The intent of the U.S. Indian policy was to discourage the Kaws from hunting buffalo and trapping, and to encourage them to adopt a sedentary life devoted to agriculture. For twenty years prior to the construction of the Kaw Mission, the government had sought to direct the Kaws into a way of life that would be more acceptable to white culture.

One means of effecting this cultural transition was to educate the Kaw children. Through schooling, Kaw children could be molded into accepting white ways. As adults, these educated Indians would become the leaders of the Kaw tribe and pave the way for their people to give up their traditional hunting and religious practices and become Christian farmers.

The agents for this cultural transformation were to be Christian missionaries. Their efforts among the Kaws would be funded by the U.S. government. The government derived its revenues by the sale of Kaw lands that the tribe had forfeited in the Treaty of 1825.

In 1830, the Missouri Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church organized an Indian Missionary Society. Reverend Thomas Johnson was appointed missionary superintendent of the Shawnee Indians and his brother, William, was appointed to the same position for the Kaws. William Johnson established a mission for the Kaws near Mission Creek just west of present-day Topeka. This mission met with little success.

White Americans had little appreciation for what problems would accompany this attempt at imposing a cultural revolution on the Kaws.  Many American policy-makers believed that only a few details remained to be worked out for this transformation to be a success.

In fact, there were a number of deep-seated problems that obstructed the missionaries’ progress in the 1830s and 1840s among the Kaws:

1) The semi-sedentary life of the Kaw proved resistant to attempts to change the culture.

2) There was a great deal of conflict among various
Kaw villages.

3) The Kaws lived in extreme poverty.

4) There were few reliable interpreters of the Kaw language.

5) Indian agents were not enthusiastic about the missionaries’ efforts.

Despite continuous setbacks, the Methodists persisted in their efforts to sustain a school among the Kaws at Mission Creek. However, the Methodists became convinced that the only effective way to change the Kaws was to remove Kaw children from their village environment to a boarding school. Efforts were made, with limited success, to send Kaw children to the Shawnee Mission Manual Labor School near present-day Kansas City.

When the Kaws were relocated to the Neosho River Valley in 1848, the government and the Methodists saw another opportunity to pursue their education of Kaw children. In the winter of 1850-51 the Methodists from the Shawnee Mission, with government funding, constructed a boarding school on the banks of the Neosho River in Council Grove. This was the Kaw Mission.

Collision - Kaw Mission
The Huffakers
School Years 1851-54
The Mission 1854-1951

How long did it take to build the Kaw Mission?