Explore KC's Western Heritage

Kansas City’s location on the Missouri River naturally positioned it as a strategic starting point for the American West. The city became an outpost during the mass migration of Americans in search of land, riches and new beginnings.

Explore the heritage the city celebrates today, from Lewis and Clark’s famed expedition and a festival that pays tribute to four westbound trails to living history museums and a national museum dedicated to the frontier. 

The American Royal

Between barbecue competitions and rodeo shows, there’s nothing quite like The American Royal, one of the biggest events on Kansas City’s calendar thanks to a 18 events that pay tribute to the city’s Western roots over the course of fourth months.

Meanwhile, visit the American Royal Museum for exploratory exhibits that detail the role agriculture played in KC’s storied history.

Trailblazing Districts

Craft and cool are king in Westport, now known as a popular nightlife and dining destination. However, in the mid-1800s, the area stood as a bustling stopping point that offered the last taste of civilization at the doorstep of the Wild West.

Track former trails and recount the area’s history, including the Battle of Westport, the largest Civil War conflict west of the Mississippi.

Discover treasures of yesteryear while antique shopping in the West Bottoms, the former home of the Kansas City Stockyards, a pivotal piece of the region’s legendary ag business.

SantaCaliGon Days Festival

Commemorate the origins of the Santa Fe, California and Oregon trails with live music, delicious food and carnival rides at SantaCaliGon Days Festival, an all-ages Labor Day celebration in Independence.

Living History Museums

Travel back in time to experience the region's frontier past at Olathe’s Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm and Jackson County’s Missouri Town 1855. At both you’ll find authentic tools and buildings, period attire and plenty more for inquisitive minds.

National Frontier Trails Museum

Year-round, visitors can head to Independence, where they’ll find the National Frontier Trails Museum, an institution that offers an in-depth look at KC’s trailblazing history, including insights into Lewis and Clark’s exploration through present-day Jackson County.

Arabia Steamboat Museum

In 1856, the steamboat Arabia was traveling upriver to Montana with supplies needed for a small town on the Western frontier. The boat hit a snag in the Missouri River and sank near modern day Parkville.

The Arabia was recovered more than a century later beneath a Kansas farm field with all of its cargo intact and in pristine condition. These artifacts are now on display at the Arabia Steamboat Museum, a one-of-a-kind establishment offering a fascinating glimpse into early Western life.

Jesse James Farm & Museum

The Jesse James Birthplace Museum contains the largest collection of James family artifacts in the world. Tour the home where Jesse was born and raised alongside his also-infamous brother Frank.

Jesse’s gravesite at Kearney’s Mount Olivet Cemetery draws thousands of visitors each year, as does the Jesse James Festival, which takes place each September.

Alexander Majors Historic House & Museum

Businessman Alexander Majors and his freighting firms helped build many of the small towns that popped up along the Santa Fe Trail. His enterprise, however, was based in Kansas City.

Tour his home and barn, located in current-day Waldo, which for a short time served as the headquarters of Majors’ best-known venture, the Pony Express.

Fort Osage National Historic Landmark & Education Center

The point overlooking the Missouri River where Fort Osage now stands 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, guests are invited to tour the blockhouses, officers’ quarters and soldiers’ barracks, which frequently come to life in living-history programs depicting the period.

More KC Museums

American Jazz Museum

The sights and sounds of a uniquely American art form come alive at the American Jazz Museum.

American Royal Livestock, Horse Show and Rodeo

The American Royal hosts many of Kansas City's premier fall events including the World Series of Barbecue®; the world's largest barbecue competition, their Livestock Show; one of the Midwest's largest livestock expositions, a PRCA sanctioned professional rodeo, and 6 prestigious horse shows including the UPHA National Championship Horse Show. These events allow the American Royal, a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization, to give over $1 million annually for youth scholarships and support agriculture education programs.

American Royal Museum

Focusing on the role of agribusiness in our lives. Participate in tours led by trained, museum docents. Try out the new equine exhibit and learn about different gaits. Gain insight into the vital role that agriculture played in Kansas City's rich and storied history. Learn about the beginnings of the American Royal and the impact of Tom Bass and Loula Long Combs. Observe horse show, rodeo and livestock show clothing, saddles and memorabilia. Compare your weight with chickens, market hogs, and feeder steers. Visit the reading corner, play computer games, and learn about livestock judging.

Bingham-Waggoner Estate

The Bingham-Waggoner Estate is recognized today as one of the most significant historical sites in western Missouri because of its role in the history of the area and the people that lived there. Plotted in 1827 on that super highway west called the Santa Fe Trail, the Estate played an important part in our region's history. Of the many colorful owners, characters and residents of this now legendary home, the most famous is the artist and politician George Caleb Bingham.

Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center

The Center is named in honor of Bruce R. Watkins, a political and social activist. Watkins was fueled by the need to recognize and preserve the varied contributions African-Americans made to the development of Kansas City. The facility is located on one of Kansas City's major thoroughfares.

Chicago and Alton Depot

The Depot was built in 1879. It was moved to its current location and restored during the decade from 1992 to 2002. The two-story depot contains three rooms on the first floor which are the waiting room, stationmaster's room, and baggage room. On the second floor, four rooms, which were formerly the stationmaster's residence, are the kitchen, dining room, bedroom, and the parlor. Each of these rooms is furnished in the period circa 1879. A separate display room contains C & A artifacts. There are hundreds of C & A collectables found throughout the depot.

Community Christian Church

Frank Lloyd Wright designed this "church of the future." With a Steeple of Light, four spires projecting 60,000 watts of light into space. This technology didn't exist until 1993 when the church completed construction according to his design. Visitors Welcome.

First City Museum

The First City Museum is currently open three days a week (Thursday, Friday and Saturday). Volunteers are needed in many areas for the First City Museum to continue to be successful. Enjoy the amenities of a temperature controled facility, free soft drinks, coffee, mircrowave, Solitaire and other computer games. The First City Museum is proud to have acquired many interesting artifacts. You will see educational displays for World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and Iraq War. We have literally thousands of items too numerous to list here.

Frontier Army Museum

The Frontier Army Museum collects and preserves items used to tell the story of the Frontier Army from 1804 to 1916 and Fort Leavenworth from 1827 to the present day. Officially recognized as an Army Museum in 1960, the Museum preserves one of the finest collections of nineteenth century military artifacts in the country. In order to visit the museum on post guests must visit the Visitor Control Center (VCC) and obtain a pass.