Visit the Old West Town of Las Vegas, New Mexico

Las Vegas, New Mexico is an historic old west town that just so happened to be on a very important overland trail and it’s a must stop during your next tour of New Mexico. The old Santa Fe Trail passed directly through town used by traders going between Santa Fe, New Mexico and points in Missouri to the east. The Santa Fe Trail had it’s roots extending all the way back to the 1820’s shortly after Mexico took over rule from Spain.

las vegas new mexico history

Las Vegas, NM

The Santa Fe Trail

Las Vegas New Mexico was a major location long before the railroad arrived. Las Vegas found itself directly on the Santa Fe Trail and was considered the largest town between it and Dodge City Kansas.

The Santa Fe Trail was established as a trade route between the U.S. states to the east and Mexico. Quite a lot of trading went on there during the Santa Fe Trail days. There are several locations in New Mexico today where tourists can still see the wagon ruts dating back to the 1800’s.

The Railroad Reaches Las Vegas, NM

When the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad reached Las Vegas New Mexico much later in 1880, everything changed. During the late 1800’s, the railroads out towns of the old west on the map.  What was at one time a small settlement would become a booming town almost overnight. In some respect, the railroad laying it’s tracks through a town had the same effect as the excitement of the California Gold Rush.

In addition to the building construction, the railroad helped make Las Vegas a cattle rail head. Between the railroad cattle trade, the key geographic location on the Santa Fe Trail and the colorful characters of the old west attracted to this new boom town, it’s probably an understatement to say that Las Vegas New Mexico was one of the New Mexico towns that changed dramatically during all the way from the 1820’s to the twentieth century.

las vegas new mexico historic buildings

Many buildings on the National Register

Today, when you visit Las Vegas, New Mexico, many of the old buildings you see were constructed shortly after the railroad arrived. Today, Las Vegas New Mexico is a treasure trove of nineteenth century structures, the town now has more than nine hundred buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Las Vegas also found it’s place in early Hollywood film making. The legendary Hollywood cowboy Tom Mix shot some of his movies in Las Vegas New Mexico and to this day the town is a popular movie shoot location.

Outlaws and Gamblers of Las Vegas’ Past

A case could be made that Las Vegas was one of the wilder old west towns of New Mexico. Actually, many well known characters passed through the town at one time or another.

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

There was the well known incident when sheriff Pat Garrett was transporting the arrested  Billy the Kid to the Santa Fe jail from the Fort Sumner area to the southeast. Las Vegas was a stop on the trip to Santa Fe. The story is that one of the prisoners Pat Garret was transporting along with the Kid had a lot of enemies in Las Vegas. Garrett, his deputies and the prisoners after riding up from Fort Sumner boarded the train in Las Vegas for the 55 mile trip to Santa Fe. To get out of the Las Vegas train station in one piece, the party had to hole up in one of the train cars with shotguns at the ready. The Las Vegas mob was intent on not letting the train depart. There were serious threats made to Garrett and violence looked imminent but the train car wasn’t rushed. Eventually Garrett made his way to Santa Fe safely where Billy the Kid and the others were jailed.

Doc Holliday Moves to Las Vegas

There’s another tale about the well known Doc Holliday and Las Vegas New Mexico. It seems that Doc Holliday relocated to Las Vegas in 1879 and opened up a saloon in the middle of town with a partner. He wasn’t there but a few months when an argument erupted between Holliday and a well known and locally liked gunman. The story is that Holliday invited the gunman to begin shooting whenever he was ready. The gunman did and so did Doc Holliday and the gunman was killed. Holliday left Las Vegas shortly after this shooting to avoid being killed by the gunman’s friends.

See the Trips Into History articles found on the links below…

The Doctors on the Old American Frontier

Fort Union, NM Santa Fe Trail Wagon Ruts

la castenada harvey house

The old Harvey House, Las Castenada

The Notorious Silva Gang

Another noted outlaw from Las Vegas was Vicente Silva. In this case, Silva was a local saloon owner who gathered together a group of Hispanics into what was referred to as the Silva Gang. The gang also had other names such as Society of Bandits, Forty Bandits and Silva’s White Caps.

