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The Centennial History of Independence, Mo. by W. L. Webb

Chapter 15:
Early Famous Visitors


   In the summer of 1849 a French writer and artist, by name, M. de Garadin, came up the Missouri by steamboat and stopped off here on his way.  He wrote:

     "Today the little village of Independence is thronged with emigrants headed for California.  A steam ferry-boat continually crosses the stream transporting from one bank to the other a multitude of covered wagons, also many herds of cattle and horses, as well as thousands of emigrants, men, women and children.

     "The wagons of emigrants, of which so many are seen at Independence, are covered with canvas and inside are arranged with perfect order and tidiness.  A covered wagon is a cottage on wheels which the owner must inhabit for six or seven weary months.  Hence he makes it as comfortable as possible.

     "Pistols and carbines are indispensable equipment for those headed West.  They are hung up on the walls.  In a corner is a cast iron stove which is set up at each encampment to bake biscuits; there also are suspended cooking utensils and household goods.  In almost all the rolling tents one finds a few books on history or geography, and invariable the Bible, the inseparable companion of the American emigrant.

     "A new gold fever is raging; farmers are selling their land at ridiculous prices; lawyers are abandoning their practices; merchants, Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist preachers have donned woolen shirts, put pistols in their belts and muskets on their shoulders, and starting toward the New Eldorado in the long caravans."

John C. McCoy

     The man who laid off and named Westport and who also helped to found Kansas City, and who named the place Kansas, John C. McCoy, was a visitor for half an hour in Independence before the place was three years old.  Mr. McCoy was at the time a youth of fifteen and was moving West with his parents.  His father, the Reverend Isaac McCoy, was missionary to the Indians.  Some author in the East wrote the life of Isaac McCoy, the first man in Jackson County to have a book written and published about him.  The son, John McCoy, wrote many sketches of pioneer life and here is what he wrote of his first visit to Independence:

     "About the middle of August, 1830, a small party of six persons, two on horseback and four walking, with a string of pack horses heavily laden with provisions and camp equipment, entered the public square of the frontier village of Independence from the east and passed on in single file to the southwest corner, where the largest house in the town of perhaps one hundred and fifty inhabitants stood.  It was, I believe, the only frame structure in the place, the others being of logs, some hewn and some otherwise.  The hostelry (then called a tavern, and kept by Jones Flournoy) was a two-story frame structure, built of hewn logs and stood on the northeast corner of the square."  (The house was where they halted and was a branch house of James and John Aull, the leading merchants of the Missouri Valley, managed by Samuel C. Owens.)

     "Their appearance in the village, although not particularly unique or unusual then in the border land, created quite a ripple of interest with the jeans-and-linsey-clad denizens and quite a pleasant interchange of courtesies and newsgiving was carried on for an hour or so."

Kit Carson Was Here

     Kit Carson was a truant on his first visit, perhaps his only visit, to Independence.  He was only a boy and his two older brothers were traders from St. Louis to Santa Fe.  When the two brothers arrived at Independence, they were astonished at a new arrival on a mule, their younger brother, Kit, whom they had left behind, apprenticed to be a saddle-maker.  The two brothers were very angry and asked Kit why he was there.  He replied, "I'm going with you."  They ordered him to mount his mule and go back.  Kit mounted his mule and started homeward, but a mile east of Independence he turned the mule loose and with a kick he headed the riderless mule homeward, while he on foot followed the Santa Fe train, which he overtook.  The wrathy brothers took him before the captain of the train, St. Vrain, who asked the truant what he had to say for himself.  Young Kit replied that he had "nothing to say except that he could shoot straight."  Captain St. Vrain permitted the boy to join the train and thus began Kit Carson's career in the West.

     In the time of Thomas H. Benton, United States Senators were chosen by the state legislatures and therefore the legislatures had the right to instruct the senators how to vote in Congress.  Benton refused to be instructed against his conscience, and "Benton's Appeal" was from the legislature to the voters themselves.  Benton made a great campaign for re-election in 1849.  In his canvas of the state he came to Independence and made an address to a large concourse of people.

