Compiled by Mary Ellis

(785) 869-2401

The Spring Grove Friends Church, located seven miles southwest of Osawatomie on the Lane Road, was established in the early days of the history of Kansas, 117 years before the Bicentenary Year of 1976 (1859).

The attention of the people called "Quakers," the Society of Friends, was first turned to Kansas in connection with Indian Missionary activity. From the time of their arrival in America, Quakers had given evidence of a special interest in the Indians. George Fox had a special concern for their salvation. He came to America and traveled among them, enduring great hardships.

The history of Friends begins in the England of the seventeenth century, which was characterized by religious and political strife. Their founder, George Fox, described his experience: "When all my hopes in ... men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could I tell what to do; then, Oh! then I heard a voice which said, 'There is One, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,' and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy." With this joy in his heart Fox entered his ministry in 1647, commissioned to bring back to the church the truth that all men may know salvation. He called men from "forms and shadows" to the "life, light, and power of Christ in their own hearts." Fox made his first visit to America in 1672, traveling extensively, encouraging the groups, winning new converts, and preaching to the Indians.


What really touched off large scale migration of Quakers westward was the establishment of the Northwest Territory in 1787, a territory free from slavery. Friends had first protested officially against slavery in 1686. John Woolman was the single most influential figure in the earliest days of the anti-slavery movement in the United States. Friends were the first denomination in the United States not only to condemn slavery but to stop owning slaves. Friends had forbidden the keeping of slaves by any of their members and had adopted a consistent testimony against it. By 1787, nearly 75 years before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, no Friends in the States, including the South, owned slaves.

When William Penn, a close associate of George Fox, was granted Pennsylvania by the English crown in 1681 in repayment for a debt owed to his father, he set up the colony as a "holy experiment" with freedom of religion, honored local laws, and had the welfare of the Indians as well as the whites in mind. Friends were influential in several of the original thirteen colonies. In time their convictions, along with other like-minded people, spread throughout the colonies and freedom of religion became a part of the Bill of Rights, the first amendment to the constitution of the United States. The celebrated treaty of Friendship at Shakamoxon has become a tradition in American history. Many quaker ministers with "concerns" traveled among the Indians in the eighteenth century. John Woolman, William Penn and other Quakers spent many hours and days among the red man. A mission was established in 1804 among the tribes near Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Shawnees in Ohio were asking help from the Friends. Baltimore, Ohio and Indiana Yearly Meetings for more than half a century worked among the Shawnees. They took a great interest in helping them to learn how to raise their food and make a living for themselves. The purpose of the early mission was also to provide education and to teach the Indian children the doctrines of Evangelical Christianity.

By 1831 the demand for lands in Ohio forced the government once more to move the Shawnees further west. A treaty was signed in which the government purchased their Ohio land and gave them a tract of land 50 miles square on the Kansas River in Kansas Territory. While the Indians were moving, Friends were disposing of the Mission buildings and equipment in Ohio and were anticipating renewing their work in the west. Henry Harvey was sent out to Kansas with completed plans for an Indian Mission to present to the Shawnees. An agreement was made for the erection of buildings and the use of as much farm land and timber as was needed. The site chosen was not far from the large Methodist Shawnee Mission. In the spring of 1837, Moses Pearson and his wife, with Mary 11 years, Stanton and Elias Newby, came out in a covered wagon to take charge of the establishment and opening of the mission. They traversed trails traditionally used by Indian tribes. Extreme conditions were often encountered as they traveled cross country.


In a religious sense, the Civil War broke out long before guns were fired at Fort Sumter in 1861. The "big three" denominations of evangelical Christianity--Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists had already split over the slavery question. As early as 1837, the Presbyterian traditionalists were opposed by New Englander Lyman Beecher, whose daughter, Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote the anti-slavery classic "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Southern Baptists formed their own convention in 1845 after the Baptists Foreign Missions Board said a slaveholder could not be named a missionary. Northern and Southern Methodists in 1844 divided into the Methodist Episcopal Church, North, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The Methodists were the largest and most evenly distributed religious body in the country. If they could not resolve differences over slavery, how could the nation?


