With the settling of Oregon, the peopling of Salt Lake City, and the discovery of gold in California, a demand was created for fast travel and communications. An Act of Congress created a number of mail runs leaving from Independence to points further west. The Overland Mail and Stage headed out for Santa Fe operated by Dr. David Waldo, Jacob Hall, and William McCoy. A mail run to Utah was put together by Samuel Woodson Sr. and James W. Brown. But the most famous one of all was the Star Mail Route.
Colonel Harvey Vaile was a native of Vermont before he and his wife arrived in our neighborhood sometime before the Civil War. Following the hostilities, Colonel Vaile received some lucrative mail contracts and created the historic Star Mail Route, with Colonel L.P. Williamson as his superintendent. They carried the U.S. Mail from Independence to Fort Leavenworth and beyond to the great northwest country.
Their flat bottomed lightweight stagecoaches traveled at a high rate of speed, much faster than the regular passenger coaches, which also carried mail. Vaile's coaches could also accommodate up to six passengers. It was a graceful smooth ride as the coaches rocked back and forth easily on sixteen layers of pliable leather springs.
At the height of his mail career in 1881, Vaile built our beloved thirty-one room Vaile Mansion at 1500 North Liberty in Independence, one of the pride and joys of our community. Originally, the estate consisted of 30 acres, a large vineyard, stables and a carriage house. He was never satisfied with anything except the biggest and most spectacular and Mr. and Mrs. Vaile became the favorites of the local high society.
One of the many freshwater springs that flowed from Mother Earth here in Independence was located in his backyard. Vaile made a fortune bottling that water, loading his coaches and selling it out West where fresh water was most scarce.
After completion of the mansion, Vaile got caught up in the great Star Route mail scandals of the Post Office Department, which rocked all of Independence and Washington, D.C., during 1882 and 1883. It seemed that back in 1878 the Vaile Line had let a number of subcontracts and the subcontractors did not carry out their obligations. When they were placed on trial, Vaile, Williamson, and their secretary-treasurer, John B. Minor, were all drawn into the case. Naturally, the local society turned their backs on the Vaile's, which was more than Mrs. Vaile could handle, and she went into a deep depression.
A small army of attorneys were assembled to defend the accused. Colonel Vaile retained Robert Ingersoll, “the great agnostic” orator and lawyer, at the reported sum of one thousand dollars a day during the trial.
The defendants were first brought to trial June 1, 1882, and the trial lasted until September 11, when they were discharged, because the jury failed to reach a verdict. A second trial got under way December 4 of that year and lasted until June 11, 1883, with a verdict of not guilty. Sadly, the not guilty verdict was too late for poor Mrs. Vaile, she had taken her own life before the results were in.
After being cleared of all charges, Vaile turned over his mail contracts to his superintendent, Colonel Williamson, who formed the Western Mail and Stage Company.
Colonel Williamson lived at 313 South Pleasant built by Hugh Dodd. It was a modest house compared to the Vaile, but did have commodious smokehouse and slave cabins out back. One of the old Concord stages stood in the backyard of the home for many years until his daughter sold it to a California movie company where it was reactivated as a stagecoach in several western movies.
Reference: “Jackson County Pioneers” by Pearl Wilcox.
-- To reach Ted Stillwell, send an email to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.