History of St. Joseph, Missouri
From: History of Daviess County, Missouri
Birdsall & Dean
Kansas City, Missouri 1882


The French element of the class of pioneers settled Canada and the northwestern part of the United States, as well as the country about the mouth of the Mississippi River. They came into the upper Mississippi and Missouri Valleys in 1764, under the lead of Pierre Laclede Liqueste (always called Laclede), who had a charter from the French government giving him the exclusive right to trade with the Indians in all the country as far north as St. Peter's River. Laclede brought part of his colony from France, and received large accessions to it in New Orleans, mainly of hunters and trappers, who had had experience with the Indians. In the year 1764 this colony founded the present city of St. Louis. From this point they immediately began their trading and trapping incursions into the then unbroken wilderness in their front. Their method of proceeding seems to have been to penetrate into the interior and establish small local posts for trading with the Indians, whence the trappers and hunters were outfitted and sent out into the adjacent woods.

In this way the country west and northwest of St. Louis was traversed and explored by these people, at a very early day, as far west as the Rocky Mountains. But of the extent of their operations but little has been recorded; hence but little is known of the posts established by them. It is known, however, that such posts were established at a very early day on the Chariton and Grand Rivers, in Missouri, and at Cote Sans Dessein, in Calloway county.


Joseph Robidoux, the son of Joseph and Catharine Robidoux, was Dorn in St. Louis, August 10, 1783. He was the eldest of a family consisting of six sons and one daughter; to-wit., Joseph, Antoine, Isadore, Francis, Michael and Palagie. Louis. the second son, lived and died in California, after his removal from St. Louis. Joseph, Antoine, Isadore and Francis were all buried in St. Joseph. Joseph, the father of this family, was a Canadian Frenchman, and came from Montreal, Canada, to St. Louis, where he located shortly after the settlement of the city by the French.

Being a shrewd business man and possessing great energy he accumulated a fortune. His wealth, his, business qualifications, and his genial disposition, made him many friends among the leading merchants and influential men of that city. He occupied a large mansion, located between Walnut and Elm streets, surrounded with every comfort and convenience. Here he entertained his friends in a royal style, and so noted was his hospitality that the first general assembly of Missouri did him the honor of holding its first session at his house, on the 7th of December, 1812.

Four years after his marriage his wife died. After her death young Robidoux, then in the twenty third year of his. age, became an extensive traveler. Fie made a voyage up the Missouri River in company with one of the partners of the American Fur Company.

Blacksnake Hills had been seen by some of the men connected with the fur companies while en route on one of the expeditions, their attention beings attracted thither, not only by the topography of the country, but by the presence of the congregated tribes of the Sac, Fox and Iowa Indians, who assembled here en masse at stated seasons of the year, preparatory to crossing the river, either on a visit to other tribes farther west, or for the purpose of hunting.

Seeing the Indians here in large numbers while on their journey at this time, the partners debarked, and after looking at its points and its advantages as a probable future trading post, they proceeded on their way to Council Bluffs, Iowa, the original place of their destination.

Being favorably impressed with the "Bluffs" as a trading post, Mr. Robidoux returned to St. Louis and purchased a stock of goods, which he transported up the Missouri by a keelboat, arriving at the "Bluffs" in the fall of 1809.

Here he remained for thirteen years, and while residing at the "Bluffs," in 1813, he married Angelique Vandory, another lady of St. Louis, who died in the city of St. Joseph on the 17th of January, 1857. By this union they had six sons and one daughter.

Readily adapting himself to the habits, manners and customs of the Indians, and speaking with considerable fluency the dialects of the tribes by whom he was surrounded, Mr. Robidoux became an. expert Indian trader.

The American Fur Company were also in business at the "Bluffs," and had a monopoly of the entire Indian trade for some time previous to the locating there of Mr. Robidoux. But a short time, however, passed after his arrival before he began to divide the trade, and finally became so popular with the Indians that he controlled a large portion of this trade, to the great detriment of the fur company.

The company, wishing no further opposition from Mr. Robidoux, finally purchased his stock of goods, giving him fifty per cent on the original cost, and in addition thereto the sum of one thousand dollars annually for a period of three years, conditioned that he would leave the Bluffs."

He then returned to St. Lords, where he remained with his family, carrying on the business of a baker and confectioner, until the expiration of the three years, the time agreed upon between himself and the fur company. Having spent already many years of his life among the Indians as a fur trader, a business which, if not entirely congenial to his taste, had at least been a profitable one, be concluded to embark once more in the same pursuit. Not that he really wished-

"for a lodge in some vast wilderness - Some boundless contiguity of space,"

but that he might reap therefrom a glden harvest. Making known his intention to the fur company, it at once offered him the post at the mouth of "Boy's Branch," just above the "Blacksnake Hills," at a salary of eighteen hundred dollars per year, provided he would in nowise interfere with the business at the "Bluffs."

This proposition he accepted, and having been furnished with a stock of goods he landed at the mouth of "Boy's Branch," in the fall of 1826. Shortly afterward he removed to the mouth of "Blacksnake Creek," where he continued to work for the fur company until 1830, at which time he purchased their entire interest in the goods then in his possession, and became the sole proprietor of the post at "Blacksnake Hills."