Kansas was inhabited by Indians for thousands of years before the first white man appeared. In 1540 a Spanish conquistador marched forth from Mexico in search of the Seven Golden Cities of Gold. By the summer of 1541, 80 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, he had reached the Arkansas River in Kansas, crossing it near present day Dodge City. For a time Spain, France and England all had claims on Kansas. The English did nothing to further their claim. French claims were ceded to Spain in 1762, but in 1800 title was returned to France, from which the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803.

Hardly had the Kansas-Nebraska Act been passed in 1854 when Quaker families began to turn their faces toward that territory. For nearly twenty years, the reports of the Indian Committee on the Friends Shawnee Mission had aroused their interest in that forbidden area, and now it was opened for settlement. Good land and generous pre-emption provisions invited them to come, start life anew, and make their fortune. Besides in what better way could they help the cause against accursed slavery than to go to Kansas and help hold it for the cause of freedom? Kansas called--they soon heeded. Whole companies of free-state Yankee settlers came west singing "The Kanzas Emigrants" song, written by the Quaker poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne":

We cross the prairie as of old
The Pilgrims crossed the sea,
To make the west, as they the east,
The homestead of the free.

Many pro-slavery Southerners also came to the former Indian territory. Conflict over the slavery question plunged the Kansas-Missouri border into turmoil. Kansas became known as "Bleeding Kansas," a symbol to the nation and a prelude to the Civil War.

From 1855 to 1861, the battle for statehood was as intense as in any nation. Three constitutional conventions were unsuccessful. A fourth in Wyandotte in July 1859 was successful. Free-state advocates were solidly in control and the document they drafted barred slavery and fixed the present boundaries of the state. The Constitution was accepted by a vote of the people in October and in December a provisional state government was elected. In January 1861 the United States Senate and House of Representatives passed a bill admitting Kansas into statehood. President James Buchanan signed the bill on the 29th day.

The most significant and important early move for a Friends colony was made by three well-known Indiana Quakers, William H. Coffin, Eli Wilson, and Benejah W. Hiatt. They met in Richmond, Indiana, in October, 1854, and agreed to go west and examine the new territories. They came by railroad to Terre Haute, went from there by stage across Illinois to St. Louis, where they boarded a river steamer, paying $12, for Westport Landing (now Kansas City).

After spending a few enjoyable days at the Friends Mission, the three returned to Westport Landing and secured supplies for a tour of the territory, hoping to find a suitable location for a Quaker settlement. With a Peoria Indian Chief, they proceeded southward about fifty miles to the juncture of the Osage and Pottawatomie Rivers, where they staked out claims for each in the choicest places. But no Friends settlement was to be established yet, for on the following day Orville C. Brown arrived with a party of 26 men and wanted to build a town on that location. The three Friends wanted to form a Friends settlement so they gave up their claims to the party with the stipulation that it was to be a free settlement. The town of Osawatomie was founded there. Information from John Brown's cabin in Osawatomie states that William H. Coffin, gave up his claim with the assurance from Brown's party that this would be a Freestate town. Since cold weather was approaching, the three men went back to Indiana and returned the following spring. When they returned they went on up the river toward Leavenworth where the first Friends colony was planted amidst high hopes on the fertile prairies of Kansas, west of Stranger Creek from 12 to 18 miles from Leavenworth.

Richard and Sarah Mendenhall, who had since 1847 been teaching at the Friends Shawnee Indian Mission, determined in 1854 to seek a home for themselves in their adopted country. They turned southward and found a location a few miles southwest of Osawatomie which suited their desires. On September 15, 1855, they moved to their claim, in the midst of an "ague and fever" epidemic, in the southwest part of Lykens, now Miami County. They were soon joined by Richard's brother, David and his family. Due to the epidemic and the extremely cold weather of 25 degrees below zero and deep snows, they suffered many privations. The first meetings for worship were held in a one-room house, 14 by 16 feet, built of unhewn logs, on the Richard Mendenhall farm about three and one-half miles southwest of Osawatomie.

The Spring Grove settlement was fortunate to have the able leadership of Richard Mendenhall. This remarkable man performed the services of doctor, pharmacist, and teacher in the community, as well as being religious leader, politician, and farmer of no mean ability. Meetings were "held in his dooryard, shaded by the forest trees." Other Friends began to settle here, including Simon Jones and his family, and by March, 1858, there were 11 families and 56 members of the meeting. Behind the plain walls and deliberate silence, the Quakers of Spring Grove offered a ray of light and the brilliance of God's love.

Among those early families were the Richard and David Mendenhalls, Calvin Barnards, Eli Coffins and Simon Jones as well as the Dunbars, Hamiltons, Holadays, Hodsons and others.

Friends in other settlements were threatened and arrested by "border ruffians." The policy of Friends was to stay quietly at home, open their farms, and mind their own business. Yet the peace-loving Quakers could not feel entirely safe while living near raiding camps. The wonder is not that these were disturbed, however, but that there was no loss of life among them nor greater loss of property in those critical days. They felt their attitude of non-resistance had protected them better than guns or knives.

June 1856, according to accounts by August Bondi, John Brown's violent Pottawatomie Massacre was preceded by an attempted assault on the daughter of a Quaker family. Two families, including Bondi's, were run out of their homes. The following day the pro-slaver's relatives were murdered at Dutch Henry's Crossing (on the Pottawatomie Creek near Lane, Kansas).

Slave ruffians crossed over into Osawatomie in August 1856 and burned the town to the ground. Many people fled south, seeking refuge and shelter in the Richard Mendenhall home. Many Quaker families in the Spring Grove community nursed the wounded in their homes following the battle of Osawatomie.

Although they endured many hardships during the border ruffian warfare, they bore testimony to the truth of their devotion to the cause of Christ. Richard Mendenhall's life was threatened as leader of a group who would not pay their taxes assessed by the "bogus laws" of the Shawnee Pro-slavery Legislation. Refusing to sign the "bogus laws" in August 1957, Richard Mendenhall was brought up on charges of treason, a hanging offense. Mendenhall is quoted by John Everett as saying that he did not expect to fight, but that he would suffer himself to be hanged before he would pay the taxes and sign the bogus laws.

In the fall of 1857 Richard Mendenhall began holding school in his home. Many students came on Monday morning, bringing a week's provisions with them, and remaining all week, rooming in the upper rooms of the Mendenhall home.


The homes of Spring Grove Friends are documented sites on the Underground Railroad, offering refuge and transport for fugitive slaves heading north to freedom. By 1862 the trickle of runaways had become a flood of refugees and the efforts of Friends were redirected toward feeding, clothing, and educating these "people of color." According to meeting minutes, there were about 150 students attending at one time.


The settlers were in need of spiritual encouragement by 1858. They had been enduring the hardships of cold winters, warfare, and frontier privations for three years. No minister had settled here nor visited among them. Robert and Sarah Lindsey, Friends ministers from England, visited Spring Grove on a visit of Gospel love in March, 1858, on their tour of Friends Settlements in Kansas. With Benajah Hiatt in his luxurious covered wagon, they traveled to the various settlements. They met many friendly Delaware Indians on the way. The Lindseys stopped at the Simon Jones' home while Benajah Hiatt, riding one of his horses to all the settler's homes, announced the visitor's arrival and the meeting to be held the next day, which was attended by everyone. Sarah Lindsey wrote in her diary, "This morning the meeting was held out of doors, an awning put up for shelter from the wind and planks arranged for seats for the nearly 100 persons attending. The canopy of Divine Love was felt to spread over us and ability was afforded to preach the Gospel of salvation." Another meeting was held in the evening at the Simon Jones' home.

In 1858 the meeting place was changed to the David Mendenhall home, four and one-half miles east of Lane, one-half mile east of the present location.

