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

Chapter 9:
Independence As It Was in 1838


Under this caption the late John McCoy, brother of William McCoy, first Mayor of Independence, wrote a series of articles for the Jackson Examiner. Quoting McCoy:

     "Like all Western towns, Independence had a public square, but it was not fenced in. Paths through it diagonally from one corner to another were used to shorten the distance in crossing from one side to the other. Along the sidewalks there were at intervals a plank or a brick pavement in front of some of the houses, showing that the owners of the property had lived elsewhere and were accustomed to the sight of well paved streets and sidewalks.

     "Taking as a starting point the northeastern side of the square, Uncle Wood Noland's two-story frame hotel, with a broad porch on the eastern side of it, was the first prominent building in the corner. Belonging to the hotel, fronting on Main Street was a large stable, one of the adjuncts to a good tavern. Thus provided it was the duty of his son, Isaac, to receive and care for the guests on their arrival -- Uncle Wood himself seated in his chair on the porch always greeted the newcomer cordially, asking him pleasantly to alight from his horse and look at his saddle.

     "Everybody in those days traveled by horseback with a pair of saddlebags under him and an overcoat strapped behind the saddle, being thus prepared to shield himself from the rain or cold. There were multitude of travelers constantly passing to and fro through the country looking out for investments or situations to locate themselves for life. Some were pleased and others disappointed, but in either case they were at the end of their journey -- could go no further -- this was the extreme western limit of the state or the United States. All beyond this was looked upon as the land of savages or wild beasts. Moses' geography styled it, 'The great American Desert.'

     "Uncle Wood Noland had a farm adjoining the town with a fine orchard and garden, from which he supplied his table with vegetables and fruits. He used to boast when the peaches were ripe that nobody could make better peach cobbler than his wife, Nancy, and everybody who tasted them thought so, too.

     "The regular meetings of the Circuit Court were great occasions in Uncle Wood's estimation. Much preparation for the reception of the guests were necessary. The house underwent a thorough cleaning from top to bottom -- the rooms were newly furnished and everything was in readiness when the courts opened. The lawyers throughout the district (which was a large one) arrived on horseback, were shown to their rooms and a jolly good time they had of it. About this time J. Brown Hovey was a student at law, whom the other lawyers used to flatter wonderfully as a singer (he was a good one, too), and in the evenings before the hotel they used to gather around the porch and listen to him for hours. As much sport as they made of him, eventually he became a more successful member of the bar than many of the others.

     "The only houses on the north side of the square were those of Lucas & Cavanaugh, they failed in business and Wilson Roberts, who had a saloon. Lewis Jones in after years erected a large three-story brick building, which remains still on the corner, and is now used as a hotel, called the Metropolitan. On the northwest corner there were two one-story log houses, one as a shoe shop and the other with a fine gilt lettered sign (gotten in New Orleans) of West India fruits; in my simplicity I turned in, hoping to get some of the fine fruits of the season; imagine my disappointment when I found nothing but a few bottles and jugs containing liquor. Not being a lover of their contents I made a hasty retreat to the amusement of a few loungers around the door.

    "Next and the only house on that side was a two-story frame building, unoccupied at present, except as the postoffice. A weekly mail was all we had and that was seven days out from St. Louis. The postmaster was a very accommodating man, who, when the letters and papers were not called for, he delivered them in person. A letter in those days amounted to something, the postage on each was 25 cents. Such a thing as an envelope was not heard of, the whole sheet of foolscap was carefully filled with writing to the outer edge, a little space being left when folded, to direct it to its destination -- a few years later, round thin wafers of various colors were used to fasten the sheet, then sealing wax was tried, but soon prohibited, as in hot weather it caused trouble with the mail matter."

     John McCoy, addressing the old settlers' meeting, said:

     "Independence was selected as a place of arrival and departure as well as an outfitting place for trappers and hunters of the mountains and Western plains. It was well worth while to witness the arrival of some of the pack-trains. Before entering they gave notice of their arrival by the shooting of guns, so that when they reached the Owens and Aull store a goodly number of people were there to welcome them. A greasy, dirty set of men they were. Water, surely was a rare commodity with them. They little cared for it except to slack their thirst. Their animals were loaded down with heavy packs of buffalo robes and peltry. Occasionally they had a small wagon, which, after long usage, had the fellies and spokes wrapped with rawhide to keep the vehicle from falling to pieces. So accustomed were they to their work that it took them little time to unload the burdens from the backs of the animals and store their goods in the warehouse. The trappers let the merchants attend to the shipping. The arrival at Independence was always a joyous ending of a hazardous trip, and when once safely over it, they were always ready for a jolly time, which they had to their hearts' content. They made the welkin ring and filled the town with high carnival for many days.

     "The mountain trade at length gave way to the Mexican trade, this being on a much larger scale. Pack mules and donkeys were discarded and wagons drawn by mules and oxen were substituted. Such men as David Waldo, Solomon Houke, William and Solomon Sublett, Josiah Gregg, St. Vrain, Charvez and others of like character were early adventurers, and as the government gave permission to enter and trade with the people, they ventured across the plains regardless of danger. Samuel C. Owens, it is said, was the first trader in Independence. He came to Missouri from Kentucky when he was a young man. He was the first clerk of the Circuit Court of Jackson County. John Aull, his partner, had owned a store in Lexington, Missouri. Owens and James Aull lost their lives while with Doniphan in Mexico."



The Centennial History of Independence


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