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Examiner
  • Ted Stillwell: The first of the Wild West towns

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  • Just before and soon after the founding of Independence in 1827, many other towns sprang up along the river and bid for public attention. The first of these, of course, was Sibley, because it sat in the shadow of Fort Osage.
    The fort was a small one as far as forts go, but was located on a commanding bluff with a spectacular view of the Missouri River in both directions. The place had been designated “Fort Point” by Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition up the Missouri shortly after the consummation of the Louisiana Purchase. Upon its completion, the fort was renamed “Fort Clark” in honor of Captain William Clark, who oversaw the construction. Then, later on down the road it was, once again, changed to “Fort Osage” in honor of the Great Osage Nation on whose territory the fort was located.
    The fort was constructed in 1808. This was just four years before any part of the continent was known as Missouri, and only four years after the Louisiana Purchase. The fort, therefore, was erected not in Missouri, but in upper Louisiana, the name by which our part of the country continued to be known until after the declaration of the War of 1812. One week and one day after congress declared the War of 1812, congress created the Territory of Missouri.
    Fort Osage was occupied by one company of United States soldiers under the command of Captain Clemson. The fort was also occupied by a stock of government goods suited to barter with the Osage neighborhood. This stock of goods was under the care and management of Maj. George C. Sibley, government factor. The sole purpose of the fort and of the soldiers was to protect the government storehouse. The fort was under siege a time or two by the Osage, but was never intended to figure into the military history of our country.
    The fort and trading house was dismantled in 1827, the same year as the founding of Independence. It was abandoned when Cantonment Leavenworth was established as the new military center of the West.
    Even though Independence was an ambitious upstart, it never-the-less remained an unpromising, sleepy, dull, almost silent little village for the first year or so of its existence. But, the place did have a few things going for it, namely, it was designated the county seat and it was on the Santa Fe Trail, it had 16 major fresh water springs around the square, and was only 3 miles from the river. The original Santa Fe trailhead was down river at Franklin, near Boonville, but a raging flood wiped the town off of the face of the map and that trailhead soon moved up river to Independence. Presently, Aull and Company of Lexington established a store in Independence and carried such goods and supplies as those bound for the mountains or for Santa Fe might require. Independence henceforth was no longer a sleepy, one horse village.
    Page 2 of 2 - The assembling here of mountain hunters, fur traders and trappers, the trains of pack mules and covered wagons, Mexican traders and returning Missourians from Santa Fe with bags of silver, cowboys and bands of Indians all mingling and mixing together, fighting and drinking, afforded no time, day or night, for Independence to go back to sleep. It soon became the first of the “Wild West” towns that cowboy folklore was built around.
    Most of the covered wagons that went out the California, Oregon and Santa Fe trails were built in Independence, so there were many wagon shops and blacksmith shops around the square along with taverns and saloons.
    By all accounts, it was a rough and tumble place with much confusion and lots of money to go around.
    Reference: “The Centennial History of Independence, Missouri” by W.L. Webb
    The Jackson County Historical Society once again sponsors “Ghost Tour” with Ted Stillwell riding tailgate on Ralph Goldsmith’s covered wagon each Friday night in the month of October as the two men tell historical ghost stories around the Independence Square. They depart on the hour from the 1859 Jail on North Main Street.
    To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to teddy.stillwell@yahoo.com or call him at 816-252-9909.
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