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author's library.

6. Chiles, op. cit.

7. Ibid.


opment of her social, economic, and political institutions. A flood
of immigrants from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Caro-
lina was flowing through St. Louis and ascending the Missouri river
to the central and western portions of the state. Steamboating was
still in its infancy, but it was off to a promising start, the fur trade
from the half-legendary Rocky Mountains was burgeoning, and
there was much excitement about the possibilities of the newly
opened trade with far-off Santa Fe. What was most significant of
all perhaps was that he heard much about the Boone's Lick country
near the western border of the state, and of a new town on the
Missouri river called Lexington.

The Berthoud & McCleery store was an ideal place for a young
sight-seeing tourist who wished to get acquainted with the Missouri
frontier and what was spoken of in Kentucky as "the West." As he
went about his task of waiting upon customers he accumulated a
mass of information which proved useful in days to come. When
he had seen all he wished to see he went back to Mason county and
became a clerk in a store in the town of Washington. After working
there for a brief period he quit and took up farming.

This proved to be a fortunate move, for nearby lived Susan Clark
Byram, daughter of William and Susan Phillips Byram, a wealthy
Kentucky planter, whom he married on January 1, 1829. The bride's
father, with customary generosity, started the young couple off with
the gift of Negro slaves, horses, sheep, $1,500, and a feather bed. 8
Now it appeared that Waddell was launched upon the successful,
though somewhat prosaic career of a Southern gentleman farmer.

But farming, even on an expansive Southern scale was not what
he wanted. His experience in business in St. Louis and Washington
had turned his thoughts toward merchandising. Consequently,
after a few years on the farm he sold out and opened a dry goods
store in Mayslick, Mason county, Ky. 9 By instinct and inclination
he was fundamentally a merchant all his days. Fortunate would it
have been for him had he never tried to be anything else.

Although the business prospered, he was not content with it. In
spite of the fact that he was well situated with a prosperous business,
his thoughts kept running back to the Missouri frontier and the
ground floor opportunities it offered. He wished to remain in the
mercantile business, but he also wanted land, which was always the
true frontiersman's ambition. No matter what his chief vocation
might be, he strove to possess as many acres of land as possible and

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.


slaves to cultivate it. That was the hallmark of genuine success and
gentility. Improved land in Kentucky, which had been sufficiently
reduced from a raw natural state to grow crops, was expensive, and
that which was unimproved was not desirable. Consequently Wad-
dell thought more and more about Missouri. That was the place
where a young man could sink his roots deep and flourish. In 1832
he united with the Mayslick Baptist church, with which group he
affiliated the remainder of his life. 10

The inevitable result of his thinking was that he sold his store in
Mayslick, and in 1836 with his wife and three or four children,
migrated from Kentucky to Lexington, Mo., by steamboat. 11 In
those days the 14-year-old town, which within a few years would
be known as "Old Town," consisted mostly of log houses. It was a
primitive community, but to a discerning man like Waddell it was
also a wide-open door of opportunity. The steamboat landing and
Jack's Ferry were located about a mile west of the town square. At
that time the population of the whole of Lafayette county was only
about 3,000 white people and 1,200 slaves. 12 From the very begin-
ning of Waddell's residence in the town and county he was regarded
as one of its most substantial citizens.

Although Lexington, judged by modern standards, was still a
small town, in 1836 it was the largest in western Missouri, rapidly
growing in importance as a river port, and as a retail and wholesale
center. Being located in one of the best agricultural areas in the
world, whose main products were hemp, livestock, and grain, the
economy of the town was based upon a solid foundation. In addi-
tion, much of the fur and Santa Fe trade centered in Lexington at
that time. This trade was largely carried on through the J. & R. Aull
store, which was one of four operated by James and Robert Aull,
who were natives of Delaware. They also had stores at Inde-
pendence, Liberty, and Richmond. A third brother, John, also had
a store at Lexington.

