St. Joseph, also known as “St. Joe,” is a city in Buchanan County, Missouri, United States. It is the principal city of the St. Joseph Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Buchanan, Andrew, and DeKalb counties in Missouri and Doniphan County, Kansas. St. Joseph, named after the biblical Saint Joseph, is located on the Missouri River. It is perhaps best known as the starting point of the Pony Express and the place of death for Jesse James. St. Joseph is also home to Missouri Western State University.
History of St. Joseph, Missouri
St. Joseph was founded on the Missouri River by Joseph Robidoux, a local fur trader, and was officially incorporated in 1843. In its early days, it was a bustling outpost and rough frontier town, serving as a last supply point and jumping-off point on the Missouri River toward the “Wild West”. These cities, including Independence, and St. Joseph, were places the pioneers would stay and purchase supplies before they would head out on wagon trains. The town was a bustling area, and was the second city in the US to have electric streetcars. It was the westernmost point in the United States accessible by rail until after the American Civil War.
The main east-west downtown streets of today were named after Robidoux’s eight children: Faraon, Jules, Francois, Felix, Edmond, Charles, Sylvanie, and Messanie. The street between Sylvanie and Messanie was named for his second wife, Angelique.
St. Joseph’s population peaked in 1900, with a census population of 102,979. This population figure is somewhat questionable, as civic leaders attempted to inflate the numbers for that census. At the time, it was the home to one of the largest wholesale companies in the Midwest, the Nave & McCord Mercantile Company, as well as the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, and the C.D. Smith & Company, which would become C.D. Smith Healthcare.
Jesse James and the Pony Express
Between April 3, 1860, and late October 1861, St. Joseph was one of the two endpoints of the Pony Express, which operated for a short period over the land which was inaccessible by rail, to provide fast mail service. Interestingly, the pony riders carried a small Bible, along with the mail. Today, the Pony Express Museum hosts visitors in the old stables.
On April 3rd, 1882, the infamous outlaw, Jesse James was killed at his home, originally located at 1318 Lafayette, now sited next to The Patee House. In the post-Civil War years, when the economy was down, the hotel had served for a time as the home of the Patee Female College, followed by the St. Joseph Female College up to 1880.
The Heaton-Bowman-Smith Funeral Home maintains a small museum dedicated to Jesse James. Their predecessors conducted his funeral. The museum is open to the public. His home is now known as the Jesse James Home Museum. It has been relocated at least three times, and features the infamous bullet hole from that deadly shot.
St. Joseph has coined the slogan, “Where the Pony Express started and Jesse James ended.”