     There is no report as to his speech here, but he was speaking at the headquarters of the Santa Fe Trail.  His statesmanship had established and policed that trail nearly a quarter of a century before that date, and here was the home of his friend, Major William Gilpin.  It is not probable from our knowledge of Benton that he made any mention of either Gilpin or of the Santa Fe Trail, or of the Mexican War, or of the expansion of our national domain just then completed.  It is mete that we now recall these phases of history as parts of our experiences in one hundred years of municipal life.


     In 1843 John James Audubon, the great American ornithologist, made his famous journey by steamboat up the Missouri River.  He spent several hours at the Independence boat landing.  In the book he wrote of this journey he gives some interesting historical data of local interest.  The "John Auld," mentioned by him, was a steamboat making the upstream voyage at the same time.

     Audubon records that when his boat passed Glasgow without landing, "the backguards on shore fired at us with rifles."

     His call at Independence was pleasant.  His diary is here copied:

     "It stopped raining in the night while I was sound asleep, and at about 1 o'clock we did arrive at Independence, distance about 379 miles from St. Louis.  (The distance now by automobile is 293 miles.)  Here again was the "John Auld" putting out freight for the Santa Fe traders and we saw many of their wagons.  Of course I exchanged a hand-shake with Father De Smet and many of the officers I had seen yesterday.  Mr. Meeks, the agent of Colonel Veras, had 148 pounds of tow in readiness for us, and I drew on the Chouteax for $30.20, for we were charged no less than 12 1/2 to 25 cents per pound; but this tow might have passed for fine flax, and I was well content.  We left the "Auld," proceeded on our way, and stopped at Madame Chouteau's plantation, where we put out some freight for Sir William Stuart.  The water had been two feet deep at her house, but the river had suddenly fallen about six feet.  At Madam Chouteau's a saw a brother of my friend Pierre Chouteau, Sr., now at New York, and he gave me some news respecting the murder of Mr. Jarvis.  About twenty picked men of the neighborhood had left in pursuit of the remainder of the marauders and had sent one of their number back, with the information that they had remained not two miles from the rascally thieves and murderers.  I hope they will overtake them all, and shoot them on the spot.  We saw a few squirrels, and Bell killed two parrokeets."

     The name in the text should be Charvez, not Jarvis.  The murdered man was Don Antonio Jose Charvez, a Spanish merchant, doing business over the Santa Fe Trail between Independence, Mo., and Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Charvez was on his way to Independence with a large sum of money to lay in his annual supply of merchandise.  John McDaniels of Clay County organized a band of robbers at Westport and set out to waylay the rich Spaniard, whom they met a few days out from Westport.  Charvez begged for his life, but the robbers killed him and took his money.  When news of this crime reached Independence, great excitement prevailed and a posse was promptly organized and went in pursuit under command of Maj. Wm. Gilpin.  McDaniels and one other of the gang were captured by this posse.  The prisoners were hung in St. Louis by the Federal authorities; Weston F. Birch, U. S. Marshal for Missouri, had charge of the execution.

     Here is an excerpt from the journal of a Forty-niner,  John Evens Brown, published in full in the Journal of American History (Feb. 1908):

     "Tuesday we arrived at Independence, landing in the morning, and we were the whole day in getting out our goods, and making camp on the brink of the river.  Cooking supper seemed quite a difficult matter and night found us very tired.  I spent a very uncomfortable night.  One watch was kept, as thieves are the only expected visitors.

     "On Wednesday we moved our camp one-half mile beyond town by the Santa Fe Road.  Our wagons looked very trim and the mules in fine condition.  My horse has been feeling fine for the long rest.  I went into Independence in the afternoon and found a great place of business.  It is the trading place of the Mexicans and hunters who meet here every spring and exchange their wares, and purchase goods.  The town is full of wagon shops and from these is done a great business, and I am told much money is made.  The town has a population of 1,500 people.  Independence is to be our starting point and we will spend a week in preparing for our journey."


