John Dougherty

John Dougherty was a prominent Clay County slave owner who chaired an April 1855 county meeting voicing approval of the destruction of the press of the Parkville Luminary by a pro-slavery mob because the newspaper's editor had opposed the idea of Missourians voting in Kansas Territory. [Craik, Southern Interest, 380] Dougherty continued his activism by attending the Lexington Convention in July of that year. [Shoemaker, Missouri's Proslavery Fight, 335]

John Dougherty (1791-1861)

Dougherty's home, "Multnomah" in Clay County was said to be the finest west of the Mississippi. The home was named for the falls on the Columbia River he saw as a young man.
[1970's Postcard, Historic Clay County]

Dougherty was born in Nelson County, Kentucky and at age 17 ran away to St. Louis to join an expedition to the Northwest of the Missouri Fur Company of Sarpy, Picot and Choteau. [Withers, Lewis Bissell Dougherty,359] The Kentuckian was hired as a hunter for the company and earned the name "Iron Leg" by his demonstrated endurance. The Missouri Fur Company soon merged with Astor's American Fur Company, competing head to head with the Hudson Bay Company. During his seven years in the mountains, Dougherty learned seven Indian languages as well as French from the trappers and returned to St. Louis a finished frontiersman. In 1819 Dougherty joined the Long Expedition to Rocky Mountains as translator for Major Benjamin O'Fallon, Indian agent for the Upper Missouri tribes. In I821 Dougherty succeeded O'Fallon as Indian Agent at Council Bluffs. [Eldridge, Major John Dougherty]

Before Dougherty had formally accepted his appointment, Colonel Henry Leavenworth requested the Upper Missouri agent locate at Cantonment Leavenworth. The move was temporary until approved by William Clark, the Superintendent, in 1828. Dougherty and his family moved to Leavenworth, and "at that post, despite controversy, he maintained his headquarters until 1832." [Barry, Annals, 143] From Leavenworth, Dougherty administered Indian Department policy for all the area above the mouth of the Kansas River, attempting to achieve peace among the tribes and teach agricultural skills to peoples with a hunting tradition.

Disease and poverty were constant problems among the native people in Dougherty's charge. He reported to his superior William Clark in 1830 on the effects of smallpox among the Pawnees:

"Judging from what I saw during the four days I spent with them, and the information I received from the Chiefs.I am fully persuaded that one half of the whole number of souls of each village have and will be carried off by this cruel and frightful distemper. They told me that not one under 33 years of age escaped the monstrous disease (the last epidemic had been 33 years before)..They were dying so fast, and taken down at once in such large numbers, that they had ceased to bury their dead, (their bodies) were to be seen in every direction." [Jones, William Clark, 306]

The Plains Indians had made little progress in agriculture, Dougherty reported, and hunting was poor except far up the river and near the mountains where buffalo were still plentiful. [Barry, Annals, 169] Nor was schooling progressing. Dougherty wrote to Clark in 1831 that the tribes around Leavenworth:

"...were fully sensible of your kindness to them in offering to instruct their children.. but they. were unwilling to send off to so great a distance a single child without some one who could converse in its own language to accompany it-because the child would soon forget its own tongue and become estranged even from its Father and mother, be ashamed of their poverty, and abandon them in old age." [Jones, William Clark, 307]

In 1832 the Indian Department reorganized responsibilities, splitting the Kansas tribes off from the Upper Missouri Agency and relocating Dougherty to Bellevue near Council Bluffs. The painter George Catlin was Dougherty's guest at the agency that summer. [Barry, Annals, 218] Catlin was impressed with what he saw, saying Dougherty:

" unrelenting endeavors, with an unequalled familiarity with Indian character and unyielding integrity of purpose, has successfully restored and established a system of good feeling between them (the Pawnees) and (the whites) upon whom they looked, naturally and experimentally as their destructive enemies." [Eldridge, Major John Dougherty]

Dougherty was the author of a plan to further separate the Indian Territory from the encroaching white settlers. In a December 1834 letter he proposed establishment of frontier posts from the Upper Mississippi to the Red River of the South, linked by a military road patrolled by U. S. Dragoons. A memorial from the citizens of Clay County was placed before the United States Senate a year later asking for protection from the Indians and establishment of Dougherty's plan. [Barry, Annals, 298] On July 2, 1836, President Jackson signed the act providing for the road and $100,000 to build it. [Barry, Military Road, 115]

