As a result of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the land west of the Mississippi River, including present day Jackson County, Missouri, was acquired by the United States. Over the next few years, the Osage Nation ceded their claims to portions of this land to the government. As the State of Missouri began its development, the United States Government transferred portions of the land to the state for governmental and educational purposes, while offering the remainder for sale to American settlers.
Mountain Man Jim Bridger was born back in Old Virginy, but arrived at the Big Spring in Independence before there was any form of civilization here around 1822; however, he soon departed up river with a bunch of fur trappers that he met at the spring. For the remainder of his life though, Jim Bridger referred to our neck of the woods as home.
On February, 16 1825, the Missouri General Assembly passed an act authorizing the surveying of a new western border county to be called Jackson. The land selected for the location of the town site of Independence was near the Indian gathering place called the Big Spring and the town site was approved as the county seat on March 29, 1827.
In May of that year, Missouri Gov. John Miller, appointed Abraham McClelland, Richard Fristoe, and Henry Burris as officers of the new County Court. It was their job to organize the young county. Lilburn W. Boggs of Independence (later to become governor) was appointed temporary Court Clerk.
George W. Rhodes surveyed the 160 acre town of Independence into lots of assorted sizes. There were 142 original town lots, with an additional lot, containing the big spring, set aside for public use. Town lots were then offered for sale in July 1827, but no one showed up. A couple of days later they tried again offering 7 gallons of free whiskey to encourage the bidders. This time the people came and actually bid on 85 of the original lots. Eventually however, the remaining lots were sold and the town had to be enlarged for a total of 240 acres.
The county was soon organized in good order with three townships named Fort Osage, Blue and Kaw, with the original southern limits of the county extending as far south as present-day Bates and Cass Counties. At first, the settlers attracted to the frontier were largely of southern heritage. The southern pioneer was an apostle of individualism. Some of the early settlers in the area included the Shepard, Boggs, Chiles, Flournoy, Fristoe, Gregg, Wilson, Owens, Pitcher, Weston, and Noland families.
The location of Independence as the county seat was strategically ideal during this great period of westward expansion. It was near the Missouri River, so as to readily admit the exchange of goods in the growing Santa Fe and Rocky Mountain fur trades. In lively order, the first settlers were quickly joined by merchants, traders, and craftsmen. The volume of trade that passed through the little outpost on the western frontier soon surpassed that of many larger towns to the east, and its potential for future growth seemed almost unlimited.
Jim Bridger outlived three Indian wives while out West, in which several children were born. Bridger never learned to read or write himself, but, as his children began to grow he wanted them to have an education, so he abandoned the mountain life for a while and brought those children back to civilization landing in the bustling town of Independence. He then bought a farm 10 miles south of Westport to keep the boys busy and opened a general store in Westport to keep the girls busy. Jim Bridger died at the age of 77 and is buried at Mount Washington Cemetery in Independence.
Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups.
-- To reach Ted W. Stillwell send an email to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.