For many years the solitary log cabin of Joseph Robidoux was the only evidence of the presence of civilized man within a radius of fifty miles. With every puffing steamer which ascended the turbid waters of the Missouri came the emigrant and the adventurer, seeking homes in the western wilds. A few embryo settlements had been made along the banks of the great river in Jackson, Clay and other counties. The famous "Platte Purchase" became the new Eldorado, and the beauty of its rich, fertile valleys and prairies, fine timber, perennial springs and its numerous water courses, had been spread far and wide.

A few families from Franklin county, Missouri, consisting of Thomas and Henry Sollers, Elisha Gladden, Jane Purget, and a few others, settled near the spot in 1834, '35 and '36.


The only building that stood upon them town site of St. Joseph at that time was the log house of Joseph Robidoux. It occupied the spot where the Occidental Hotel now stands - on the northwest corner of Jule and Second streets - and was a building of considerable magnitude. It stood east and west, was a story and a half and contained nine rooms - three above and six below. On the north side was a shed divided into three rooms. A covered porch was built on the south side extending the entire length of the building. The west room of the. north shed was used by Mr. Eobidoux as his sleeping room. His store was the middle apartment of the main building, the entrance to which was through a door at the east end, first passing through an outer room to reach it.

So confident were some of the business men living in Clay and Clinton counties that some one of the last mentioned towns would be the future emporium of the "Platte Purchase" that they not only purchased land, but in one or two instances laid off Downs and opened business houses. John W. Samuels and Robert Elliott began business at White Cloud, or what was known as "Hackberry Ridge." G. W. Samuels, now of St. Joseph, built a warehouse at Elizabethtown, where he bought and sold hemp. Amazonia was expected to be the county seat of Andrew county. Charles Caples, concluding that the quarter section east and adjoining Amazonia, would be a more eligible spot for the building of a great city, laid it off into lots and gave it the name of Boston. These places, excepting Savannah, are numbered with the things of the past, and live only in the memories of the men whose pluck and energy gave them a name and brief existence.


In 1839, shortly after the arrival of Judge Toole in the county, he came to the Blacksnake Hills" one afternoon, horseback, and while passing along, near the present site of the Pacific House, he saw a large gray wolf, which he chased into the bottom, about where the first round house now stands. In fact, the wolves were so numerous at that time in and about the "Blacksnake Hills" and their howls were so loud and incessant that to sleep at times was utterly impossible.


The first white male child born at "Blacksnake Hill" was Thomas B. Sollers, born in 1837. The first white female child was the daughter of Polly and Henry Sollers, born in 1838, in a small hut east of the present site of the Occidental Hotel. The first physician who came was Dr. Daniel G. Keedy, in 1838. Dr. Silas McDonald arrived about the same time in the county.

He owned an old colored servant, who not only possessed a French name (Poulite), but who could speak the French tongue, having been raised among that nationality in St. Louis. This old man attended to the culinary affairs at the post. Mr. Robidoux operated a private ferry just below Francis street for crossing the Indians and those who were in his employ. The crossing generally was done in canoes, and occasionally in Mackinaw boats. The road leading from the ferry on the other side of the river led to Highland, Kansas, or to the Indian Mission, which was established after the removal of the Indians. The road from the ferry on this side passed below the Patee House, and crossed at Agency Ford, where it divided, one branch of which led to Liberty, Clay county, and the other in the direction of Grand River.

The next house (log) erected at Blacksnake Hills was built in March, 1836, and occupied by Thomas Sollers, east of ringer's packing house, for Mr. Robidonx, who wished to take up another additional quarter section of land, and about this period began to think that Blacksnake Hills would develop into something greater than a mere trading point for the convenience of the non progressive and half civilized Indian. No other improvements of a special character were made until the following year.

FROM 1837 TO 1840.
The treaty for the "Platte Purchase" had been negotiated, the Indians removed, the country opened to settlement, and hundreds of emigrants were flocking hither, locating in the interior and at different points along the Missouri.

The small colony at Blacksnake Hills was increased in number by the arrival of F. W. Smith, Joseph Gladden, Polly Dehard, Samuel Hull, John Freeman, Charles Zangenett, Father John Patchen, Captain James B. O'Toole, Judge Wm. C. Toole, William Fowler, Edwin Toole, and others.


Between the years above named the country settled rapidly, and one of several localities in or near the Missouri River, it was thought, would take precedence of all the other settlements, and become the chief town in this portion of. the State. The respective aspirants for future greatness were Blacksnake Hills, White Cloud, Savannah, Amazonia, Boston and Elizabethtown, all north of St. Joseph, some eight or ten miles, and within a radius of five miles.


In 1841 Dr. Daniel G. Keedy erected a saw mill in the bottom, north of the present fair grounds.

At the same time Josephs Robidoux built a flouring mill on the west side of Blacksnake Creek.

A little later another flouring mill was built by Creal & Wildbahn. John Girard was the miller.

Still, a little later, the first tavern in the place was erected by Josiah Beattie, located between Main and Second streets. In this tavern the Rev. T. S. Reeve preached the first sermon that was delivered at Blacksnake Hills.

In 1842 came Louis Picard, the first regular carpenter, and Wm. Langston, the first plasterer.

About the same time came the Belcher brothers, who were the first brick makers.

During this year Jonathan Copeland built a warehouse near the corner of Jule and Water streets.

Then came Jacob Mitchell, a worthy son of Vulcan. the ringing of whose anvil was heard by the villagers from "early morn until dewy eve."


