When discussing the foundation of Kansas City, Missouri, one name stands out – John Calvin McCoy, a figure of immense importance, whose visionary efforts played a pivotal role in the establishment of the city. His undying spirit, foresight, and relentless dedication shaped a prosperous metropolis out of the wilderness, a testament to his legacy. So, today, we will pay homage to the man who founded our amazing city! Let’s get started!

Early Life and Influences

 John C. McCoy portrait from the 1800s

Born on September 28, 1811, in Vincennes, Indiana, John Calvin McCoy was raised in a setting that valued ambition, courage, and a commitment to service. His father, Reverend Isaac McCoy, was a dedicated Baptist missionary who spent most of his life working with Native American tribes, advocating for their rights and striving to improve their conditions. 

Isaac’s work took the family to various frontier locations, exposing young John to the realities and hardships of life on the American frontier. This challenging yet enriching upbringing played a key role in shaping McCoy’s resilience and tenacity, qualities that would later drive him to become the founder of Kansas City.

McCoy’s education was primarily managed by his parents, with a strong emphasis on self-reliance, morality, and the importance of community service. His father’s work with Native American tribes allowed him a unique perspective on their culture, struggles, and the adverse impacts of westward expansion on their lives. This early exposure to the realities of frontier life and the challenges faced by Native Americans played a significant role in developing his vision for the future city.

In 1828, when McCoy was seventeen, his father moved the family to the present-day Kansas City area to establish a Baptist mission among the Shawnee people. Here, McCoy found himself at the crossroads of various cultures – Native American, European, and American. The diversity he observed, the interactions he had, and the relationships he built during these formative years significantly influenced his worldview and instilled in him a strong sense of empathy and respect for cultural diversity.

McCoy also learned the importance of strategic location during his early years. The site chosen for the Shawnee Baptist Mission was along the Santa Fe Trail, a major trade route connecting Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. 

The consistent flow of people, goods, and ideas along this route gave McCoy a keen understanding of commerce and the immense potential that strategic trading locations held. This understanding would later prove crucial in McCoy’s decision to establish his trading post at Westport Landing and eventually the founding of Kansas City.

In essence, McCoy’s early life experiences and influences helped shape the man he would become. His upbringing at the frontier, his exposure to diverse cultures, and his understanding of commerce and strategic trade locations set the stage for his future endeavors. 

His father’s commitment to service and the resilience he learned during his formative years equipped him with the determination, vision, and tenacity he needed to transform his dreams into reality, culminating in the founding of Kansas City, Missouri.

The Indian Removal Act and McCoy’s Response

In 1830, a landmark piece of legislation radically transformed the American frontier: the Indian Removal Act. Spearheaded by President Andrew Jackson, this law aimed to relocate Native American tribes from their ancestral lands in the Southeastern United States to new lands west of the Mississippi River. 

This area, designated as “Indian Territory,” largely corresponds to present-day Oklahoma. The forced relocation resulted in a devastating journey, later known as the Trail of Tears, due to the immense suffering and death endured by the Native American tribes during the migration.

The impact of the Indian Removal Act on the frontier was immediate and profound. Land that was once home to numerous Native American tribes became available for white settlers, traders, and entrepreneurs. The Act sparked a westward expansion, leading to new settlements, trading posts, and the opening up of new routes for overland trails. 

However, it also led to a tragic displacement and loss of life among the Native American population, a fact that deeply resonated with McCoy, given his family’s longstanding association with Native American tribes.

John C. McCoy, then a young man of 19, recognized the profound implications of this act. The magnitude of the changes it would bring about and the opportunities it presented for growth and commerce in the region were not lost on him. 

In 1831, guided by his foresight and the experiences of his frontier upbringing, McCoy made a significant move. He relocated to the Indian Territory, marking the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey and his eventual role in the founding of Kansas City.

McCoy established a trading post at a strategic location near the junction of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers, an area known as Westport Landing. This trading post, initially meant to serve the relocated Native Americans, soon became a hub for settlers, trappers, and traders moving westward. Despite the grim circumstances leading to its creation, the post played a crucial role in the development of the region. It was the seed from which the city of Kansas would eventually grow.

McCoy’s response to the Indian Removal Act underscores his ability to perceive opportunities in the midst of adversity. It also highlights the complexities of his character – a man who, despite his sympathy for the Native American tribes, could still seize the opportunity that the policy provided. This pragmatic and visionary approach would become a defining feature of his life, ultimately leading to the founding of Kansas City, Missouri.

Founding of the City

As the popularity of Westport Landing grew, McCoy envisioned a city that would serve as a significant commercial center in the region. In 1838, he officially platted a town on a 257-acre tract of land around Westport Landing. He named the settlement the “Town of Kansas,” after the Kansas River, which was itself named after the local Kansa Native American tribe.

The location was strategic. It was accessible to steamboats, which were the main mode of transportation at that time, and it was at a crossroads of several overland trails, including the Santa Fe Trail, the California Trail, and the Oregon Trail.

City Growth and Recognition

In the subsequent years, the Town of Kansas experienced rapid growth. It was incorporated as the City of Kansas in 1850, and then renamed Kansas City in 1889 to avoid confusion with the newly formed state of Kansas. McCoy’s foresight had been realized, and his strategic planning laid the groundwork for Kansas City to develop into a leading urban center.

McCoy’s Legacy

John C McCoy in KC Pioneers Statue
Alexander Majors, John Calvin McCoy, and James Bridger at Pioneer Square in Westport

John C. McCoy’s pioneering spirit and foresight are still felt today in the thriving metropolis of Kansas City, Missouri. His dedication to establishing a commercial hub in the heart of America was a testament to his entrepreneurial spirit and his commitment to serving the community.

Although McCoy passed away in 1889, his legacy continues to shape Kansas City. He is remembered as the city’s founder, a man whose vision and dedication helped create a city that continues to prosper and grow. His life story serves as an inspiration and a reminder of how one person’s determination and vision can shape the destiny of a city.

In conclusion, John C. McCoy’s life and work encapsulate the pioneering spirit of 19th-century America. His ambition and tenacity, shaped by the trials and tribulations of his time, laid the foundation for one of the most significant cities in the United States. Kansas City, Missouri, stands as a testament to his vision, determination, and unwavering belief in the potential of the American heartland.

Sign In


Reset Password

Please enter your username or email address, you will receive a link to create a new password via email.