Last Updated on September 13, 2023
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
By Carla Marie Rupp
On Labor Day weekend I stepped back in time on my trip out to the Midwest…to Independence, Missouri, where the trails start and the buck stops.
My authentic “time travel” goes back to the wagon days on the trails and into the 1950s. And I honestly didn’t know I’d find the Missouri city quite so fascinating.
Independence, Missouri – A Historical Town
I had no idea that 400,000 people came through Independence by wagon train to pick up supplies for the trek west – only that the city was the home of the President Harry S. Truman, a household name to my parents and grandparents.
Visitors can still get the thrill of adventure and gold-seeking when they get tales of the trails while taking a covered wagon ride (pioneers used mules or oxen instead of horses). A present-day wagon-master, Ralph Goldsmith of Pioneer Trails Adventures, sprinkles history with humor, enthralling passengers who never want to disembark.
Having studied Kansas history growing up in the neighboring state, I had learned a lot about the infamous Quantrill’s Raid and the animosity that existed between Kansas and Missouri regarding slavery. The rivalry remains – as I well know from Kansas-Missouri college football games – but I never knew Jesse and Frank James were considered “good guys” and rewarded by some for their bad behavior.
Independence’s National Frontier Trails Museum
In the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence, Missouri, the murals, artifacts, and heart-warming diaries captured my attention. There I was surprised to learn that about 10 percent of pioneers who went west, including gold-seekers, missionaries, and traders, never made it there for a variety of reasons.
On historic Independence Square I joined the 40th annual three-day Santa Cali Gon Days festival, named for the Santa Fe, California and Oregon trails, which all used Independence as a jumping-off point.
But there are also separate Mormon trails too, and at the Mormon Visitors Center visitors can step into a frontier cabin, view a vintage print shop, and see historical and religious presentations.
Across from the Trails Museum on the old Santa Fe Trail is the impressive Bingham-Waggoner Estate, a Civil War/Victorian structure that was once home to famous Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham. Enlarged in the 1890s, its antiques include a massive music box, baseball game, a rare Currier and Ives clock and European oil paintings.
The 30-room Vaile Mansion, another local historic home, was featured on A&E’s “American Castles” and was included in National Geographic’s “Guide to America’s Great Homes.”
But for many the focal point of the city is the Truman home, President Truman’s residence from 1919-1972, which today is operated by the National Park Service. It is so popular that visitors reserve a time-slot for the tour and wait across the street.
I found the house, which once belonged to Mrs. Truman’s family, interesting from both a historical and personal perspective, since it reminded me of the home of my Rupp grandparents who had the same color carpet and a few similar chairs. That’s probably why I was so at ease walking about it, spotting such things as the 1970 Zenith TV given to Bess and Harry by their daughter Margaret, who received their Steinway piano.
I also saw the living room where President Truman once addressed the nation and the gift from South Korea thanking America for helping in the Korean War. When I was by the back door of the home, I noticed Truman’s favorite car, a Chrysler, parked in the garage.
An Intimate Feel for the President’s Home
When you visit a presidential home such as this one in Independence, Missouri, it gives you a sense of history. But in the Truman home those feelings seem more intimate. Unlike many other presidential homes, which sit on large expansive grounds, Truman’s small home sits in in a quiet residential community, and you know that you’re walking through the small rooms where such luminaries as Bob Hope, Henry Fonda, Jack Benny and Presidents Hoover, Nixon, Johnson and Kennedy had sat and spoken with the former president.
At the nearby Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, I felt the love between Bess and Harry in some of the love letters exchanged when they were separated. I viewed covers of Life Magazine that captured the period when he was President, and looked at his catch phrase “The Buck Stops Here,” which has now been used by virtually all of his successors, that is encased in glass in the museum.
The 33rd President faced many difficulties, such as his firing of General MacArthur and his authorization to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the Living Legacy wall, there was even a clipping about a Truman paperboy who finally got paid. When George Lund, now 80, told the Library that Truman still owed him money, the Library gave him 56 $1 bills—the statement owed with interest.
President Truman’s grandson Clifton Truman Daniel, 55, was also in the news, according to the clip on the wall. When he visited Hiroshima, he said we should not forget (what happened there), “to never let this happen again…the important thing is to keep talking about all of it.”
This museum in Independence, Missouri is an eye-opener, with exhibits highlighting such famous Truman quotes as “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” and “The buck stops here.” But I found one even better in a 1947 statement by the president when he said “Our goal must be not peace in our time, but peace for all time.” Perhaps that’s why today both Democrats and Republicans seem to like the “man from Independence.”
What I especially liked though, and which still stands clearly in my mind, is a large black-and-white photo in the museum of Truman taking a walk. He was smiling when no one else was around!
I’m still smiling too.
The author was invited to visit Missouri by the state’s Division of Tourism. As always, however, all views and opinions expressed are hers alone.
If you go:
Independence, MO, Tourism
111 East Maple
Independence, MO 64050
Tel. (800) 748-7323
Missouri Division of Tourism
P.O. Box 1055
Jefferson City, MO 65102
Santa Cali Gon Days Festival
210 W. Truman Road
Independence, MO 64050
Pioneer Trails Adventures
223 North Main
National Frontier Trails Museum
219 N. Pacific
313 W. Pacific
Truman Home Tour
233 N. Main St., (begin here, but the home is at 419 Delaware Street)
Harry S Truman Library and Museum
500 W. U.S. 24 Highway
Independence, MO 64050
(816) 268-8200 or (800) 833-1225
Admission: adults $8, 65+ years $7