REVIEW: Lock Down: Outlaws, Lawmen and Frontier Justice in Jackson County, Missouri (2012)

Prior to my trip to Independence, Missouri’s 1859 Jackson County Jail and Marshal’s Home, I wanted to make sure I was prepared with a reading (as I do with this series). I was quite surprised to find this very specialized, and seemingly way to specific book on Amazon, not realizing it was somewhat of a souvenir book that was created for the museums very own giftshop. That said, this book is in no way flimsy, nor a mere retelling of the museum exhibit – it’s a history of Jackson County, itself, in many ways.

Starting with the expedition of Lewis and Clark and the founding of Fort Osage, this books moves from different times in the history of the area using law enforcement as the main lynchpin. We get descriptions of the very first log cabin-styled jail in the area, a newer brick jail, then the jail the majority of the book is about. The book chronicles all of the early sheriffs, and how the jail was used during the antebellum period. Then we get to the “meat and potatoes” of the book (at least for me because its what I’m the most interested in) – the usage of the jail during the “Border Wars” and “civil War” periods.

“This commemorative souvenir documents the origin and evolution of the oldest structure on the historic Independence Courthouse Square-the 1859 Jackson County Jail and Marshal’s Home (and its 19th Century predecessors). “Captured” here is an in-depth study offering “skeleton keys” to “unlocking” history of the early lock downs, of those who defied frontier justice, and the systems and strongmen (and their overlooked wives) who tried to keep law and order in Jackson County, Missouri. A roster of ALL Jackson County Sheriffs AND Jackson County Marshals, and separate “rap sheet” of ALL legal hangings in Jackson County “caps” this first-ever comprehensive study spanning from 1826–when Jackson County was formed–to 1933 when the 1859 Jackson County Jail was decommissioned. David W. Jackson and Paul Kirkman have also explored how the site was adaptively re-used during the Great Depression of the 1930s; through World War II in the 1940s; and, how it was saved by the Jackson County Historical Society in 1958, and continues as a unique, cultural history museum, located at 217 North Main Street, Independence, Missouri.”

Notable incarcerated individuals of the 1859 Jackson County Jail included men like William C. Quantrill and Frank James. Quantrill was housed in the jail before he became the infamous historical figure we know him as today, and was nearly hanged for his betrayal of an abolitionist raid to free slaves. This was a moment that signaled a switched allegiance and the beginnings of the path he would take as a charismatic leader of numerous infamous raids into the heart of Kansas. James (the brother of Jesse James) was an infamous outlaw after the war, and although he gets overshadowed by all of the mythology surrounding his brother, was a force to be reckoned with. When he stayed at the jail, he lived a life of privilege most prisoners would never get, with an ability to walk the halls freely and a furnished room. While the death of Jesse is quite dubious with many claiming his grave or no grave at all (I’m sure he’s hanging out with Elvis as we speak), we know for certain that Frank is in fact dead and is even buried in Independence, MO as well!

The back half of this book is information about the jail’s later decommissioning, the changing of the guard in terms of policing and how justice was served at the turn of the century (chain gangs, for example), and the jail’s eventual use as a workhouse during the depression. Set for demolition, the jail was saved by the Jackson County Historical Society in 1958 (Including former President Harry S Truman) and became the museum it is today. Each section of this book (labeled as “cells” cell one, cell two etc) is well-detailed and filled with footnotes and appendices that will keep many historians happy.

This is a solid purchase for anyone visiting the jail, or honestly anyone interested in Jackson County history, Law enforcement, Civil War, or Border Wars history. I was happy to find this on Amazon, as the purchase will hopefully fund the historical site itself. Like stated before, my favorite portion of the book is the very middle, talking about outlaws and Civil war stuff, but you might find something else that grabs you more.

If you like what you just read, and would like a copy for yourself, please look at this LINK. This review is part of my 2021 series History Boy Summer, which you can read more of following this LINK.



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