Almost all of the history classes I have taken, and I have taken a bunch, began with a look at the geography of the area we were studying. So, here is just a word about the geography of this place. Oh, this picture of Debi getting a "facial" at Katie's house by our 9 and 5 year old granddaughters has nothing to do with this post, but I thought it was cute.
We live in Independence, JACKSON County, Missouri. Some have claimed that this was the middle of America. Well, I have tried to verify that. Yes, it is 732 miles north of Houston Texas (which is not really the most southern point) and it is 754 miles south of the Canadian border, so one could say, “Half way!” But, we are 1,808 miles east of San Francisco and only 1,196 west of New York, so I do not see how that is half way. Still, this is called the “Center” of America.
As I have stated before, Jackson County was named after the 7th President of the United States, Andrew Jackson. He has more counties in America named after him than anyone else. Someone once called him a “jackass” and he took that as a compliment, so he adopted the kicking donkey as the symbol of his new political party, the Democratic Party. They have a statue of him outside the courthouse here in Independence.
The Missouri River plays a big part in the entire story of the western movement in America. It drains into the larger Mississippi River at St. Louis. Anyone who has seen this confluence will remember the sight. The Mississippi comes from the north and is really rather clean. But, at St. Louis, the Missouri comes from the west and is dirty and very muddy. It is a turbulent river and is also called “the Mighty Mo!” It has been said that Mark Twain described the Missouri as “too thick to drink and too thin to plow.” Now that has also been said of other rivers, principally the Platte, but is describes the muddy water of the Missouri.
It was the Missouri that Lewis and Clark explored to its beginnings. What they found, and still exists, is a constant erosion of the banks as the river changes its course. Thus mud and trees and all kinds of other stuff are constantly being dumped into the water and mixed with it and floated downstream. It is the longest river in North America. It starts in Montana and runs south and easterly until it gets to the state that bears its name. In Missouri, the river then runs west to east from St. Charles to St. Louis. Of course, Independence is on the western end. It is a lovely river, however.
Over the years, river boats and barges have traveled up and down the Mississippi River, utilizing the sea port of New Orleans to its fullest. At St. Louis, another route west was available as boats and barges have been able to forge upstream on the Missouri, however, it has always been hard. There are sandbars and snags everywhere. With steam power, it became easier, but not easy. Eventually a rail road line was laid along the river. Over time, it became abandoned, and today, one of the finest “rail to trail” pathways follows the Missouri River across the state. Debi and I, with my brother Alan, rode this KATY trail on our bikes a few years ago. It was wonderful!
After Joseph Smith first visited this area, he and his companions traveled for a while on the river in canoes. When they got to McLlwaine’s Bend, the river was almost too much for them. The canoe that Joseph and Sidney Rigdon were riding in ran into a tree lodged and bobbing in the river. The canoe was upset and they were almost drowned. W.W. Phelps reported seeing the Devil on the river. Joseph and most of the others got off the river and returned to Kirtland by land.
There is kind of a “four corners” area here as four stakes connect. We actually live in the Independence Stake, which along with the Kansas City Stake (which is west of here) is south of the river. North of us is the Liberty Stake, which is where we are laboring. It is across the river. So is the Platte City Stake. There are others, but we are not entirely sure what our mission boundaries are. We know that the Liberty Stake goes all the way north to Iowa. Missouri and Iowa have a common border, as Iowa is north of Missouri. Kansas is west and Illinois is east. Arkansas is south. Missouri also has a little bit of border with Kentucky on the southeast, Oklahoma on the southwest and Nebraska on the northwest.
Almost every day we pass the stadiums of the Kansas City Chiefs and the Kansas City Royals. I don’t think they are really in Kansas City, but they could be. Both are beautiful.
In pioneer days, this was the staging point for trails to California, Oregon and Santa Fe. St. Louis claims to be the “gateway” to the west (hence the big arch) but most of the people traveled here either on a river boat or by land before starting on the trails. There were hundreds of blacksmiths and others making wagons, harnesses, wheels, and other things for the pioneers (not Mormon pioneers though). They were also breeding mules. Mules don’t sweat. They don’t keep running until they die. They seemed to do much better than horses on the long trail. So the Missourians bred their mares to “jacks” and got mules. Mules do not reproduce even though they are both male and female. The Missourians made tens of thousands of these mules. “Good ole Missouri Mules” became like Ford or Chevrolet as a brand. Oh, if they don’t sweat, then they don’t need as much water and when they are done, they sit down and rest. A horse will run until it drops dead.
We rode with this man in his wagon as he took us around Independence. I was interested in his take on history. He definitely had a "Missouri" slant and some of his points were well taken. Both Jesse and Frank James were from here and instead of being outlaws, they are folk-hero's.
One more thing, Missouri was really a southern state. It was admitted into the union in 1820 as a slave state. Most of the early settlers of this area were from other southern states. This was one of the reasons they conflicted with Mormons, who were mainly from the north. They say the American Civil War lasted for 17 years in Missouri as conflicts occurred years before Fort Sumter, and years after Appomattox. Most of the monuments we have seen celebrate Confederate victories. Several battles were fought here in Independence. Many of the CSA soldiers that died are buried in the cemetery next door to us.
It gets plenty of rain here to water everything. It is very green. The other night we experienced a rousing thunder storm that we thought would devour us. In the morning I said to some of the other couples, “wow, that was quite a storm?” They said, “Oh, did it storm?” I guess people get used to it.
They have good roads here, but the neighborhood roads are very narrow. As we visit I do not like to park in strangers driveways, but my truck takes up most of the road. There is no shoulder. The greatest thing we have going for us is GPS. Yesterday I discovered another feature. We can input six addresses and that sweet little lady in the dashboard organizes them and tells us the best route to go to see them all. So now we don’t keep going in circles. Oh the wonders of technology. We wonder how the pioneers found their way west.