Having regard to facts and dates as they occur chronologically, we have now reached a period (1842) in this history when there happened an incident which not only attracted the attention of the settlers at Blacksnake Hills and surrounding country, but furnished a theme for conversation around their firesides for months afterward, and as the circumstances connected therewith are of an interesting character, we shall narrate them: In the summer of 1842 Mr. Robidoux received from the Sac and Fox Indians the sum of four thousand dollars in silver, in four different boxes, each box containing one thousand dollars. Mr. Iltobidoux had sold goods to these tribes to this amount, and when they were paid their annuity by the government its agent turned over to him the sum above mentioned.

Having no safe, Mr. itobidoux placed the boxes containing the money on one of the lowest shelves of his store, behind the counter, near a window. This window was secured at night by wooden shutters and fastened on the inside by a bolt.

On the east side of One Hundred and Two River lived at that time three families, bearing respectively the names of Spence, Scott and Davis. They were supposed to be counterfeiters, yet no one knew positively that they had ever passed any spurious money. The Spence boys, whose given names were John, George Monroe, Andy and James, were in the habit, in company with Scott and Davis, of visiting Blacksnake Hills almost daily, and while there would spend their time lounging about the solitary saloon, which stood upon the bottom, west of Blacksnake Creek, and at Mr. Robidoux's store.

For some days previous to the occurrence which followed, it was noticed that one of the Spence boys would often place himself in a recumbent position on the counter, with his face turned toward the shelf containing the boxes of money.

Two or three nights afterward an entrance was effected through the window above spoken of, and the boxes with their contents were removed. As soon as it was ascertained by Mr. Robidoux that his store had been burglarized and his money taken, immediate search was instituted by his clerk, Mr. Poulin, and others who volunteered their assistance. Suspecting that the Spence boys knew all about the burglary, as well as the where abouts of the missing treasure, they went in the direction of their house.

While en route, and on crossing Blacksnake Creek, the party discovered a man's shoe which had evidently been worn but once, as it was entirely new. The day before three of the Spence boys had purchased shoes of Mr. Poulin at Robidonx's store. He remembered that the shoes were of different numbers, the smallest pair being sixes, and of cutting an unusual long buckskin shoe string. The shoe found was a number six, and the buckskin string was "confirmation strong as holy writ" that the Spence boys were of the party of thieves, or were in some manner connected with the burglary. That they had worn the new shoes on the previous night, and that in their flight through the soft clay had lost one, was clear enough.

Being thus encouraged, the party pursued their way to the cabin where the Spences lived, surrounded it, and captured the Spence boys as well as Davis and Scott. Davis and Scott, however, were released. The others were brought before Justice Mills, and upon a preliminary examination were discharged, there not being sufficient proof to bold them for trial.

Sixteen or eighteen citizens, some of whom are still living, confident that the Spence boys and Davis and Scott had committed the crime, met the next day and proceeded in a body on horseback to Davis's and Scott's residence, determined, if they could, to bring the offenders to justice and restore the stolen money. In the meantime, Mr. IRobidoux had offered a reward of five hundred dollars for the capture and conviction of the thief or thieves and the recovery of the funds. Scott and Davis were taken prisoners and compelled to accompany the party of citizens, who, when about half way back to town, separated, the larger portion taking Davis on a hill and leaving Scott in the valley of the One Hundred and Two in charge of Elisha Gladden. They took Davis out of sight of Scott and just far enough away that Scott could hear the firing of a pistol. They then halted and told Davis that he must tell them where Robidoux's money was, or, if bed refused, they would hang him. He strenuously denied all knowledge of the affair and told them to "hang and be dad." They put a rope around his neck and swung him up, only intending to frighten and make him confess to the whereabouts of the money. After he had remained suspended for some minutes they let him down, and asked him to confess the crime. Davis being as bold and defiant as ever, they hung him again, this time almost taking his life. They again asked him to tell where the money was, when he again refused in a fiendish, insolent manner, branding them with a profusion of the lowest epithets. Seeing that Davis would tell nothing, some one of the party shot off a pistol (as previously arranged, if Davis did not confess), so that Scott could hear it, and at the same time two or three of them rushed down the hill where Scott was guarded, shouting that they had "killed Davis" and were now "going to kill Scott."

One of these men held up his hand which he had accidently bruised coming down the hill, and which had some spots of blood on it, telling Scott, when Davis was shot, some of his blood had spurted on his hand. Gladden, who was guarding Scott, said, when the concussion of the pistol was heard, "that Scott's face became as pallid as death," he supposing that his accomplice had been killed.

They gave him to understand that they had disposed of Davis, and that if he did not tell them all about the money and the parties implicated in taking it, they would also dispose of him in a very summary manner, but promised that if he would give them this information, they would not only spare his life, but would supply him with money enough to take him out of the country.

Believing what he had heard and seen to be true, and that the condition of things was such as had been represented, Scott asked some one present to give him a pencil and piece of paper. This being done, he wrote the names of all the parties concerned in the burglary (the Spence brothers, Davis and himself), and led the way to where one of the boxes had been buried, near the banks of the One Hundred and Two. So ingenious had been their plan, and so careful had they been to conceal all the traces of their villainy, that while digging a hole, in which to deposit the money, they placed every particle of dirt in a box and emptied it into the stream, excepting enough to refill the hole after the money was put in. Having four thousand dollars, they dug four holes. They then divided a blanket into four pieces, took the money out of the boxes, wrapped each thousand dollars separately, buried it by itself, and then refilled the hole, covering it over with the same sod that they had taken up, and then burned the boxes.

