The Santa Fe Trail was an old trade route from the Missouri River area to the Santa Fe-Taos area, having been used for centuries by various Indian tribes. Spain was fearful of the news United States and would not allow its province of Mexico trade with the U. S. If Americans crossed the Arkansas River for trade or whatever reason, they were quite often caught and arrested.
William Becknell, who was broke and needed to make some money, left Old Franklin in 1821 with pack horses and five companions and headed southwest. He was lucky; when he crossed the Arkansas, he was not arrested. Mexico had just won its independence from Spain and welcomed trade. Southwest of what became Las Vegas, New Mexico, he was met by Mexican soldiers and was escorted into Santa Fe. He traded his goods and returned to Missouri with sacks of Mexican coin and the Santa Fe Trail as a 'legal' international trade route between the United States and Mexico was a reality. Becknell went back the next year with wagons and others followed in an annual wagon train expedition for many years. In the 1830s, the trading expedition became much more numerous all during the year. The trade included both American and Mexican trading expeditions, creating a two-way trail.
In 1829, the first military escort was provided from Fort Leavenworth led by Bennet Riley, after whom Fort Riley would be named in 1853.
Fort Osage: (Osage means "people of the middle water")
Built in 1808 as the farthest west of America's attempt to duplicate the good relationships the French had always had with the Indians. The French accepted the Indians and traded extensively with them through a network of forts, called 'factories', which was the French word for a trading house. This fort was also a 'factory', which was part of the United States' later attempt to duplicate the French's Indian strategy. Over twenty of these 'factories' were established.
An overriding issue that helped drive this strategy to establish 'factories' was that the United States was undoubtedly heading for war with Great Britain, which, of course, happened in 1812.
George Sibley was the 'factor', or the one in charge of the trading operation. This factory strategy was abandoned by the U. S. in 1822. However, Sibley continued to run his own trading operations here for the next five years or so.
The site had been recommended by Lewis and Clark's report. Clark said he measured the bluff to be 98' high and that is about right. General William Clark, as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Louisiana Purchase, was subsequently commissioned to build this post, which he did in the fall of 1808. When it was completed, it was named Fort Osage, although it had been earlier known as Fort Point and Fort Clark.
By the 1808 Treaty, U. S. now had access to all the Osage lands east of this line down to the 36 degree 30 minute line; the border of Arkansas. It was not until the 1825 Osage Treaty that the 25 mile-wide strip that includes Jackson County was available for settlement.
William Clark, December 2, 1808 wrote ". . . . .(Fort Osage is) strong and well built. . . .(the Kansa are). . . . . .becoming verry humble. . . . given up several horses, to pay for the horses and property which they have robed the citizens of this Territory of laterly."
Duke Paul Wilhelm of Wuerttemberg wrote in June 1823 ". . . .we reached Fort Osage, a military establishment recently abandoned, on the evening of the twenty-fourth. Its location on a hill surrounded by forests and prairies is really picturesque."
The Santa Fe Trail had only a brief connection to Fort Osage because the Fort was inoperative by the early 1820s and completely abandoned by 1827. But even as late as 1832, Benjamin Bonneville used the Fort Osage Landing to start overland to the northwest.
The Fort was abandoned during the war of 1812, but reactivated in 1816 and for 5-6 years it saw much activity and was well-known by all the mountain men and the fur-trapping industry. It was completely abandoned in 1827 and virtually disappeared when the new settlers after the 1825 Osage treaty salvaged its logs for their buildings. Some foundations were discovered in the 1940s and reconstruction began.
The Sibley Survey Of The Santa Fe Trail
The Sibley Survey of the Santa Fe Trail was named after its leader George Sibley, who was the Factor at Fort Osage. Sibley continued to run Fort Osage operations as its Factor until it was closed in the early 1820s. Sibley was one of three commissioners assigned by the Federal government to survey the Santa Fe Trail and sort of officially establish the "Highway Between Nations". The others were Benjamin Reeves, a Missouri legislator, and Thomas Mather, who replaced Pierre Menard after Menard declined and who was a direct descendent of Cotton Mather of Salem Witch Trial fame. Mather and Reeves were in the social heirarchy of the time, and Sibley was likely chosen because of special and exemplary work that his father John Sibley had done early in the 19th century in the Red River and Louisiana country for President Thomas Jefferson.
