Our location on the Missouri River naturally positioned Kansas City as a starting point for the American West. The city became a stopping point, however brief, during the western migration of emigrants to the bounties, both real and imagined, promised in the unsettled land.
Beginning with the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804–1806, four national trails heading west pass through Kansas City, including the Santa Fe, California and Oregon trails. America’s Western heritage begins in Kansas City.
Day 1 - Exploring the West
1. Fort Osage National Historic Landmark
The point overlooking the Missouri River where Fort Osage stands today was noted in William Clark’s journal in June 1804 as a good location for a trading post. Clark returned in 1808 to build the fort, which was reconstructed in 1941. Today, you can tour the blockhouses, officers’ quarters and soldiers’ barracks, which frequently come to life in living-history programs depicting the period.
Location: Take Interstate 70 for 35 miles northeast of downtown Kansas City to U.S. 24 to Sibley. Open Wednesday–Sunday 9 a.m.– 4:30 p.m. Call 816-795-8200.
2. National Frontier Trails Center
The massiveness of the American West that opens up from the doorway of Kansas City will all but overwhelm in the floor-to-ceiling displays here that map each of the trails west. Interactive exhibits test your knowledge of the trails and allow you to see some of the supplies that explorers and pioneers brought through this region.
Location: Located in downtown Independence, Mo., at 318 W Pacific Ave. Open Monday–Saturday 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. and Sunday 12:30–4:30 p.m. Call 816-325-7575.
3. Alexander Majors Historic House & Museum
Alexander Majors and his freighting firms helped build many of the small towns that popped up along the Santa Fe Trail. Tour his home and barn, which for a short time served as the headquarters of Majors’ best-known venture, the Pony Express.
Location: 8201 State Line Rd., on the border between Missouri and Kansas. Open for tours Tuesday–Saturday, May– September. Call 816-333-5556.
4. Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm
Tour the three original buildings of this last remaining stagecoach stop on the Santa Fe Trail. Take a stagecoach ride and participate in the activities travelers of the 1860s did when they stopped here on their way west.
Location: 1100 N Kansas City Rd. in Olathe, Kan., about 20 miles southwest of downtown Kansas City, Mo., on Interstate 35. Open Tuesday–Saturday 10 a.m.–4 p.m. and Sunday noon–4 p.m. Call 913-971-5111.
Day 2 - From booty to bounty
1. Jesse James Farm & Museum
The home where Jesse was born and he and his brother Frank were raised in the mid-1800s has been authentically restored. The museum contains the largest collection of James family artifacts in the world. Jesse’s gravesite at Kearney’s Mount Olivet Cemetery draws thousands of visitors yearly, as does the Jesse James Festival, which takes place at the farm each September.
Location: 21216 Jesse James Farm Rd., Kearney, Mo., approximately 28 miles northeast of Downtown Kansas City on Interstate 35. Open Monday–Saturday 9 a.m.–4 p.m. and Sunday noon–4 p.m. Call 816-628-6065.
2. Arabia Steamboat Museum
In 1856, the steamboat Arabia was on its way upriver to Montana with all of the supplies needed for a small town on the Western frontier. The boat hit a snag in the Missouri River and sank near Parkville. In 1988, the Arabia was recovered with all of its cargo intact. It now stands as a one-of-a-kind museum offering a fascinating display of early Western life.
Location: In Kansas City’s River Market area at 4th Street and Grand Boulevard. Open Monday– Saturday 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. and Sunday noon–5 p.m. Call 816-471-1856.