I’ve always been fascinated by history. My grandmother — who was born and raised in Plattsburg — was an avid genealogist and member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I grew up hearing her stories of both our ancestors from the U.K. and the general history of the United States, Europe and ancient Egypt.
Unlike my mom, who was not interested in the old stories, I had the knack of retaining the tales grandma told. As I grew, I started reading histories myself and even dabbled with the idea of majoring in history in college.
Obviously, I didn’t, but I’ve still had the luxury of dipping my toes in the water during my 20-plus years in journalism. During my time at the Citizen — 15 years next month if you can believe it — I’ve done quite a few historical features, including enough about the Kansas City, Clay County and St. Joseph Interurban Railway to fill an updated version of “Platte County’s Interurban” by Matt Kelsey, published by the Citizen in 2001.
So, when I was approached last week by Bee Creek Cafe and Bakery owner Dr. Steve Meirose about the first meeting of a burgeoning historical appreciation group I was immediately interested. That meeting was held Friday, June 21 at the cafe, with a respectable turnout.
The speakers at the informal event were historians Olin Miller and Shirley Kimsey — both of them well known to me and the Platte City community in general. Over the years, I popped into Kimsey’s shop on Main Street countless times during our years as her next door neighbor. She was always willing and able to either answer my historical questions or point me in the right direction. The same goes for Miller, and I fondly recall traveling with both of them to visit some of the nearly-forgotten African-American slave cemeteries on Kansas City International Airport property a decade ago.
Platte County played a significant role in the American Civil War, and Miller recounted the Battle of Bee Creek and its fallout for the audience, as detailed in William Paxton’s “Annals of Platte County Missouri.”
Bushwhacker Silas Gordon set up shop in northwest Missouri and in November 1861 camped on the Platte County Courthouse lawn with a group of his fellow anti-union guerrillas. The group stole county records and threatened to kill the district judge. Gordon also took control of Weston, briefly, and during a battle with union troops at Bee Creek killed two union soldiers.
In December 1861 Paxton details how union troops captured William Kuykendall, Black Triplett and Gabriel Close and held them prisoner in Platte City as retaliation for the union deaths. The troops built a large fire near the Baptist Church downtown and Paxton awoke at midnight with much of Platte City on fire. When residents and slaves thought the fire was out, it spread to the Platte County Courthouse. At that time, the union soldiers joined the fire fight to attempt to save the courthouse.
On Dec. 17, two of the prisoners — Triplett and Close — were taken to the site of the Bee Creek battle, near a bridge over the creek south of Weston. Close was shot and Triplett tried to flee, but fell in the mud and was killed by bayonet. His blood was used to scrawl the letters “U.S.” on the bridge.
“This grim memento of the war was there for many years,” Paxton wrote.
It’s this sort of history that many modern residents of Platte City are unaware, Meirose said. Between the pre-colonial native civilizations, the pioneer era and civil war, Jesse James and Bonnie and Clyde, Platte County has a unique place in American history, which he wants to help preserve.
Kimsey — in pioneer dress — spoke of her work to document all of Platte County’s 210 cemeteries and promised to share her adventures at an upcoming meeting.
Historical photos line the walls in Bee Creek Cafe, including one taken in 1942 of newly enlisted soldiers lined up for the draft. Meirose hopes to identify the faces in that photo, and in the coming weeks the Citizen will run the photo to attempt to help historians put names to those soldiers of the past.
Platte City and Weston have their own historical societies and museums, but perhaps an informal coffee house group such as this is just the ticket to make history more accessible to average citizens. I’m sure my grandmother would have approved, and I do, too.