City & Area History
The territory known as Missouri was included in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Soon after, the Delaware Native Americans received treaty land where Springfield’s Sequiota Park stands today.
Missouri became a state in 1821. In the mid- to late 1820s, two brothers from Tennessee – John Polk and Madison Campbell – along with several other homesteaders, went on a prospecting trip to southwest Missouri. The area was then populated by the Kickapoo and Cherokee.
The settlers encountered a tribe of Kickapoo encamped along the James River. A young boy from the tribe was gravely ill, and John Polk Campbell offered to help. Campbell gave the boy herbs, which eventually lifted his fever and brought him back to full health.
The Kickapoo chieftain gave Campbell a tract of land to the north of their village near a large spring as a token of his gratitude. Campbell built a log cabin near the spring and began a small farm.
Campbell announced his claim to Springfield in 1829 and encouraged friends and family to join him in the newly settled area.
In 1833, Campbell donated 50 acres for the construction of a town, with two acres designated as the public square. Lots were sold to new settlers and Campbell began the organization of Greene County. By 1835, approximately 500 people lived in Springfield. The town was incorporated in 1838.
Trail of Tears
In 1838, the Cherokee were forcibly removed by the U.S. government from their homelands in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia, then moved to the “Indian Territory.”
The move became known as the Trail of Tears due to the thousands of Cherokee deaths on the journey and those who perished as a result of the relocation. The Trail of Tears traveled through the Springfield area via what is known today as the Old Wire Road. The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail auto tour route is along Interstate 44 westward to U.S. 160 (West By-pass in Springfield) and westward along U.S. 60.
Old Wire Road
The Old Wire Road, then known as the Military Road, served until the mid-1840s as a connection between Springfield and the garrison at Fort Smith, Ark. By 1858, the Butterfield Overland Stage began utilizing the road offering passage to California. Two years later, the region’s first telegraph line was strung along the road at which time it was dubbed the Telegraph or Wire Road. The road proved vital during the Civil War, and its most historic connection is to the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas. While portions of the road exist today, the most easily accessible is within Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.
Civil War Battles of Wilson’s Creek and Springfield
With civil war imminent, Springfield was divided in its sentiments. On Aug. 10, 1861, army units clashed near Wilson's Creek, the site of the first major battle west of the Mississippi River, involving about 5,400 Union troops and 12,000 Confederates.
Gen. Nathaniel Lyon was killed and was the first Union general to die in combat. The Confederates were victorious. Union troops fell back to Lebanon, then Rolla and regrouped. When they returned to Springfield, the Confederates had withdrawn. The battle led to increased military activity in Missouri and set the stage for the Battle of Pea Ridge in 1862.
The National Park Service, recognizing the significance of the battle, designated Wilson's Creek National Battlefield in 1960. The 1,750-acre battlefield remains greatly unchanged and stands as one of the most historically pristine battle sites in the country.
For two years following the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, possession of the city seesawed. Then in January 1863, Confederate forces under Gen. John S. Marmaduke advanced toward the town square and battle ensued. A walking tour of the Battle of Springfield is available on Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau's Web site. A video about the Battle of Springfield is available on the Springfield-Greene County Library District's Web site.
As evening approached, the Confederates withdrew. The next morning, the Confederates left town and Gen. Marmaduke sent a message to Union forces asking for proper burials for Confederate casualties. The city would remain under Union control until the end of the war.
“Wild Bill” Hickok
In the wake of the Civil War, Springfield helped give birth to the Wild West era. In July 1865, the town square was the site of the nation’s first-recorded shootout. The incident between “Wild Bill” Hickok and Davis Tutt was also significant due to the incredible marksmanship exhibited by “Wild Bill” that made him known worldwide.
Following a poker game in Kelly Kerr Saloon on Park Central Square, Tutt claimed Hickok owed him money and took his pocket watch as collateral. Tutt claimed he would wear it in public to show that Hickok didn’t pay his debts.
The next day, from 75 yards away, Tutt fired a shot at Hickok, barely missing his head. Hickok fired back and killed Tutt with a bullet through the heart. The event made nationwide news.
Arrival of the Railroad
On April 21, 1870, the St. Louis-San Francisco line rolled through Springfield, establishing a new city, North Springfield, with Commercial Street as its downtown. Commercial and industrial diversification came with the railroads and strengthened the City of Springfield when the two towns merged 17 years later in 1887.
Today, visitors can enjoy the view from the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge, peering below to the locomotive path, which is still in use.
Birthplace of Route 66
Officially recognized as the birthplace of Route 66, it was in Springfield on April 30, 1926, that officials first proposed the name of the new Chicago-to-Los Angeles highway. In 1938, Route 66 became the first completely paved transcontinental highway in America—the “Mother Road”—stretching from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Coast.
Traces of the Mother Road are still visible in downtown Springfield along Kearney Street, Glenstone Avenue, College and St. Louis streets and on Missouri 266 west to Halltown.
The red booths and gleaming chrome in mom-and-pop diners, the stone cottages of tourist courts and the many service stations along this route saw America fall in love with the automobile.
The road that once was to be the east/west thoroughfare for travelers in a hurry to get their destinations now serves sightseers who take a more relaxed pace and savor every detail.
Springfield mixes its past with the future as historic Route 66 borders the downtown Jordan Valley Park.
The City of Springfield is designating the section of College Street that was once part of Route 66 as a historical area. A roadside park celebrating its Route 66 past by incorporating memories of local Route 66 landmarks is part of the redevelopment plans for the area.
The Route 66 Park will include picnic areas; a walking trail and water feature; a replica of a Route 66-era filling station that will serve as a visitor information center; a relocated motor court cottage and sign replica; a Route 66 sculpture; and replicas of other local landmark signs.