Western Trips

Friday, October 7, 2011

Independence Missouri / The Old West's Starting Point

Independence Missouri is one of those towns that just happened to be located at a point which became the epicenter of American history. Founded in 1827, Independence is located on the south bank of the Missouri River at the furthest point west where steamboats could still navigate. This of course made Independence a jumping off point to the west and where much of it's history resides. Some of the history is 19th century and some 20th century. During the mid 19th century, if you were to try to identify a focal point for America's march westward, it would have to be Independence Missouri. While there are hundreds, even thousands of stories throughout the old west, many of them have some distant connection to Independence. The town served as a key stepping off point to those traversing the western frontier. A map of the Oregon Trail shows Independence as the eastern terminus.

See our article and photos of a visit to  Oregon City, Oregon, the western terminus of the Oregon Trail.

Another of our articles you'll enjoy is the Peppard Wind Wagon that crossed the prairie in the 1800's.

 Where the Pioneers Began Their Westward Journey

At the time of the American Civil War, Missouri was settled. The off and on Indian uprisings were to the west. Comanches down in Texas, Cheyennes, Sioux and other tribes further north. For years, settlers in their covered wagon headed west of the Missouri River into Kansas and over the route of the Oregon Trail. Independence was a major supply center for pioneers before they began their often 2,000 mile long trek. One very interesting fact is that Independence is the only city in the nation that served as the launching point for the Santa Fe, Oregon and California Trails. There are so many historic national heritage sites in Independence you can spend several days there. If your travels include a Missouri vacation, Independence is a must stop. Following are some great points of interest.
Courtesy Jackson County Hist. Soc.

The Jackson County Jail, built in 1859 with its barred windows, once housed Frank James, Jesse James’ notorious brother. Visitors are amazed to learn how James was treated like a hero and showered with gifts throughout his incarceration. Four feet away is the back wall of the federalist-style marshal’s house which was home for county marshals until the early 1930s. Special exhibits include a collection of confiscated handmade weapons. The old jail and museum is located at 217 N. Main St. in Independence and operated by the Jackson County Historical Society.

The Start of the Oregon Trail

Another fun and historic thing to do in Independence is ride a covered wagon. Rides are available at Independence Square. You can actually retrace some of the paths of the original settlers through wagon swales carved by the original pioneers. This wagon tour takes you 1800's style through Independence's famous historic district. The Independence Square is really filled with many historic sites since this was the location where the wagon train assembled before beginning the 2,000 mile journey westward over the Oregon Trail route. Among Oregon Trail facts is that the journey to Oregon could take six months or more to complete. A walking trip through the square itself is a walk back into history.

Harry Truman

Courtesy National. Parks
Another popular attraction in Independence relating to the 20th century is of course the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site. The Harry S. Truman House is shown at left. This stop during your Missouri vacation offers the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, Truman Home and the little known Truman Courtroom and Office. They say that Harry Truman was Independence and Independence was Harry Truman. Many interesting exhibits and artifacts are on display. Harry S. Truman of course was the president who made the decision to drop the atomic bomb to end World War Two with Japan. On Independence Square you can also visit the drugstore where the former President held his first job. The sites relating to Harry S. Truman will really give you a good insight into the man from Missouri who became our President.

George C. Bingham

The Bingham-Waggoner Estate which was built in 1852 is another must see stop. Located at 313 W. Pacific Avenue in Indepandence, the estate was constructed along the 1846 alignment of the Santa Fe Trail. The home was once owned by George C. Bingham, the famed Civil War artist. In the 1890s the Waggoner's purchased the home and 95% of the furnishings are original to the home which is very unique. George Caleb Bingham stood out politically in Missouri. His political career included the writing of the failed “Bingham Resolution”, waging war on the activities of the Klu Klux Klan. Missouri had a very large Confederate sympathizer element and many of Bingham's activities ran counter to the southern beliefs of Missourians in his era. Many of Bingham's works as an artist centered around the serenity of pioneer life. Unfortunately, because of the Civil War in that particular part of Missouri, the Confederate killer and renegade William Quantrill raided towns and killed many with his infamous group named Quantrill's Raiders. With this sad and dangerous backdrop Bingham decided to sell his home. Waggoner took over the home in 1867. The Waggoner family had been millers in Pennsylvania and after moving to Independence became quite prominent in the baking flour industry. The Bingham-Waggoner estate is one of the best examples existing of early pioneer aristocracy. Another interesting attraction at the estate is the existence on the property of old wagon track swales from the time of the Santa Fe Trail.

The Railroad

Add to your Independence Missouri trip planner a visit to the old Chicago and Alton Railroad depot. Located at 318 W. Pacific Avenue in Independence, the depot was fully restored during the last decade of the 1900's and moved to it's current location. The two-story depot has three rooms on the first floor which are the waiting room, station master's room, and baggage room. The second floor has four rooms, which were formerly the station master's residence. This includes the kitchen, dining room, bedroom, and parlor. Each room is furnished in the period circa 1879. The depot also includes a room with many interesting Chicago and Alton Railroad artifacts.

Learning about the key role Independence Missouri and it's wagon trains played in our nation's westward expansion can be quite fun and educational. A good weekend getaway for the whole family. Whether your travels include a Missouri vacation or if you just happen to travel through the state on your road trip, a visit to Independence is a great addition to your trip planner.

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images from the public domain)

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