History of St. Joseph

The Beginning 

The state of Missouri was organized in 1821 and Joseph Robidoux established the Blacksnake Hills trading post with the Indians in 1826. Robidoux's trading post soon became a fur-trading empire stretching to the southern Rocky Mountains. The Platte Purchase joined his land to the state of Missouri in 1837. Robidoux conveyed his land for public use in 1843, and the city of St. Joseph was incorporated in 1851. The town remained relatively small until the discovery of gold in California in 1848, which greatly altered and accelerated westward migration.

St. Joseph became the head water for the journey west as hundreds of thousands of settlers arrived by steamboat and hundreds of wagon trains lined the streets waiting to be ferried across the Missouri River. The covered wagons, oxen and supplies purchased by the emigrants established the economic foundation of the city.

Continuing Growth

Additional growth commenced in 1859, when the railroad reached St. Joseph assuring its role as a supply and distribution point to the entire western half of the country. St. Joseph's proximity to the Missouri River and accessibility by way of river, rail and land was to be the impetus for phenomenal growth throughout the nineteenth century.

Political tension leading up to the Civil War led to the establishment of the Pony Express in 1860, with St. Joseph becoming the eastern terminus. The war years were very difficult with divided loyalties and violence, but after 1865, recovery was rapid.

Trading and Getting Established

Principal channels of distribution were established in the 1870s with St. Joseph becoming a leading wholesale center for the building of the west. The 1880s and 1890s were the golden age of prosperity, whose mansions and traditions remain a part of the city.

In 1886, the Chicago Times reported that, St. Joseph is a modern wonder, a city of 60,000 inhabitants, eleven railroads, 70 passenger trains each day, 170 factories, thirteen miles of the best paved streets, the largest stockyards west of Chicago, a wholesale trade as large as that of Kansas City and Omaha combined... One count of the U.S. Census had the city's population at 102,000 in 1900.

St. Joseph in the Meat Industry

Meat packing had been active in St. Joseph from the early days. With the opening of the St. Joseph Stockyards in 1887, and the opening of several new packing houses from then through 1923, St. Joseph became an important meat packing center, one of the leading sources of revenue of the city and its surrounding agricultural area. As the city grew and industries were established, neighborhoods developed in close proximity to the factories, stockyards and railroads.

St. Joseph and Buchanan County

The city of St. Joseph is the county seat of Buchanan County and the eighth largest city in Missouri with approximately 71,602 residents as of 2021. St. Joseph is the central service provider for a seven county area of northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas with a combined population of over 155,000.