Being from the Midwest means that we can find lots of historical sites within close proximity to our hometown. While it may not be Crystal’s favorite, I am particularly intrigued by the Civil War battles and skirmishes in the region. These are numerous, so she has learned to make the best of it, and look for the personal stories that can be found entwined with the military data. Our visit to the Lone Jack Civil War Museum gave me another chance to further explore the actions in the border region. Located just a few minutes outside of Lee’s Summit, Lone Jack is an easy day trip destination from the KC metro.
We want to thank the Lone Jack Civil War Museum for their hospitality. Rest assured that all opinions are our own.
The museum is focused on showing the atmosphere that the civilians of the region experienced during the years in and around the Civil War. With Kansas coming into the Union as a ‘Free State”, it set up the whole area as a powder keg of division. Union and Confederate troops battled for continued control over the land, but could only patrol small sections overall. Confederate guerrillas and Union irregulars performed dastardly attacks on the residents of the region. Neighbors spied on each other and the area fostered the brother-against-brother attitude that the “War between the States” had created. The Lone Jack Civil War Museum features details about the localized battles, but also spends some time on the overall atmosphere of the time period.
Jackson County’s only Civil War museum would never have been built, if not for the interest of Harry Truman. As a child, his family would bring him to the annual commemorative picnic on the battlefield grounds. Throughout his political career he worked to get the site properly acknowledged. After his presidency, he returned to his home state to continue this important work. 101 years after the battle the newly completed museum would be dedicated. Unlike many larger museums, this one has to be judicious about what they display. For this reason, we found their exhibits to be in better than usual condition than what we have seen at other locations. Rifles and revolvers look fresh enough to fire.
As we were touring the museum, we couldn’t help but notice a series of beautifully designed dioramas. Each one displays a different scene associated with battles or skirmishes from the region. A combination of sculpted figures and painted backgrounds, these pieces really stand out. Scenes from the two local battles are shown, as well as Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence. The fourth diorama focuses on General Order #11, which caused the depopulation of four western Missouri counties. During this action, troops from Kansas killed six Lone Jack citizens as they were packing to leave.
We tried to capture the detail of a couple of the dioramas. Staff at the museum were extremely proud of these cases, and we can understand why. Visiting the Battle of Lone Jack site has been on my list for quite some time. The location was first introduced to me by Hollywood. One of my all-time favorite movies is True Grit with John Wayne. For those familiar with it, you may recollect how Rooster Cogburn explains the loss of his eye. He tells the young Mattie Ross that he lost it in “a scrap outside of Kansas City”. That is how he referred to the Battle of Lone Jack. I’m sure many of you will want to watch that movie again to verify this factoid.
As with most battles and wars, the local residents are usually among the victims. Besides the threat of injury or death, there is the economic damages that often befall the area. Many times fields and homes were burned to keep them from falling into the hands of the enemy. In a region that was so hotly contested, the constant back and forth skirmishes created an atmosphere of unending fear.
Before we left Lone Jack, we crossed the street to the site of the Cave Hotel. The day before the battle, Union troops had taken over the building to use as a headquarters. During the battle, a portion of the original hotel was destroyed by fire. The section that remained was repaired, and it is obvious that the roof is lower than it would have originally been. Recently, the museum was able to purchase the building and plans to raise funds to repair it. We weren’t able to tour it, but just knowing that this building had been the epicenter of a battle that took place over 155 years ago is amazing. Our visit showed once again that there are amazing stories held in cities, towns, and villages all over our country. We just have to get out there and find them.
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