People on steamboats loaded with goods traveled upstream on the Missouri River “highway” to Independence, where the overland journey on the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California trails began. Between March and November, steamboats passed by or stopped daily at the Independence landings of Blue Mills and Wayne City. With little commercial competition on the frontier, Independence dominated as the favored trail outfitting place until about 1850.
Tens of thousands of fur trappers, traders, emigrants, and gold seekers passed through Independence, coming from all over the United States and the world in search of new opportunities in the West. Commerce depended on goods made in the East being transported to Santa Fe. Merchants then hauled Mexican-produced goods, silver, and gold back to Independence via the 800-mile Santa Fe Trail. Travelers migrating to the West bought supplies for the five-month, 2,000-mile trek along the Oregon and California trails.
Being at leisure one day, I rode over to Independence [from Westport, in May 1846]. The town was crowded. A multitude of shops had sprang up to furnish the emigrants and Santa Fe traders with necessaries for the journey; and there was an incessant hammering and banging from a dozen blacksmiths’ sheds, where the heavy wagons were being repaired, and the horses and oxen shod. The streets were thronged with men, horses, and mules.
--Francis Parkman Jr. 1846
Independence in the 1830s-1840s thrived as a multi-cultural international center for commerce—French Canadians, Europeans, Spanish, Mexicans, Blacks, and American Indians mingled and traded goods on Independence Square. Local freighters transported European and American-made goods (cotton, glass, iron) through the city from eastern and southern coasts over the Santa Fe Trail to Mexico, and returned with gold, silver, furs, wool, mules, and horses. Independence became known for its wagon factories, blacksmith shops, and yoke and harness making facilities.
Emigrants seeking land in Oregon or gold in California disembarked from steamboats at Wayne City and nearby landings. Others came overland by stagecoach or traveled in their own wagons. Arriving in early spring, emigrants prepared for the journey of a lifetime. They had filled the hotels and boarded or camped on nearby farms. Now they could depart with their livestock nourished by spring grasses.