Where the West Started Gettin' Wild : Saint Joseph, Missouri

No horsin' around--if you find yourself about an hour north of Kansas City, jump off of the highway to the place where the famous Pony Express had its start (and headquarters) and the where infamous outlaw Jesse James had his end.  Saint Joseph, Missouri is a museum of a town for all things Western, wild, and wet (okay, not really wet, but did I mention that it is located on the scenic Missouri river?)!   It's a quirky little city where saying things like "feller" and "hootenanny" don't seem entirely out of place.

My pal, Morgan, and I decided to get our old-timey fix on an afternoon romp to St. Joe. As all tourist information on the city will tell you, the Patee House museum is THE must-do while here, which sounded pretty good to us.  Built in 1858 as a luxury hotel out in the middle of nowhere the prairie, the hotel became the official headquarters for the Pony Express in 1860, and eventually housed family members of Jesse James (including his wife) after he was murdered.




Nowadays, the Patee House has two floors which are open to the public and bursting with information, artifacts, and displays on the hotel's history, the Pony Express, America's Wild West and resulting expansion, and well as other curiosities of innovation, progress, and nostalgia.  It's jam-packed with all kinds of interesting things to transport you to bygone eras, and is pretty kid-friendly, too, if you've got tykes you need to let loose for a bit.  My recommendation--head to the display of old, local murder weapons (including an electric drill) that'll make you realize that the saying "What's wrong with people nowadays?" isn't as recent as you'd expect! 

To top it all off, the lovely ladies who volunteer at the front are full of facts, information, and a whole lotta good 'ol Missouri hospitality!


One of my faves:  an entire porch and pretty stained glass window saved from one of St. Joe's historic Victorian homes:


At last--Baberham Lincoln:


There's even a fun little scavenger hunt throughout the displays which, if you finish, will yeild you a piece of stock in the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad (since that particular railroad is now defunct, however, I don't recommend adding it to your portfolio):


Just around the corner from the Patee is one of St. Joe's most famous quirky sites:  the home in which Jesse James was murdered.  Jesse was one of the most famous outlaws during the late 1800s, and gained his notoriety through bank and train robberies, with the occasional murder thrown in for good criminal measure.  Nevertheless, as he thrived on the heels of the Civil War in divided Missouri, there were still plenty of kooky people out there to offer enough support to garner him celebrity status.  Thus, when he was shot in the back of the head by one of his own fellow gang members in this house (for the $10,000 reward placed on his head), the fellow was actually arrested for first degree murder rather than being hailed as a hero!


The bullet that killed Jesse entered the back of his head, exited out near his eye, and created a tourist attraction in the wall that people have been coming to see since 1882:  the famed bullet hole.  For 50 of those years, people were allowed to touch, poke, and prod the hole, and now it looks like Jesse was hit with a rock rather than a bullet; fortunately, it's covered by a clear glass frame today, and is on display along with the gun, family relics and photographs, and pieces of his coffin and skull from his 1995 exhumation.  Innnnnteresting...


A brisk walk a couple of blocks away from the Patee House and the Jesse James house is the Pony Express Museum, housed in the former stables that marked the eastern terminus of the Pony Express and housed the westward-bound horses.  With our day running short, we didn't make it in, but heard that it has fantastic and interactive displays, memorabilia, and info on that interesting bit of Americana (the excellent mid-century Pony Express Motel sign that was saved is plopped in the back yard of the stables as well)


One of the features that I can definitely see myself returning to St. Joseph for is its incredible collection of historic Victorian (and other turn-of-the-century) mansions.  Numbering in the hundreds and spread over a few historic districts, architecture buffs could really make a drool-worthy weekend trip out of 'em.

If you want to get inside a piece of St. Joe's marvelous historic home history for not a lot of dinero, make a plan to eat at Barbosa's Castillo Mexican Restaurant, which occupies the 1891 Moss family residence and which, at the time, was described as a "fabled castle of fantastic medievalism."  Cool!  The food might not be the best Mexican you've ever had (especially if you've been south of the border), but the margaritas are, and the price you pay to nosh is worth poking around inside this beauty!


Our last photographic stop on our short visit was by the 1927 Missouri Theater, a beautiful gem and great example of the Hollywood-Oriental style.  Sigh.  They really, really, really don't make them like they used to.


With a bajillion more museums that we didn't even touch (including the Glore Psychiatric Museum housed in the former State  Lunatic Asalyum No. 2), it wasn't our most complete visit to a place ever.  However, from our short time there, I can positively say that St. Joseph is a pretty cool place to get your history on with a few of your favorite buckaroos.