The Western Military Road

John Dougherty first proposed a road separating White settlement from the Indian Territory.
[Louise Barry, The Fort Leavenworth-Fort Gibson Military Road and the Founding of Fort Scott]

Dougherty was spending more time at home in Clay County. In Spring 1835 he was lobbying in Washington for the Platte Purchase and attended a county meeting that summer with Atchison, Doniphan and W.T. Wood planning an approach to Congress to add the area to Missouri. [Eldridge, Major John Dougherty] He was back at Ft. Leavenworth in 1836 when William Clark negotiated the Platte Purchase treaty with Iowas and Sacs and Foxes of Missouri and Dougherty witnessed the document, as Indian Agent. [Barry, Annals, 314] An 1837 reorganization in the Indian Department again reduced Dougherty's agency to only the Otoes, Missouris, Omahas and Pawnees. [Barry, Annals, 321]1838 found Dougherty as a temporary subagent at the Great Nemahaw agency where he negotiated a treaty with the Iowas confirming ceding of all lands between the Mississippi and the Missouri in exchange for $157,500 invested for the tribe at not less than 5% with annual payments of income. [Barry, Annals, 357]

When William Clark died in 1839, Senator Linn of Missouri recommended Dougherty to replace him as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in St. Louis. Dougherty had supported the Whig ticket but when William Henry Harrison died early in his term, Dougherty, with no political connection to President Tyler, lost his chance. [Eldridge, Major John Dougherty] The man Tyler appointed instead, Joshua Pilcher, had a low opinion of Dougherty's work. On June 27, 1839 he named Joseph V. Hamilton, the sutler and postmaster at Ft. Leavenworth as agent at Council Bluffs to succeed Dougherty. Pilcher instructed Hamilton:

" much has the public service suffered on the Upper Missouri for months past, that it is found necessary for order you forthwith to your post.You will please proceed immediately to Bellevue. and receive from Major Dougherty. [if he is there] all books, papers [etc.] ." [Barry, Annals, 373]

Forty-six years old and out of a job, Dougherty started a new business freighting for the government and as a sutler at army posts in the west. He maintained stores at Ft. Kearny and Ft. Laramie and traded with Indians at other points, taking buffalo robes to St. Louis for transshipment. He bought Clay County land including several thousand acres north of Liberty. [Eldridge, Major John Dougherty] He laid out the town of Iatan in Platte county and sold lots. [History of Clay and Platte Counties,562]

In 1846 he was with the 1,000 men who formed the 3rd Missouri Regiment of volunteers at Ft. Leavenworth. Dougherty was elected Colonel of the Regiment by the volunteers and in September they were mustered in for 12 months service. They were too late for the Mexican War, however, and Secretary of War Marcy ordered the regiment disbanded. [Barry, Annals, 641] Dougherty returned to government contracting, leaving Westport with 500 head of cattle to supply the army at Santa Fe. But at Council Grove in mid-June 1847 his cattle stampeded and 150 head escaped onto the prairie. Dougherty rounded them up and on July 18, the St. Louis papers reported he had recovered nearly all the cattle and sent them down the trail with the Missouri volunteers. Dougherty himself returned home. [Barry, Annals, 690]

Growing older, but still a tough frontiersman, Dougherty continued to make trips west to his trading posts, even as his sons came into the business. In 1851, for example, he traveled with an army patrol out of Ft. Leavenworth delivering payroll to the western posts. At Marshall's Big Blue River crossing, Dougherty lost a slave when the "young Negro man fell into the river and drowned." [Barry, Annals, 1001]

Dougherty retired to his Clay County farm in 1855 and in 1856 built a mansion, said to be the "finest home west of the Mississippi River at a cost of twenty thousand dollars." He named it "Multnomah" in memory of the spectacular falls in the Columbia River Gorge. [Eldridge, Major John Dougherty] Dougherty served one term in the General Assembly, but returned to farm his large acreage with the 56 slaves that he owned in 1860. Dougherty's sons owned 13 slaves on their adjoining farms. "Multnomah", long neglected, burned down in 1963. [Fuenfhausen, Historic Clay County]

Charles Clark