The People of Old Westport

Albert Gallatin Boone

One of several grandsons of THE Daniel Boone, he was born in Kentucky in 1806. His father Jesse Boone brought his family to Missouri when Albert was very young. At age 17 he joined the second of the Ashley-Henry trapping parties out of St. Louis to the Upper Missouri hunting grounds.

Though physically well fitted for the life of a Mountain Man it was evidently not for him. He married aVirginia girl and began over 20 years of wheeling and dealing; trade goods, real estate, outfitting, slave-dealing – anything that brought in a buck. His biographers endeavor to convey the impression that he was the typical kindly, courteous Southern gentleman but a look at some of his personal and business correspondence fails to bear out that impression. 

 

He was strongly Pro-Slavery and his grocery or general store in Westport was a gathering-place for Border Ruffians, as the activists of the Southern Cause styled themselves. 

When the Civil War became imminent, Boone knowing that he was a marked man sold his business assets in 1859 and his home in 1860 and in company with several other fugitives left for Colorado Territory that summer. He died in Denver in 1884.

Ewing-Boone General Store

Jim Bridger

Bridger, often called “The King of The Mountain Men” was born in Virginia March 17, 1804, came west with his parents in 1812, and settled in the American Bottoms, opposite St. Louis, Missouri. He and his sister were orphaned in 1817, and Jim supported himself and his sister by running a flatboat ferry across the Mississippi River. He became apprenticed to a blacksmith, and quickly tired of it. Never having the opportunity to attend school, he was never able to read nor write. In the spring of 1822 he joined William Ashley’s first trapping expedition to the upper Missouri River. As a grown man he was much later described by H.J. Clayton as “tall – fully six feet high – erect, thin, wiry, and sunburnt almost to the complexion of an Indian – with a face noble and expressive of generosity, dark brown hair and liquid hazel eyes… In form he was straight as an arrow … and as did the Indian, he turned his toes as he walked slightly inward.”

Bridger was 49 years old when he first became involved in Westport. It was 1853, the fur business had been down the chute for 13 years, he had lost the fort which he established on the Oregon Trail, to the Mormons. He brought his family to this area, bought a farm near present 103rd Street and State Line. He had with him his third Indian wife, Mary, the daughter of Shoshone chief, Washakie. Jim was no wandering squaw-man, he married all three of the women legally and sent the children either to St. Louis or Westport to be educated.

The good days of the fur trade and unlimited horizons was passing and Jim knew it. He was making a lot of money as a guide and scout, also hunting for both civilians and the military, and though he could neither read nor write, to quote Greg Franzwa (The Oregon Trail Revisited), “He could look at a moccasin track trail and tell the age, weight, sex and tribe of the maker.” Some of the parties for which he worked felt that he could read the intentions of the track-makers.

An almost photographic memory, a magnificent physique, unerring eyesight and infallible judgement of conditions on the trail inspired confidence in anyone in his care. He returned to Westport whenever possible in the fall of the year. In 1860 he is said to have purchased A.G. Boone’s two-story home on Grove Street (Pennsylvania), dismantled it, loaded it into wagons and re-assembled it upon his farm near New Santa Fe. Mary Bridger had died in October, 1859, and the children were living with a family in New Santa Fe. In 1881 he died and was buried in Stubbins Watts cemetery and later disinterred and re-buried in Mount Washington Cemetery through the efforts of Major General Granville M. Dodge and John Colton, in 1904.

John Harris

John Harris brought his family from Madison County, Kentucky to Jackson County, Missouri in the early 1830s. They first settled in what is now Hyde Park, not far from the present day Westport High School. Sometime later the Harris family moved to a more commodious house on Westport Road. It, too, was built of logs, weatherboarded, and situated on the north side of the Independence-Westport Road directly across from where the Broadway Hardware Store now stands. In this house, John and wife Henrietta tere to add one daughter and see at least three of the six they already had, married off.

Harris had been buying and selling land since 1834, and in June 1846 he bought his first Inn and Tavern; he had taken over the tavern of Allen B.H. McGee. It was the same two-story log building which John C. McCoy had built in 1833 and operated as a store. The tavern burned and he replaced it with a three-story brick hotel in 1852.

Henrietta Harris

By 1854, all of his daughters having been married except one (and one who had been widowed), John decided that his station in the community merited more pretentious quarters than the comfortable but modest house on Westport Road. Having plenty of real estate upon which to build he selected a high, lovely five-acre tract on the ridge to the east of town. There, where the County Road from the north veered slightly to the southeast he built his new house facing to the north-northwest. He was still on the Westport-Independence road, but facing in the opposite direction.

