For the most part in early-day Missouri, the relationship between the Indians and Americans in our neighborhood was a peaceful coexistence.
Both the Kanza and the Osage took a liking to the settlers with their tools and trinkets. The white man liked the Native American’s beaver furs and other animal hides.
The soldiers at Fort Osage tried in vain to teach the Indians how to till the soil and plant a crop. The Indians soon became very dependent on the newly arrived Americans.
As in today’s military, sometimes the old guard is changed out and new blood arrives. That was the case with the arrival of Lieutenant William D. McCray, who showed up with his new young bride at Fort Osage to command Indian affairs on the frontier.
The young whippersnapper was a recent West Point graduate and he planned to make some changes and shape up the Indians. But all he accomplished was ruffling their feathers and creating a general Indian uprising in our neck of the woods. The Indians assembled by the thousands surrounding the soldiers fort with the expressed intent of taking Lieutenant McCray’s scalp.
For 14 days, the soldiers were pinned down inside the fort with occasional gunfire back and forth. The Indians beat on their tom-toms and shot arrows over the wooden fence, and the soldiers returned with cannon fire. For a time, it seemed doubtful that the garrison could survive the attack. The supplies and ammunition were beginning to run low, and McCray decided if he was going to save his scalp, they would have to make a break for it and head back down the Missouri River toward Fort Copper, near today’s Boonville.
They decided to all mount their horses and on a given signal, make a mad dash for freedom. McCray raised his sword and on the count of three, he called out the Indian word “pucchee,” which meant “to leave here,” or was it “get out of the way, we are coming,” he wasn’t sure.
All of the soldiers took the que as they swung open the gates, and all started screaming “pucchee” as they came charging out of the gate. The startled Indians turned and ran the other direction in mass confusion; they thought the enemy was attacking. The befuddled soldiers decided instead of continuing their planned get-way, they might as well give chase since the Indians were on the run.
The retreating Indians scattered in all directions, but basically headed south into Fire Prairie, up through today’s Lake City, and then west along the old Indian trace, up Spring Branch (Truman Road) past the Big Spring, over the big hill where the Independence Square is today, and then southwesterly over into Indian Territory.
Since it was getting late in the day, Lieutenant McCray and his men stopped on top of the hill above the Big Spring and decide to set up camp for the night and lick their wounds. His new bride run her fingers through his hairy scalp and thanked God that he still had it.
Major George C. Sibley and his infantry camped about a half mile west of them (Community of Christ Auditorium); Lieutenant Anthony Wayne was camped about three miles north on the bluff overlooking the Missouri River (Wayne City Landing); and Captain Ray with his small detachment was camped over on the Big Blue. Colonel Troubedeau was ordered to take his men and continue the pursuit and report back as soon as the savages were clear.
Troubedeau stopped near today’s Swope Park as darkness set in, he sent a courier back to inform McCray that the Indians had returned to Indian Territory and all was safe. McCray’s wife exclaimed with delight, “We’re free, we have won our “Independence!”
Some romantics relate this remark as how the hill above the Big Spring came to be called “Independence.”
There are a couple other theories floating around the history books of how the town got its name, but I’m not sure anyone knows the true story of how the name “Independence” came about.
(Reference: “Jackson County Pioneers” – Pearl Wilcox)
– To reach Ted W, Stillwell send email to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.