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Friday, October 28, 2016

The Lipscomb's, a Log Cabin, and a Legacy Lost (Part 1)


It can only be imagined as a dark night, the moonlight only escaping between the clouds. The countryside was open to the elements, the only signs of life being the dim lights dotting the land. The wrestling of the branches of the trees near his homestead swayed in the wind. Perched upon a hill overlooking the picturesque Washington Township, with clear views to the north of Watts Mill and unblemished observations of the free state to the west, he kept his sight sharp and watched for any changes in scenery.

Joel Lipscomb wasn’t about to give up without a fight.

The sacking of Osceola by the Jayhawkers
Courtesy of
During this constant turmoil, no one was to be trusted; those from the west, the Jayhawkers, could cross over the invisible line between Missouri and Kansas and shoot, interrogate and torch anything and anyone within their grasp...

Not to mention the ongoing war.

He'd seen it all. He had already lost so much.

The Border Wars had been wreaking havoc on the men, women and children of the area of New Santa Fe for over eight years. This war was in full swing. The outcome was unsettling and unknown. These men, who had built the land on the backs of the institution of slavery, held chattel less than one hundred yards to freedom.

Did they know they were so close?

Nestled snug on the boundary between a slave state and a free state sat a dwelling for a family of pioneer settlers. They had sacrificed everything - their home, their livestock, and their slaves.

As Joel sat in the shadows on the hill, he watched and listened. As he heard the rustle of horses and the distant chatter of men, he knew it was time.

At this point, there was little left to give the Yankees.


It certainly wasn’t uncommon for folks in the east to travel to the west for land, opportunity and growth. This, too, was the case for one pioneer Jackson County resident, Joel Lipscomb.

Joel Lipscomb
Time has ticked on, partially erasing the existence of some of these men and their families. Oftentimes overshadowed by more “famous” relatives, pioneers such as this guy are almost completely forgotten.

It’s time to bring this man out from the shadows.

Joel Lipscomb, born October 11, 1813 in Boonesborough, Madison County, Kentucky, was one of several children. His upbringing was on a southern plantation. He was the son of Nathan Lipscomb, a major in the militia, and Nancy Gentry.

These folks were far from poor; his father had over 3,000 acres perpetuated by the labor of slaves.

For whatever the reason, Joel and two of his siblings opted for opening their lives to the state of Missouri. And these family members were tightly connected to the Simpson and Harris families, also from Madison County, Kentucky.

Let’s look at this Harris crew.

Col. John "Jack" Harris
The first of these Kentuckians who decided to uproot his growing family was Colonel John “Jack” Harris (1795-1874) and his wife, Henrietta Simpson (1804-1881). In 1832, with six children in tow, including Joel Lipscomb’s future wife, Henrietta, John and his wife moved across the plains and into the soon-to-be platted town of Westport.

Harris purchased 100 acres in Jackson County, Mo., and with his slaves, he built a log cabin for his family in the woods near present-day Westport High School.

Around 1835, Joel tried his hand at settlement in the Missouri countryside and traveled by horseback to Westport. He and two siblings, Dabney Lipscomb, future founder of the town of New Santa Fe, and Louisa opted for life in this area as well.

A new life required putting down roots. 

Joel needed to get himself a wife.

John Harris was known for having beautiful daughters, and Joel snagged up the second oldest, Henrietta, ten years his junior and seventeen at the year of their marriage in 1840. Just to confuse things, his sister Louisa and his brother, Dabney Lipscomb married Henrietta’s aunt and uncle on her mother’s side- linking these families in more ways than one.

After a brief return to Kentucky in the late 1830s, Joel returned and first bought land where today Hyde Park sits and then selected for settlement just north of his brother’s farm in New Santa Fe in Section 6 of Washington Township. 

Henrietta Simpson Harris
John Harris continued to make waves in Westport, living in his little log cabin until 1848 when they moved into Westport to a home at 316 Main (Westport Road).  They bought a place that was known as "The Catfish House."

Wow, now that name makes you think twice. Why was it called the Catfish House? Well, slaves Mark and Minerva were known far and wide for their tasty fried catfish pulled fresh out of the Kaw River.


This was a saloon, restaurant and had a few rooms to let to travelers. 

Henrietta, his wife and Joel’s mother-in-law, was known also for her strict rule of “no dancing.”


By 1845, the inn was in full-swing and hosted many famous lodgers in its heyday, including Kit Carson and Thomas Hart Benton.

