The Lipscombs, a log cabin, and a legacy lost
By Diane Euston
Havoc along the invisible line between Missouri and Kansas during the Border Wars and the Civil War is hard for us to imagine today. But almost 160 years ago, one man with deep Southern roots stood on guard at his farm just south of Watts Mill. He was an enemy of the Union and had tested the boundaries too many times.
This man, in the middle of the night, had his loyalties tested in front of his 13-year-old son. Order No. 11 was forcing evacuation of all residents living in Jackson Co. who would not swear loyalty to the Union. On that fateful night in August 1863, the Jayhawkers stormed his land and hung him from a nearby tree in order to force information out of him. They strung him up several times, waiting for him to cough out the information they sought.
This man’s story is one that is all too common for pioneers in southern Jackson Co. and to tell this right, we have to start at the beginning.
The Lipscomb and Harris Families
Joel Lipscomb, born October 11, 1813, in Madison Co., Kentucky, moved to Missouri along with two of his siblings. They were part of a mass exodus from this area to Jackson Co. in the 1830s.
Also part of these Kentuckians who decided to move was Colonel John “Jack” Harris (1795-1874) and his wife, Henrietta Simpson. In 1832, with six children in tow, they moved across the plains and into the soon-to-be platted town of Westport.
Harris would later operate the Harris House Hotel on the corner of Westport and Pennsylvania. (His Southern colonial mansion home at Westport and Main St. was later dismantled and moved to its current location, now known as the Harris-Kearney House.)
Lipscomb married Harris’s second oldest daughter, Henrietta, in 1840.
Lipscomb and his wife moved near his brother’s farm in New Santa Fe (current day Verona Hills subdivision). He tilled the land from approximately Carondelet to the north, 115th Street to the south, State Line to the west and Wornall to the east, owning six slaves ranging from age 22 to just two years old.
By 1856, he and his wife had seven children: William, Nathan, Louisa, Frances, John Harris, Bernard and James. Two additional children died as toddlers.
In an article in 1934, daughter Frances Lipscomb-Hickman (1847-1944) estimated her father’s worth prior to the Civil War was over $60,000, which equates to over $1.5 million in today’s money. He built a large brick home for his growing family and had at least one slave cabin on his land.
The Border Wars
Lipscomb was a supporter of the Southern cause, and during the Border Wars, he was the victim of its vengeance. An article published in February 1858 mentions that his home was burned by the Jayhawkers.
One year later, Lipscomb’s wife and newborn daughter died. His house was gone. His wife and three children were buried in the ground nearby. Lipscomb was left with seven children to care for on the brink of the biggest war the country had ever seen.
With fresh deaths on his hands and no one to rear his children, Lipscomb sent his two oldest daughters, Frances and Louisa, to Christian College (now named Columbia College) in Columbia, Mo. The girls intended to take the full three-year course, but the waging war was on the horizon and quickly changed their plans.
The Civil War
In the Spring of 1861, Lipscomb was set on getting his daughters home to safety. His two oldest sons, William and Nathan, chose to join the Confederate fight. William lost his life at the Battle of Vicksburg in June 1863.
After the Lawrence Massacre in August 1863, all Southern sympathizers were under serious suspicion. In order to keep his children safe, he sent his younger children to Westport to live with John and Henrietta Harris. John Harris Lipscomb, his 13-year-old son, stayed with his father.
General Order No. 11 forced the evacuation of Jackson, Cass, Bates and part of Vernon County. Unless you lived within one mile of Westport, Hickman’s Mill, Independence or Harrisonville, you were forced to leave your land.
Lipscomb hadn’t gotten out of his home with his seven slaves when the Jayhawkers showed up in the middle of the night at his front door. They took furniture out of the house, smashing into pieces. Lipscomb was pushed out of the home by the soldiers and they threw a noose over a nearby tree.
His son John had a front row seat as his father was interrogated. They strung him up three times in order to try to get information out of him. Miraculously, he survived. He sent his son to his in-laws home in Westport, loaded what possessions he had left (including his slaves) and headed to Texas.
