Mobillion McGee’s Million Dollar Ideas Shaped Early Kansas City
By Diane Euston
The early history of Kansas City and the area would have taken a drastic turn without the influence of the McGee family. Mobillion W. McGee, born on Christmas Day 1817, has a story to tell that is just as unique as his name. At 11 years old, with his parents James H. and Eleanor and six siblings, they settled on land that would become the heart of the city.
After inheriting some land from his father’s estate in 1840, Mobillion started to make a name for himself in Jackson County. Four years later he married Mary E. Ward and settled on 60 acres of land near blossoming Westport. His homestead sat between Broadway and Central just south of 32nd Street. This land, named “McGee’s Summit,” was platted in 1871 by the subject and today is the heart of Midtown.
Mobillion followed in the steps of younger brother Milt and joined the Seminole Wars in Florida in 1847. He was most likely drawn to participating because of his knowledge of the Native American languages.
The McGees were strong pro-slavery supporters in the area, and Mobillion preferred to stay mobile. He made at least one trip west on the trails to seek out more fortune. On a return trip, he and his brother Fry could see an opportunity that existed not too far from home.
In August 1854, just months after Kansas was opened up to white settlement, Mobillion and Fry purchased property at a crossing on the Santa Fe Trail. Known as 110-Mile Creek, their new land was named for its distance of 110 miles from Fort Osage, Mo. Mobillion returned to the Kansas City area and Fry maintained operations of their tavern and a toll bridge known as “McGee’s Crossing” in Osage County, Kan.
On March 30, 1855, while the area was under pressure from the Border Wars, Mobillion rounded up his friends and hiked the miles to Osage County to storm Kansas Territory, drink some booze and vote illegally in order to ensure that those “elected” would make certain Kansas was a slave state. Those illegal votes elected Mobillion into the Kansas Territorial Legislature, even though he clearly lived in Missouri.
Out of 597 votes cast that day in this precinct, only 13 were said to be from legal voters.
There once was a McGee County in Kansas Territory named for Mobillion–this member of the Bogus Legislature who was elected by his Missouri-resident friends. In 1860 the Free State Legislature voted to change the name to Cherokee County, a name it holds to this day.
While still trying to safeguard that Kansas would become a slave state, Mobillion hatched an interesting plan that today boggles the mind. With help from his friend Robert T. Van Horn, owner of the Enterprise newspaper, they attempted to establish the new Town of Kansas in Kansas.
Van Horn and Mobillion fought to move the western border of Missouri to the Blue River, meaning that all property to the west, including Westport and the future site of Kansas City, would be part of Kansas Territory. Even land that now includes Martin City would have been included in this proposition.
Mobillion’s rationale was simple. This specific area west of the Blue River was heavily saturated with pro-slavery sentiments. When the elections decided by popular sovereignty were held, it would mean that this “new” boundary of Kansas Territory would include hundreds, if not thousands, of pro-slavery men. Needless to state, his plan did not succeed.
Mobillion officially returned to the Kansas City area during the Civil War. In 1882 he traveled to Los Angeles County for health reasons and purchased an orange grove. He then platted part of this land into what would be known later as Pasadena. In one section he built an impressive home that entertained the Kansas City elite looking to escape to palm trees, sun and a needed vacation.
A member of the Knights Templar in Pasadena, Mobillion died June 11, 1888 and was loaded onto a railroad car for a final trip east to Kansas City. One week later, he was buried at Elmwood Cemetery next to his family.
Although he never had his own children, he did have an adoptive daughter named Josephine Angelo Brown. A small leather-bound photo album belonging to Mobillion passed to her and then to her family where it remained virtually undiscovered until an interested family member brought this album back into the light.
Today this album of early Kansas City pioneers is a treasure. Packed full with photos of some of the most prominent families of the era, the album showcases how Mobillion’s vested interest in Kansas City and its people played an important role in the area’s controversial early history.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to http://www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com