Wednesday, July 26, 2023

If the Trees Could Talk!


By Cindy Regnier

 It’s a quaint little town nestled in the Kansas Flint Hills and I’m going to guess that most non-Kansans have never heard of Council Grove. But for history buffs, there are many important reasons to know about Council Grove. Its three famous trees are just one of those reasons.

Council Grove Kansas is located on what we now know as the Santa Fe Trail. For many years it was the last stop for 625 miles along the Santa Fe trail for those heading west. Wagon trains, pioneers, gold seekers and many others stopped here to gather their provisions at The Last Chance store, and perhaps mail a final letter to their loved ones before the set out of the arduous journey ahead. 

There were no post offices on the trail ahead, but in Council Grove the adventurers encountered a massive oak tree that was soon dubbed Post Office Oak. Travelers put letters in the knobs and knotholes or in a cache at the base of the 80-foot-tall tree for those coming behind them to find. From 1827 on, one could find written pages in the oak tree with information about trail conditions or advice on what to expect ahead of them. The tree was a go-to stop for everyone passing by.

 In 1855, a postmaster was finally assigned to Council Grove, but there was no post office except the oak tree. The postmaster would carry any received to the tree and simply pour it out of the sack into the tree cache. Worked well enough, I suppose. I remember seeing the tree countless times as a child and marveling at its hugeness.  

Alas, at approximately 270 years old the old oak died in 1990 leaving only its stump behind. The stump is still there, covered by a protective awning and base constructed to preserve this unique piece of history. Nowadays you can visit the stump and enter the old stone building behind it built in 1864 by Francis Xavier Hebrank, a German immigrant, as a residence with a brewery in the basement. It is now preserved as the home of the Morris County Historical Society and museum.
 Not far away from Post Office Oak, you can visit what is known as Council Oak. This oak tree was so named by a council that met under this tree on August 10, 1825. The tree was part of a mile wide grove of hardwood trees just east of the Neosho River. The council was attended by three U.S. commissioners and the chiefs of the Great and Little Osage Indians. It resulted in a treaty that, for $800 gave Americans safe passage along the Santa Fe Trail through Osage territory. This meeting also coined the name of the town, Council Grove.
Council Oak has also succumbed to age and the elements. Before it blew down in a windstorm in 1958, the oak was approximately 70 feet high and 16 feet around. A protective canopy now preserves its stump

And still another tree captures our attention in Council Grove. General George Custer and the 7th Cavalry Regiment camped under what is now known as Custer Elm while patrolling and protecting the Santa Fe Trail. While stationed here, General Custer bought a 120-acre piece of farm ground with another officer, Amos Kimball in 1869 as an investment. The tree stood on the north edge of that property near Elm Creek.

  Custer was infamously killed June 25, 1876, in the battle of the Little Big Horn by Chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, Sioux Indians. His wife Elizabeth sold the acreage on May 31, 1881.
Council Grove Kiwanis Club bought the plot of ground in 1978 to establish Custer Elm Park.

Dutch Elm disease claimed Custer Elm in the early 1970’s. At that time it was estimated to be 300 years old

Now you know about the historical importance of the trees in Council Grove. A lot of history for a little town, but that’s only the beginning of its many historical sites. I’d love to know if you’ve ever heard of any of these trees. I hope you can visit them one day.

Rand needs a wife. He's got two orphan nieces in his care and a cattle ranch to run. Carly needs an escape and she needs it quick, just in case her ruthless ex-fiance/boss follows through with his threats. She grabs her young brother and flees westward to marry someone she's never met. Is she sacrificing her dreams or putting them aside for something better? It will take every bit of courage she can muster to find out!


  1. Thank you for this interesting post today. I would love to see the Post Office Oak!! It sounds amazing!

  2. It was amazing and still is. The history behind it is incredible. If only we knew all the stories of those who passed by it on their way westward