Their dubious credits included rustling, murder and theft in general. The distinction of the Silva gang was that it’s leader ran a prosperous business in Las Vegas during the day and then at night turned into one of the most feared outlaws in the area. The saloon obviously served as a good front. It also came to be known that Silva had connections with a few local lawmen that aided the gang’s survival. Vicente Silva died in 1893 and that pretty much spelled the end of his gang.

las vegas new mexico amtrak

Amtrak’s Southwest Chief in Las Vegas, NM

Your Visit to Las Vegas, NM

You will find the railroad tracks and train station a short distance away from the town’s plaza. Directly next to the train station is the Castenada which at one time was a large and first class Harvey House Hotel.

Today, Amtrak’s Southwest Chief makes a daily stop from each direction on it’s route between Chicago and Los Angeles. There is van service available from the train station to the Plaza.

The Las Vegas Plaza area is surrounded by many historic buildings including the Plaza Hotel. Six miles outside of town is the old ornate Harvey House Montezumas Castle which today houses the United World College.

For more detailed information on planning your visit to Las Vegas, New Mexico see…www.visitlasvegasnm.com

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)

Cowboys , Outlaws and the Dime Novels

Cowboys and Outlaws

To say that literature describes the old west cowboy in different ways is a true understatement. Add television to the mix and the cowboy life is portrayed in an even wider range. Whether the cowboy was written of in the nineteenth or twentieth century makes little difference. There are many story lines attached to the cowboy…some very true and others total fabrication.Was it a romantic life, a hard and dirty job or perhaps something in between.

cattle drive structure

Cattle drive structure

In many ways the same holds true for the portrayal of outlaws. Literature has portrayed the old west outlaw from a romantic Robin Hood type character to a murderous psychopath.

There are questions to be asked. The questions are…who really was the American cowboy and what was the cowboy life really like? What was the difference between outlaws and cowboys? In some cases maybe no differences. In others, total differences. The biographies of these two type individuals often intersect. While there have been inaccurate portrayals written about both, the largest inaccuracies have probably been written about the cowboys. There was a great deal published about the subject during the latter part of the 1800’s and, in a way, literature often helped shape events. In fact, successful western literature in the latter 1800’s was similar to what sells today on bookshelves. The wild west was wild, but perhaps not as wild as often presented to sell books and movie tickets.

western ghost townsWhat Author’s of the Era Wrote

The Dime Novel depicted both outlaws and cowboys as a wild bunch. In Lewis Atherton’s book, The Cattle Kings, the author points out that Mark Twain himself described the cowboy as more gunman than ranch worker.

Roughing It

Twain worked for a time at the Virginia City Enterprise, Nevada Territory’s first newspaper.  Twain wrote glamorizing accounts of the western cowboy. Twains experience in Virginia City gave him the background to write a book, Roughing It, in 1872 which was the real start of his literary career. In his book, Mark Twain makes mention of bad men stalking the streets and moving easily from ranch to mining camp. Twain describes them as wearing long coats, cocked hats and revolvers. He goes on to further describe them as brave and reckless fellows who traveled with their life in their hands and who did their killing most within their own circles. They thought it shameful to die with their boots off.

All of this was Mark Twain’s account of the outlaw of the west. While this account stirs interest among readers, it also omits quite a bit of factual information. Nevertheless, this type of literature sold well. Twain was describing the outlaw, not the cowboy.. Although somewhat similar in appearance to the cowboy, the outlaw or bad man was an entirely different individual.

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Old JA Ranch Bunkhouse

The Big Bonanza

There was a book written by the senior editor of the Virginia City Enterprise, Dan De Quille. The book was encouraged by Mark Twain who urged De Quille to write a factual account of life in the Virginia City mining town. De Quille did publish his book in 1876 titled, The Big Bonanza. De Quille basically agreed with Twain’s account with the exception that he didn’t glamorize the violence. Instead, he denounced it and the men who caused it. It’s not surprising to note that Dan De Quille’s more realistic account didn’t sell as well as did Twain’s book.