Joseph Brown was the principal surveyor hired by Sibley to lead the actual work of the survey. Brown had done the Missouri Border survey in 1823 which started at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers.
The survey was completed out to the Arkansas River in 1825, but Sibley could not get permission from the Mexican government to continue on at that time. He did eventually finish the survey all the way to New Mexico, although at first to Taos rather than Santa Fe. He later resurveyed the route from Fort Osage to Diamond Springs, west of Council Grove, in 1827.
When he did the resurvey in 1827, Sibley marked the route on the ground with sod mounds. He recommended and surveyed changes to the Santa Fe Trail route here locally, particularly in Johnson County. The 1825 Sibley Survey came across the state line at the nine mile point (nine miles south of the Kansas-Missouri River confluence) after crossing the Big Blue River in today's Swope Park, crossing where 73rd St. would intersect the river today.
The Sibley Survey, the beginning point of which was at our in the proximity of Fort Osage, is a cornerstone document for researching the evolution of the trail in our area, even though some of his suggestions of better segments were not always used.
The biggest change he made was to alter the route west of the nine mile point so that instead of going through Round Grove (later known as Lone Elm at present day 167th and Lone Elm Road), he took the route about two miles northwest of Round Grove. That route crossed Cedar Creek at a point that Sibley called Caravan Grove, which came to be known as Elm Grove. This route was the genesis of and forerunner of the Santa Fe Trail from Westport.
The voluminous papers, government documents, maps and field notes of the Sibley Survey form a cornerstone foundation for studying the evolution of the trail in the local area as well as all along the Santa Fe Trail. Craig Crease has done considerable research on this survey.
George Sibley eventually retired from his life on the frontier and settled in St. Louis. His estate ultimately became Lindenwood College for women, which he helped his wife to found.
The town of Sibley, adjacent to Fort Osage, was founded in the 1830s and was named for Sibley.
The Santa Fe Trail Near Fort Osage
At the intersection of Blue Mills Road and the road south to Buckner, the original Osage Trace which the Santa Fe Trail first used from Franklin, M. in the 1820s came off the hill to the east. The Santa Fe Trail originally turned southwest here using the route which continued south to the Harmony Mission. This was a United Foreign Missionary Society mission to the Osage Indians on the north bank of the Marias des Cygnes River just north of Papinsville, Mo. in Bates County. The Santa Fe Trail then made its way over to cross the Big Blue River and the state line at about 151st St.
However, when Independence was founded in 1827, the trail began to continue toward the northwest, running about a half-mile to a mile north of Blue Mills Road over to the road down from Blue Mills Landing.
The Santa Fe Trail From Lexington
The Santa Fe Trail followed a ridge route as well as a river route west from Lexington. The river route went through Wellington and Napoleon. The ridge route is called Santa Fe Trail Road today. There were probably other variations because the land was settled, even during the early days of the trail in the 1820s. After the historic trails crossed the Missouri border into Indian Territory, the trails went the easiest way unencumbered by the fences, farms and roads of white civilization. But in Missouri, the trail moved around according to the location of county roads and the placement of fences on private property.
Strother Renick was one of the most prominent residents of Lafayette County in the mid-1800s. He was a freighter on the Santa Fe Trail and first led a wagon train for General McRae in 1824. On his trading trips to Mexico, he brought mules back and was a mule breeder for many years.
His father William came to the Lafayette County area in 1819 and the rest of the family in 1820. Their land was between the two Sni-a-bar creeks two miles south of Napoleon.
A Mexican trader Joseph Ralph Savilla was hanged in Lexington January 28, 1842. Since Strother knew Spanish, he was Savilla's trail interpreter. He accumulated land and wealth but suffered heavy losses in the Civil War. After the war he again prospered and continued as one of the most prominent men in the country.
Strother Renick (1804-1891) is buried with his family in a small cemetery just north of Highway 24 just east of Sni-a-bar Road.
400 donkeys and mules were first brought from Mexico in 1823. In 1832, 1300 mules and donkeys were driven into the state for the rapidly growing industry of breeding Missouri mules. 'Missouri Mules' are really Mexican mules, since that is where they came from! Obviously, donkeys and horses are required for breeding mules, since mules are a hybrid and are sterile.
Lexington was platted in 1822 to be the new county seat. The first settler may have been Gilead Rupe, who came in 1815 from Boonville where he had operated a ferry. He brought his family and established a ferry at what is now called Rupe's Branch just west of Lexington. He had twelve children and his farm was about two miles south of Lexington. Supposedly his nearest neighbor was sixty-five miles away.
The town was settled, as was most of the area along the Missouri River across Missouri, by families who emigrated from the South. Thus it was slave-holding territory supported by hemp, tobacco and cattle raising plantations.
The first enterprise at the location of Lexington was William Jack's landing at the foot of Broadway. In the 1820s and into the 1830s, Lexington was the most important town at the east end of the Santa Fe Trail, and arguably the most important town west of St. Louis. It would be replaced by Independence, Westport and Town of Kansas by the end of the 1830s, but Lexington prospered enormously in these early trail years.
The chief imports from Santa Fe during the early years of the trail were furs, silver and mules. Items freighted to Santa Fe were mostly manufactured goods and finished items, many of which were produced here.
Lexington in 1823 became the county seat of Lillard County, a large early county which occupied all the territory from the Missouri River south to the Osage River. The first seat was Mt. Vernon, located at the mouth of Tabo Creek on the Missouri River east of Lexington--now nonexistent. The name of the county was changed to Lafayette County in 1825. It also included what is today's Jackson County until 1827.
Its population is 4,453. About the same as it has been for 150 years, except for a increase of 2000 during the mining operations of the late 1800s.
When Sibley came through in 1825 to start his survey at Fort Osage, he outfitted in St. Louis and reached Lexington on the afternoon of July 8, 1825. They stayed the night at Major Findlay's nearby farm home and left after breakfast the next morning. They arrived at Fort Osage that afternoon.
Lexington (Old Town) was platted in 1822. The square at Old Town was the highest point. Interestingly enough, Lewis Street was on west side (today's 24th Street) and Clark Street (today's 23rd Street) was on the east side.
A log courthouse was built in 1824, when the county was still a part of the very large Lillard County in western Missouri that ran from the Osage River to the Missouri River. In 1825, Lafayette County was created from Lillard County. Two years later, the western part became Jackson County.
General Alexander Doniphan, the leader of the Missouri Volunteers in the Mexican War and one of Missouri's great heroes, was admitted to the bar in the log courthouse at Old Town on July 26, 1830. That first log structure lasted only until 1832.
A three-story brick courthouse was built to replace it, being completed in 1835. At the time, this courthouse was said to have been the best building built west of St. Louis.
The 'new town' (today's downtown area) was platted in 1836 and reached from Old Town down to the river. It was incorporated in 1845.
When the courthouse in New Town was built in 1847, the brick courthouse became the Lexington Female Collegiate Institute, one of the first female colleges west of the Mississippi. Then in 1855, it became the Baptist Female College that had both Wm Waddell and Wm Russell on their board. During the Civil War, Federal troops used the college for barracks and hospital.
The brick courthouse was torn down in the 1870s.
The Aull brothers had a store here. "Aullmart"!
Washington Irving came through here in 1832 and recorded in his Western Journal "When we were within a few miles of that town (Lexington) we met the train of trappers which annually crosses the great western desert to New Mexico. . . . their mules laden with the skins for which they had dared that long expeditions, however, hold out the expectation of such enormous profit that advneturers are never wanting to fill their ranks."
The Lafayette County Courthouse
The Lafayette County Courthouse, built in 1847 and now the oldest in Missouri, has a cannonball at the roof line. It was hit in the 1861 Battle of Lexington, probably by mistake by the CSA's own cannon. The ball fell out immediately, but in the 1950s an iron rod was attached to a similar cannonball to hold it in place in the original hole. It remains today.
