Volunteers, many of them teenagers, planted more than 100 trees on Saturday at Platte Ridge Park north of Platte City. You wonder what history will pass beneath these trees? Some were planted not far from a giant stump, four feet wide or more, near a bench on the west side of the pond. This stump was once the base for a bur oak tree at least a few hundred years old or more. Looking west from the current shelter house and children’s play area, it towered over pasture and pond with wide, spreading limbs. The oak fell victim to age and disease in the 1980s and became a winter’s firewood supply. The tree planting was one of Platte County’s 175th anniversary events. They will help replace the old bur oak, a tree that witnessed some interesting people. This bur oak grew on a pasture edge near the top of a draw or small valley. The park land was sold by Jim Wren to the county, and Wren said a strong year-round spring was down in the valley. His ancestors eventually built a dam and pond for watering livestock that covered the spring. You wonder if before the county was settled, did Native Americans use that spring as a water source and camp site? Perhaps French trappers in the late 1700s followed the high ridge that runs north out of Tracy towards St. Joseph, when such a ridge held a trail that made traveling easier. The ridge is flanked by the Platte River and Bee Creek valleys, and travel by foot or horse is easier on such a ridge top. Later, engineers found the same. The old federal Highway 71 snaked north past the park entrance, which is now listed as off of Missouri 371, replaced by Interstate 29 farther east.
The old tree and the park land for sure knew pioneers. Another spring on the park’s northeast corner was near the highway, which likely dates to pioneer times. Historian W.M. Paxton in his Annals of Platte County and in his newspaper writings wrote about traveling to St. Joseph over land on horse. In the 1830s and 1840s, you either followed the Missouri River north or rode over the rolling hills. The hills may have been a more reliable and direct route. In the heart of the park, across the spring branch from where the big bur oak once stood, a farm house and barn stood for many years. They were old and unsafe, so the county removed then when the land became a park. But within the old frame house walls a log cabin was found. The big logs were hewn square. Some were saved for the base of the park’s shelter house on the site. The cabin was likely built shortly after the county was settled in 1837. I’m not sure the name for the first family to settle on the farm. More research remains to be done. But maps in the late 1800s show the Wren name on the property. Southwest of the home site, on private property near the park, is a small family cemetery. A granite tombstone marks the resting place for Susan Ramey Wren, who lived 1817 to 1905. She likely lived many years on the farm along with family. Also buried near her is her father and mother, John and Juda Wren. Their weathered tombstones are unreadable for me. I am indebted to Shirley Kimsey and her family cemetery studies for the names of others in the little plot. The cemetery is atop one of the highest hills in the area, closer to the heavens. John Ramey was born in 1791 in Virginia. Like many Platte County emigrants, his family made their next stop Kentucky before coming to Missouri. Paxton wrote that John and Juda “came to Platte in 1840, and settled on Second Creek, below Linkville, and entered a fine piece of prairie land.” They must have moved north later to live with Susan and family. Susan Ramey Wren had married in Kentucky, became a widow, and then followed her parents to Platte County. Gold fever in California drew her brothers to the far West. Lewis Ramey sold goods in Platte City and then went to California in 1850 at the peak of the Gold Rush. Paxton wrote that he “made a fortune by trade, and was frozen in a snow storm, leaving a large sack of gold in a tree where his body was found. The heirs here received large sums from his estate.” Susan’s sister, Melvina Ramey, married in 1846 James B. Martin, the youngest son of Zed Martin, the earliest pioneer at the Platte Falls crossing on the Platte River that later became Platte City, the county seat. She died a few years into the marriage. James B. Martin was “handsome, generous, festive and prodigal, he was surrounded by sycophants, who led him into vice,” Paxton wrote. Martin was involved in mills, the law, served as a judge and went into Kansas to run cattle. He was found dead in a shanty after a drinking binge. The Ramey and Wren families also had ties to the Gordon family. That perhaps meant ties to Si Gordon, the county’s most noted and feared southern-leaning guerilla fighter during the Civil War. Oh, the talk that must have gone on in the old farm house. What visitors tied a horse up to the fence or the cedar trees beside the house? Who rested under the old bur oak near the spring? So the volunteers on Saturday planted pawpaw trees, redbuds and bur oaks in honor of the park’s history and the county’s original natural landscape. What stories will unfold beneath their branches? Hopefully they will be tales of joggers, hikers and lovers, not Civil War fighters. But history is quite unpredictable, so stories we never thought possible may have happened when the oaks reach a good size, say 175 years from now. Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.