Not long after his arrival in "Old Town" Waddell opened a retail,
wholesale, and commission business. He also engaged in the buying
of hemp and other products of the farm. In addition he bought
furs from the far-off Rocky Mountains, outfitted Santa Fe traders,
and bought honey and beeswax brought in from north Missouri by
professional wild bee hunters. Some of his goods were brought
up the Missouri river on steamboats and other items were bought

10. William B. Waddell obituary, Lexington (Mo.) Express, April 10, 1872.

11. Lexington Intelligencer, April 10, 1872; Cheatham, op. cit.

12. Missouri Historical Review, Columbia, v. 35 (January, 1941), p. 236.


at wholesale from J. & R. Aull. 13 Included in the stock of dry goods
and groceries he offered to the public were fresh and home-cured
meats, dry goods, boots, shoes, women's hats, clothing for men,
women, and children, patent medicines and common nostrums of
the day, tools, and farm equipment. At the back stood a battery
of 40-gallon barrels containing homemade vinegar, sorghum mo-
lasses, and whisky. From the very beginning he enjoyed a marked
degree of success.

Among the clerks in the J. & R. Aull store was a medium-sized,
highly competent, 24-year-old young man by the name of William
Hepburn Russell, whose speech instantly betrayed the fact that he
was not a Southerner like the great majority of the people among
whom he lived. He had been working there six years and the
townspeople had grown accustomed to his accent and ways.

Russell was a lineal descendant of Lord William Russell of Eng-
land, who was beheaded July 21, 1683, because of participation in
the Rye House plot against Charles, II. 14 Almost a hundred years
later, about the close of the Revolutionary War, three brothers,
David, Stephen, and Benjamin Russell, descendants of the slain
nobleman, migrated to America. Benjamin settled in Vermont,
where he married Betsy Ann Eaton, daughter of Gen. William
Eaton, noted soldier, Indian fighter, and United States consul to
Tunis in 1798. The youngest of their 11 children was William
Eaton, who married Betsy Ann Hepburn, descendant of the noted
Hepburn clan of Scotland, who did not live very long. Next he
married her sister Myrtilla, by whom he had a daughter Adala
Elizabeth and a son William Hepburn, the latter of whom was
born at Burlington, Vt., January 31, 1812. 15 By ancestry he was
as much Scotch as was Waddell.

Family tradition holds that William Eaton Russell fought in the
War of 1812 as a colonel, and that he commanded the American
troops in the little battle of Lake Champlain. He died in 1814
while still in service, and his body was taken back to Burlington by
an escort of army officers, among whom was 2d Lt. Oliver Bangs.
The acquaintance of Bangs and Mrs. Russell ripened into love, and
they were married January 1, 1816, at Vergennes, Vt. 16

13. J. & R. Aull, "Order Book Oct. 6, 1836," p. 149. Ms. in "Aull Collection," Lex-
ington (Mo.) Literary and Historical Society; Lexington Express, February 24, August 1,

14. John Richard Green, England (New York, 1898), v. 3, pp. 452, 453; Mrs. William
H. Russell, "Genealogy and Family History," Ms.

15. William H. Russell, letter, n. d.

16. Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army
(Washington, 1903), v. 1, p. 188; National Archives, Record of Veterans Administration,
War of 1812, "Bounty Land File" of Oliver Bangs, Warrant No. 7848.


After long service in the army Lieutenant Bangs was honorably
discharged in 1821. So far as is known the family continued to live
in Vermont until 1828, when he was appointed agent for the Iowa
Indians in the early part of Pres. Andrew Jackson's administration.
At that time the lowas lived in northwest Missouri in what was later
known as the "Platte Purchase/' The agency may have been lo-
cated at Liberty arsenal at that time, for family tradition holds that
he was also commandant of that institution. Perhaps he filled both
offices. 17

The settlements in western Missouri in 1828 constituted not only
the farthest limit of American civilization, but also the last tradi-
tional, strictly American frontier. Beyond them lay the broad
"Prairie Ocean" which was labeled "Great American Desert" in the
geographies. 18 A few miles away lay the intriguing Santa Fe trail,
and the great Missouri river, the fur traders' and trappers' highway
to the Rocky Mountains, churning restlessly past his doorstep.
Liberty, although only six years old, was already another of the
important towns on the frontier.

In all probability Russell's schooling was completed in Vermont
before the family moved to the west. His boyish handwriting in
those early days, while not a good example of the beautiful, ornate
chirography in vogue at that time, was firm, and legible. His letters
indicate that he was endowed with more than ordinary ability to
think clearly and express himself forcibly. Unfortunately he aban-
doned that style of writing when he grew older and indulged in
an almost indecipherable scrawl. Both he and Waddell were above
the average in education, culture, and refinement. They certainly
were not the ignorant, rough, bullwhacker type some writers have
imagined they were. Neither of them ever drove an ox team on the
Santa Fe or Oregon trail. Both were endowed with the same
fundamental instinct, that of merchandising.