In the early years the Friends were strengthened and encouraged by these visiting ministers. Entered in the minutes as "our beloved friend, a minister, who gospel labors were satisfactory and edifying, acceptably attended the meeting: Mary Harvey, 1859; Enos G. Pray, 1860; Ohela Cook, Penelope Gardner, 1864-65; Allis Hawley, 1865; Andrew Hooten, Enos Troy, Andrew T. Evans, 1866; John Hammer, Dorcas Hunt, Joseph Pritchett, 1868; Thomas Jay, Milton Winslow, Lydia Chase, 1869; Jeremiah Hadley, 1870; Isaac Jay, 1872; Benjamin Bryson Hyatt, 1874; Catherine Hammers, 1877; Elwood Hanson, 1882; Martha E. Newby, Baraclay Hampton, Melinda B. Hunt, 1884; Eli Henderson, James Hayworth, 1885; Richard and Jane Gregory, Cynthia Stanley, 1886; and Anna Strange, 1891.


These early Friends were so far from any organized church that in 1859 they asked for a Monthly Meeting. This was granted by the direction of Pleasant Plain Quarterly Meeting held at Spring Creek, Iowa, on August 17, 1859. A committee from Pleasant Plain, organized the monthly meeting on October 6, 1859, at the David Mendenhall home. Richard Mendenhall was chosen clerk for the day. He was the first clerk and correspondent of the newly organized meeting. John M. Coffin, Lindley Durham, Millicent Jones and Sarah Ann Mendenhall were the first overseers. Richard Mendenhall, Abraham Holaday and Simon Jones were the first trustees. Simon Jones and Elizabeth Holaday were chosen elders. It is thus the second oldest Quaker Church in Kansas, Springdale Monthly Meeting, north of Tonganoxie, being the oldest.


During those early days in a new country, with Kansas City as the nearest market, money was scarce and most Friends were poor, but they decided to building a "meeting house" as they termed it in those days. So in the fall and winter of 1959-60 they procured material for it. It was built of native frame, boxed with undressed lumber, and ceiled with good first-grade pine lumber. It was almost 32 feet long and 20 feet wide with two doors in the south side and one in each end of the house. This house was used for a school in the fall of 1860 with Kate Stevens as teacher. This same building was used for the meetings of the church for 17 years.


The terrible drouth of 1859-1860 caused untold suffering as there was no moisture except snow in two years. These years were long remembered by early settlers because of the greatest drouth they had ever known. From August, 1859, to May, 1861, there was scarcely enough precipitation any time to measure (an exception being a heavy snow in December, 1860). Dried grasses carried sparks of fire across the unbroken stretches of tall grass prairie. "Roads never got muddy and the ground broken open in great cracks. There were no vegetables ... and a burning hot wind in July and August withered everything before it. Fall wheat came up in the spring, but withered and died. ... Prairie grass grew until July, then all died. Wells, springs and streams dried up. The people, generally, where they had any surplus the year before, sold it off to get money, and were too poor and scanty of means to buy more." (Coffin, Settlement of Friends in Kansas.) Crop destruction was completed in some sections by grasshoppers.

After a visit from a Committee from the Iowa Quarterly Meeting in 1860, a relief committee was appointed. Aid was sent from New England, Ohio, Indiana, London, England, and the Eastern States of the United States to Leavenworth to be distributed to needy Friends settlements in Kansas. Some were living on only cornbread and pumpkin, while others were virtually destitute in every manner. Ansel Rogers and William Coffin, as aid dispensers, traveled among the Friends settlements giving aid and relief funds, and also holding Evangelistic Meetings for encouragement. The women of Spring Grove traveled for almost a month, distributing seeds, clothing, food, comfort and medical assistance to Quaker families in the Kansas Territory. They traveled to Cherokee Country, turned north along a route now known as Kansas Highway 75 to Topeka, drove east to Springdale, and then home.


