By Lucas Lord
As a retired librarian and lifelong Cass Countian, Daryl Limpus has always been interested in the history of the area. That passion has led him to writing historical books about the area, the latest being “Frontier Cass County.”
His nonfiction account dives into early Harrisonville and the wagon trail economy that helped Cass, Bates and Jackson counties to thrive ahead of the railroad.
“The county has always had its share of transportation problems. Cass was fortunate to be so close to the trail heads like the Santa Fe Trail and Oregon Trails which at that time all started from independence to Westport,” he said.
“The early settlers could sell goods along the trail. There were a few wagon makers listed in early county records that could sell just about as many horses, mules and wagons as they could get their hands on. It really was a trail economy.”
As a volunteer at the Cass County Historical Society, Limpus had a working knowledge of the archives ahead of his research into the pre-Civil War era history of the place he’s always called home.
“My family and I have lived here for generations so I guess I have always had a deep interest in the history of the county,” he said.
“Once I started reading the old county court minutes and what was going on around here it really just expanded from that. I’ve written some books about local history in Archie already but there wasn’t a lot about Harrisonville in that same time period.”
His first work, “From Railway to Highway” was published in 2007.
With little to no first-hand accounts to go by, Limpus had to heavily rely on early newspapers and judicial proceedings for the bulk of his research.
“One major problem was that our newspapers weren’t founded very early and there weren’t many issues that survived,” he said.
“There would have been more details had some of those things survived. It was kind of a social function when the county and circuit courts met. Settlers would come from all over the county to business so the stores would have a greater amount of goods in their small storefronts around the county.”
Of all the changes throughout the decades, the biggest change has been to the town square of Harrisonville. Once an open prairie, the town is relatively closed off compared to how it used to be arranged, according to Limpus.
“In early Harrisonville they built a fence around the square and courthouse to keep hogs and livestock out,” he said. “It was open range back before the civil war so farmers had to fence in their crops but not their animals.
“Most of the county was open prairie so they just sort of roamed around. There was a land record that mentioned the city fed over 60 hogs at a stable in Harrisonville. And that’s quite a few hogs.”
He also noted, without any major natural disasters in its early days, the Missouri frontier was kind to the people of Cass County. So much so that settlers would band together to prevent land grabbing.
“It was culturally determined because the settlers really didn’t want people forcing them off the land,” he said. “The interesting thing about that was they called it a ‘claims and improvement’, they could sell that or mortgage that even though they hadn’t bought it from the government yet, they had that right.
“A lot of the very first people just settled, improved their acreage and sold it to someone else who then bought it from the government before moving on out of here. It was a strategy because especially early on there weren’t any markets. It was hard to make a living from farming. They would put in the sweat, make sweat equity into the land, and then sell it. Unfortunately, only one of those documents survived in the county.”
With so much of Cass County settled before it was properly surveyed by the federal government, early Cass Countians gambled with their futures and what little gold they brought with them.
“I think the people of Harrisonville absolutely had a good reputation. They were known to be kind,” he said.
“It’s certainly easier to write about something that interests you. I didn’t have any problem with the research and always stayed engaged with it.”
Limpus found time to complete the book during the COVID shutdown.
“I had just written a rough draft when the lockdown came about. I figured I wasn’t going anywhere so I was actually able to do a lot of my writing when I was inside with my family,” he said.
“I suppose there was a silver lining.” Limpus’ book, “Frontier Cass County” is available at the Cass County Historical Society at 400 East Mechanic in Harrisonville for $30.