Antebellum Homes In Lexington
Antebellum homes abound in Lexington, many of them preserved and restored to their original beauty. Many are currently being restored and others will follow. Many of them belonged to William Waddell and William Russell and their families. Both men were partners of Alexander Majors in the giant freighting firm in the 1850s of Russell, Majors and Waddell.
Other homes are identified with bankers and merchants who supplied the Santa Fe trade wagons, like the Aull family. In the 1870s, coal mining money provided wealth to the McGrew family and others, who built large homes. Even Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, lived here as a youngster in a home that still exists. Most of these homes are on South, Franklin and Highland Streets.
1421 South Street is the home of Santa Fe Trail members Roger and Sandy Slusher. It was built in the 1840s and restored by the Slushers.
The Aull Family
The Aull family became the most prominent mercantile family, both in Lexington and on the early Santa Fe Trail. John Aull, of Irish descent, came in 1822 from Delaware. He was followed by his brothers James and Robert, plus sisters Elizabeth and Maria, who became Mrs. Ebenezer Pomeroy.
In addition to their operations in Lexington, the Aulls had stores also in Liberty, Independence, and Richmond. They also had a bank here in 1827 at 820 Main. The building is now gone.
James Aull went to Mexico in 1846 with partner Sam Owens (one of the fourteen members of the Town of Kansas founders in 1838) in the Sam and Susan Magoffin party. Susan's diary Down the Santa Fe Trail is a classic of the Santa Fe Trail and she had great praise for James Aull. She said the Aull brothers were ". . . . known as the capitalists of Western Missouri." James died in Chihuahua in 1848 during a robbery in his store there. Brother-in-law Ebenezer Pomeroy went to Chihuahua and returned with James' bible, gold watch and $50,000.
Sam Owens was killed at the Battle of Sacramento in 1847. Robert Aull died in 1878 in Texas and is buried at Machpelah Cemetery. John Aull died in New Orleans in 1840.
A second John Aull, the Aull brothers nephew, was to become the wealthiest of the Aull family. He built the house on Aull Lane in the south part of town in the 1840s.
At 766 Highland is a red brick antebellum house built by Robert Aull which became his sister Elizabeth Aull's Seminary when Robert traded it for her home at 712 Highland in 1860. It closed in 1903.
Linwood Lawn Mansion South Of Town At 3645 Higginsville Road
Banker William Limrick built the house called Limrick Lawn of 'New Italianate' design in 1850. It cost the enormous sum of $85,000 and was perhaps the largest house in Missouri west of St. Louis when built. Limrick was in the mercantile business in Lexington and was a Santa Fe Trail outfitter.
It had 26 rooms, had hot and cold running water, central heating, coal gas chandeliers, and a form of air conditioning. Other unusual features are a full-size and full-height basement and faucets that turn on automatically when turned forward (that still work) and still has the original built-in kitchen cookstove.
The name was changed to Linwood Lawn in the 1880s because of the linn trees in the yard. It is now owned by an attorney from St. Joseph and is open for tours and other functions. The resident managers are Brady and Doretta Kunz. Brady is an English teacher at Wentworth.
Hicklin Hearthstone Plantation House
James Hicklin built this antebellum house on the Santa Fe Trail east of town on Highway 24, which later became known as the Dover Road. He was a nephew of Gilead Rupe, perhaps the first settler in the area in 1815.
It was a hemp plantation, which was a common crop of the day. Lexington was a significant producer of hemp rope. The Battle of Lexington was called the 'Battle of the Hemp Bales' by the Confederates.
It still has the slave quarters building and the two-room overseer's house.
The cross over the entrance columns was put there by James after he quit the Baptist Church in some sort of disagreement and joined the Catholic Church. The cross was his sign of defiance.
When James and wife died, they were buried in a rounded stone sepulcher that he had commissioned. The metal caskets had windows over the faces of the bodies. Unfortunately, the windows were stolen by neighbor boys in the 1960s for their go carts. The cemetery is in the grove of trees in the middle of the field to the west.
Alma Hicklin, widow of James great-grandson still lives there. Not open for tours.
