In the years that followed the Louisiana Purchase, the tiny outpost of Independence became the most important town of any consequence on the extreme Western Frontier.

In the years that followed the Louisiana Purchase, the tiny outpost of Independence became the most important town of any consequence on the extreme Western Frontier.

Steamboats by the hundreds brought people and supplies up the river to Independence, where most disembarked and were outfitted for wagon trains heading on out the Santa Fe, California and Oregon trails.

One of those coming up the river in 1855 was a rather shy, tight-fisted and modest man, named Thomas Swope. He probably would have jumped off of the steamboat at Independence if it hadn’t been for the fact that a short time earlier a raging flood on the Missouri River had left a sandbar in front of the river port, making it impossible for the steamboats to dock at Independence. As luck would have it, the river captain took him on upriver to the Westport Landing.

Westport was four miles south of the river, but Swope was intrigued by the young Kansas City that was growing up on the river levee at Westport Landing. The small town seemed to be on the verge of a rapid growth with a population of 442 people, who were living in houses perched on cliff tops and huddled under muddy bluffs. He quickly analyzed that since the Missouri River lay to the north, the town must grow to the south.

Thomas Swope was a businessman and could have very possibly been considered a visionary, because he immediately purchased a rugged farm immediately south of the levee district up on top of the bluff and divided it into building lots. A critical newspaper editor wrote, “The fools are not all dead yet, as one just paid $250 per acre for a cornfield near the levee.”

However, at a time when steamboats were arriving at a rate of 600 or 700 a year and wagon freight was piled all along the river front from Main to Delaware streets, Thomas Swope made untold millions selling those lots in what became the heart of downtown Kansas City.

The gentile, quiet man, who loved his whiskey and suffered from dyspepsia, saw extraordinary events unfold before him as he watched the steel and concrete buildings go up in his cornfield.

In his later years, his wealth laid heavily on his mind. It bothered him that he made his millions so easily, while he saw others who worked so bitterly hard for meager wages.

At one time he took to handing his business manager a $10 bill each morning to help someone in need. However, since both men lived in well-to-do neighborhoods and did not circulate daily among the poor, they had a hard time getting rid of the $10. So, the business manager simply filled his pockets full of candy and flowers each day and passed them along to everyone he came in contact with.

With his wisdom and foresight however, coupled with his new found generosity, Colonel Swope eventually did share his wealth and bestowed millions through his philanthropy. But, none of those gifts ever matched the one he bestowed on you and me when he purchased 1,334 acres seven mile southeast of downtown and donated it to the people, a noble expanse of land known today as Swope Park.

Swope did finally make it to Independence following the death of his brother. With failing health, the Colonel moved in with his sister-in-law on South Pleasant Street, where he was allegedly poisoned by her son-in-law, Dr. Hyde. Apparently, Thomas Swope was murdered for the money.

Reference: “Jackson County Pioneers,” by Pearl Wilcox.