According to the book, Cattle Kings, another book, Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade of the West and Southwest, this one written by a Joseph G. McCoy who is credited with bringing ranchers and cattle buyers together in Abilene Kansas, described the cowboy and his dress in colorful terms.

McCoy wrote that..mounted and drunken, they charged wildly through the streets, shooting up the town as they went, or rode directly through the swinging doors of saloons to demand drinks at pistol point. Literature published by both Mark Twain and Joseph McCoy, attached a code of reckless action by the cowboy in the 1870’s that gave or proposed a style of behavior for new cowboys to emulate. This was a mixing of the cowboy and outlaw culture and I think gives the wrong impression of the cowboy. It has been written however that serious individuals who entered the ranching world in the late 1870’s and 1880’s actually found this much publicized code of conduct either humorous or irritating. Although colorful, it wasn’t necessarily accurate.

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XIT Ranch cowboys

What the Ranchers Had to Say About Cowboys

If you really want to find an accurate account of the cowboys of the old west, there is probably no better source than ranchers of the era. First of all, ranchers were not selling books. They were in the business of raising and selling cattle and anything that would disturb that process was unwelcome. Ranchers employed cowboys and at the same time laid down the rules. In fact, ranchers operated in areas far removed from the courts and oftentimes lawmen. The ranchers were in the position to make the laws and enforce them. Some ranchers were small operators and others large corporate concerns. One of the largest, the XIT in the Texas Panhandle, employed about 150 cowboys during it’s peak years.

Was the Cowboy Armed or Unarmed?

Contrary to many of the Hollywood westerns, many ranchers didn’t carry firearms and had rules against their ranch hands carrying guns. Carrying a six shooter was the exception rather than the rule. One of the reasons mentioned for this was the idea that an armed man sent an unspoken message. An armed man would be much more likely to be involved in some sort of violence than an unarmed one. The sometimes controversial “code of the west” prohibited the shooting of an unarmed individual. Most ranch owners simply felt that a sixshooter could only lead to trouble and especially so when mixed with alcohol. This was something detrimental to running a cattle business and was highly discouraged.

The famed Texas rancher, Charles Goodnight, presents a good example of ranching law and order. In the book, Cattle Kings, Goodnight was said to have ordered his cowboys to keep their differences under control while working his long cattle drives. He stipulated that his outfit would hold an immediate trial and hanging of anyone found guilty of committing murder. This reportedly worked effectively for Goodnight. As far as he was concerned, the cowboy could go settle his differences, but not while working on one of his drives. While working on the ranch itself, Goodnight forbade drinking, gambling and swearing.

The above mentioned book also describes how a ranch manager by the name of John Clay handled differences among his employees. Clay was known to settle differences by persuasion. This usually worked. Clay was said to have carried a firearm only once when unruly cowhands ran off one of his supervisors. Again, firearms on the ranch was an exception.

Teddy Roosevelt, when spending time ranching in the Dakota Territory, wrote of his experience and concluded that people had little to fear about murder in the west as long as they minded their business and stayed out of barrooms. Barrooms of the old west being the natural habitat of outlaw and alcohol. Regarding cowboys, Roosevelt pointed out their rough language but contended that it was little different than when any group of all males got together. There was no mention made of shooting up the town.

The Real Bad Men of the West

While the cowboy certainly was spirited, he was also a very hard worker. Many old west cowboys of the late 1800’s were mere teens. Working cattle drives was difficult work and required good physical conditioning. To understand the physical conditioning required to carry out the cowboy’s job, just visit one of the many rodeos held throughout the country and you can see for yourself what was involved.

When cattle drives ended at rail heads such as Abilene, Kansas and later Dodge City ,Kansas, there was a lot of steam to be let off and the cowboys had their pay. You could say it was a time of planned rowdiness. This type of activity was in stark contrast to the western outlaw who would be more apt to target the cowboy.