The Museum was built in the 1840s after the death of Finis Ewing, a minister and founder of the Cumberland Presbyterians. One of the earliest families in Lexington, he came here in the 1830s to be a land registrar and brought many more Cumberland Presbyterians to the area where they had had a church and revivals since the 1820s. Their national convention was held in this church in the 1850s. The building was sold after the Civil War and most of the congregation joined the main Presbyterian Church here. After being a school, United Church of Christ, and library, it became the Historical Museum in the 1970s.
The widow of Waddell Smith, who was the grandson of William Bradford Waddell, gave everything that he had about the Pony Express to the Museum. The exhibits are in the southeast corner of the museum. The Museum has microfilm copies of many issues of Lexington's first newspaper, the Express, which started in 1840.
The 1861 Battle Of Lexington & The Anderson House
The Union Army arrived in July, 1861 soon after the Civil War started in the east, to occupy the town as the Union Army of Missouri essentially did for the whole state during most of the war. The Union Army evicte the owner Oliver Anderson and his family and used their home as their headquarters under Colonel James A. Mulligan.
Lexington had been supportive of the Union until hostilities began and their sympathies then supported the Confederates. But men from Lexington joined both sides during the war, not unlike many Missourians.
General Sterling Price and the Confederate Army arrived in Lexington September 13 after a decisive victory at Wilson's Creek, southwest of Springfield, a month before. He had perhaps 15,000 troops, while the Union had perhaps only 3000.
Skirmishes occurred along South Street and Machpelah Cemetery. By July 18, the battle centered around the Anderson House. Earth breastworks can still be seen in the ground surrounding the house.
The house changed hands several times until Colonel Mulligan surrendered on September 20 to Price. The final skirmish involved the Confederates advancing from the river up the hill behind the house behind hemp bales, which they rolled ahead of themselves. The bales absorbed the Union fire. Therefore, the name given to the battle by the Confederates was the Battle of the Hemp Bales.
Although this was a major engagement involving 20,000 troops, only less than 100 were killed.
After the surrender, Price retreated south for the winter and Missouri was controlled by the Union during the War. Price later swept across the state in the fall of 1864. He was finally stopped at the Battle of Westport in Independence and Kansas City in October and retreated to Arkansas.
The 1853 Anderson House overlooks the Missouri River. It is a three-story Greek Revival house with a central hallway 15 feet wide separating four rooms on each floor that are 20 feet square with 15 feet-high ceilings. The house is open of tours.
Russell, Majors & Waddell
Directly across the square to the northwest was the office of Russell, Majors and Waddell, one of several offices they held in the heyday of their freighting business inm the 1850s. Their partnership was formed in 1855 when the U. S. Army wished to work with one large firm for a whole year contract for the Santa Fe Trail hauling rather than a lot of small separate contracts. No one company was big enough to handle the size of this contract, so the partnership was formed and they won the contract.
Alexander Majors had earlier established a freighting business in the 1840s in Lexington with six wagons. William Waddell had been in business for years in Lexington on his own. William H. Russell was also in the mercantile business with partner Mr. Bullard and then with Waddell.
Their firm founded and operated the Pony Express from April 1860 to the fall of 1861 when it halted after the Civil War began and the telegraph line to California was completed. RMW was broke by that time and that huge firm vanished.
Pony Express markers are on the northwest corner of the Square. A nice Russell, Majors and Waddell marker is also near the Anderson House on 15th Street.
The Masonic College
The Masonic College, the first in the world, was first built here for the male orphans of Masons, but it didn't last and was vacant when it became Union headquarters during the Battle of Lexington. Col. Mulligan actually slept in a tent on the grounds near the present shelter house with almost $1 million of the state education fund under his blanket. After the war, the building was used as a state military school which ended in a financial scandal. Then, with a new main building, it was the Central College for Women, a Methodist junior college, until the 1920s when they combined with Central Methodist College in Fayette, MO.
The cannon to the west of the shelter house came from the U. S. S. Constitution ("Old Ironsides") when it was decommissioned. The large brick home to the east was the home of the Central College president.