     Gen. John Sherman in 1852, while yet a Captain in the U. S. Army, was sent to Leavenworth on duty, partly to inspect a lot of cattle for the government.  He rode on horseback from Fort Leavenworth to Independence, Mo., and while here he wrote a letter, probably to his wife.  The letter is long and interesting and from it I have copied the following excerpts:

"Independence, Mo., May 21, 1852.

     "I find myself here, on a rainy day, and know no better disposition to make of my time than to write to you.  I last wrote you from Fort Leavenworth."

     Here Capt. Sherman gives a lengthy account of his horseback ride through Platte and Clay counties to Independence, by way of Liberty.  Resuming our quotation:

     "Accordingly after dinner I remounted Old Fogy, and prevailed on him to carry me from Liberty to the river, six miles, and then six further to this 'city,' the great starting place for the Great West, California, Oregon and New Mexico.  It is a busy thriving town of 2,000 inhabitants, has a good Court House and public square, lined with stores containing everything that a traveler on the plains could ask for.  The streets bounding the Court House square extend back for a long distance, having many pretty neat houses with yards as much like the country towns of Ohio as two peas, except that this town is newer and more thriving -- this, the Noland House, being the biggest hotel.  I rode up and true to my luck found several people of my acquaintance, one a Mr. Mason of Fort Atkinson and another, Mr. F. X. Aubrey, who is considered the most 'rapid man' in the Santa Fe trade, who is always just arriving from New Mexico.  I did think of staying here only a few hours, but they prevailed on me to stop all night, and I woke up this morning to find myself storm-bound.  Yet I am not sorry, for I have learned many things here, which it is my interest to know, have talked a good deal with Aubrey and others about new roads and cut-offs and about affairs generally in New Mexico and the road thither. 

     "If you should hear of my joining some expedition or other, you must not be surprised, for had I authority or permission I would certainly make some summer trip of the kind.  A great many have gone to California from here, yet more are going; mule teams and ox teams are loaded in the streets and California subjects are careering about before bidding a last adieu to houses, stores, trees and other luxuries they will not soon see again.  A train started yesterday for Chihuahua in Mexico, with goods imported from France.  I mention this merely to show the variety of things done in this city."

Diary of a Visitor of 1849

     The diary of Captain J. A. Pritchard, who passed through Independence in 1849 on his way from Kentucky to California, is in the possession of ex-Supreme Judge John I. Williamson of Kansas City, who authorizes the subjoined extract to be used in this history of Independence.

     "Sunday, April 22, 1849.  We reached Independence this morning at 8 o'clock.  ... Independence is a handsome flourishing town with a high healthy situation -- three miles from the Missouri River and on the south side surrounded by one of the most beautiful and fertile countries of any town in the nation.  The land is well timbered with a most luxurious growth of black walnut, blue and black ash, hackberry, burr oak, white and black oak, buckeye, box elder, coffee nut, etc.  Soil with that growth of timber cannot help being abundantly productive; besides it has a limestone foundation. Its geographical location is such that its climate is unsurpassed in the Union.

     "The emigrants are encamped in every direction for miles around.  Such is the crowded condition of the streets of Independence, by long trains of ox teams, mule teams, and men here to purchase stock, that it is impossible to pass along.  And the California fever is raging to such an extent that it is carrying off its thousands per day.  Now we are ready to bid adieu to home, friends and happy country, as it were, for we are about to separate ourselves from the abodes of civilization, its peace, comforts, and its safety, for a period we know not how long, and to some forever, to launch away upon the broad and extensive plains which stretch away and away, and bounded only by the blue wall of the sky.  While thus lying around in suspense the reflections of home are forcibly crowded upon our minds, the happy influences that we have torn ourselves from to enter upon a wild and in all probability a chimerical enterprise."



The Centennial History of Independence


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