Large companies soon began supplying the goods for wagons that traveled the Santa Fe Trail. One of these trading companies was formed by the Aull Brothers. Their first large warehouse was here at Lexington. They soon had stores in many locations and became the first chain store in Missouri. (Walmart is an example of a modern day chain store.) By 1847, they had even opened a store as far south as Chihuahua, Mexico.
The Lexington steamboat wharf was a center of activity as steamboats arrived carrying goods from factories on the east coast, as well as foreign items from Europe, all bound for Santa Fe. In the 1850s, Lexington was headquarters for a large freighting firm—Russell, Majors, and Waddell. The freighting business won the government contracts to provide the man-power and wagons to haul both military and commercial goods along the Trail. By 1860, the company had expanded to deliver mail by horseback from Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California. The short-lived Pony Express crossed the central part of the nation in a matter of days.
The Civil War disrupted trade along the Santa Fe Trail. At Lexington the Confederates were aft er the money in the town’s banks. A large group of Confederates led by Confederate Major General Sterling Price participated in the fight that became known as the “Battle of the Hemp Bales.”
The battle involved 18,000 Missouri State Guard troops and 3,000 Northern troops. The Southern troops found hemp bales in a nearby warehouse. They soaked the bales in water from the river and rolled them forward to fight from behind them. Bullets could not go through the wet hemp. For a time, because of the battles along the western border of Missouri, the jumping-off point of the Santa Fe Trail moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.