board meeting on September 28, 1989. At this point there were over forty members. On November 10, 1988, the Kansas Secretary of the State issued a charter to the Heart of the Flint Hills chapter of the SFTA as a not-for-profit corporation. The officers were: President Donald Cress, Vice President Joyce Noonan, and Secretary/Treasurer Joleen Day.
In 1989, the chapter received a $500 loan from the SFTA to put up forty signs highlighting Santa Fe Trail ruts in our area. Membership in the chapter was now seventy-five, and fifty-three participants attended the third annual trail ride. The years after that have proven to be very rewarding and enjoyable, and the chapter has continued trail rides even to this day. On April 10, 1990, Wabaunsee County was voted into our chapter by our directors because of the presence of the historic Wilmington Schoolhouse. A matching grant of $2,500 was accepted for a study to restore Seth Hays’ Old Stone Barn in Council Grove. On May 16, 1990, the chapter received the grant, and in February of 1992, we received yet more money to stabilize its massive stone walls.
New officers were elected in 1998 as follows: President Don Cress, Vice President Charles Macy, Secretary Helen Ericsson, and Treasurer Joleen Day. Work started in 1999 to restore the Wilmington Schoolhouse wall. We have continued working on the schoolhouse and have made great progress! (Source: “The First Fifteen Years,” by Donald B. Cress)
Location and Directions
The Heart of the Flint Hills chapter’s boundaries include Morris, Wabaunsee, Lyon, and Osage Counties. Take an Auto Tour by clicking here to download a PDF copy of the tour.
Some of the interesting Santa Fe Trail sites in our chapter’s area include the town of Wilmington, which lies at the junction of the Santa Fe Trail and the Military Road from Ft. Leavenworth. In 1857, a post office was established due to the influx of settlers coming and occupying the area. Since this little town holds so much history, there are several historic sites near Wilmington. The McGee-Harris Stage Station, Switzler Creek Crossing, Dragoon Creek Crossing, the Havana Stage Station, Samuel Hunt’s grave, and lastly, Soldier Creek Crossing are all sites around Wilmington. Private Samuel Hunt died at Wilmington, and his gravesite is the earliest known soldier’s gravesite on the SFT.
Our area also includes Council Grove, a very historic town along the Trail with many sites on the National Historic Register. Remnants of the giant Council Oak are still there, where in 1825, Osage Indian tribe signed a treaty of safe passage for Trail travelers. The Post Office Oak, Neosho Crossing where the courageous travelers crossed, the Pioneer Store, the Hays House Restaurant, Seth Hays’ home and stone barn, the Kaw Mission, Hermit’s Cave, and one of the last trading stores before Santa Fe, the Last Chance Store, all reside in Council Grove. Along with those sites is the Council Grove Cemetery, where some of the Santa Fe Trail pioneers are buried. For a tour of Council Grove historic sites click here.
Baldwin City is also in our region, and it is the home of Black Jack Park. This park has seen a pre-Civil War battle during the “Bleeding Kansas” period, and has deep trail ruts that whisper their history.