St. Louis was founded south of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers by French traders Pierre Laclde and Rene Auguste Chouteau in 1764, naming the community after King Louis IX. St. Louis’ steamboat era began in 1817. Steam engines had been developed to propel ships in the late 18th century, but weren't widely used until the early 1800's, when western expansion and calm river currents aided the steamships in replacing the sailing ships that had been used to carry commercial goods along rivers to lakes. Steamships used steam power as a primary method of propulsion to drive propellers or paddlewheels. They enabled goods to be transported and traded efficiently. The boats were very dependable, as they could navigate as easily upriver, against the current, as downriver. Rapids north of St. Louis made it the northernmost input for many of the large boats.
St. Louis was called "Gateway to the West". In 1850, St. Louis became the largest U.S. city west of Pittsburgh. St. Louis' population more than doubled from 1850 to 1860.
St. Joseph was a rough and tumble frontier town in the mid-1800s. Its streets were lined, on a daily basis, with hundreds of wagon trains waiting to be ferried across the river.
In 1858, John Patee opened a luxurious four-story brick hotel in St. Joseph. By 1860, it became the headquarters for the Pony Express, and a resting place for company riders. During the Civil War, the Union army took over the hotel, and Patee, a supporter of the Confederacy, decided to sell the hotel in a nation-wide lottery. At the end of the war, 100 tickets came back unsold, so Patee bought them himself and won his hotel back. From 1865-1868, the building became the Patee Female College. In 1869, it became a hotel again.
In Kansas City, the West Bottoms area where the Missouri and Kansas Rivers merge had been written about in Captain William Clark's journals of 1804: "the countrey about the mouth of this river is verry fine." He noted that the area teemed with elk, deer, buffalo, bear and the now extinct Carolina parakeet. The West Bottoms area was then used as a staging area for the many travelers setting out on the Oregon and Santa Fe trails.
The biggest outfitter in the area was the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company, but with the decline of the Pony Express, the company went out of business. Its facilities were later used for the Kansas City Stockyards.
This map was published in 1865 by G.W. & C.B. Colton & Co. It shows river valleys, cities, towns, counties, and the railroad network of 1865.