Returning to Ruins
Lipscomb’s son Nathan met him in Texas at the close of the Civil War. Investing heavily in Confederate bonds, Lipscomb had a fragment of his wealth left. Around Christmas 1865, Lipscomb and his son returned to the farm in Jackson Co. with all of their emancipated slaves.
His son Harris wrote, “Since they weren’t slaves anymore, Father had to pay them a wage for working on the farm. They didn’t stay put long, and in two weeks all were gone, except Nancy who stayed to watch after the girls and tend the house. Father paid her $10.00 a month until the money ran out, then my sisters did the cleaning and the cooking.”
When he returned to his home, he found it to be completely destroyed. The only thing that seemed to have been left standing on his land was the cabin he had fashioned for his slaves. So that was where he stayed, with all seven of his surviving children. According to his daughter, Lipscomb borrowed money at 24 percent interest in order to rebuild.
As his children grew, most marrying and moving out of his home, Lipscomb reverted to a peaceful life. Just after Christmas in 1893, at the ripe age of 82 and 30 years after he fled to Texas in fear of his life, he died suddenly at his home–the former slave cabin–of heart disease.
In his obituary in the Kansas City Star, it is stated, “He was an honest man, one of strong character, and was highly esteemed by his neighbors.”
The Slave Cabin Stood?
Around 1906, the Lipscombs let go of their father’s land.
His quaint shanty home stood less than 50 yards from State Line Rd., abandoned and almost forgotten. In 1930, a group of ladies looking for a place to picnic and enjoy the countryside stumbled upon a little house in need of repair. With the help of a group, they “cleaned, painted and decorated it.” They aptly nicknamed it “the shack.”
Why did this excite me so much? Well, because of the hostility along the border and suburban development, we have practically no pre-Civil War structures still standing. Could the Lipscomb home– once a slave cabin–still be standing today?
I set out to research in order to find out. Newspaper articles told me that the little old Lipscomb log cabin, originally erected for slaves, got an intense makeover in 1941 when Jennie Sweet, a Kansas City socialite, decided to take a risk on the old, rickety house. She did a complete overhaul of the place. As it was fashionable at the time, she bought it to be a summer home.
She added a bedroom to the west side of the structure and enlarged the south porch. Jennie was careful to reuse many of the old fixtures, preserved the floor and the old stone fireplace. She even preserved the original stone steps.
I traced the home to a purchase in 1964 by a woman named Marianne. She lived there until she sold the home in 1990. A few years ago, I found 80-year-old Marianne living in Georgia and gave her a call. She explained with explicit detail what she remembered about the old Lipscomb home she lived in. There was an uneven wood floor in the oldest section and the basement timbers were made from hand-hewn wood. There was a fireplace that stood in the main living area, and under the walls, the original structure could be clearly seen.
I still held onto hope that the old Lipscomb slave cabin could still be standing, so I asked her what happened to the home after she sold it. Did I just rediscover a lost piece of history hidden under a more modern structure?
Marianne explained that the people who bought the home weren’t “interested” in its history. After she sold it to them, they sold it a year later to a man with a mission–he was going to build a mansion in its place.
The new owner demolished the historic slave cabin in 1992 to make room for a home that now stands at 11045 State Line Rd.
The Legacy Today
Joel Lipscomb’s family was paramount in the history of Jackson County, Westport and even Kansas City. The repayment for their unrequited devotion to the area is that development devoured any true and lasting trace of the Lipscomb legacy. Even the Lipscomb cemetery where Joel and his wife were buried that once sat off Red Bridge Rd. has vanished. Today, we do have part of the Lipscomb legacy left to appreciate. Joel’s son, John Harris Lipscomb, was one of the founders of Martin City.
Hopefully this story captures you the way it did me and proves the importance of halting the destruction of historic places. Hopefully, you have absorbed some of the amazing stories that encompass Joel Lipscomb’s life. And maybe, just maybe, we can make sure that these legacies live on through storytelling and acknowledgement that the land we live on has had a life even before we called it home.
That’s been my goal all along.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com.