Scott could only show them where the first thousand dollars was. He did not see them when they buried the other three thousand. They, however, found the first thousand. How or where to obtain the balance of the money they did not know. Scott could not tell, and Davis, they supposed, would not. They had tried threats and hanging with him, but without avail.

In the meantime Davis was still in custody. They went to him, told him that Scott had confessed, and it would be better for him to confess, also. That Scott had not only given them the names of the persons who stole the money, but had shown them where the first thousand dollars was buried. He still refused to believe or say anything. To convince him of the truth of what they said, they took him to the spot from which they had taken the money, and showed him the piece of blanket in which it was wrapped. No longer doubting what he had seen and heard, he called for a drink of whisky, which was given him, and after drinking it told them he would show them where the balance of the money was buried.

To further show that Davis and his pals were accomplished villains, and possessed a cunning ingenuity which would have been creditable to the pirates and freebooters of a past century, and which in some respects is not unlike the narrative of "Arthur Gordon Pym," by the gifted Poe, it is only necessary to mention how he proceeded to show when and how to find the balance of the money stolen.

He stood at the edge of the hole from which the first thousand dollars had been taken, and stepping fifteen paces to the south, pointed to his feet and said: "Here you will find a thousand dollars!' He then led the way to a small log, with a single knot on it, and said, "Under that knot, in the ground, you will find another thousand dollars." Going to the bank of the One Hundred and Two, in the sand, neath a willow tree, under a broken branch that bent downward, said, "You will find the last thousand dollars here."

It was as he said, and the money was all recovered, excepting twenty seven dollars, and returned to Mr. Robidonx.

Scott and Davis were held in custody, but during the night Davis escaped, and Scott was finally discharged on the ground of his having made confession, and giving the names of the persons who had committed the burglary. The Spence boys left the country.


In June, 1843, Mr. Robidoux laid out the original town, the site of which was covered with a luxuriant growth of hemp. Simeon Kemper acted as surveyor in this important undertaking, and Elisha Gladden as chain bearer. Two maps of the town were made - one by F. W. Smith, and the other by Simeon Kemper, bearing respectively the names of "Robidoux" and "St. Joseph," in honor of its founder. The map drawn by Mr. Smith was selected by Mr. Robidonx, and the more civilized and felicitions appellative of St. Joseph was substituted for that of Blacksnake Hills.

This map was taken to St. Louis, where Mr. Robidoux acknowledged it in the office of the clerk of the Court of Common Pleas (Nathaniel Paschall, who has since been one of the editors of the St. Louis Republican, being the clerk at the time), and after having it lithographed, returned to St. Joseph.

His declaration and acknowledgment are as follows:


" I, Joseph Robidoux, of the county of Buchanan, and the State of Missouri, do hereby declare that I am the proprietor and owner of a certain town named St. Joseph, located upon the southwest fractional quarter of section eight, township fifty seven north, range thirty five west of the fifth principal meridian, and that I have laid off the same into lots and blocks, bounded by streets and alleys, and a levee, or landing on the front, which streets and alleys are of the width set forth upon this plat, and the lots and blocks are of the dimensions and numbers as are indicated upon said plat; and the course of said streets and the extent of said lots, blocks and town are correctly set forth upon this plat of the same, which was made by my authority and under my direction. And I do hereby give, grant, allot and convey, for public uses, all the streets and alleys, by the names and of the extent that are set forth upon said plat. And I do hereby declare this dedication to be made by me, this, the 26th day of July, eighteen hundred and forty three, to be binding upon me, my heirs and assigns forever.



"BE IT REMEMBERED, that on this 26th day of July, eighteen hundred and forty three, before me, the undersigned, clerk of the St. Louis Court of Common Pleas, within and for said county, came Joseph Robidoux, who is personally known to me to be the same person whose name is subscribed to the above plat, as having executed the Said plat, and who acknowledged to me that he executed said plat for the purposes therein named.

"In testimony whereof, I have set my hand and affixed the seal of said court at office in the city of St. Louis, and State aforesaid, 26th day of July, eighteen hundred and forty three.


The west half of block thirty one was reserved on the map as a market square; the west half of block fifty was donated for a public church; the northwest quarter of block thirty eight for a public school, and the south quarter of the same block for a Catholic church.

These lots were immediately put upon the market, even before the title to them was complete. This was perfected in 1844, at which time a United States land office was located at Plattsburg, Missouri.

The uniform price of corner lots was one hundred and fifty dollars, and inside lots one hundred dollars. As rapidly as sale could be made the money was applied in payment of a mortgage, held by Pierre Chouteau, Jr., of St. Louis, upon the land embracing the town site, amounting to six thousand three hundred and seventy two dollars and fifty seven cents.

The town, as then laid off, included all the territory lying between RobideRobidoux on the north and Messanie Street on the south, and between Sixth Street on the east and the Missouri River on the west, and contained sixty four blocks, twelve of which are fractional. Each whole block is 240 by 300 feet, bisected by an alley and containing twelve lots.

The streets are governed by the cardinal points of the compass; those running back from the river in the "Original Town," extending north and south, are Water, Levee, Main (or First), Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth; and those running at right angles, commencing on the parallel of the north line, are Isadore, Robidoux, Faraon, Jules, Francis, Felix, Edmond, Charles, Sylvanie, Angelique Messanie. These names are derived from members of Mr. Robidoux's family.

Since the laying out of the original town, covering a period of thirty eight years, there have been added about seventy two additions.


In 1844-5 the first church edifice in the town, a log building, 20x30 feet, was erected, under the direction of Rev. T. S. Reeve, a Presbyterian clergyclergymans located on the lot where the business house of John S. Brittain & Co. now stands.

