Before statehood our neighborhood was part of the Great Osage Nation. It took nearly 20 years after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 for Missouri to gain enough population to apply for statehood, which finally took place in 1821. However, a 26-mile wide strip, where we live today, between Fort Osage and the Kansas border, was held onto by the Osage and was not open for American settlement until 1825. As the papers were being signed in 1825 between the Great Osage and the U.S. government at Fort Osage, there were as many as 50 wagons of American settlers awaiting permission to move in and stake a land claim.
One of the first official acts of the state of Missouri was to designate our neighborhood as Jackson County, in honor of the popular General Andrew Jackson. Then, one of the first acts of the new county was to locate a county seat and then issue a contract for the construction of a courthouse.
They figured it would take a while to construct a new brick courthouse on the Independence Square, so in order to conduct county business immediately, they issued a $150 contract to build a log cabin courthouse to be built one block east of the Square.
They proceeded to cut a number of black walnut trees from around the Square and Sam Shepard, a slave, was chosen to hew the logs and construct the temporary courthouse. He did such a good job that the structure still stands to this day.
Built as a temporary courthouse, the log building ceased county operations in 1831 upon the completion of the permanent brick facility on the Independence Square. The following year, the log courthouse was purchased by Algenon Sidney Gilbert, an agent for the Mormon Church, who used it as his home and a store to assist relocating members. Mr. Gilbert's store became a central focus of the Mormons’ rapid development as a successful commerce community. Gilbert and his family were driven from the store just two years later following attacks on the building by area ruffians who wanted to rid the county of these religious newcomers.
You would be fascinated by the history that fills this rudimentary structure, which for four years served as the last courthouse between Independence and the Pacific Ocean. If walls could talk, we'd be astonished at what these well-worn logs could tell us, including the story of an angel who visited the courthouse in 1834.
It was the region's seat of justice in the beginning of the Santa Fe Trail trade and later served as a saddle shop, church, a Mormon mercantile, “house of entertainment,” residence, and home to the Community Welfare League. Now the Log Cabin Courthouse stands as a tribute to the founding and development of Independence.
Roots of Harry and Bess Truman can even be traced to the Log Courthouse. Bess chaired a 1920s fundraising and restoration effort for the historic building. As a result, the log structure was restored and was relocated to its current location. When Harry Truman was Eastern Jackson County judge he held court in the log structure in the 1930s while the present-day brick courthouse on the Square was being remodeled.
While walking early one morning with Mr. Truman, he told me that my uncles, Herb and Tom Noland, owned a Studebaker agency one block south of the old log courthouse and during the time he was at the log building, he spent his lunch hour down at the dealership playing poker with those two.
Today, the historic Log Cabin Courthouse stands at 107 W. Kansas Ave., one block south of the Square and is open free to the public at times with a guided tour.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell send an e-mail to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.