Independence, Missouri – Wagon Trails to Washington-Bound

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By on August 7, 2011 in Current Events with 0 Comments

There are many stories to tell in independence, Missouri. Best known as the home of President Harry S. Truman, this was also the location where the Santa Fe, Oregon or California Trails began. Founded in 1827, Independence was the farthest point westward on the Missouri River where steamboats or other cargo vessels could travel.

Thousands of pioneers and emigrants outfitted themselves in Independence for their journey west, packed up their dreams and left for their new lives in the wilderness.

Covered Wagon Tours

Like any city, one of the best ways to understand local history and get an understanding for where attractions are located is to take a tour.

In Independence, that means Ralph Goldsmith and Pioneer Trails Adventure Tours.

Goldsmith offers three tours aboard his mule-drawn 1850s-style covered wagon.

The Square Tour includes information about the center of Independence — the jail where Jesse James’ big brother Frank was held, where President Truman had his first job, the courthouse he built and the frontier courthouse built in 1827.

The City Limits Tour also includes a view of where Bess Truman was born and the Bingham Waggoner Estate where frontier artist George Caleb Bingham lived.

The longest tour — which lasts 60 to 75 minutes — is the Full City Tour and also includes the church were President Truman met his future wife Bess Wallace, the Truman Home and two Civil War battle sites.

Goldsmith, with his colorful stories and history-based narrative, brings this frontier community to life.

Harry S. Truman

Photo of Truman home

Truman home

President Truman grew up in Independence. In 1922 he was elected judge of the county Court of Jackson County, Missouri — an administrative, not judicial, post. In this position he performed his duties conscientiously, and won personal acclaim for several popular public works projects, including an extensive series of fine roads for the growing use of automobiles and the building of a new County Court building in Independence.

He was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s third vice president. When President Roosevelt died at the beginning of his fourth term, Truman became the 33rd President.

After two terms as President he returned to Independence.

The two must-see President Truman attractions are the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, and Truman Home.

The museum houses several permanent displays.

Harry S. Truman: The Presidential Years is an exhibit featuring two theaters, audio and video programs, and artifacts to educate guests of the issues and events facing the Truman Presidency.

Harry S. Truman: His Life and Times, focuses on his pre and post presidency and includes 10 audio visual stations and a children’s area. The museum also offers a replica of the Oval Office, a movie about the president and a gift shop.

The Truman Home offers a glimpse at the personal life of the President Truman and his wife Bess. The Truman’s lived here before and after their time in Washington.

The home has been kept in much the same way as when the Truman’s occupied it. Middle-class and Midwest complete with family photographs and a television set. Tours run every 15 minutes from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets must be purchased at the Truman Home Ticket Center, 223 North Main Street, on the day of the tour.

Must-See Attractions

Independence is the kind of community you can visit for a day or several days. There’s plenty to do, the attractions are all first-rate and each offers a different American history lesson.

The National Frontier Trails Museum, for example, presents the history of the Santa Fe, California and Oregon Trails and the personal trials and adventures of the pioneers who opened the West.

A film illustrates pioneers making their way from Independence to Oregon. The museum also includes interpretive exhibits and artifacts.

The museum is located at 318 West Pacific. For more information call (816) 325-7575 or check the website at

The Bingham-Waggoner Estate was built in 1855 and was once owned by George C. Bingham, famed Civil War artist. It was also home from 1879-1978 to the Waggoner family, founders of Waggoner Gates Mill.

Wagon ruts or swales dating back to the 1830s or ’40s can be viewed on the grounds of the estate.

The house is located at 313 West Pacific. For more information call (816) 461-3491 or check the website at

The 1859 Jail, Marshal’s Home & Museum is a popular — and often thought to be haunted — attraction in Independence.

The two-story 1859 Jackson County Jail once housed Frank James, Jesse James’ notorious brother. Right next door is the Federalist-style marshal’s house which was home for county marshals until the early 1930s.

Photo of vaile mansion

Vaile Mansion

Vaile Mansion

Independence’s Civil War heritage is also interpreted here. The Jail is located right next to the Truman Home Ticket Center at 217 North Main.

For more information call (816) 461-1897 or check the website at

The Vaile Mansion is one of the finest examples of Second-Empire Victorian architecture in the nation. Built in 1881 by local entrepreneur and U.S. mail contractor Harvey Merrick Vaile, this ornate 30-room mansion features colorful ceiling murals, lavish furnishings, hand-painted murals and whimsical detailing.

The house is located at 1500 North Liberty. For more information call (816) 325-7111 or check the website at

If you go:

For additional covered wagon tour information call (816) 456-4991 or check the website at

For more information about accommodations, restaurants and additional attractions, call (800) 748-7323 or check the website at

© 2020 Marilyn Jones. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Marilyn Jones.


About the Author

Marilyn Jones has been a journalist for more than 30 years and is currently a freelance feature writer specializing in travel. Her articles have appeared in major newspapers including the BostonGlobe, Akron Beacon Journal and Chicago Sun-Times as well as regional travel magazines.

Visit her website at