So far we’ve seen an old fort, the site of a two different Civil War battles, and read a bunch of books; now its time for something a little different!
1859 Jail, Marshal’s Home and Museum: Independence, MO
For this edition of “History Boy Summer” I am once again visiting a site that I have yet to visit in the past. Nestled right in the middle of downtown Independence, MO this is a blink and you miss it sort of situation but a cool place to see. You can tell that, as time moved on, this jail was somewhat obscured with other buildings being set right next to it, almost making it hard to find. Good news is that my GPS took me right to it, and there was ample parking in the rear of the building. The museum has a VERY narrow timeframe of people to plan visits (just Thurs-Sat), so I had to do the trip before work on a Thursday afternoon, which isn’t my ideal timeframe for this. I had the little guy with me, and went through a quick self-guided tour of everything, although I’d like to go back myself at some point for an actual guided tour. I’ve mentioned before that some museums are more kid friendly than others, and this one is somewhat on the “not so kid friendly” side of things. That said, we made it work, and had a fun day!
Via, the website sponsored by the Jackson County Historical Society. No Wikipedia this time!
In 1958, a used building materials dealer nearly got permission to demolish the Marshal’s Home and Jail and the right to claim the salvaged stone, brick and timber as the price for his work. The abandoned buildings were given a new lease on life when a group of civic minded citizens realized that there was yet another historic role for the unassuming two-story house at the corner of Main Street and what is now Truman Road. […]The marshal or the jailer lived with his family in the Marshal’s residence, which was the front half of the structure. The wife often cooked meals for the prisoners, as well as her own family, in a small kitchen at the back of the house. The Marshal was paid about $50 per month, plus the use of the house, for his services. The marshal’s office formed part of the residence, where he would work with his deputies and the jailor. This office had a separate entryway from the house. […]
During the American Civil War, the jail held both military and civilian prisoners, and served as the U.S. Provost Marshal’s office. William Clark Quantrill, the famous Confederate guerrilla leader, was briefly incarcerated there, as were those who refused to take a pro-Union loyalty oath. William Quantrill, met an angry mob upon his release from the facility. Scores of women and children were detained behind bars in the jail during Order Number 11. After the war, its most famous inmate was Frank James, the older brother to the famous outlaw Jesse James. Frank James spent 112 days in the jail. During his time at the jail, James’ cell was furnished with a Brussels carpet, fine furniture and paintings, and he was permitted free run of the jail and hosted card games in his cell at night. Frank James’ cell is preserved as it was when he occupied it, as part of the modern museum.– JCHS
My readings for this edition were: Lock Down: Outlaws, Lawmen & Frontier Justice in Jackson County, Missouri (2012) By David W. Jackson and Blood on the Streets: The Civil War comes to Jackson County, Missouri, August 1862 by Ralph A. Monaco II. The former is specifically about the jail, and the latter is a book I already used for my article on the Battle of Lone Jack State Historical Site, it’s useful because it has a section on how the jail came into play during the First Battle of Independence. Both books have purchase links in their respective review pages.
As I stated before, this site is located right in the middle of downtown Independence, not too far from the Court House. This site consists of the main jailhouse, two stories tall with one story available to peruse, the Marshal’s house, a courtyard, a museum wing, and an old school building that was relocated to the site in the 1960’s. I was unable to see the schoolhouse nor the courtyard during my visit due to the little guy being somewhat of a handful, but that gives me something to do next time.
I was most interested to visit this site due to the fact that the jail served as one of the focal points of a minor Civil war battle – The First Battle of Independence on August 11, 1862. Since I have rekindled my love of learning about the Civil War, things like this are always awesome for me. George Todd, a prominent Missouri guerilla leader, made it a point to raid the jail during the fighting. Since the jail was being used to house people that refused to take a Union loyalty oath, and others that may have even been suspected guerilla fighters, it was seen as a fertile recruitment center for the cause. In a stroke of sheer luck, Todd discovered that City Marshal James Knowles was in a cell, being jailed for the killing of a rowdy citizen without due process. Todd also had a prisoner named Aaron Thomas that he blamed for a recent raid against the group. Both men were executed in the jail itself. Fun fact – George Todd was later killed at the Second Battle of Independence, in 1864. It seems the City would get it’s revenge at some point.