Soon after this church building was completed and occupied an incident occurred in it which is worth relating:

In the fall of 1845, on a sabbath day evening, while religious services were being held, a loud, rough knock was heard upon the door. Without waiting for a response, the door was thrust wide open, when in stalked a large, burly looking individual from Grand River.

With hat on and hand raised, he advanced toward the pulpit and motioned to the min ister to stop. The man of God (Rev. T. S. Reeve) being thus rudely and inopportunely accosted, left off preaching, when the stranger said:

"Is Bob Donnell in this house? I've got a bar'l of honey for him."

Mr. Donnell being present, and taking in the situation at a glance, immediaimmediatelelyis seat and went out of the house with the enterprising and redoubtable honey vender. Whether he purchased the "bar'l" we cannot say. The man, however, who, nothing daunted, had so persistently hunted him up, braving the parson and the astonished gaze of the congregation, certainly deserved some consideration at the hands of Mr. Donnell. We hope, therefore, a bargain was made, and that his Grand River friend returned home a happier, if not a wiser man.

The log church was first permanently occupied in the winter of 1844-5. In the fall of the year 1844 the first Union sabbath school was organized, and a committee of ladies sent out for the purpose of making collections for the schcol. Joseph Robidoux, the founder of the city, made the first dona tion of ten dollars in money for the school. This was the first time. a subscription paper had ever been carried around, and it elicited some practical jokes from its novelty among those who subscribed, and who are now among the oldest citizens.

The log church was also occupied once a month by the Methodist denomination for some time, and twice a month, until their own church was built, in 1846. In August, of that year, trustees were appointed by the First Presbyterian Church, under the care of the Lexington Presbytery, in connection with the "Constitutional General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church." During the same year a building committee was appointed to make the necessary arrangements for the erection of a new house of worship. Money was raised by subscription, and in 1847 was erected the brick building on the northeast corner of Fourth and Francis streets, in dimensions fifty feet front by sixty feet. The first services were held in the church in the winter of 1849-50.

This building was used without interruption till the closing of the church and dispersion of the congregation in 1861, at the breaking out of the civil war. It then passed through various hands, till it finally became, by purchase, the property of the German congregation now occupying it.


The citizens of St. Joseph are justly proud of their excellent system of public schools, which not only afford a practical and liberal education for their children at home, but have given the city character and reputation abroad. They have been one of the most important factors in attracting immigration, and have done more than any other institution to add to the population, wealth and general prosperity of the city. They are the schools in which the great masses of the children are educated - the children of the wealthy, of the men of moderate means and of the poor alike - all classes, and frequently many nationalities, being represented in the same school.

Until the year 1860, no attempt at any system of public schools had been made in St. Joseph. Occasionally a free school would be taught for a month or two, or for a sufficient length of time to absorb what was not wasted or lost of the city's share of the public school fund. But there was no public school system, and St. Joseph had merely the organization of a country school district. In that year a few of the most enterprising of her citizens determined to make an effort to establish a system of public schools. They sought and obtained from the legislature of the State a good and liberal charter.

This charter has been twice amended by the legislature, at the request of the board of public schools; once in 1866 and once in 1872. Edward Everett said: "To read the English language well, to write a neat, legible hand, and to be master of the four rules of arithmetic, I call this a good education." Any pupil completing a course in the St. Joseph schools should have an education far above that standard, and be well prepared to enter upon any of the ordinary business avocations of life. But that the system of public instruction may be as complete and thorough in St. Joseph as in any Eastern city, a high school, with a liberal course of study, was organized in 1866, which has graduated 208 young ladies and gentlemen who are filling useful and honorable positions in society. Of the above number, forty four are either teaching now or have been teachers in the public schools of St. Joseph.


The first newspaper, the Gazette, a weekly, was established in St. Joseph in 1845, its first issue appearing on Friday, the 25th day of April, of that year: The proprietor was William Ridenbaugh. When commencing the publication of his paper he had extensively circulated throughout Buchanan and the adjoining counties, the following:

"Again, the spirit of internal improvement is abroad, our people are determined not only to improve the transporting facilities now had, but to add others, which will place its on terms more nearly equal with other parts of the world. Then all the advantages we have in soil and climate will become available; then a new impetus will have been given to the industrious farmer; then the call upon the merchant for the necessaries and comforts of life will have been vastly increased; then health and prosperity will everywhere greet the eye of the beholder; then ours shall be a town and county in which the wealthy, industrious and educated of the other and older States will love to settle, and the situation of our town and surrounding scenery, which are now surpassingly lovely, will be enhanced by the touch of art, and the citizen or visitor of cultivated or refined taste will love to contemplate their beauty."

The above article was written in the spring of 1847, and is doubtless a faithful and correct representation of St. Joseph and her business prospects at that time. Four years had elapsed from the laying out of the town, and the inferences drawn from the editorial are that notwithstanding many difficulties had heretofore intervened, such as the jealousies of rival towns, imperfect navigation facilities, and other hindrances, the town had continued to prosper.


The people of St. Joseph early awoke to a sense of the importance and necessity of railroad communication with the East. About the first reference to this matter we find in the Gazette, of Friday, November 6, 1846:

"Our country is destined to suffer much and is now suffering from the difficulty of navigation and the extremely high rates the boats now charge. Our farmers may calculate that they will get much less for produce and will be compelled to pay much more for their goods than heretofore, and this will certainly always be the case when the Missouri River shall be as low as it now is. The chances are fearfully against having any. considerable work bestowed hi improving the river, and until it is improved by artificial means the navigation of it to this point must always be dangerous and very uncertain.