These people bore constant testimony to the truth, suffering many times for their devotion to the Master's cause. During the Kansas troubles the men were taken from their homes for military duty, leaving the women and children at home to get along with but one man, Lewis Jones, left behind. On account of their testimony against war, they were all released except Calvin Barnard, who was found to be a good cook and was retained as a company cook. Colonel George Hume, upon hearing their creed of objection to taking human life, excused them from service and furnished them with picks and shovels for building barracks at Paola to protect the women and children, thus releasing other men for service against Price's raids. Presidents of the United States of early history respected the religious tenents and views of the Friends and made honorable provision for their exemption from active military duty without discredit.

In 1856 Robert Everett, Congregational minister, wrote to his son John who was living near Lane: "Take your neighbor's the Quakers' position of non-resistance, calmness and kindness to your bitterest foes,--and in the Lord's hands you will be safe."


During the year of 1867 there was a great deal of trouble with massacre and bloodshed on the Indian frontier. Friends were troubled because of this treatment and a joint committee was formed by representatives of four yearly meetings. An audience was secured with President Grant and they laid before him a concern of Friends for a more peaceful and Christian policy toward the Indians. President Grant, expressing appreciation for the friendship and interest which the Society of Friends had maintained in behalf of the Indian, asked the Friends to appoint members of their Society to serve as Indian Agents in territories and reservations.

Soon after President Grant gave this charge to friends they set about perfecting an organization that could cope with this responsibility. The Associated Executive Committee of Friends was organized at Damascus, Ohio, in June 1869. Representatives from seven Yearly Meetings were present at this meeting--New England, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Ohio, Indiana and Western. The representative from Ohio was unable to be present, and North Carolina appointed a representative a short time later. The territory embraced all the area of Kansas and the Indian Territory, about 144,000 square miles in all. There were 14 tribes of Indians included in this territory.

The work went forward very smoothly for some time under the direction of Friends with several Yearly Meetings cooperating. Later Federal administrations were not in accord with the plan worked out by President Grant and were not in agreement with methods used by Friends. As a result Friends resigned all further responsibility to the Government for the management of Indians. Friends continued to carry on their mission work with the Indians and established churches and schools for them. The first period of Friends Mission was one of growth. Increasing white population hampered the work with the Indians and government schools replaced Friends school. After Oklahoma became a state in 1907 a public school system was set up and the last of Friends Schools were closed. Friends continued to work as religious directors in some of the schools.


After being under the jurisdiction of Indiana Yearly Meeting for 35 years, Kansas Yearly Meeting was organized at Lawrence in February, 1872, and Spring Grove was notified to report to that meeting. There were nearly 3,000 members of Friends Society in Kansas.

When Spring Grove Monthly Meeting became a part of a Quarterly Meeting in Kansas, it was part of Kansas Quarterly Meeting. Later this was divided, and Hesper Quarterly Meeting, composed of Hesper (Kansas) and Spring Grove, was set up in 1870. By 1872 it had over 700 members.


In 1876 the question of repairing the old building came up, as it was badly in need of repair. Few were willing to repair the old house. It was found that money could be had for building a new one. In March of 1860 a tract of 2 1/2 acres lying in the County of Lykins and Territory of Kansas, at the southwest corner of the northeast quarter of Section thirty-one in Township eighteen was purchased for $50 from David and Mary Ann Mendenhall. So the old building was torn down and the present one (without the later additions) was erected in 1877. While there were many donations of logs to be cut into frame materials, and other donations of money and work, yet most of the work was done by Jesse Beals and N. C. Averill. The plan for the building and seats was made by Isaac Arnold, a carpenter who was a member of the church for many years thereafter, and who for a long time resided in Ottawa, Kansas. Though all these have gone to their reward, the church still stands as a monument to their memory. One item in the minutes of Monthly Meeting at that time, fifth month, fifteenth, 1877, reads: "All of the meetings for worship and discipline has been attended except one which was on account of the old house being torn down and the new one not finished."

"Each family of Friends is furnished with a copy of the Holy Scriptures" August 17, 1872. About February, 1876, some Friends from Hesper held meetings here in the evenings, and visited families during the day, which resulted in much good. But what was perhaps the first real revival effort was in the fall of 1877, held by Eleanor Murdoc, assisted by some others, which resulted in several conversions and ten accessions to the church.

