A map showing the location of the Potawatomi reservation in current-day Miami County, Kansas. Image courtesy of Dolores J. Rush

From the Pottawatomi to Portland: The story of one pioneer’s time in South Kansas City

Anthony Davis settled just off the Santa Fe Trail yet remained unsettled most of his life.

By Diane Euston

  Stories are a-plenty when it comes to the lives and legacies of the men and women who chose, even for a small amount of time, to make their home in current-day South Kansas City.

  It always is amazing to me that these pioneers didn’t even blink an eye when it came to moving to unchartered territory- the Wild West. I suppose these men and women had nothing to lose and everything to gain. But the mere thought of surviving off of my Girl Scout skills of knot tying and fire building wouldn’t have cut it back in these days.

  What would possess people to leave everything behind? Why leave the only place you’ve ever known? Why risk everything?

  The answer, actually, is quite simple. Men like Anthony Davis (1794-1866) settled for a short time in our neck of the woods for one reason: cheap land.

Land Up for Sale

  In the mid-1850s, thousands of men with their families in tow were motivated by miles and miles of acreage. By 1860, the United States held 1.6 billion acres of land- most of it available for purchase. The Louisiana Purchase had added massive amounts of land that the government couldn’t get rid of through sales fast enough.

  Acreage was currency – the gift of the new frontier. No one was willing to risk it all without the distinct probability that the land up for the taking was worth it.

  According to the Land Ordinance of 1785, all territory west of the Appalachian Mountains was to be settled in an “orderly” way. The government hired surveyors to comb the land and divide it into townships that are, for the most part, six miles square with 36 sections per township. Land had to be surveyed before it could be sold.

  Have you ever thought about how our current streets were platted? They usually run through the split between one section or another- both north and south, west and east. If you look at a Google map overview, especially in Johnson Co., Ks., you can see how these major streets we are familiar with make up perfect squares. 

This image shows the way in which the Land Ordinance of 1785
was surveyed and divided into townships within counties.

  Washington Township, where the now-demolished town of New Santa Fe (current-day Santa Fe Trail and State Line Rd.), Martin City, Grandview and Hickman’s Mills are located, was known as one of the “Lost Townships.” The story repeated in history books states that the surveyor of the land in the 1820s may have had a little bit too much fun interacting with Native Americans near the Blue River, and he passed out from drunkenness, losing his field notes in the process. 

  In order to cover his tracks, he reported to the government that the land was not inhabitable, so it didn’t need to be surveyed. Because of this, legal settlement of the area was delayed for about 20 years.

  Mind you, some people didn’t mind breaking the law if it meant a better way of life. So, even before land could be entered as sold, some people chose to squat on the land. 

  I’ve always been especially curious about Section 18 because of what it currently contains. Today, it makes up Timber Trace subdivision, Blue Hills Country Club, Blue Hills subdivision and an old, historic home that once served as a tavern on the Santa Fe Trail. My quest led me to an interesting story about one of the earliest settlers of this section – a guy who was only here for a short amount of time – but with an intriguing story.

Anthony Davis, Indian Agent

  Anthony Davis, born in Washington Co., Ky. In 1794, was a man with multiple interests and ambitions. The biggest of his desires was to serve as an Indian agent in both Indiana and Kansas Territory.

  Unlike most pioneer settlers, Anthony Davis decided to move west for a pretty important job. He didn’t uproot his family in hopes of finding the land of milk and honey – he already had the hard part completed.

  He was employed. Most of the men who chose to settle our area were farmers; they relied upon the land they settled to ensure they could eat.

  As a young man, Anthony moved to Indiana with his family. His first wife, Margaret died in 1830, leaving him a widow with two children. By 1834, he was married to his second wife, Jane and had three more children born between 1834 and 1838. He moved to the area that is now known as Fort Wayne and helped establish the town there.

  According to the Indiana Magazine of History, Davis was the first clerk of the court, held offices in the area and served as a state representative in 1829 and 1830. Davis St. in Fort Wayne is named after him. He worked as a merchant in the town and began to sell supplies to the Indian agency nearby.

The Potawatomi 

  In 1834, Davis was appointed as Indian agent to the emigrating Potawatomi tribe. Four years later, the Potawatomi were to be settled west of the Mississippi River, Anthony Davis was appointed as sub-agent. Anthony was front and center of the massive resettlement of the Potawatomi to areas west of current-day Kansas City.