The museum itself does not dwell too much on this chapter in the jail’s history, however, Civil War era items come into play during the guided tour. One can learn things such as the jail’s use during the war, and how it helped house those who refused to show loyalty to the Union. There is also discussion on the brief period of time where the jail housed a young William C. Quantrill after he flipped allegiances during an abolitionist raid and was near being hanged by the townspeople for his act of treachery. One can only imagine how history might have changed, had that event come to pass.
The jail itself is pretty spooky due to the antiquated cells, shackles and bleak living conditions of the time. If you are into the paranormal at all, consider this: Think of the emotion of being torn from your home and tossed in jail for not pledging allegiance to the Union, or the fear felt in the handful of murders that happened on the premises. Whether you believe in ghosts or perhaps residual energy (like the Stone Tape Theory), the jail feels like it has the heavy “must be haunted” sort of feeling. I know that in the autumn, they have special ghost tours of the property, so maybe I’m not too far off. I know that’s not for everyone, but I keep an open mid with that sort of thing.
I was quite taken aback with how close the jail was to the Marshal’s house – the site where the Jail’s Marshal and his family would have stayed while administering the building. On the second floor, a door to a child’s room is basically directly across from the upper wing of the jail, with such a close proximity that I’m sure children could have easily heard inmates conversations. Since one always hear about jailbreaks and such, it’s crazy to me that a family would live that close to possible thieves and murderers, but it was the time back then. I’ve heard Alcatraz had a similar living situation for staff. The marshal’s house is decorated with period furnishings and other items to make it look similar to what it could have been like in that time period. The study has antique desks, the parlor has an old piano and other items, and bedrooms are filled with things such as children’s toys.
The museum portion of the building is pretty interesting, showing off a number of artifacts including shackles and even shivs confiscated by jailers. There are a number of exhibits for the most noteworthy incarcerated individuals that were housed there. I mentioned Quantrill earlier, but perhaps the most notable of all inmates was Frank James of the infamous James gang. James was sent to Jail for 112 days for the murder of Captain John Sheets at a robbery in Gallatin, Missouri. During his stay, he was permitted to roam the halls, and lived in a comfortably furnished cell that has been recreated in one of the first floor jail cells. Other notable inmates include Reverend Abner Deane, who was imprisoned at the 1859 Jail after the Civil War because he refused to sign the “Ironclad Oath” to the Union and a woman named Rose Jenkins, who was likely not that noteworthy but is one of the few extant female mugshots on file, showing that female prisoners were also present.
Later portions of the museum talk about the turn of the century and the jail’s later use as a public workhouse. According to the JCHS website: “The Jail and Marshal’s Home was decommissioned in 1933. After the last jailer hung up his keys, Jackson County found a use for the jail and home when it housed several offices, work training programs, and government bureaus during the Great Depression. There were many public work programs that operated in the old jail. Sewing, canning, and ironing were just a few jobs that gave people viable work during the Depression.”
The site includes a giftshop that boasts a large collection of local history books curated by the JCHS, I was able to find one specifically about the Civil War in this area that I will read eventually for this series. Items for children include things like cup and ball games and Jacob’s ladders.
This was a fun little day trip idea if you are around Independence Square and have a hour or so to kill. It’s not a huge museum, but the quality of the artifacts and importance to the city itself are immeasurable. Like stated before, this isn’t the best place for VERY small children, but older kids should have fun. During the fall, The JCHS runs ghost tours and paranormal investigations of some nature, which may just be something I do this year assuming I can snag a ticket. I was unable to see everything during my visit and will likely go back at some point to see The small schoolhouse and the courtyard. Keep your eyes peeled for an addendum if that happens!
This is part of my 2021 series History Boy Summer, which you can read more of following this LINK.