Three monthly meetings set off from Spring Grove - Cottonwood in the spring of 1860, Spring River in the winter of 1866-67, and Edgewood, Missouri, in the winter of 1875-76.

In June, 1896, the quarterly meeting was held at Spring Grove and it met here regularly for many years. From these Quarterly Meetings came the present "June Meeting." It was not always held the first Sunday in June and sometimes was held for three days.


In the early days men and women met separately. When the hour of service came, they would take their seats, all would be quiet. Men sat with their hats on while the women wore their old-fashioned Quaker bonnet. There were no pastors, as we now understand the term; in fact there have been many periods when no regular pastor served the church. Minutes record, "We appoint Louisa E. Updegraph to take charge of the meeting." "We appoint Louisa E. Updegraph to time our meetings for worship and request the overseers and elders to occupy seats facing the audience during our meetings for devotion." All sat in silence and waited "for the Spirit to move them" until someone felt it his or her duty to speak or pray. While there was no set rule, the usual way of closing meetings was by shaking hands. The men and women met in separate business meetings. In the early days their Sunday School was known as "First Day Scriptures Schools. Although the form of worship service has changed, Friends still believe in the leadership of the Spirit.

Spring Grove Monthly Meetings were held alternately between Lane and Spring Grove from July, 1874, to December, 1875, but at Spring Grove at all other times. The minutes of the Spring Grove Church show that though the church met at times in the homes of members the congregation continued to meet regularly. Throughout the years there have been several periods, totaling about 18 months, when no meetings were held due to weather conditions.


Following the removal of the wood-burning stoves in the sanctuary, the ceiling was lowered, new wiring and light fixtures installed in 1962.

Two additions have been made to the original building. The first, 25' x 32' with a connecting hall to the Sanctuary was completed and dedicated December 13, 1964, providing a fellowship hall, a kitchen and a classroom. The second addition, 30' x 32' included four classrooms and a church office. It was completed under pastor June Worden and dedicated to the service of the Lord and the glory of God on March 18, 1973.

New sanctuary furniture - pews, pulpit and altar - were dedicated December 21, 1965.

The first parsonage was moved onto the property in the mid-1940s. It burned during an electrical storm in June, 1977. Insurance, trimmed of its deductibles and money owed on the previous year's building project, came to $4,950.00. After considering several alternatives, it was decided to have Phil Hickman, former member from Olathe, build a basement and shell. Even that much was a strain on our faith. After many fund raisers, many donations of money, materials and labor, the new parsonage was occupied by the pastor eleven months later in May, 1978. God gave us "beauty for ashes ... that He might be glorified." Isa. 61:3

"Father, draw us close to Thy throne of grace, away from sin and to Thee we give the glory, honor, and praise."

As one looks over the names of those who began the work in the area, some of the same family names are still found among our leaders of the Mid-America Yearly Meeting (formerly Kansas Yearly Meeting).

CHURCH PASTORS: Richard Mendenhall, 1855- ; Jesse Beals, 1876-1879; Norman C. Averill, June, 1883- ; Louisa E. Updegraff, 1888-; Thomas E. (Thoc) Williams, Feb., 1897- ; Nellie O. Harris, 1902- ; Jacob Perry, 1912-1917; Charles N. Averill, 1919- ; Mary Bowles, Spring, 1920-Nov. 1920; Vaughn D. Amick, 1920-1921; Silas Umbarger, 1928- ; Oscar and Grace Thompson, 1930-1934; Clinton J. Whybrew, 1936-1937; Ellis and Fern Cook, 1939-1943; Daniel W. Timlin, 1943-1947; M. Howard McNeice, 1947-1948; Ferne and Ellis Cook, 1948-1953; Frieda Craven, 1953-1961; Fay and Leslie Wheeler, 1961-1968; June Worden, 1968-1983; Beth Shapiro Williams, 1983-1994; Forrest J. Brandt, Sept.1994-

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