"The prospects for this fall and winter are well calculated to make the people look about to see if there is no way to remedy this inconvenience, if there can be any plan suggested whereby our people can be placed more nearly upon terms of equality with the good citizens of other parts of our land.

"We suggest the propriety of a railroad from St. Joseph to some point on the Mississippi, either St. Louis, Hannibal or Quincy. For ourselves we like the idea of a railroad to one of the latter places suggested, for this course would place us nearer the Eastern cities, and make our road thither a direct one; we like this road, too, because it would so much relieve the intermediate country which is now suffering and must always suffer so much for transporting facilities in the absence of such an enterprise.

"If this be the favorite route we must expect opposition from the southern portion of the State, as well as all the river counties below this. For the present we mean merely to throw out the suggestion, with the view of awakening public opinion, and eliciting a discussion of the subject. In some future number we propose presenting more advantages of such a road, and will likewise propose and enforce by argument the ways and means of accomplishing the object."

The charter for the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad was secured mainly by the exertions of Robert M. Stewart, afterward governor of the State, and, at the time of its issuance, a member of the State senate, and of General James Craig, and Judge J. B. Gardenhire.

About the spring of 1857 work was begun on the west end, and by March of that year the track extended out from St. Joseph a distance of seven miles. The first fire under the first engine that started out of St. Joseph on the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad was kindled by M. Jeff. Thompson. This was several years before the arrival of the first through train in February, 1859. (Sometime in the early part of 1857.)

The Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad was completed February 13, 1859. On Monday, February 14, 1859, the first through passenger train ran out of St. Joseph. Of this train E. Sleppy, now (1881) master mechanic of the St. Joseph and Western Machine Shops, in Elwood, was engineer, and Benjamin H. Colt, conductor.

The first to run a train into St. Joseph was George Thompson, who ran first a construction train and then a freight train.

The first master mechanic of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad shops in St. Joseph was C. F. Shivel. These shops were established in 1857. In the following year Mr. Shivel put up the first ear ever built in the city.

On the 22d of February, 1859, occurred in St. Joseph the celebration of the completion of the Hannibal and St. Joseph road. This was, beyond doubt, the grandest display ever witnessed in the city, up to that period.

Mr. Jeff. Thompson, at that time mayor of the city, presided over the ceremonies and festivities of this brilliant occasion. The city was wild with enthusiasm, and the most profuse and unbounded hospitality prevailed.

A grand banquet was held in the spacious apartments of the Odd Fellows' Hall, which then stood on the corner of Fifth and Felix streets. Not less than six hundred invited guests were feasted here; and it was estimated that several thousand ate during the day at this hospitable board.

Broadens Thompson, Esq., a brother of General M. Jeff. Thompson, made the grand speech of the occasion, and performed the ceremony of mingling the waters of the two mighty streams thus linked by a double band of iron.

The completion of the road constitutes an era in the history of St. Joseph, and from that period dawned the light of a new prosperity. In the five succeeding years the population of the city was quadrupled, and her name heralded to the remotest East as the rising emporium of the West.

In the summer of 1872 this road commenced the building of a branch southward from St. Joseph, twenty one miles, to the city of Atchison. This was completed in October of the same year.

The St. Joseph and Western is one of the most valuable roads that leads into St. Joseph, and has been the source of a large trade from the neighboring State of Kansas.

The Kansas City, St. Joseph and Council Bluffs road is not so important, having parallel roads in opposition, and until it came under the control of the C., B. & Q. it lacked comprehensive business views and enlightened management. It is, however, a good, local road, all the way from Sioux City to Kansas City, but as a northern and southern road, with competing lines, will not be of very great value as an investment.

The Missouri Pacific is another road that has run to the city, but found it far from profitable, and are now building from Atchison north, into Nebraska. This road, like the K. C. Sib C. B., is of great local convenience to the people and St. Joseph.

The Wabash, St. Louis and Pacific, as its southeastern route to St. Louis, the St. Joseph and Western, and the Hannibal and St. Joseph, will always be the leading roads. The first mentioned running a branch to St. Joseph, giving them a route to St. Louis over what was called the Kansas City, St. Louis and Northern, now all known as the Wabash system.

The St. Joseph and Des Moines is another new road of local importance, although giving another Chicago route to the city of "pools and corners." There are now (1881) three lines of street railway in St. Joseph.

The Board of Trade was organized October 19, 1878.


The rapid increase of the wholesale trade of St. Joseph is simply it markable. The merchants, in January, looked forward to a greatly increased trade, but they did not think for a moment that it would go so far beyond the expectations of the most sanguine. Such, however, has been the case, and there is no telling what proportions the trade will assume in 1881. To accommodate this increase of business, many of our merchants are compelled to erect more commodious buildings. The many magnificent wholesale structures that have gone up in the past few months bear ample evidence to the truth of this assertion.

Total sales in 1880 of merchandise $19,385,000
Add sales of manufactures $12,902,115
Grand total of the trade of St. Joseph, 1880 $62,287,115


In the year 1856 J. B. Ranney and associates proposed to the city authorities that privileges should be granted to a company to be organized of which the city should take one half the capital stock and himself and associates the remaining half. The proposal was agreed to and the city became a stockholder. The works were erected and met with a steady loss even at the rate of five and six dollars charged per thousand feet of gas to consumers. The city sold out for twenty cents on the dollar. They continued changing hands and losing money until the purchase of the works in 1871, by James Clemens and his associates, of Detroit, Michigan, under the name of the Citizens' Gas Light Company, for the sum of $50,000. This company greatly enlarged and otherwise improved the works, and secured a contract for lighting the street lamps, which had remained unlighted several years. The trouble was that the people had not progressed far enough to fully appreciate gas in their business houses or private residences, and the cost of introducing was an item of serious contemplation while their residences to a large extent were not built with gas arrangements. The company, however, began to prosper for the first time in the history of gas in St. Joseph when a new company was granted equal facilities with them and proposed to cut down the price of gas and teach the citizens of St. Joseph the beauties of its use.

In 1878 this new company came to the front under the name of the Mutual Gas Light Company, the present owners of the works, and made proposals to the authorities, through their president, C. H. Nash, to supply present consumers with gas at $2.50 per thousand feet, and the street lamps at $25 per annum. The old company had charged $1 per thousand feet and $30 for lighting the street lamps per year. They were granted the franchise and awarded the city contract, and this resulted in the sale of the entire works and franchise of the old company to the Mutual Gas Light Association.

The latter company has erected elegant new works on the corner of Lafayette and Sixth streets, capable of supplying a city of 75,000 inhabitants.

The company have now placed in position over twenty miles of main pipe, supplying over eight hundred consumers and nearly five hundred street lamps.


One of the chief needs of St. Joseph for more than ten years past has been a complete and perfect system of water works, to be employed both as a safeguard against fire and as a means of averting the possibilities of a deficient supply in seasons of drought.

But it was not until the 10th day of December, 1879, that anything was actually accomplished in that direction, at which date the mayor approved an ordinance passed by the city council authorizing the construction of water works upon the "gravity system," the supply to be obtained from the Missouri River above the city limits.

On December 23, 1879, the contract was let to the St. Joseph Water Company, under bond to complete the works and furnish a full supply of pure, wholesome water within twelve months from that date. This company commenced work on the 4th day of January, 1880, and upon the 12th day of January, 1881, the works were accepted by the city authorities as perfectly satisfactory.

The great basins are supplied with water by the engines below, the water first being forced into a well west of the elevation, and after that it runs through pipes into the reservoirs, of which there are three. The settling basin is 380 feet long by 85 feet wide, and its capacity is three million gallons. Its depth is twenty feet, and its water level is two feet higher than the reservoir on the south.

The north basin, which is intended for the filtered water, is 150 feet wide and 300 feet long, and has a capacity of six million of gallons.

If at any time it should be required to empty these basins there is certain machinery on hand that can be placed at work immediately and the old water can be replaced by that which is fresh and pare.

Reservoir Hill is 330 feet above high water mark, and it is 122 feet higher than any point in St. Joseph. In the business portion of the city the pressure has been, since the works were in operation, 120 pounds to the square inch.

In testing the capacity of the street hydrants it has been demonstrated that in the business portion of the city a stream can be thrown through hose, with a proper nozzle attached, to the height of about 110 feet, while at the corner of Nineteenth and Francis streets, one of the highest points within the eastern corporate limits, a distance of sixty five feet has been shown to be the extreme limit of the elevation.

At the present writing something over twenty miles of main pipe have been laid in place and one hundred and eighty two hydrants placed at proper locations and in working order.

The works were to cost at first $300,000, but the company kept adding to the original estimate until the works complete have cost $700,000 instead of the amount first estimated.


To John B. Carson, general manager of the Hannibal and St. Joseph railroad, belongs the credit of originating a plan for the construction of a union depot at St. Joseph.

After various conferences of the union depot projectors, the erection of the building was finally determined upon in April, 1880, when the St. Joseph Union Depot Company was organized, with the following companies as incorporators and stockholders: Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad Company, Missouri Pacific Railway Company, St. Joseph and Western Railroad Company, which is a part of the Union Pacific; Kansas City, St. Joseph and Council Bluffs Railroad Company, which is a part of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad; Wabash, St. Louis and Pacific Railroad Company; St. Joseph and Des Moines Railroad Company.

The ground which was selected and legally condemned for this enterprise is situated on the east side of Sixth Street, near the corner of Mitchell Avenue, that having been found to be the most suitable location for a common point of meeting for the different railroads operating their lines through this city. It embraces a tract of six acres, all of which will be required for its buildings, sheds, platforms, tracks; etc.

The style of the building is Eastlake domestic gothic, and contemplates a building 400 feet in length and fifty feet in width, set back from Sixth Street thirty six feet, so as to give room for carriage way between present street line and front of building.


The transactions of the stock yards for the past three years are as follows:





Head of hogs




Head of cattle




Head of horses and mules




Head of sheep




The capacity of the yards is limited at present to fifty pens, which will accommodate 2,500 head of cattle and 3,000 head of hogs.


During the year 1880 nearly 10,000 head of cattle were marketed in St. Joseph, which amounted to the aggregate value of about $300,000.

There were about 4,000 horses and mules sold in this market in 1880, of a total value of $350,000. A great portion of this number were shipped out to Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Louisiana and South Carolina.

There were 140,000 head of hogs sold in this city in 1880, of a value of $2,000,000, making the total sales of live stock $2,650,000.