They owned this business until it tragically burned to the ground in 1852. Not one to be discouraged, Harris built a new three story brick hotel on the same corner. Some accounts even state that John Harris was offered money to rebuild with no strings attached; however, he refused and only accepted money if the loaner let him pay them back.

They called this new, large hotel the Harris House Hotel. 

The hotel stood at the corner of Westport and Pennsylvania and was known far and wide for its generous hospitality and Southern cooking.

In 1855, John Harris moved his family to his Southern colonial mansion at the intersection of Westport and Main Street, and the two unwed lovely daughters of John Harris continued to entertain guests at his new home and at his hotel in Westport.

His house (not his hotel) was dismantled and moved to its present location of 4000 Baltimore and is carefully preserved by the Westport Historical Society. It's commonly known as the 1855 Harris-Kearney House.

For your next gathering...
Original recipe for "Chess Cakes" from
Henrietta Harris' cookbook, published
in the Kansas City Star in 1918
Writer Carrie Whitney stated of the Harris House Hotel, “A family of slaves were the servants of the hotel. Aunt Minerva and her husband, Mark were the cooks. Mark would ‘roach’ up his hair, put on a white apron and soft slippers and fly into the dining room, where he turned into head waiter. He presided over the meat table and carved venison, wild turkey and three-year-old home-cured ham or whole roast pig, with a flourish and a distinction that made him famous.”

John Harris had fifteen slaves listed in the 1860 census, ranging in age from 38 to only one year old.

Joel and his wife would travel to Westport to visit family once a month and attend church with them. By 1856, he and his wife had seven children: William, Nathan, Louisa, Frances, John Harris, Bernard and James. Two children, Charles and Joel, Jr. died as toddlers one month apart in 1854, further evidence that pioneer life was never easy.

While his father-in-law remained a successful and well-known businessman in Westport, Joel tilled the land from approximately Carondelet to the north, 115th Street to the south, State Line to the west and Wornall to the east, owning six slaves ranging from age 22 to just two years old.

Harris House Hotel, cir. 1849-1922
In an article published in the Kansas City Star in 1934, daughter Frances Lipscomb-Hickman (1847-1944) recalled the pre-Civil War days when business was booming and ox trains crossed the plains.

She estimated that her father’s worth prior to the Civil War was over $60,000- which equates to over $1.5 million in today’s money. She, too, was born on the farm just east of State Line Road near where 111th Street is currently today.

1877 Plat Map showing Joel
Lipscomb's land and New
Santa Fe
He built a large brick home for his growing family and had at least one slave cabin on his land.

But prior to 1858, things seemed to be ideal for Joel and his family; he worked his 400 acres of land, got on peacefully with the Indians, and reared his family.

Things weren’t peaceful for much longer.

You see, Joel was friends with the “Border Ruffians,” and many could consider him one of them. 

And just to his west, the Jayhawkers, led by General James Lane, senator in Kansas, had lit torches in hand.

An article published February 6th, 1858 in the Washington Union in Washington, D.C., recounted one pivotal event during the Border Wars. Joel Lipscomb was a victim of the Jayhawkers’ vengeance on the slaveholding Missouri line.

This included Joel’s home, which went up in flames on a cold February day that year.

Tragedy overtook Joel and his family during this trying time. With only his land in his possession and his slaves on his farm, Joel persevered and pushed through one more year.

Clipping from the 1858 article in the Washington Union noting the destruction of the Lipscomb house
And then more devastation deepened his sorrow.

One year after the Jayhawkers punished Joel for his viewpoints of slavery, Henrietta gave birth to a daughter, aptly named Henrietta on March 19, 1859. A day later, the newborn daughter passed away and four days later, Joel’s wife took her last breaths and died.

Henrietta and her newborn daughter were buried in the family plot on their sprawling land next to the two children, Charles and Joel, who had passed only five years earlier.

His house was gone- his wife and three children were buried in the ground nearby. Joel was left with seven children to care for on the brink of the biggest war the country had ever seen.

With fresh deaths on his hands and no one to rear his children, Joel sent his two oldest daughters, Frances and Louisa, to Christian College (now named Columbia College) in Columbia, Mo. The girls intended to take the full three-year course, but the waging war was on the horizon and quickly changed their plans.

Early photo of Christian College, Columbia, Mo.
In the Spring of 1861, Joel was set on getting his beloved daughters home to safety. His two oldest sons, William and Nathan, had drawn up the Southern cause and chose to join the Confederate fight.

Mr. Lipscomb sent his friend, “elderly bachelor” George W. Kemper to fetch for the girls in Columbia, Mo. while he kept close eye on his land in Jackson County.

