Shortly after the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark’s famous voyage up the Missouri River, the country turned and faced west. Thus began the largest voluntary migration of people in the history of the world, and Independence became the launching pad for the “Opening of the West.”
The names of Independence and Jackson County are torchlights on the towers of history. According to W. L. Webb in his 1927 “The Centennial History of Independence,” both the county and the county seat were named for General Andrew Jackson. The county was given his name by a bunch of dashing heroes and hero worshipers, and the county seat was named for Jackson’s chief quality, independence of character. These monumental names were conferred in honor of the victor of the Battle of New Orleans, before he became our seventh president, and hence were complimentary to General Jackson, not President Jackson.
Immediately after the names were conferred on our neighborhood however, Andrew Jackson was elected president. The new county and the new county seat rejoiced in being ahead of the world in their identification with him.
The hilltop chosen for Independence boasted 16 major fresh water springs (the staff of life), and was covered with tall timber. The woodsman came with his ax and cut away the forest of the town site, and the logs were assembled for the first county building. All dwellings were constructed of logs, all homes and schoolhouses, churches and the
first college building. The pioneers’ lowly log house was the forerunner of our mansions of today, of churches and cathedrals, of marble depots and business blocks, of our magnificent federal, state, county, and municipal structures. Let us reverence in the log buildings of our forefathers. Jackson County’s log courthouse is yet standing and may be seen on the old city hall campus, a treasured reminiscence of an honored bygone generation.
Around the primitive county courthouse clustered other log dwellings, stores, hotels, and blacksmith shops, set in among the trees or in small clearings. The pioneers were of the Jacksonian type – hardy, brave and undaunted. With the ax in one hand and a rifle in the other, they were at once prepared to hew or slay, and they did a great deal of both. This little log settlement in the heart of the wilderness was the newest thing on the map, on a peak of a cape projecting into the west.
Intense business activity and the bustle of explorers and travelers and the voices of movers rang through the primeval woods. Roads were opened and trails were established. From here set out the wagon trains, scouts on horseback, armies and cavalcades; and home seekers. People were coming and going, and there were fur traders and trappers and hunters and Indians, and Indian fighters. From here commonwealth builders set forth to the west, and northwest, the south and southwest. Missouri, with Independence in the vanguard, was the founder and the mother of Texas and of Oregon and of New Mexico and of Kansas and California – and all other states to the west and the south, except Arkansas. Missouri is not responsible for Arkansas.
Tradition vouches for only one Missourian who ever went to Arkansas and he taught the natives the correct use of the fiddle and bow. He is immortalized as the “Arkansas Traveler.” But I must state in behalf of Arkansas, that no other state ever built up such an admirable commonwealth with such slight help from Missouri as the world witnessed in Arkansas.
Reference: “The Centennial History of Independence, Mo.,” by W.L. Webb.
Reach Ted W. Stillwell at Ted@blueandgrey.com or 816-896-3592.