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

Chapter 1:
Torchlights on the Towers of History


The names of Independence and Jackson County are torchlights on the towers of history.  Both the county and the county seat were named for Andrew Jackson.  The county was given his name by a band of dashing heroes and hero worshippers.  The county seat was  named Independence for Jackson's chief quality, independence of character.  These monumental names were conferred in honor of the victor at New Orleans before he became President of the United States, and hence were complimentary to General Jackson, not President Jackson.

     Immediately after the names were conferred on Jackson County and Independence, Andrew Jackson was elected chief magistrate of this nation.  The new county and the new county seat rejoiced in being ahead of the world in their identification by name with the new President.

     The ground chosen for the county seat was covered with timber.  The woodman came with his axe and cut away the forest on the site of the county seat and logs on the ground were assembled for the first county building.  The log house was the pioneer's mode of architecture.  All dwellings were constructed of logs, all school-houses and churches and the first college buildings.  The pioneer's lowly log house was the forerunner of our mansions of today, of churches and cathedrals, of marble depots and business blocks, of our magnificent federal, state, county and municipal structures.  Let us reverence the log buildings of our forebears.  Jackson County's log court house is yet standing and may be seen on the city hall campus, a treasured reminiscence of an honored by-gone generation.

     Around this primitive county court house clustered presently other log houses, stores, dwellings, hotels, blacksmith shops, set in among the trees or in little clearings.  The men were of the Jacksonian type, hardy, brave, undaunted.  With the ax in one hand and a rifle in the other, they were at once prepared to hew or slay -- they did a great deal of both, slaying wild Indians and wild animals.

     This little log house settlement in the heart of the wilderness was the newest thing on the map, a rising metropolis on the outer verge of civilization, on the peak of a cape projecting into the west.  Already the world seemed to know that a great city was destined to rise in the West and the wisest prophets said, "There it is, Independence," and it became the best advertised town west of St. Louis.  Independence advertised the west as a desirable habitation and as a business region of great promise.  Towns that spring up around gold mines have seldom attracted more publicity than Independence attracted with her commercial assets and flaming prospects.

     Intense business activity and the bustle of explorers and travelers and the voice of movers rang through  the primeval woods.  Roads were opened and trails or traces were established.  From here set out wagon trains, scouts on horseback, armies and cavalcades; and home seekers; people were coming and going and there were fur traders and trappers and hunters and Indians, and Indian fighters.  From here commonwealth builders set forth to the west, the northwest, the south and the southwest; Missouri, with Independence in the vanguard, was the founder and mother of Texas and of Oregon and of New Mexico and of Kansas and California -- and all other states to the west or south, except Arkansas.  Missouri is not responsible for Arkansas.

     Tradition vouches for only one Missourian who ever went to Arkansas and he taught the natives the correct use of the fiddle and the bow.  He is immortalized as the "Arkansas Traveler."  But if Arkansas is listening tonight on this address, I will say that no other state ever built up such and admirable commonwealth with such slight help from Missouri as the world witnesses in Arkansas.

     Independence was a place of national import from its founding and the historian must crowd out the minor events to make place for the larger epochs. Scarcely five years from the date of the founding of this city, the second steamboat to come up the Missouri River passed the Independence water front, the Yellowstone, in the Spring of 1832. Heretofore the chief navigators of the Missouri River had been the catfish, the teal duck and the sand hill crane, disturbed occasionally by a keel boat or a canoe. The Western Engineer was the very first steamboat to pass the future site of Independence, 1819, a brave little craft with a smokestack about the size of a stove pipe belching out volumes of wood smoke and no whistle. The steam whistle was invented in England about this time.

     Almost simultaneously with the coming of the trade on the river began the trade across the plains. This trade grew from year to year and Independence waxed wealthy and her fame as a trade center reached the mountains, and to the eastern seaboard.

     Within five years after the founding of Independence, the government began the removal of the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River to what is now Kansas, then the Great American Desert. These tribes were located along the western boundary line of Jackson County, which was the western boundary line of the State of Missouri. These tribes received annuities from the government and the astute business men of Independence did not fail to profit by trade and traffic with the Indians. Independence grew rich on Indian annuities and Indian trade. Indians who heretofore sold their peltries at Fort Osage henceforth sold the same at Independence.

     Beyond the reservations of these civilized tribes along Missouri's border were the wild tribes, the Apaches, the Comanches, the Pawnees and other equally bloodthirsty nations. To hold these back the government established forts along the river and in the mountains and on the plains. The troops for these forts were recruited in Missouri, largely from Jackson County and Independence. The farmers who settled near Independence found a ready market to the west for mules and horses and cattle and grain and bacon and a demand for men, and leaders of men. In those days Independence prospered on Indian Annuities, on trade to the mountains and to Santa Fe and she grew rich on steamboat traffic. Independence, unlike all other new towns, never suffered for the lack of money; she always had it. She earned it from the government, from the Indians, from the Mexicans and from the forests and fields around her. But the great bulk of her business came in over the plains from Santa Fe and Chihuahua, a foreign trade which came here to connect with the river traffic.

     How did it happen that Independence permitted the little upstart ten miles off westward to run ahead in municipal development?



The Centennial History of Independence


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