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

Chapter 5:
First Settlers at Independence


James Shepherd and his young bride disembarked from a steamboat at Fort Osage, now Sibley, in 1825.  They had several wagons and teams and a number of negro slaves.  The Shepherds proceeded into the wilderness along the Osage Trace or trail to the Southwest.  Mr. Shepherd had heard of the Blue Country in the Osage reservation.  He had been informed that the Indian title to the Blue Country had been extinguished by treaty and that the country would be thrown open to settlement in a short time.  His purpose was to be on the ground in advance of the rush, in order to secure a choice location for his frontier home.  The Osage Indian Trace from Sibley across the country to the land of their kinsmen, the Kaws, passed through the present site of Independence.  Levi Potts of Blue Springs (deceased since this was written), one of the oldest settlers in the country, recalls the Osage trace and says it crossed the public square where the county court house stands.  He says it was a bridle path worn down a few inches and covered with dust.  Little Indian boys, and white boys also, used to play in the dust of the old trace on the Court House square.

     Mr. Shepherd's train of wagons arrived one evening at the public spring on the east side of Independence, near the municipal Electric Light plant of the present day.  The spring was a famous camping place for Indians and for all travelers who ventured into the wilderness.  Mr. Shepherd was now in the Blue Country, the rich Osage Country -- practically the very center of it; known also as the "Garden of Missouri."  He liked the place and decided to stay there.  The land west of the spring was elevated and covered with heavy forest trees, regarded as an indication of a rich and productive soil.  He directed his negroes to fell trees and build a log house near the spring.  He understood very well that he was an intruder, but time would give him the right to settle here and he would enter the land from the government as soon as a land office for the purpose should be opened.  Other settlers came into the neighborhood on the same business that brought Mr. Shepherd.  One of these was John Young who selected a beautiful site immediately southeast of Independence, a mile from Mr. Shepherd's location.  Neighbors were not expected or desired to get any nearer each other than the distance separating Shepherd and Young.

     When the judges of the new County Court met at the home of John Young, commissioners had been appointed to locate the seat of justice for the new county.  The commissioners rode about over the county for several days hunting a suitable site;  they finally drew rein in the woods west of Shepherd's house and seating themselves on the fallen trunk of a tree decided that here was the best location they had seen.  Jacob Gregg, the surveyor of the party, called attention to the fact that the location was not at all near the center of the county, as required by law.  The commissioners, however, argued that the site selected was in the center of the wooded part of the county and therefore met every legal requirement.  The prairie part of the county was regarded as worthless and would never be settled.  These commissioners were wise and patriotic men and no aspersion should be cast upon their work, for they were right, viewing the situation from their standpoint.  They were selecting a county seat for their day and generation.  They have never been charged with making a mistake, nor has anyone ever seriously proposed to undo their work.

     Mr. Shepherd, being apprised of the selection of his proposed homestead for the seat of justice moved away three or four miles and entered land southeast of the town in what was known afterwards as the Stayton neighborhood.  He reared a large family and his old father and other relatives came out from Virginia and settled near Independence.  He prospered for a while but his negroes increased in number and he became poor, for his slaves almost ate him out of house and home.  He was not strict with them, and he never sold a slave.

     The Shepherds and the Nolands were very numerous in Jackson County.  It used to be said that these two families could defeat any candidate for a county office.  The Shepherd boys were all soldiers and all fighters in the war of the Rebellion, on the side of the South. About 30 of the Shepherds of this family were slain in the war.  Some of them were in Quantrell's guerilla band, notably George Shepherd.  They were all fearless men.

     The Nolands also were soldiers and fought for the South.



The Centennial History of Independence


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