Postcards from Kansas City

by chuckofish

“History is that certainty produced where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”–Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

Everything may be up to date in Kansas City, but as far as I can tell, they are not really very interested in their history. This is a shame.

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Majors, McCoy and Jim Bridger

We went to Westport hoping to get a sense of where some of my pioneer ancestors lived and made a home. But there is barely a trace left. Even the river has moved!

We did find the Union Cemetery where basically all the founding city Fathers (and Mothers) are buried: John Calvin McCoy, Virginia Crick McCoy, Alexander Majors, William Miles Chick, Nelsons,  McGees, George Caleb Bingham, and my great-great-great grandmother Susan Prowers Vogel who came with her parents and siblings from Virginia in the 1830s.

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Also there is her second husband Louis Vogel and one son, Louis Vogel, Jr.

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The cemetery is sadly neglected and in need of a lot of work. It is only a hop, skip and a jump away from the very fancy and well maintained National WWI Museum and the Crown Center. Boy, if I won the lottery, I know what I would do!

We went to the Westport Historical Society which is housed in one of only two surviving antebellum houses in the area.

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It is a nicely kept house filled with period furniture.

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The docent gave a tour aimed at the typical tourist about pretentious slave-owning stereotypes which I felt probably had no basis in reality. Indeed, she and the other woman there could not offer me much real information. They showed me their library and offered the use of it, but I didn’t have the time on this trip to take them up on their offer.

They couldn’t really shed any light on my questions about what had happened to the “landing”–the natural rock shelf where the steamboats could land.

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Where, in fact, did the river go? Westport today is a hipster neighborhood surrounded by more buildings. There is no river in sight. What happened?! Well, they said, the landing is under tons of dirt and the river had moved. They didn’t know when or how exactly. There might be a rail yard there now.

They had heard of Louis Vogel and they had a picture of his tavern, taken shortly before it was torn down at the turn of the century.

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They had never heard of John Prowers (my great-great-great grandfather), the man who had actually built the house himself before he died suddenly in 1839. Vogel married his widow, Susan Matney Prowers, and turned the two-story oak log house into “Vogel’s Saloon,” where in 1846 Francis Parkman received word of a caravan heading north and west out of Leavenworth, Kansas. Parkman decided to take the journey westward and The Oregon Trail is the result of that trip.

I explained what I could about the Prowers, their two children–John who grew up to become a cattle baron and have a county in Colorado named after him and Mary who married the cousin of U.S. Grant. They asked me to send them what information I had and I will do that, lest they all be forgotten as so many of the early pioneers of Kansas City have been forgotten. Sad to say, if it weren’t for a couple of well-meaning volunteer ladies in pearls and Pappagallos, no one would pay any attention to these things at all. One wonders who will man the Westport Historical Society a generation from now.

We headed over to Council Grove, Kansas on Saturday morning.

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This town was one of the last stops on the Santa Fe Trail heading southwest. The first American settler was Seth Millington Hays, who came to the area in 1847 to trade with the Kaw tribe. Hays was a great grandson of Daniel Boone.

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My great-great grandfather John Simpson Hough worked with Hays as an Indian trader between 1850 and 1855 and again for awhile after the Civil War by which time he was married and had two children.

Council Grove today is a town of around 2,000 people. There are 13 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One is the Post Office Oak.

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Travelers left their mail in this ancient tree to be picked up by others going in the right direction. There is the Kaw Mission School.

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and the Farmers and Drovers Bank.

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We ate breakfast at the Hays House,

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which is said to be the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi River.

It is a nice, well kept little town. Clearly its residents take pride in this historic place.

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There is a part of me that would like nothing more than to retire to Council Grove in the lovely Flint Hills of Kansas and disappear under the radar.

You know what I mean?

“History overflows time. Love overflows the allowance of the world. All the vessels overflow, and no end or limit stays put. Every shakable thing has got to be shaken. In a sense, nothing that was ever lost in Port William ever has been replaced. In another sense, nothing is ever lost, and we are compacted together forever, even by our failures, our regrets, and our longings.”
― Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow