The Story of Kansas City

Port Fonda, Rabbitville or Possum Trot?

From its inception, people have come to Kansas City for one of two reasons: to pursue better opportunities for themselves or to serve God by preaching religion to others.

Francois Chouteau set up a trading post in 1821 on the Missouri River at the western edge of the state of Missouri. This Frenchman from St. Louis, traded fur, tools and other goods with the Kickapoo, Shawnee, Osage, and Kanza tribes among other Native Americans who were living in the area. His trading post stayed open until the Missouri River swallowed it and forced him to move to higher ground in 1826 a site near the foot of Troost Avenue on the River. Chouteau and other French families who joined him are considered the first non-native white inhabitants in what became Kansas City.  It was the opportunity that brought them.

Reverend Isaac McCoy, a Baptist missionary in the early 19th century

In 1831, Reverend Isaac McCoy came to this area to start a Baptist Mission with the aim of bringing Christianity to the Native American immigrants who had been moved from the east to the new Indian Territory in present-day Kansas. McCoy brought with him his wife Christiana and his nineteen year-old son John Calvin. In 1833, John Calvin built a two-story log building inland to serve as a trading post and residence for his new family. This trading-post served the immigrant tribes and the missionaries, and later was the pioneers’ last stop before setting out into the great Western expanse. He named his post West Port.

In 1838, a French land owner named Gabriel Prudhomme was involved in a fight that would end his life. He left behind his pregnant wife, six children and 271 acres of land. It was decided that the heirs of the Prudhomme estate would be best served if the land were auctioned and sold. McCoy and 13 other men formed  The Town Company and “suspiciously” bought the 271 acre tract for $4,220. The tract included property that later became the Kansas City downtown district, and most importantly a natural rock landing where riverboats offloaded goods for the growing community.

These new owners held a meeting in 1839 to discuss a name for their new township. After rejecting such ideas as Port Fonda, Rabbitville,and Possum Trot, they decided to name it in honor of the Kanza tribe who had once inhabited the lands around the mouth of the Kansas River. They named it the Town of Kansas.

From this beginning the town grew, attracting settlers and businessmen interest in trade and land. The devastating flood of 1844 washed away all the local riverboat landings, including those for the towns of Independence and Liberty, and the prosperous Chouteau Landing located near Olive Street on the river. But the busy landing of the Town of Kansas was not damaged and for a while it became the center for local trading activities.

The city was incorporated in 1850 and again in 1853 with a new name—the City of Kansas. But the Border Wars and the Civil War gave Kansas City ten years of turmoil that drove many prospective settlers to the towns nearer the protective Fort Leavenworth.

Leavenworth, KS, incorporated in 1854, was the first city in the state of Kansas. Known as the “jumping off point,” St. Joseph was becoming a leading wholesale center for the building of the West. Independence, MO, not only dominated the business gained from the three Western trails for some time, it also had its own “prophet:” the Mormon Joseph Smith. Kansas City had to compete with these cities to bridge its citizens to prosperity, and a bridge it was. When construction was completed on the Hannibal Bridge in 1869, it was the first bridge over the Missouri River. It ensured the dominance of this city in the region. Kansas City became a critical hub of commerce and soon it connected cattle driven from Mexico and Texas with trains to the eastern cities. By 1870, the City of Kansas had become one of the world’s major markets for the cattle industry.

Twenty nine years later, in 1889, the City of Kansas officially became known as Kansas City. The city grew from a population of 2,500 in 1850, to 132,716 residents in 1890 – including a few Syrians.

Bird's eye view of Kansas City, Missouri. January 1869. Drawn by A. Ruger, Merchants Lith. Co., currently located at the Irish Museum and Cultural Center in Union Station

Bird’s eye view of Kansas City, Missouri. January 1869. Drawn by A. Ruger, Merchants Lith. Co., currently located at the Irish Museum and Cultural Center in Union Station



  1. Donna Black said,

    April 23, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    In the very early days of Westport, when Mr. Chouteau was there, Thomas Javins, John F. Javins and Frank Barnes were there, also. They were described as carpenters and a butcher. Thomas was my 3 greats grandfather and John was my two greats grandfather. Frank was married to the daughter of Thomas.

    • cfcx said,

      April 23, 2010 at 10:26 pm

      Thank you for your comments. Glad to know you are connected to Kansas City history

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