  He was put in charge of the new reservation near the Maris de Cygnes River in present-day Miami Co., Ks. where they were given a meager 29 square miles to settle. Stationed at Ft. Leavenworth, Anthony would have been in charge of giving supplies to the Potawatomi, helped them build permanent residences, set up a blacksmith shop, hired an interpreter and a teacher.

   In 1837, the reservation was surveyed. Some, but not all of the Potawatomi had peacefully removed to Kansas Territory. 

A map showing the location of the Potawatomi reservation in current-day Miami County, Kansas.
Image courtesy of Dolores J. Rush

  One Potawatomi village in Indiana consisting of 859 people had refused to follow the directions of the treaty. With the help of armed militia, these men, women and children were involuntarily pushed off their lands in 1838. A 650-mile journey from Indiana to near current-day Osawatomie, Kansas began.

  With them were 106 armed soldiers. It took 61 days to walk under dusty, dry and treacherous conditions. Out of the 859 Native Americans recorded, 42 Potawatomi perished on the journey- 28 of them being children. This removal became known as the Potawatomi Trail of Death.

  Waiting ready to greet them was Anthony Davis. 

  The sad saga of the Potawatomi unfortunately didn’t end in Miami Co., Ks. Soon after the Trail of Death, other bands of the tribe from the Council Bluffs area were “relocated,” too. 

  Some of those Potawatomi that were part of the Trail of Death were resettled west of Topeka. As white settlement infringed upon the lands promised to Native Americans, they were pushed off their land yet again.

  In 1867, one band of the tribe, the Prairie Band refused to sell and stayed on their land in Jackson Co., Ks. where they still have a reservation today.

Anthony’s Move to Missouri

  In 1846, Anthony Davis decided to purchase land in Missouri. He first purchased the northern half of section 18, and in 1848, he purchased the southern half for a total of 298 acres. This is land that is currently bordered by State Line Rd. to the west, Wornall to the east, approximately 122nd Terr. to the north and Blue Ridge Blvd. to the south. The land was in the shadows of the Santa Fe Trail.

The earliest known map of the area that survives is from 1843. The Santa Fe Trail and the road “From Independence to Harrisonville” is noted on the map. This map includes all the land which makes up Red Bridge, Hickman Mills, Grandview and Martin City. Courtesy Jackson County Historical Society.

  Deciphering what Anthony had on this land is very hard to determine, but when he sold his land in 1850, he sold it for a pretty large profit. 

  It could be that Anthony built the first structure in the area that served as a tavern on the Santa Fe Trail, as some records indicate that it was constructed in the 1840s. 

  Like so many of the trailblazers at the time, Anthony didn’t stay long. He sold his land in April 1850 to William S. Gregory (1825-1877), the man who served as first mayor of Kansas City and whose namesake, Gregory Blvd. runs through town.

  The farm sold for $3200, a hefty price for those days and a clue that there was more than just land included in the sale. 


1877 plat map showing the area that extends north to just past Red Bridge Road, south to the Cass County Line, east to State Line and west to approximately Raytown Rd. Current-day Martin City falls in Section 20. Map courtesy of Historic Map Works.

Heading Further West

  At the ripe old age of 56 (which was “old” at the time), Anthony ventured further west to Oregon Territory, settling in what is now Portland.

   In December 1850, he was already settled and running a boarding house in the Pacific Northwest. There, he helped organize the first public school in Portland in 1852 and was elected Justice of the Peace in 1854. He was then appointed a circuit judge in 1858.

  Don’t be too surprised that the historic district in Portland includes a Davis St. – named after good ol’ Anthony Davis. 

  Anthony died in 1866 leaving a lifelong legacy of a true trailblazer. His short time in the area of New Santa Fe in Jackson Co., Mo. helps to paint a true picture of the spirit of these men and women that once lived and cultivated the land where thousands of houses now stand.

Major Anthony Litsey Davis’ final resting place is at
Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery in Portland, Oregon

  Anthony Davis settled just off the Santa Fe Trail yet remained unsettled most of his life. Starting in Kentucky, pushing north to Indiana and then pushing out Native Americans to Kansas Territory, Anthony encompasses the true pioneer spirit of this era.

  His contribution to a pivotal area of the country, including Washington Township which make up many neighborhoods today, should be acknowledged. 

  We don’t have to agree with everything these pioneers did, but we should embrace every aspect of the history of our country so we can learn from the past and, hopefully, learn from our mistakes. 

  The swing of their hammer and the plunge of their shovels built the foundations of our community.

Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to http://www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com 



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