Historic Jackson County Jail: Independence, MO
Our next couple of stops on the Border War Tour will take us to Independence, Missouri. Today, we will visit the Jackson County Jail and the next stop will be on the Independence Square for the First Battle of Independence.
The Jackson County Jail is tricky to find if you don’t keep your eyes peeled. It is on North Main Street, which is just north of the northeast corner of Square. The building is nondescript with very little signage. The entrance is on the south side of the building through a small gap in the buildings, which is easy to miss. There is an admission cost of $6 per adult.
The building is divided into three parts with the Marshall’s home in the front, the jail cells in the middle and a museum display section in the back. The Marshall and his family lived in the front while watching over and feeding the prisoners in back. There are two doors in the front of the building, one for the Marshall’s office and the other for the family entrance. The Marshall was paid about $50 per month plus the use of the house, for his services as Marshall. The family rooms are about what you would expect from a building built and furnished in 1859. The jail cells are small and barren often housing as many as 10 prisoners at a time. The prisoners slept on the floor often having to take turns sleeping as there was not enough room for all of them to lay down at the same time.
On December 10, 1860, 19-year-old William Quantrill, fresh off betraying a group of Kansans that he organized to raid Morgan Walkers farm was held in the jail for “his own protection”. Quantrill had organized the raid while living in Lawrence, only to betray his fellow raiders by informing Walker and his neighbors that the raiders were coming. The Kansans in the raiding party were all killed, and Quantrill, with support from Morgan Walker, was taken into protective custody at the jail. In a few days Quantrill was released with Walker pleading with a lynch mob on the Independence Square for Quantrill’s life. More on this story can be found in my book, Moonlit Mayhem, which can be purchased at www.jonathanjonesauthor.com.
Frank James, brother of Jesse and member of the famous James Gang, also spent time in the jail in 1882. His cell is on display and looks quite different from the cell of a regular prisoner. Frank James was a celebrity in western Missouri even after he surrendered to the Missouri Governor with the understanding that he would not be extradited to Northfield, Minnesota.
Frank James lived a pretty good life during his time at the jail. His cell had expensive rugs and furniture. The door was never locked and Frank had free roam of the jail building while he was in residence. James even hosted card parties in jail during his “confinement”. After his three months at the Jackson County Jail, James was sent to the Gallatin, Missouri jail where he waited for his trial for only two robberies. He was eventually acquitted on both counts and released, never to be tried again for any of the crimes committed by the James gang.