Wornall Majors House Museums

Alexander Majors: Frontier Freighter

Army Train LOC
An Army Train Crossing the Plains, Harper’s Weekly 1858.
This image most likely portrays a Russell, Majors and
Waddell wagon train.

Majors is often credited as being one of the commercial founders of Kansas City. His company created such a demand for oxen and cattle that it helped fuel the establishment of the Kansas City stockyards and livestock exchange. His ventures also allowed for a swift transfer of goods and information across the western United States that greatly contributed to the newly forming America.

Early Ventures

Alexander Majors came from a long line of farmers. But by 1845, his wife Katherine had given birth to six children, four of them girls. Majors wanted to educate his daughters and bring them up as upper-class women, which he believed he could not do with farming income alone. Based on his experience with handling animals, he believed that he could make money in the freighting business. He purchased six wagons and teams and began freighting goods over the western trails. He quickly gained the reputation of being an efficient, ethical freighter.

Russell, Majors & Waddell

In 1855, Majors’ freighting business was so successful that he partnered with William Russell and William Waddell. Their firm Russell, Majors and Waddell grew to include 3,500 wagons and 40,000 oxen. By 1857, the men had a virtual monopoly on all government freighting west of the Mississippi River.

Majors had a hands-on role in the freighting company, managing the employees and the wagon trains. He was a very religious man, which informed the way he ran his business. He made his employees take an oath promising not to drink, swear, treat animals cruelly or do anything that was not gentlemanly. He also gave all his employees a Bible. Majors may have been interested in the morality of his men, but he also realized that sober, well-mannered men would make for more productive workers.

Majors and his partners were slaveholders. Russell, Majors, and Waddell most likely relied heavily on slave labor in their businesses, and had a personal and professional interest in making slavery legal in Kansas. The men, particularly Russell, used their influence in the community to assist with the pro-slavery cause – warehousing goods for pro-slavery “border ruffians”, purchasing land in Kansas, and firing Free State employees in favor of “hiring” slaves. However, Majors was also a Unionist and required his employees to swear loyalty to the Union during the Civil War.

First_Eastbound_Pony_Express_Apr3_1860 - Wikimedia
The first east-bound letter sent via the Pony Express.

The Pony Express

In the late 1850s, the firm bought out a stage coach company started by Russell, which became the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Company. The infrastructure of the coach line became the basis for the Pony Express. In 1860, Russell, Majors, and Waddell received a government contract to run the Pony Express, answering a need for a fast mail service to the West. The mail route ran from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California.

Ultimately, the Pony Express only last about 18 months. Advances in technology, such as the telegraph and the transcontinental railroad, put the Pony Express out of business.  Russell, Majors, and Waddell went bankrupt shortly thereafter.

 

 

 

Wornall Majors House Museums
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The John Wornall House

6115 Wornall Road
Kansas City, MO. 64113

816.444.1858

The Alexander Majors House & Barn

8201 State Line Road
Kansas City, MO. 64114

816.444.1858

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Photo Credits: Jeri Adams, Sarah Bader-King, John Browning, and Bruce Mathews