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Examiner
  • Ted Stillwell: Santa-Cali-Gon and the trails

  • Santa-Cali-Gon is the celebration of the “Trail Days” in the early years around the Jackson County Square.

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  • Santa-Cali-Gon is the celebration of the “Trail Days” in the early years around the Jackson County Square.
    The little outpost of Independence soon became the first settlement of any consequence on the 19th century western frontier. It wasn’t difficult to determine where to locate the new town, because on this hill, less than 3 miles from the Missouri River, were 16 major fresh water springs. The old Indian Trace passed over the hill and many transient Indians stopped for water. The Kanza and Shawnee tribes wintered in the area because of the tall forest and abundant water supply.
    With statehood in 1821, and the mapping of the Santa Fe Trail out of Fort Osage passing through in 1825, Independence was soon named the county seat when Jackson County was formed in 1827. The people and commerce immediately began to pour in. The westward movement, which has been called the largest voluntary migration of people in the history of the world, funneled across the Independence Square. The Santa Fe Trail ran from the newest city to one of the oldest cities, Santa Fe, in the Republic of Mexico.
    Two river ports were soon built to transport in supplies and people. Near Sugar Creek was Wayne’s City Landing, and Blue Mills Landing was on down below today’s Missouri 291 near Atherton.
    While many of the people moved on to points further west, a great many of them settled in Jackson County and called it home. The majority of the farmers were southerners from Kentucky, Tennessee, Carolina and the Virginias, but the town’s folks and merchants came from everywhere.
    Independence became the launching pad for not only the Santa Fe Trail, but the California and Oregon Trails as well. Most of the wagons and prairie schooners had to be manufactured locally, outfitted and stocked with the necessary supplies to get them to their destinations. Overwhelmed by its sudden wealth and importance, the young town behaved like any spoiled child. “It went wild.” With the opening of the West, Independence became the first of the Wild West towns, the kind of town that cowboy folklore was built around.
    The area around the courthouse square was little more than a collection of hastily built wagon outfitting shops, trading posts, blacksmith shops and saloons. Early spring was especially chaotic; this was the time of year the military and civilian caravans formed for their journeys westward. Covered wagons were lined up for miles up and down Liberty Street waiting for the grass out west to get green enough to graze their livestock so they could begin their long overland trips. Trappers, traders, teamsters, homesteaders, gamblers, Indians, fancy dressed Mexicans, Negro stevedores, soldiers and just plain tourists all mixed together, drank together, loved and even killed each other in the dusty streets, or during rainy weather, muddy streets of the Independence Square.
    Page 2 of 2 - Famous names like Wild Bill Hickok, Kit Carson, Hiram Young, Jim Bridger, Sheriff Joseph Walker, Joseph Smith Jr., Daniel Morgan Boone, George Caleb Bingham, Frank and Jessie James, Cole Younger, William Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson all left their mark on Jackson County. A century later, even a man named Truman.
    In 1849, right in the middle of the rip roaring trail days, gold was discovered in California. The whole country was struck with gold fever, and men scrambled from everywhere, heading to make their fortune in the gold fields. The majority of those 49ers trampled through Independence streets heading out the California Trail.
    Those times all came to an end with the beginning of the Civil War and the coming of the railroads. Those two events changed everything and opened up whole new chapters of the Jackson County saga.
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    Columnist Ted W. Stillwell and political cartoonist Joe Liccar will be on Lexington Street shaking hands and talking to people this weekend in The Examiner booth on the south side of the courthouse during the Santa-Cali-Gon. Be sure to stop by and say hello.
    To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to teddystillwell@yahoo.com or call him at 816-252-9909.
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