Of the noted Aull brothers the first to come west was John, who
opened a store in Chariton, Mo., on the Missouri river, now a ghost
town, from 1819 to 1822. When the original town of Lexington was
laid out he moved there and opened a store, which he operated
until 1842. James and Robert came west in 1825, and in that year
the former established a retail and commission business at Lexing-
ton. In 1827 he opened another store at Independence, with Samuel
C. Owens as manager. On January 1, 1829, he opened a store in

17. Pryor Plank, "The Iowa, Sac and Fox Indian Mission . , .," in Kansas His-
torical Collections, v. 10 (1907-1908), p. 312.

18. J. Olney, New and Improved School Atlas . . . (New York, 1829).


Liberty, with Robert Aull in charge, and in 1830 a fourth one was
established at Richmond. 19 Thus they became Missouri's first chain
store operators. When their interests were all merged in one insti-
tution in 1831, James became head of it.

In 1828, at the age of 16, Russell went to work in the Ely & Curtis
store in Liberty. He remained there only a few months, however,
then went to work for Robert Aull. The relationship thus estab-
lished continued in one form or another for more than 30 years.
James made his home in Lexington, from which he managed the
firm's wide and varied interests. Young Russell so gained the con-
fidence of his employer that some time in 1830 he was transferred
from Liberty to the Lexington store 20 where he became James' right
hand man. At 18 years of age he was now successfully launched
upon one of the most amazing careers ever known in Lexington and
on the frontier. His rise in business circles might well constitute
the theme for an Horatio Alger story. Considering his tempera-
ment, native ability, and as later revealed, his predisposition to large
scale business operations, the Aull organization was the ideal place
for him.

Early in his business career Russell seems to have developed an
interest in transportation. All his life this particular phase of com-
mercial activity fascinated him. When Lexington became one of
the outfitting points for the fur and Santa Fe trade he familiarized
himself with those businesses. He watched the traders and trappers
who came into Anil's store to buy goods for the outbound trips, care-
fully observed what they bought, and listened to discussions con-
cerning the various items. Though he never went to Santa Fe, and
never even saw the Rocky Mountains until 1861, he was intimately
acquainted with the trade.

One of his most valuable assets throughout life was the fact that
people liked and trusted him to an extraordinary degree. In dealing
with people he was genial, thoughtful, and obliging. He was as
courteous to the farmer's wife who came into the store to exchange
her produce for groceries and dry goods as he was to a merchant
from another town who wished to buy enough goods at wholesale
to load a wagon. He made friends easily, and what was better, he
kept them.

19. Mrs. William H. Russell, op. cit; Joseph Thorp, Early Days in the West, p. 43;
Lewis E. Atherton, "James and Robert Aull A Frontier Merchantile Firm," in Missouri
Historical Review, v. 30 (October, 1935), p. 4.

20. Burtis M. Little, A Brief Sketch of the National Old Trails Road and the Part
Played by Lexington in the Westward Movement (Lexington, Mo., 1928), p. 14; Atherton,
loc. cit., p. 4; James Aull, "Letter Book II, 1831-1833," p. 135.



At 19 years of age Russell appears to have been manager of the
store. The extent of the firm's business is seen in the fact that it
had an interest in three Missouri river steamboats, operated a rope-
walk in Liberty, owned a saw and grist mill, and engaged in the
Santa Fe and fur trade. It also contracted to furnish supplies to
Fort Leavenworth, Indian missions, emigrating tribes, and United
States troops. 21

Although only fragmentary studies of this giant pioneer firm have
been made, it is clear that during the early 1830's it was the largest
and most influential business enterprise on the western Missouri
frontier. As such it not only constituted excellent training ground
for Russell, but to a very great degree provided a blue print for his
career in days to come. In breadth of vision, energy, daring, and
remarkable skill in organization, he was destined to operate in a
similar though much wider field and by far surpass his old employer
and mentor.

On June 9, 1835, Russell married Harriet Eliot Warder, daughter
of the Rev. John Warder, 22 who was born in Kentucky in January,
1812. John Warder had moved to Kentucky in 1807, where he de-
veloped a large plantation on Bear creek. Being a Baptist minister,
he built a church called Pisgah on his own land and preached in it
himself. In 1824 he moved to Lafayette county, Mo., and settled
on an extensive tract of land near Lexington. One of his first con-
cerns was to build another church upon it, which he called Sni-a-Bar
after a creek than ran nearby. In 1825 it was moved into the town
of Lexington and became the First Baptist church. 23 The author of
this narrative served that institution as pastor from 1942 to 1948.

