Historic Missouri / Great Trip Stops

The Rich History of Missouri

The rich history of old Missouri includes the era that covered wagons headed west to Oregon and California, the extremely violent years of the Civil War and the lawlessness of the post Civil War years attributed largely to the bank and train robberies by the James-Younger gang.

frank james

A young Jesse and Frank James

There are many unique and interesting historic sites in Missouri that you may want to add to your vacation planner. We’ve highlighted a few of these below.

Independence Missouri

If you’re looking for a town that was at the center of early westward expansion, Independence Missouri is one of those. Independence was by all means the gateway to the western frontier. Founded in 1827, Independence is located on the south bank of the Missouri River at the furthest point west where steamboats could then still navigate.

This point made Independence a jumping off point to the west and where much of it’s history resides. Some of the history is 19th century and some 20th century. During the mid 19th century, if you were to try to identify a focal point for America’s march westward, it would have to be Independence Missouri. While there are hundreds, even thousands of stories throughout the old west, many of them have some distant connection to Independence.

The town served as a key stepping off point to those traversing the western frontier. Take a look at a map of the Oregon Trail and you’ll see Independence Missouri as it’s eastern terminus.

oregon trail map

Map of the Oregon Trail with the eastern terminus of Independence, MO

The Start of the Oregon Trail

Among the fun and historic things to do in Independence is ride in a covered wagon. Rides are available at Independence Square. You can actually retrace some of the paths of the original settlers through wagon swales carved by the 1800’s pioneers. This covered wagon tour takes you 1800’s style through Independence’s famous historic district. The Independence Square is really filled with many historic sites since this was the location where the wagon train assembled before beginning the 2,000 mile journey westward over the Oregon Trail route. Among Oregon Trail facts is that the journey to Oregon could take six months or more to complete. A walking trip through the square itself is a walk back into history. Independence makes a fun and educational trip stop for the entire family.

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A young Cole Younger

The Jesse James Home Museum

During the 1800’s Missouri had it’s share of lawlessness and much of it was attributed to the James-Younger gang.

Much of the mayhem generated by the earlier James gang was attributed by many journalists to their staunch anti-Union sentiment and little by little this too was fading away.  The James gang was no longer relevant to the civil progress being made in Kansas and Missouri after the Civil War ended.

After the Civil War the James-Younger gang became outlaws as opposed to Confederate Civil War guerrillas. The gang cheated death for decades. One site that remains quite popular to tourists and tourist/historians is the house where Jesse James was assassinated by his former gang partner Robert Ford.

There have been several Jesse James movies produced.  If you saw the recent movie “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” you saw much of the story of Jesse James death and final days. If you haven’t seen the movie I highly recommend that you do. The Jesse James Home Museum is located in St. Joseph Missouri. It was moved a few blocks from it’s original location and is now at 12th and Mitchell, St. Joseph.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

Branson Missouri / Fun Attractions and Great Scenery

See the Great Western Trail

Searching for Old Pioneer Wagon Ruts

Travel the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Highway

patee house missouri

Patee House National Historic Landmark

The Patee House

Another interesting venue in St. Joseph Missouri is the Patee House located at 1202 Penn, St. Joseph’s only National Historic Landmark. The Patee House was first built in 1858 as a luxury hotel. It’s current museum is filled with artifacts from the frontier era of Missouri as well as items about Jesse James. The hotel was the site of the formal investigation undertaken after James assassination by Robert Ford. It was also the headquarters for the Pony Express in 1861. Quite a lot of history in this building and well worth the time to visit.

The Clay County Bank Robbery

The Clay County Savings Association in Liberty Missouri has a bit of history with it. It is considered the site of the first daylight bank  robbery in U.S. history. While it was attributed to the actions of Jesse James there is some doubt whether he was involved. By the same token the James-Younger gang had the reputation for overt daylight bank robberies such as their ill fated attempt in Northfield Minnesota.

The Clay County Bank was robbed by around a dozen gunmen on February 13,1866. It was said that the robbers escaped with about $60,000. A bystander was killed outside the bank. It was also said that some bystanders may have recognized some of the gang members but withheld information from the authorities because of fear.

clay county missouri bank robbery

Clay County Savings Assoc. Building.

Today, the Clay County Savings Association Building still stands and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The building is located at 104 East Franklin Street, Liberty Missouri. Visitors today will see the bank as it looked at the time of the robbery. You’ll see period furnishings, a Seth-Thomas clock set to the time of the robbery, the original bank vault and a museum store.

Missouri is a state filled with a great deal of 1800’s history. Adding the scenic state and it’s many venues to your western trip vacation planner is well worth it.

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images in the public domain. Patee House and Clay County Savings Assoc. photos from Creative Commons Share Alike 2.5 License. )

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