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A Fabled Past – 175 Years & Counting

On the busy banks of the Missouri River, the city of St. Joseph was platted and conveyed by founder Joseph Robidoux in 1843. St. Joseph became a hustling hub of excitement as thousands of settlers began moving westward, seeking fame and fortune after gold was discovered in 1848 in California. Thousands of travelers — most of them headed west in search of big fortunes — arrived in the city by steamboat. Many more came on wagons, which filled the streets as they waited to be ferried across the mighty Missouri River to continue on their quests.

Travelers brought prosperity to town, shopping for trip supplies or seeking room and board, as well as places to care for their animals. Commerce and trade have always been a natural extension of the city’s personality, harkening back to 1826 when Robidoux founded the Blacksnake Hills Trading Post, an enterprise that grew into a fur-trading empire that stretched all the way to the Rocky Mountains.

The railroad came to town in 1859, solidifying the city as a major distribution and supply center for the west. The combination of boat and steamship travel on the Missouri River and ample rail traffic made the city an ideal locale for the Pony Express. With the goal of delivering mail from St. Joseph to Sacramento in 10 days or less, St. Joseph became the Pony Express eastern terminus. The first Pony Express rider left the city on April 3, 1860, departing from Pikes Peak Stables, riding hard and fast to Sacramento. Today, the stables house the Pony Express National Museum.

Another museum in St. Joseph is the Patee House Museum, which was built as a luxury hotel in 1858 and served as the Pony Express headquarters from 1860 to 1861 and then as the headquarters for the Union Army for most of the Civil War.

History buffs will delight in the museum’s two floors of exhibits. On display are carriages, buggies, an authentic gallows, model railroads, a wing of Western art and much more. Named one of America’s Top 10 Western Museums by True West Magazine, this National Historic Landmark is also where visitors will find the historic Jesse James Home. The notorious outlaw met his demise in 1882 in this very house when he was shot and killed from behind by a gang member while straightening a picture on the wall. The home sits just a block away from where James was killed after being moved to the Patee House grounds.