By the latter 1830's "Old Town," which had not been advanta-
geously located, had outgrown its original site. In the first place it
was too far from Jack's Ferry and the steamboat landing. Conse-
quently business men and other community leaders, in 1837, organ-
ized the Lexington First Addition Company. Eighty-seven shares
were issued, of which James Aull subscribed for ten, William H.
Russell five, and William B. Waddell five. 24 This was the first inti-
mate business relationship established between Russell and Wad-
dell. Thereafter they were continually associated together in a
variety of partnerships and enterprises until 1861.

21. Atherton, loc. cit., pp. 4, 5, 13-27.

22. Lafayette county, Mo., "Marriage Record B," June 9, 1835, p. 83; their children
were, John Warder, b. March, 1836; Charles Benjamin, b. September 3, 1838; Myrtilla
(Tillie), b. 1840, and Fanny, b. 1844. Mrs. William H. Russell, op. cit.

23. Ibid., pp. 16, 19; William E. Connelley, Doniphan's Expedition . (Topeka
1907), pp. 600, 601.

24. Lafayette county, Mo., "Record Books F to M."


Although Russell filled an enviable position in the Aull institu-
tion, and apparently had his feet firmly planted upon the financial
ladder, he was not the kind of man who could work for a salary
even under James Aull's benevolent supervision. What he wanted
was to go into business for himself. In 1838 he resigned his position
at Aull's, and in partnership with James S. Allen and William Early
opened a retail store under the name of Allen, Russell & Company. 25
Whether this was in "Old Town" or the new addition is not known,
although it probably was the former.

The First Addition Company laid out a narrow strip of land ex-
tending from Jack's Ferry to "Old Town," and from two to four
blocks wide. Immediately the new part of town began to grow as
business houses and residences were erected. A few years later,
about 1843, when the new addition had attained substantial propor-
tions, Waddell moved his store from "Old Town" to Broadway and
Levee on the waterfront near Jack's Ferry and the steamboat land-
ing. In 1845 he again moved his store to North or Main Street,
as it is now known. 26

In 1840 Russell was appointed treasurer for Lafayette county to
succeed his old employer James Aull. 27 He was also appointed
postmaster at Lexington by Pres. John Tyler on June 16, 1841, which
office he filled until January 31, 1845. 28 Like everyone else on the
frontier who could do so, Russell began a program of investment
in land when in 1837 he secured a patent from the United States
government in Ray county for 248 acres. 29 He continued to add to
his holdings, until by 1845 he owned about 3,000 acres in Lafayette
and Ray counties. 30 The only thing which seems to have marred
this period of prosperity was the failure of Allen, Russell & Com-
pany in 1845. 31 This was his first experience in that sort of thing,
but it was by no means his last.

In 1840 both Russell and his wife joined the First Baptist church
of Lexington, of which body Waddell was a member. 32 Both of
them were appointed members of a committee to erect a new
house of worship on Franklin street in the First Addition. There-

25. Lexington Express, February 24, 1842; Lafayette county Mo., "Record Book F,"
p. 510.

26. Lexington Express, July 4, 1843, October 13, 1845.

27. James Aull, "Receipt Book V," 1836-1847.

28. William Young, History of Lafayette County (Indianapolis, 1910), v. 2, p. 316;
Asst. Post. Gen. J. M. Donaldson, letter to authors, August 23, 1945.

29. Ray county, Mo., "Record Book D," p. 32.

30. Lafayette county, "Record Books F to M"; Lafayette county, "Book of Original
Entries"; Lexington Express, March 25, 1845.

31. Ibid., October 14, 1845.

32. Lexington First Baptist church, "Minutes," March 28, 1840.


after the minutes of the church meetings are liberally sprinkled with
their names. In the meantime Russell increased his holdings in the
Lexington First Addition Company until he owned 65 lots. Upon
one of these at the corner of 12th and South street he built a 20-room
house with a garden, Negro quarters, and stables at the back for
the good horses he always owned. Waddell also built a commodi-
ous home a block away at the corner of 13th and South streets.