Wentworth Military Academy
The Wentworth Military Academy was established by Stephen Wentworth in 1880 in memory of his son. It has a new 100 room student barracks building. Currently it has about 225 students. Enrollment has been as high as 600 during the Vietnam War.
The Madonna Of The Trail
This is one of twelve in each of the states along what had been called 'The National Road', which stretched from Washington, D. C. to Los Angeles. It included segments of the old Wilderness Road, the Santa Fe Trail, etc.
They were erected in the 1920s by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Supportive of the effort was Harry Truman, one of Jackson County Judges (Commissioners) at the time, who was also serving as the President of the National Old Trails Road Association. As a result of their efforts, the National Old Trails Road was created.
Harry Truman gave the dedicatory speech September 17, 1928, the 67th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Lexington.
Trail Of Death Marker
Near the Madonna is also a 'Trail of Death' marker telling of the 1838 Potawatomi forced march from Indiana into Indian Territory (Kansas). They camped across the river to the north and crossed on the ferry. Their camp the next night was near Wellington. The Mormons were being run out of Missouri in the fall of 1838 and requested some military help from the soldiers, but they were 'escorting' Indians. Another Trail of Death marker is in Wellington.
The Saluda Disaster
One of the great tragedies along the Missouri River occurred on April 9 (Good Friday), 1852, when the sidewheeler steamer Saluda exploded as it was pulling away from the landing with about 200 Mormons on board as well as a great tonnage of freight. After a coulple of days of trying to get away from the landing because of floating ice, the captain ordered full steam and the boilers exploded.
Bodies and wreckage were scattered all over the river and up onto the bluff. Many died and some are buried in Machpelah Cemetery. Children orphaned by the disaster were adopted by Lexington families.
Bridging The Missouri River
As mentioned above, the first ferry was operated by William Jack in 1819. For the next 70 years, ferries were the method of crossing the river. The first bridge across the river was a pontoon bridge opened in 1889. But with floods and ice floes, it did not last long. So the river had no bridge until 1925. The current 1925 bridge will be razed within a year when the Highway 13 Bypass and new bridge is opened on the east edge of Lexington.
Simpson's Santa Fe Trail Spring
Just west of Lexington on Highway 224 is the 'Peckerwood Club' (means 'southern redneck'). It has been closed for several years although there is a new owner now. It is also called 'Mittieville'. It is not legal for the restaurant to use the spring water now and they would also have to pump sewage up the bluff. It was a filling station in the 1910s, but during prohibition it became a speakeasy. There was a still nearby.
The Simpson spring is under the building and is identified by a sign by the side of the road that says "Simpson's Santa Fe Trail Spring."
Lewis & Clark In 1804 Between Lexington & Fort Osage
Lewis and Clark camped about three miles east of Lexington on June 19, 1804 on their way up the Missouri after having made over fifteen miles that day.
On June 20, their camp was about three miles west of Lexington, they having made only six miles that day because of a heavy rain during the morning. Also, there was no wind for their sail, so the men rowed the keelboat and perspired very heavily in the hot and humid weather. York got some sand in his eyes during some horseplay among the men and suffered some because of it. Clark recorded that ". . . . the Musquetors verry troublesome."
On the 21st, Clark recorded that the river had raised three inches because of yesterday's rain. They passed both Sni-A-Bar creeks. According to Gary Moulton, who recently published the exhaustive Lewis and Clark Journals, the first part of the name is probably the word 'chenail' in French, pronounced 'shih-nigh', which means something like 'channel'. Clark called it 'Eue-beux' and also 'Eue-bert', which was probably 'Ay-bair' and meant a blockage. So the name may derive from a 'channel with a blockage' and altogether would be pronounced 'shih-nigh-ay-bair' or as we say 'Sni-a-bar'.
They camped the night of the 21st in the 20-mile oxbow loop northwest of Napoleon after having made about 7 1/2 miles.
The expedition camped on the night of June 22nd north of Buckner about four miles. During the day, John Ordway killed a goose and George Drouillard killed a bear. They passed the mouth of the 'River of the Fire Prairie'. They made 10 1/2 miles that day.
On the 23rd, they went only about 3 1/2 miles because of hard head winds and camped near Fort Osage.
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