When Thomas Jefferson purchased Louisiana from Napoleon back in 1803, Missouri was much different from what we know today. When William McCoy was elected the first mayor of Independence, his town was also much different than the one we know today.

When Thomas Jefferson purchased Louisiana from Napoleon back in 1803, Missouri was much different from what we know today. When William McCoy was elected the first mayor of Independence, his town was also much different than the one we know today. It was more like that of a typical cowboy town straight out of the pages of those Hollywood westerns we grew up with.

The Louisiana Purchase effectively doubled the size of the United States – prior to that transaction, the American border was the Mississippi  River. It seemed as though the entire country turned and faced westward.

There were only two so-called cities to speak of within the Louisiana Purchase: St. Louis and New Orleans. It was nearly impossible to travel west out of New Orleans – if the alligators didn’t get you, you most likely would get lost in the swamps, so everyone headed for St. Louis. However, Missouri was no bargain either because it was grown up in trees, underbrush and tall grass – it was nearly impassable.

You know how fast the grass grows in your backyard. Think of what it must have been like before they invented the lawnmower. The grass upon the prairies was taller than a man’s head and so thick you couldn’t wade through it. There were some 20,000 Native Americans living in what is today the state of Missouri at the time, so there were many shadowy Indian paths.

A man could walk down those Indian paths if you had enough nerve, or maybe ride a horse, but they were just that – a path. There was no way to take a wagon team down one. So, the Missouri River was the highway. And that was before the days of steamboats, so wagons were loaded on barges and either rowed or pulled up stream across the state.

Shortly after Missouri gained statehood, Independence 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 (what we call the Square), less than 3 miles from the Missouri  River, were 16 major fresh water springs – the staff of life.

An old “Indian Trace” passed over the hill and many wandering Indians stopped for water. The Kanza tribe (sometimes known as the Kaw Indians) wintered in the area because of the tall forest, abundant wildlife, and a fresh 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 1826. 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 through the streets of Independence. The Santa Fe Trail ran from the newest city on the map, to one of the oldest cities on the North American continent – Santa Fe, N.M. The only city in America that is older than Santa Fe is St. Augustine, Fla.

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 river, below modern day Missouri 291, near Atherton.

Missouri was a way station to the West, but 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 those pioneers were southerners, people from Kentucky, Tennessee and the Virginias, but the town’s folks and merchants came from absolutely everywhere. Independence became the launching pad for not only the Santa Fe Trail but the California and Oregon Trails as well.



“Sugar Creek – the Images of America series, ”by Richard N. Piland, is now available at the Blue and Grey Book Shoppe, located in the Old Blake Museum, 106 East Walnut, two blocks south of the Independence Square.