By Diane Euston
In the 1980s, an endearing, tall, skinny man donned in a red and white striped shirt, round glasses and blue pants captured the nation. Where’s Waldo? became a sensation where children and adults alike searched crowded, cartoon scenes for Waldo.
A neighborhood in South Kansas City bears this name and embraces the Where’s Waldo? image here and there – even though the community is pretty protective of their history, regardless of the fact that Waldo was never incorporated into a town.
Ask a Waldonian where the boundaries of their unique, eclectic community are, and you will be told, very insistently, that Waldo is contained within the area of Gregory Blvd. to the north, 85th St. to the south, State Line to the west and Holmes to the east.
I live just south of these restrictive, invisible boundaries, and a Waldonian once got up in arms when I claimed over a beer that I lived in Waldo. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I did not live in Waldo. I was an outsider. So, I told him with a smile that I lived in South Waldo.
Well, I have some news. The namesake of Waldo never lived within these protected, proud boundaries, and even more interestingly, his land only stretched into a small section of the Waldo community today.
But where – or more importantly- Who is Waldo?
From Virginia to Missouri
David Waldo was born in 1802 in Harrison County, Virginia to parents Jedediah and Polly. One of 12 children, David was not especially focused on the farming life he grew up around. Self-taught and quite brilliant, he wanted to make his own fortune.
At the age of 18, David, accompanied by two brothers, moved to Gasconade County, Missouri and immediately made a positive impression on the newly-organized county.
David served in a variety of positions in his new home including county assessor, clerk of the circuit court and postmaster.
While serving as postmaster, many members of the community were illiterate. When they would receive letters from family, Waldo, according to friend John F. Darby, “was compelled to read the letters to them, and not infrequently he would be called upon to write answers, all of which he would do with his accustomed courtesy and kindness.”
After saving his money, David temporarily left Gasconade County in 1826 to study medicine at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky. After one year, David obtained his medical license and returned to Missouri to establish his new profession in Gasconade.
A Mexican Citizen
Dr. Waldo decided to invest his money in land speculation and trade. He purchased land throughout Missouri and in Arkansas Territory, and as early as 1828, he purchased land in Jackson County, Mo.
In the summer of 1828, David decided to visit Taos in Mexico (now New Mexico). There, he met Santa Fe traders and was convinced that investing in the Santa Fe trade would be profitable. He partnered up with traders and bought goods from caravans and traded for mules. He also practiced medicine and “became the first American-trained physician to practice in Santa Fe and Taos.”
After making some profit, David Waldo returned to Gasconade County and partnered with his younger brother, William and Charles and William Bent in 1829. Their caravan included 38 wagons and 79 men; despite an attack by Indians, they successfully delivered their goods in New Mexico.
Despite living in Gasconade, David would leave every year for a trading expedition, quickly building his reputation as a successful businessman and trader.
Of course, there were hurdles with trading in Mexico. In order to ease the restrictions the Mexican government placed on American traders, Dr. David Waldo applied for Mexican citizenship. He claimed he wanted to remain there “and live permanently under Mexico’s laws, customs and manners.”
Raised a Protestant, David even went as far as to be baptized in 1831 in the Catholic church to further increase his chances of citizenship. Now a Catholic, fluent in Spanish and connected to various well-known traders, David had numerous business advantages others lacked. In private, however, “his religion remained Protestant.”
Even though he was given Mexican citizenship, David made no action to relinquish his American citizenship and never promised to relinquish it.
Three brothers, Daniel, Lawrence and William, worked for him in various capacities, at some times pasturing mules and at other times transporting goods for trade.
By the early 1840s, David was spending most of his time in Jackson County, Mo. as he increased his landholdings in the area. In 1841, he purchased the first of his tracks of land near the current-day Waldo neighborhood. It included land at current-day 75th St. between Wornall and Oak St.
David convinced his younger brother, Lawrence and his wife to manage his Mexican horses on the land purchased. Lawrence purchased land for $1.25 an acre extending from 59th to 63rd St from Wornall to Oak St. in 1843 where he built a five-room log cabin near the northeast corner of 63rd and Walnut. “[Lawrence] Waldo, with a basket of walnuts in his arm, punched holes in the rich soil and dropped a walnut in each hole,” the Kansas City Star explained in 1934. “His intent [was] to grow a tree shelter to protect his home from the severe north winds.”
Lawrence didn’t stay on the land too long before he opted to move from pasturing mules to overland freighting. David Waldo continued to increase his landholdings to over 1,000 acres, 240 acres of it around current-day State Line Rd. to Ward Parkway from 67th St. to 75th St. The bulk of the rest of the land was at the heart of current-day Brookside.
The Mexican-American War
After the United States annexed Texas in 1845, tensions between Mexico and the United States were at an all-time high. In May 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico and there was a call for able-bodied soldiers. David Waldo probably welcomed the war, knowing that if the United States was successful, he would become richer from higher trading profits.
Dr. David Waldo answered the call for soldiers in Independence, Mo. and enlisted into service for one year. He was elected captain of Company A of Missouri Mounted Volunteers attached to Col. Alexander W. Doniphan.
His devotion to the cause was likely increased when he found out that his brother, Lawrence, was killed by Mexican revolutionaries during the Taos revolt while leading a caravan. His friend and territorial governor, Charles Bent, was also killed during the same uprising.
David was able to utilize his bilingual skills to translate documents captured from the Mexican government.
In February 1848, the war ended and the soldiers from Missouri returned to a large victory parade in St. Louis. When David Waldo and other soldiers made their way to Independence, “they again were honored by the proud citizens of that community.”