By “elderly bachelor," they meant a thirty year-old single man.


George W. Kemper raced to Columbia in a big, closed carriage drawn by two horses. Shooting at boats had been reported, so they couldn’t return by river. The trip from Columbia to Jackson County, Mo. took five days.

Frances Lipscomb-Hickman later recounted that one of her friends from school was to be married after the war, and she wanted Frances to be a bridesmaid.

Her father, Joel would not permit it, as her friend was marrying a former Union officer.

Well, this goes to show us that grudges ran deep both during and after this turmoil.

Colonel Edmund Holloway (1821-1861)
Courtesy of Herbert Rickards
While Joel sweated over the safe return of his daughters, sons Nathan and William were, as many teenage and early twenties sympathizers, more than happy to race away from home and join the cause. They were part of Colonel Edmund Holloway’s Missouri State Guard and joined a group of around 300 men at Rock Creek, near present-day Independence, Mo.

On June 13th of this same year, events at this  camp had been quite “eventful.” An Irish shoemaker named Patsy O’Donnell was absent during Col. Holloway’s roll call. In the late afternoon, Patsy rolled in “gloriously drunk.”

After exchanging choice words with a comrade, Patsy found himself hog-tied so he could sober up and reflect on his actions.

It just so happened that at this same time, around 100-200 Union men under the command of Captain David Stanley caught sight of this Missouri State Guard. They signaled for a parlay.

Patsy wanted in on the action.

When Holloway was advancing toward the middle to meet the Union officers, he turned to motion his men back on the line. They mistook his motion for Union advance…

… The Confederate Missouri State Guard, Nathan and William Lipscomb a part of the unit, opened fire.

One popular account states that good ol’ Patsy hollered, “Shoot the damn rascals!” and the result was ten minutes of deadly fire.
Image showing the divide in 1861- Missouri is divided

Union soldiers watched without firing a shot.

Col. Holloway, however was mortally injured from a bullet fired from his own side.

Things for Joel, and for the settlers along the Missouri-Kansas border, were getting dicey.

You see, a man named Quantrill had just  sacked Lawrence on August 21, 1863. This was more of a mass execution than a battle of any proportion.

This was the Lawrence Massacre, an event that showed that some men were willing to go to any lengths to make those Jayhawkers pay attention. They looted banks and stores- and killed 185 to 200 men and boys in their path.

The Union Army wasn't happy, so they responded.

Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr. issued an order in August 1863 that further changed everything along the border. 

Prior to rising into infamy, William Quantrill was known to have stayed for a time with Col. Marcus Gill in New Santa Fe. It was no secret that Quantrill had a lot of Southern sympathizer friends along the border, especially people living south of Westport.

George Caleb Bingham's "Order No. 11" painting
So it was time to hit em' where it hurts.  

General Order No. 11 forced the evacuation of Jackson, Cass, Bates and part of Vernon County. Unless you lived within one mile of Westport, Hickman's Mill, Independence or Harrisonville, you were forced to leave your land.

....Unless you swore allegiance, you were to leave immediately. 

And it wasn't a peaceful removal.

Joel reacted. In order to keep his children safe, he sent his younger children (Lou, Frances, Rodney and James) to Westport to live with John and Henrietta Harris.

John Harris Lipscomb, his 13 year-old son, stayed with his dad... for the time being. 

The war and the pressure from all sides was on. Joel, although too old to serve the Confederate cause, knew he had a target on his back. 

Two sons in the Confederate Army mixed with slaves on the border was a recipe for disaster. 

He had been told so.

He was being hunted.


Ascending the deep night, Joel waited for his son, John to return with the horses. The war was here, and he could sense from his very core that he was being watched.

He had tucked his four youngest children, including his oldest daughters, in the care of their grandmother, Henrietta Harris at the Harris House. Joel silently prayed they would be safe at their home in Westport.
Harris House (1855), now the home of the Westport
 Historical Society. It was moved to its current location of
4000 Baltimore

His gut wrenched him; his heart was heavy. Even though he felt he was abandoning them, he knew he wasn't safe in the area.

He felt his time in Jackson County, at least until this war was won, had run out.

Uncertain of the future, he prayed that he could come up with a solution... before it was too late.

For the conclusion of this story, please click here: The Lipscomb's, a Log Cabin, and a Legacy Lost (Part 2!)

*A special thanks to the 1855 Harris-Kearney House and Museum and the Westport Historical Society for their assistance on facts and events.

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