In 1843 Russell, James S. Allen, William Early, Alexander Ram-
say, and James W. Waddell formed a company to manufacture
hemp rope and bagging. 33 The following year, in partnership with
James H. Bullard, DeWitt Pritchard, and Robert B. Bradford, he
opened another store under the name of Bullard & Russell. In 1845
Russell was appointed a director of the Lexington branch of the
Bank of the State of Missouri. 34

The Santa Fe trade, begun on a small scale by William Becknell
in 1821, gained volume year by year until by 1843 the wagons en-
gaged in it numbered 230, men 320, and the value of goods trans-
ported $450,000. 35 Before the founding of the upper Missouri river
towns of Lexington, Liberty, and Independence, the old village of
Franklin enjoyed a monopoly of the outfitting business for Santa
Fe traders. With the founding of Independence in 1827 it began
to be centered at that place. About the years 1838-1840 it began at
Westport, with the result that Independence was soon thrust into
the background.

At first the Santa Fe trade was carried on wholly as a co-operative
proposition in which each member of a party made a contribution
to a common fund and shared proportionally in the profits. Owing
to the hostility of Indians along the route, and exhorbitant customs
duties levied in Santa Fe, capitalists were slow in entering the field.
The survey and marking of the road by George C. Sibley in
1825-1827, occasional military escorts to the international boundary,
the assembling of the wagons into great caravans capable of re-
pelling Indian attacks, and interest in it on the part of the Federal
government, all reacted favorably upon the trade.

Not until the capture and annexation of New Mexico in 1846,
however, were all barriers and handicaps entirely removed and the
trade freed to pursue an unhindered course. Prior to that, however,
the professional, contract freighter appeared upon the scene. These

33. Lafayette county, Mo., "Record Book I," p. 382.

34. Lexington Express, March 25, 1845.

35. William E. Connelley, Kansas and Kansans (Chicago, 1919), v. 1, p. 141; statistics
for the period 1822-1843 were prepared by Josiah Gregg.


were men, like Alexander Majors, 36 who organized their own wagon
trains, and contracted to transport goods belonging to someone else.

One of these early contract freighters was E.G. McCarty of West-
port, who entered the business in 1838. In 1847 Russell formed a
partnership with him and sent a train load of goods to Santa Fe.
This venture, under the name of Bullard & Russell, was his intro-
duction to the freighting business. James H. Bullard accompanied
the train and returned home March 1, 1848. They also sent out
another train in 1849. In this latter year Russell and Robert Aull
engaged in speculation in hemp with very satisfactory results. In-
cidentally, in that same year Russell was fined $20 in Lafayette
county circuit court "for permitting a slave to go at large and hire
his own time/' 37

When the war with Mexico broke out Col. S. W. Kearny was
ordered to lead a small army of 1,701 officers and men on a forced
march across the Great Plains and capture Santa Fe, 873 miles away,
before reinforcements could be sent from Chihuahua. To supply
Kearny's troops with food, clothing, equipment, and munitions on
the unprecedented march and for a year after their arrival at their
destination, required 900 wagons, 10,000 oxen and mules, and 1,000
teamsters. Under the time-honored method, the government pro-
vided the wagons and animals and hired civilian drivers. During
the fiscal year 1846-1847, 459 horses, 3,658 mules, 14,904 oxen, 1,556
wagons, and 516 packsaddles were used in supplying Kearny's army
and reinforcements sent out to New Mexico under Col. Sterling
Price. 38

Although the customary method of transporting military stores
for the army had always given satisfaction elsewhere, it proved
almost a total failure in supplying the troops in New Mexico in
1846-1847. The principal reasons were lack of experience in han-
dling wagon trains on the part of officers in the quartermaster's de-
partment, the ignorance of drivers, Indian depredations, and the
hard fact that freighting upon the Santa Fe trail was entirely dif-
ferent from anything the army had ever undertaken. While the
officers in that department struggled heroically to perform an im-
possible task they observed that the traders' caravans left the Mis-
souri river on schedule, rolled along successfully day after day, had

38. Settle and Settle, Empire on Wheels, pp. 12, 13.

37. Theo. S. Case, History of Kansas City, Missouri (Syracuse, N. Y., 1888), pp. 32, 33;
Aull, "Letter Book IV," March 7, 1848; Lafayette county circuit court, "Civil Record "
Book 8, p. 133.

Online LibraryKansas State Historical SocietyThe Kansas historical quarterly (Volume 26) → online text (page 41 of 59)