When John Harris died in 1873, one of his sons-in-law, Colonel Charles Esmonde Kearney, moved his family into the house in order that his wife, Josephine (Harris) Kearney could care for her mother, who lived until 1881. The Colonel added an extra wing extending toward the rear of the house.

Charles E. Kearney
Josephine Harris-Kearney
Major Thomas Goforth

Thomas.J. Goforth was elected Mayor of Westport for six terms between 1857 and 1874. He came from Ohio with six children sometime preceding 1850. The Census of Jackson County lists his occupation as “sign-painter” and two of his sons shared the same occupation with him. Apparently there was no great demand for painters of signs; the 1860 census indicates that T.J. and Edmund G. Goforth were by then lawyers.

Goforth was a Justice of the Peace for Kaw Township from 1854 until 1869 when Westport Township was formed; except for the years 1863 to 1867, when the post was not regularly filled. He continued in the office until his death in 1882.

The Town Council often met in his little house before the Town Hall was built in 1860, and no doubt he often held court in the same cramped quarters. These sessions in the little house have given some people the impression that it was a courthouse. There never was a courthouse in Westport.

Alexander Majors

Majors, “the great freighter,” was born in Kentucky. He entered the freighting business in 1848. He became managing partner of Russell, Majors and Waddell in 1854 with offices in Westport.

 

The wagon trains moved enormous tonnage of the western trails to U.S. forts. The firm employed 4,000 men, had 3,000 wagons, 40,000 oxen and 1,000 mules. Among their far-flung enterprises were the famous Pony Express and the overland stagecoach lines to Denver and Salt Lake City – both major factors in the opening of the West.

 

His restored home and freighting office at 8201 State Line Road is an 1856 historic landmark. Majors is buried in Union Cemetery.

John C. McCoy

John C. McCoy, the father of Westport and Kansas City, the surveyor and planner of Leavenworth Kansas, was the son of Isaac McCoy, a Baptist Minister and Missionary. Isaac, also a surveyor, worked for and with the U.S. Government in locating the civilized tribes, and surveying their lands in Indian Territory just across the western Missouri line. John came to Jackson County in 1830 at age 19 and lived with his father in the two-story log house which he’d built on the hill near what is now the intersection of 43rd and Wornall.

By 1833 young McCoy had built a two story log building on the northeast corner of Westport Road and Pennsylvania to serve as a business structure and residence. He entered business with J. P. Hickman and J. H. Flourney to trade with the Indians, the mountain men, and sold supplies to wagon trains going west. After purchasing land from Dr. Johnston Lykins, McCoy platted the town in 1834 and called it Westport. The name likely denoted it as a port of entry to the largely unknown west. In May 1834, a post office was established as West Port (two words), and John Calvin McCoy was appointed Postmaster. McCoy filed his town plat at the courthouse in Independence on February 13, 1835. Westport was incorporated on February 12, 1857. Lot #1, Block One, of McCoy’s plat is the northeast corner of Westport Road and Pennsylvania. This historic site can truly be said to be the birthplace of Kansas City.

It was in 1838 that he married Virginia Chick, and there is a story about John C. being late for the wedding, and since the ceremony was to take place at his father-in-law’s log house just a block north, a search party was sent out. He was found in his wedding attire feverishly helping a neighbor put the finishing touches on the roof of his barn just ahead of a thunder storm.

West Port as a real estate development did not come on immediately, and McCoy did some surveying for Uncle Sam, and in 1838 did some of the same for himself and the Town of Kansas, on the farm of the late Gabriel Prudhomme. This too, was not an instant success, but after the legal tangle involving Prudhomme’s estate was resolved in 1846, the Town of Kansas started growing.

Meantime in 1839, McCoy bought a farm in Sections 15 and 16. The farm-house, not the ordinary type conjured up by that designation may have been the scene of John Calvin’s most pleasant years. It was described by Daniel Geary as “quite a pretentious mansion, for those times and stood about 100 feet south of the road and surrounded by many fine forest trees.” The “road” was the Independence to Westport road which carried a small portion of the Santa Fe traffic.

On October 24, 1844, a terrible tornado struck and wrecked the house, injuring some of the children slightly, but blowing 3-months old Spencer Cone McCoy, bed and all. He was found uninjured some distance from the house, still in bed.

Then in 1849 Virginia McCoy died and John remarried Elizabeth Lee, a widow with two daughters, 8 and 5 years old. It was quite a house-full with John’s mother, Christiana, living there also.