There are at present (1881) three packing houses in the city. The oldest of these was established by the present proprietor, David Finger, in 1853. It is near the Francis Street depot. About five hands are generally employed. Slaughtering here is principally done for the butchers.

Hax & Brother were established in 1868. Their packing house and office are on the corner of Fourth and Mary streets. They employ in the winter season between sixty and eighty hands, and also pack to a limited extent in summer.

The packing house of H. Krug & Co. was established in the winter of 1877-8, H. Krug, president; James McCord, vice president and treasurer; George C. Flax, secretary. The capital stock of the company is $72,000. In the winter of 1879-80 this house packed between 60,000 and 65,000 hogs. In the summer about 24,000 head were packed. In August, 1881, they slaughtered 1,800 hogs per week.

Connett Brothers, who packed in 1880 about 6,000 hogs, on their farm in the county, are now (1881) erecting a spacious brick structure south of the city limits, which will cost, when completed, about $25,000 or $30,000. Its packing capacity will be from 1,000 to 1,500 per day.


The past winter has afforded the best ice harvest ever before known in this city. The following statement shows the number of tons taken from the Missouri River and Lake Contrary and stored for use:

Breweries 40,000 tons.
Packing companies 25,000 tons.
Ice dealers 25,000 tons.
Private use 10,000 tons.
Total 100,000 tons.

The average cost of storing ice last season was less than $1.00 per ton, while the average cost of imported ice the year previous was $4.50 per ton.


No other city in the entire West can boast of so fine a temple devoted to the dramatic art, nor comparing in size and elegance of appointment, with the Opera House in this city.

The building was erected by Mr. Milton Tootle, in 1873, at a cost of $150,000. It is regarded by all as the finest theater west of Chicago. The City Hall cost $50,000, an imposing building.


In accordance with a resolution of the Board of Trade recently adopted, a committee appointed for that purpose has prepared articles of association for the incorporation of a stock company, to be called the Chamber of Commerce, the object of which is to perfect a plan for the erection of a Board of Trade or Chamber of Commerce building in this city. The organization has been completed, and it is thought that the necessary stock can be placed at once. The location has not yet been determined upon, but it is designed to secure a corner lot, if possible, near to the business center of the city.

The St. Joseph glucose company was formed in June, 1880. The name of the company is The St. Joseph Refining Company. It has all of the latest improved machinery, and a capacity for making up 3,000 bushels of corn daily. The building is situated in South St. Joseph, and covers over an acre of ground.

Situated on South Fourth Street, in the premises formerly occupied by the Evans, Day & Co. Canning Factory, are the Star Preserving Works, owned and operated by Albert Fischer & Co. They have recently enlarged the premises with additional buildings until they cover nearly an entire square.

The capacity of the works are 40,000 cans, or 1,800 bushels of tomatoes per day, or from 1,000 to 1,200 bushels of peas. During the preserving season these works have about 250 employes upon their payroll.


The paeking of butter, eggs, apples, potatoes, and other produce is assuming immense proportions, and as St. Joseph is situated in the heart of the finest agricultural district in the world, this industry must increase with each succeeding year.

The following statistics of this branch of trade were supplied by the principal commission houses here for the year 1880.

No. of bushels potatoes shipped from the city 100,000
No. of bushels apples packed and shipped from the city 216,000
No. dozen eggs packed and shipped from the city 400,000
No. pounds butter packed and shipped from the city 880,000
Total value of the shipments above noted $450,000

The military force of the city consists of two battalions, composed of five companies of infantry, all superbly equipped and exceedingly well drilled.


built to St. Joseph was completed to that point on the day of the inauguration of President Franklin Pierce. The first dispatch to come over the line to St. Joseph was his inaugural address. The name of the telegraph opera
ator who received the message was Peter Lovell. His office was on the southwest corner of Seeond and Jule streets.


Letters received by mail 1,043,209
Local letters received and delivered 95,061
Postal cards by mail 294,448
Postal Cards local 72,988
Newpaper delivery 802,190
Total number of pieces sent, 1880 4,024,170
Increase over 1879, 12.4 per cent.
Total business money order department, 1880 1,596,237.26
Sales of stamps, envelopes and postal cards 54,395.36
Internal revenue for 1880. 66,161.43
Total debt of the city 1,750,000.00
Total assessed valuation, 1880 10,000,000.00
Interest on city indebtedness, 4 per cent.
Value of property owned by the city 250,000.00

St. Joseph is the third city in size in the State, and its population, by the census of 1880, is 32,484. It is gaining moderately, but the spirit of enterprise has never been very highly developed by her people. Her wholesale merchants are opposed to further opposition in their line, and, as a rule, they do little to advertise their business; some of the heaviest never putting a line of advertisements in the papers year in and year out, while many do it grudgingly, as a sort of tax which they are compelled to pay. It is like St. Louis, slow to move, and like the latterSecond it has some live, energetic men, but not enough to leaven the mass.

In scope of country tributary to her growth and prosperity St. Joseph has little to complain of, and if an energetic spirit possessed her people she would have a surprising growth the next ten years. As it is, she is likely to retain her present position as the third city in the State. She has a refined and cultivated people, hospitable and generous, but her business interests are carried on to the extreme upon the basis of self With an increase of population and more extended and broader views St. Joseph's future is one of promise.

Return to [ MO History ] [ History at Rays Place ] [ Rays Place ]

All pages copyright 2009. All items on this site are copyrighted by their author(s). These pages may be linked to but not used on another web site. Anyone may copy and use the information provided here freely for personal use only. Privacy Policy