Permanently Settled in Independence
David Waldo’s primary goal was always to become rich and self-sufficient. In 1848, he partnered with James Brown, Silas Woodson, and John and William McCoy to land contracts to transport goods for the army to their numerous posts out west. Settling in Independence only made sense, as for a long time it was the center of western trade on the Santa Fe Trail.
At 47 years old, Dr. David Waldo finally focused on finding a wife. In 1849, he married 27-year-old Eliza J. Norris (1822-1880). Despite that his wife was “severely weakened from severe asthmatic attacks,” she had three girls and two boys: William, (b. 1849), Olive (b. 1851), David, Jr. (b. 1853), Minnie (b. 1856) and Lula (b. 1860).
From 1850 to 1854, David operated Waldo, Hall and Company which landed a contract to supply the mail from Independence to Santa Fe. This company also carried supplies and people across Indian Territory. The company wasn’t very profitable, so David chose to not continue the venture and focused once again on land speculation.
In 1857, David purchased a home built by James T. Thornton for his family. The six-room home sat at current-day 1018 W. Waldo Ave. in Independence. He improved the home, creating French windows, high ceilings and impressive fireplaces. At 55 years old, David paused and reflected on his life in his personal journal, finding it strange that he spent “most of his life in the earnest pursuit of wealth.”
His youngest daughter, Lula, wrote, “[My father’s] mental faculties were marked by great strength, breadth and quickness; his heart, like his intellect, was large, vivid and keenly sensitive; his imagination far-reaching and brilliant.”
David owned over 2,400 acres and could not see his own success. By 1860, the value of his real estate had grown to $150,000 and his personal property was valued at $75,000. He enslaved eight people yet saw the moral dilemma of owning human beings. He wrote to his brother, Daniel, in 1851 that he was “so heartily sick of slave labor that I should like to where there is no involuntary servitude.”
During the Civil War, despite his history of enslavement, David Waldo sided with the Union and was viewed as an ally of the Union. He had invested in a bank in Independence, and according to his family, he grew worried during the war of its deposits. David opted to put the money in sacks, and, “dressed like a woman, hung the money in wells for safekeeping.”
The plan worked, and the money was saved from pillaging by Quantrill and other Confederates.
Dr. Waldo’s Mental Decline
The Civil War had permanent negative effects on David’s life, and those closest to him saw signs of his mental instability for years. Even as he battled with thoughts of suicide and delusions, he maintained a positive rapport with community leaders and continued managing his extensive landholdings.
In 1867, his nephew, Waldo P. Johnson wrote that David had slowly sunk into insanity “but on account of his great business capacity, it was not suspected by his intimate friends, and even now, he exhibits on some subjects remarkable ability, and clearness of perception.”
His insanity grew, and his family admitted Dr. David Waldo more than once to the Fulton Asylum, noting he “had a strong predisposition to suicide.” He also sometimes thought he was broke and suffered from delusions. After a second trip to the Fulton Asylum, Dr. Waldo was deemed “cured” and sent home.
His health declined further in the 1870s, and David used morphine to help him sleep. On Sunday, May 20, 1878, his son, David, Jr. came home from church and went in search of matches to light a lamp.
His father’s door was slightly open – an unusual occurrence. Dr. Waldo locked his door at night. After David, Jr. struck a light, he found his father breathing very heavily in bed. He couldn’t wake him, so he called for the doctor.
Drs. Bryant and Jackson showed up and were unable to wake up David Waldo. He had overdosed on morphine, and within minutes, passed away. He was 76 years old.
His daughter, Lula later wrote, “He was a constant reader, genial and social, and of sunny nature. . . a grand, noble man.”
The Namesake of Waldo
Dr. David Waldo didn’t live nearly long enough to see his name placed on a community with a unique identity in Kansas City, but his extensive landholdings remained for his five children to split among them.
His oldest daughter, Olive Waldo Hinkle (1851-1921) remained on part of the original tract purchased by her uncle, Lawrence Waldo. After Lawrence’s death, Dr. David Waldo purchased his landholdings where the walnut grove, orchard and log cabin stood between 59th and 62nd Streets between Main and Oak.
In May 1911, 52 acres of this land was sold by Olive for $2,750 an acre! She held onto 20 acres of the Waldo homestead where the house, grove and orchard still remained at 63rd and Walnut. That grove of walnut trees was well-known in this growing suburb of Kansas City and was a landmark. “From far over across the Kansas line the grove is a landmark, and in earlier times was a guide for travelers,” the Kansas City Star wrote in 1913.
Olive built herself a new “elegant home” adjacent to the grove on the northeast corner of 63rd and Walnut and maintained an additional 10 acres for her daughters to build homes.
The home where Dr. David Waldo and his family lived for decades at 1018 W. Waldo Ave. in Independence was razed in 1941 to make room for a new home.
Although he never lived on the land and never owned portions of the land which now bears his name in South Kansas City, the life and legacy of Dr. David Waldo is worth mentioning.
From letters and journal entries which do survive, historian James W. Goodrich stated, “He constantly worried about [his children’s] outlooks on life and he seemed to have little hope for any of them amounting to anything, except his youngest daughter.”
What happened to David Waldo’s children to make him have such a negative outlook on their futures? How did they manage the thousands of acres left for them in his will?
David Waldo’s legacy did continue after his death, and in the next issue of the Martin City Telegraph, we will take a look into what happened to his other children and their impact on the never-incorporated but well-known community of Waldo.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to http://www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com