ABOVE: Independence, Missouri town square in the 1840s.
For many years, Independence was the most popular "jumping off" point on the Oregon Trail. Here the emigrants stocked up on supplies and prepared their wagons. There was generally a festive air in Independence in the spring. The newcomers collected information and misinformation, made friends and enemies, changed proposed destinations, and behaved in general as though they were on a picnic.
Because of the fear of Indian attacks (which was largely unfounded), emigrants often tried organize a traveling party here, because no one wanted to head west alone. When a wagon "train" had been assembled, a quasi-military organization was often formed.
Capt. R. B. Marcy in The Prairie Traveler:
“After a particular route has been selected to make the journey across the plains, and the requisite number have arrived . . . their first business should be to organize themselves into a company and elect a commander. The company should be of sufficient magnitude to herd and guard animals, and for protection against Indians. An obligation should be drawn up and signed by all the members of the association, wherein each one should bind himself to abide in all cases by the orders and decisions of the captain and to aid him by every means in this power.”