Again, the ranching industry was involved with the criminal element as well. The western outlaw or gunslinger really came to the forefront after the American Civil War. This was the era of the James Gang, the Daltons, Sam Bass, Butch Cassidy and others. In the case of the James Gang, much of their violence was attributed to lingering hatred from Civil War days, although that is an arguable point. What is significant is that none of the stories about the above mentioned outlaws had a good ending.

sam bass round rock texas

Outlaw Sam Bass who was shot and killed in Round Rock, TX

The Rustler Outlaw

The biggest bane to the cattle rancher was the rustler. Cattle associations were established to, among other things, deal with rustlers and old west outlaws.

Cattle associations went as far as employing range detectives who many times themselves had prior brushes with the law. Cattle associations themselves were responsible for violence when it came to the rustler, or alleged rustler, such as in the case of the Johnson County War in Wyoming. Rustlers were dealt with severely and quickly and in some cases the ranchers may have hung the wrong person in the rush for justice.

Vigilance Committees

The more you read about the subject of lawlessness in frontier or cattle towns, the more you realize that it was a short lived event. Many old western towns had vigilance committees that dealt with the criminal element their own way. The criminal element the committees were targeting were not drunken cowboys having a good time after trail drives. From vigilance committees came formal law enforcement and often times the two operated simultaneously. It was true that the great majority of murders committed in the old west were between members of the lower element. One reason was that if a rancher or land owner, someone of rank within the community were killed by a gunman, certain retribution was sure to come.

great train robberyWhen one gunman killed another gunman, many in the community were actually glad there was one less outlaw. Stagecoach and train robberies of course did effect law abiding citizens and it took little effort to organize a posse to go in pursuit. In addition to this, if you happened to rob a bank or a train you could be assured to have the Pinkertons on your trail brought in by banking associations.

Outlaws, gunmen, rustlers and others were simply detrimental to business and settlement. The American west was all about business and settlement. It is for this reason that the criminal element was dealt with firmly and swiftly, whether it be by a sheriff, a vigilance committee or the Pinkertons. Sometimes all three working together. To be sure, lawlessness in the frontier town ended more sooner than later.

The dime novels often paint the life of the cowboy and the outlaw with the same broad brush. This is especially true about the carrying and use of firearms. While this portrayal might spice up the mundane, hard working life of the cowboy, there was no similarity between cowboy, outlaw or gunslinger.

The cowboy could be rowdy as Teddy Roosevelt pointed out, but he would be more inclined to be pulling practical jokes and bragging rather than to break the law. Were there bad cowboys? Certainly. Ranchers were quite aware of this. Did some cowboys become outlaws later? Yes. An interesting fact taken from Dodge City Kansas records of 1872 says a lot about the cowboy. It was 1872 that the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad reached Dodge City making it an important cattle drive rail head. During that year there were a total of twenty-five murders that occurred during fights. Out of the total of twenty-five only one involved a cowboy.

See additional Trips Into History and Western Trips Articles on the Links Below…

The Saints Roost Western Museum in Clarendon, TX

See the Famous Goodnight Ranch House in Goodnight, Texas

Visit Historic Round Rock, Texas

Museums and Venues to Add to Your Next Trip Itinerary

The National Ranching Heritage Center – Lubbock, TX

National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum – Oklahoma City, OK

The XIT Museum – Dalhart, TX

King Ranch Museum – Kingsville, TX

Saints Roost Museum – Clarendon, TX

Black American West Museum – Denver, CO

The Rex Allen Museum – Willcox, AZ

Desert Caballeros Western Museum – Wickenburg, AZ

The Western Heritage Museum & Lea County Cowboy Hall of Fame – Hobbs, NM

(Article copyright Trips Into History)

 

Visit the Historic Seeley Stable Museum / Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego is really a must stop if your travels take you to this beautiful southern California city. There are several historic attractions in Old Town. One of those is the Seeley Stables which tell a excellent story about the very early days of San Diego. The Seeley Stables Museum can be found at 2630 Calhoun Street in Old Town.

seeley stable old town san diego

Seeley Stable, Old Town San Diego

Seeley Stable was used to stable horses and house stagecoaches. Seeley’s Stable would repair and make ready carriages. It would store and board horses and mules and offer rentals. When horse drawn transportation was a necessity, the stable was one of the more important businesses in town.