Like many Southerners in the area, McCoy was proscribed by the Federal authorities and he was banished from Jackson County, not only for his political leanings; he had committed the cardinal sin of having a son in the Missouri State Guard (Confederate). Young Spencer McCoy enlisted in one of “Mr. Price’s crittur companies;” Company C 2nd Missouri Cavalry, Hay’s Regiment, Shelby’s Brigade.

At Springfield, Missouri, on January 8, 1863 while Captain Kabrick’s Company C was making a suicidal attack on one of Union General E.B. Brown’s fortifications, young Spencer McCoy was killed. The Confederates were unable to bring away the bodies of their slain comrades, and as was the custom in war time, the corpses were being consigned to a mass grave. A man of some consequence, whether military or civil, who was a friend of John McCoy’s happened to recognize Spencer and was able to save him from the common grave. He contacted the boy’s father who came to Springfield and brought him home. Spencer now lies in the family plot in Union Cemetery.

John McCoy was allowed to return to Jackson County after the war, and passed away in 1889 at his home, 711 Olive, Kansas City, Missouri.

Although John C. McCoy was never to amass one of the great fortunes which were made in those times, he probably held at one time or another more real estate than most of those who did. It has been said that at one time his name appeared upon more abstracts than anyone in the county.

Nathan Scarritt

Born in Edwardsville, Illinois, April 24, 1821, Scarritt was principal of a High School in Fayettte, Missouri from 1845 until 1848. In the fall of 1848 he became a teacher at the Shawnee Methodist Mission and continued in that capacity for three years. In the meantime he married Martha Matilda Chick, daughter of William Miles Chick, an early merchant of Westport. He left the Mission and in 1852 bought his Westport home, still standing at 4038 Central.

Scarritt was the first pastor of the Methodist Church built at 5th and Delaware in 1852. He was also pastor of the Westport M.E. South Church which was built in 1853 on the northwest corner of what is now the intersection of Washington and 40th Streets. During the week he taught school.

In 1862 things had changed, and not for the better. The military had moved in and taken over the Methodist Church edifice for its own purposes, and by 1862 Nathan and his rapidly increasing brood of children were living on 40 acres out on the edge of nowhere. He had to build his own cabin on a high promontory on the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River and farm his 40 acres to stay alive for the next few years. But all turned out well and he was able to increase his holdings to 220 acres. The City of Kansas was growing and moving east and the Scarritt property was right in its path. Nathan soon realized that the real estate business was much more lucrative than his former line of endeavor and devoted a correspondingly increased portion of his time to his new pursuit. From real estate it was easy to move into banking and when he died in 1890 his estate was valued at more than three million dollars.

John B. Wornall

A farmer named Richard Wornall came to  Jackson County in 1843 and purchased a farm consisting of 500 acres in the area of present day 63rd and Wornall Road.  The seller was the proprietor of the town of Westport, John Calvin McCoy.  John and Thomas in May of 1844. Thomas died five years later and was buried in the cemetery at Westport.

Wornall went back to Kentucky, but returned in the Spring of 1844 with his family.  He deeded the farm to his two sons, John and Thomas in May of 1844. Thomas died five years later and was buried at a cemetery in Westport. John B. ran the farm successfully many years. This is attested by the fact that the 1850 census of Jackson County, MO., lists John as a farmer working on his father’s place which was valued at $5,000. By 1860 the same source of information reveals that John B. Wornall is still a farmer owning property valued at nearly $37,000. Two laborers, one minor and one lawyer were living in the Wornall household at that time.

The Wornall home is located at the northeast corner of 61st Terrace and what is now Wornall Road. This road once carried the bulk of the Santa Fe traffic. From about 1845 until 1858, this was the Road to Santa Fe. It was also known as the Harrisonville Road since it connected with a wagon-track in Township 47 which led into Harrisonville, Missouri. It was not called Wornall Road until after the Civil War.

John B. Wornall was a very devoted Baptist, and donated the land upon which the Calvary Baptist Church now stands.

Hours of Operation

During open season, The 1855 Harris-Kearney House is open Fri and Sat from 1-5pm, other days are by appointment. Tours of the 1855 Harris-Kearney House are available during business hours.

Private tours or group tours are available upon request and require a deposit or prepayment to hold the reservation. Please call 816-561-1821 to schedule.

Phone:

(816) 561-1821

 

Address:

4000 Baltimore

Kansas City, Missouri 64111

Email:

westporthistorical@gmail.com

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A Place in History

The Harris-Kearney House and Westport Historical Society are members of The Santa Fe Trail Association.  The Harris-Kearney House is a designated historic site on the Santa Fe, California, and Oregon Trails. Travelers along these trails would stop in "West Port" before heading off!   We make efforts to conserve the history of these trails for generations to come! 

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