Albert Seeley also happened to operate a stagecoach line between Old Town San Diego and Los Angeles.

Old Town San Diego is a California Historical Park. Most of the historic structures are arrayed around the town square or plaza. When you stroll around the plaza you’ll find the Seeley Stables located adjacent to the Cosmopolitan Hotel, the oldest surviving building in San Diego. The hotel opened in 1869.

concord stagecoach san diego old town

Seeley’s San Diego to Los Angeles Stagecoach

Visiting the Seeley Stables Museum

The original Seeley Stable which was built circa 1869 was demolished in 1920.

The stables were reconstructed in 1974 using the same wood that was on the original stable.

The stables house a fine collection of 19th-century overland transportation gear and vehicles, including a carreta (an ox-drawn cart), mud wagon. The collection includes a Concord stage and a large  two-wagon freighter. Most of these original wagons and carriages were given to California State parks by Roscoe E. Hazard, a former rancher and retired highway contractor. The story of the wagons and their uses is told  with signs and stories of the past also exhibited in the stables.

One thing you’ll take back from this museum visit is a good understanding of how stables used to operate and the importance that they played in everyday lives. This is a free museum which covers two floors of what had been the old Seeley Stable.

The first floor is mainly a display of the types of wagons and coaches over various decades. The second floor exhibits items that would be found in the stables, on cowboys of the period, and Native American historical pieces.

The Seeley Stage Line

California’s first stage lines began at the time of the Gold Rush. They connected towns like  Sacramento to San Francisco, San Francisco with San Jose and several others.

Although railroads certainly did take their toll on local stage lines, San Diego didn’t find itself immediately on a rail line and the stagecoach business there lasted some time after others had ceased or greatly curtailed operations.

As mentioned above, Albert Seeley operated a stage line between San Diego and Los Angeles. This line opened in 1871. At the start the stagecoach and freighting business was in demand. Albert Seeley expanded his services by contracting with Wells Fargo for a route between San Diego and the gold mines in Cuyamacas as well as a route between Julien and San Bernardino.  The line was 130 miles in length. California is a big state and during this era  travel time between communities could be measured in days, not minutes.

The photo above is of an original stagecoach from that line. It is on display in the Seeley Stable Museum in Old Town.

authentic wells fargo stage

Authentic Wells Fargo Concord Stagecoach in Old Town

The Seeley Stage left San Diego at 5A and stopped for the night in San Juan Capistrano. The stagecoach would arrive in Los Angeles at 4P the following day.

The stage line eventually went out of business primarily due to the railroad. Seeley’s stage line ceased running the San Diego-Los Angeles route in 1887 but continued with a local San Diego-Ocean Beach route

The All Important Freight Line

If passengers were transported by stagecoaches then freight would be transported by freight wagons. Railroads would go on to take a lot of business from the freighters but the local freighters would still hang on for years.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

The Wells Fargo Concord Stagecoach / Photos and History

The Vortexes of Sedona Arizona / Where to Find Them

Your La Jolla California Getaway

Reasons You’ll Enjoy a Rocky Mountain Vacation

san diego wells fargo museum

Wells Fargo Museum, Old Town

Visiting Old Town San Diego

A visit to Old Town San Diego is a must stop when touring this beautiful west coast city.

Old Town San Diego is located north of the downtown district of San Diego but was the site of the original settlement.

Touring Old Town is a lot of fun. Most of the shops and historic structures are located around a plaza. Some of these are original adobe structures. Along with the historic structures, some housing unique museums, there are several choices for dining whether it be breakfast, lunch or dinner. Entertainment is also offered at some venues.

As mentioned earlier, Old Town San Diego is a State Historic Park. Current posted hours are daily 10A-5P and admission is free.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)

 

 

The Wells Fargo Stagecoach / Photos and History

Today, at cities and towns all across the nation people can see the sight of Wells Fargo Stagecoach reproductions during parades and special events. The Wells Fargo Stagecoach remains the logo of the modern banking concern and serves as a symbol of it’s service during the American frontier era.

wells fargo concord coach

Wells Fargo Concord Coach

The stage coach used for today’s parades and events is an authentic, Wells Fargo-approved reproduction. The coach is pulled by a specially trained team of six horses, and guided by an experienced stagecoach driver. Viewing these fine coaches is a real trip back into history.

Who Built the Wells Fargo Stages

The beautiful stagecoaches that Wells Fargo is noted for were built by the Abbott-Downing Company of Concord, New Hampshire. The coaches known as “Concord Coaches” were considered the best built coaches in the country.

Today, there is an Abbott-Downing Historical Society whose purpose is to preserve the history of the Concord Coach and the Abbott-Downing Company.Their website is www.concordcoach.org  Plenty of good information on this site as well as an interesting video and information on how to have one of their coaches at your event or parade.

concord coach interior

Interior of Concord Coach

According to their website, the first coach was constructed in 1826/27 and the last circa 1899. The total number of Concord Coaches built totaled approximately 1,700. A Concord Wells Fargo coach weighed about 2,500 lbs and cost about $2,500.

While we’ve usually  seen Wells Fargo coaches pulled by a team of six horses, the coaches have also been pulled by teams of two and four.

Wells Fargo Stagecoaches Operated Throughout the West

Wells Fargo transported their customers business  from 1852 to 1918 by a variety of methods. This included via steamship, railroad, and, where there were no railroads, by stagecoach.

During their early year Wells Fargo contracted with independent stage lines. Then, Wells Fargo came to own and operate the largest stagecoach operation in the world. That operation became famous with it’s Concord Coaches being pulled by a team of six horses.

Wells Fargo was also involved in the old Butterfield Overland Stage and Mail line helping with finances and having the 2,757 mile route surveyed across the American southwest and California.

The Butterfield line was rather short lived because of the onset of the Civil War. Becaue of Confederate control of Texas and parts of the New Mexico Territory, the route had to be moved to the north, essentially along the old Overland Route along the Platte River and through Wyoming.

At that time, Wells Fargo’s express shipments rode the stages of the Pioneer Stage Line from California to Virginia City, Nevada. The Overland Mail Company, which was controlled by Wells Fargo, ran stagecoaches from Virginia City, Nevada,to Salt Lake City, Utah. From Salt Lake City passengers, mail and express shipments connected with the Overland Express running through Denver, Colorado, and eastward to the Mississippi River. After the Civil War, Wells Fargo bought the Overland Express and combined with the other two lines it owned created the largest stagecoach operation in the world.

You may also enjoy our additional articles on old west stagecoaches found on the links below…

The Last Days of the California Stagecoach

Riding a Stagecoach in the Old West

On our Western Trips website see the Black Canyon Arizona Stage Route

wells fargo stage coachWhere to See the Wells Fargo Stagecoaches

Wells Fargo maintains several museums around the country and I recommend you visit one on  your next vacation or road trip. Not only can you view their iconic stagecoaches, but also exhibited are banking and express documents, working telegraphs, western art, gold coins, old money, and more. These are interesting museums and make good family trip stops.

All of the ten Wells Fargo Museums are free to enjoy. They are currently located in Charlotte, NC, Anchorage, AK, Los Angeles, CA, Philadelphia, PA, Minneapolis, MN, Portland, OR, Phoenix, AZ, San Diego, CA, Sacramento, CA, and San Francisco, CA.

For more information regarding the Wells Fargo Museums, see website…https://www.wellsfargo.com/about/history/museums/

The Wells Fargo Stagecoaches also appear at events throughout the year. For a current list of planned appearances see their website…http://www.wellsfargohistory.com/stagecoach/appearance-schedule/

Our references and `two very good books regarding the history of Wells Fargo and their stagecoaches include…..Stagecoach : Wells Fargo and the American West by author Philip L. Fradkin. Also see…..Stagecoach: Rare Views of the Old West, 1849-1915 by author Sandor Demlinger.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)

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.

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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.

cole younger photo

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. )