Situated outside of the city limits of Westport, Missouri, the Ward homestead has been associated with several prominent figures in the exploration, conquest, and settlement of the American West. During the Civil War, parts of the Battle of Westport also occurred here.1
The Seth Ward House is near present-day Kansas City, Missouri, roughly a quarter mile from the Kansas-Missouri border. This homestead is positioned in the Country Club District, a group of neighborhoods containing upscale historical residences. Nearby in Jacob L. Loose Park, visitors can see the original farmland of the Ward homestead which, in 1864, doubled as the battlefield in the “Gettysburg of the West.” This site is situated along the Santa Fe Trail, and was the home of two prominent traders of the nineteenth century: William Bent and Seth Ward.
In the early 1800s, the land that would become Westport was home to Plains Indians and Mormon settlers who traveled across the west attempting to convert Native Americans. By 1838 the Mormon Wars had come to an end, and with that more settlers flooded into the Missouri region, eventually establishing the grassroots of the Seth Ward homestead.2 In 1858 the prominent merchant, fort builder, and cultural go-between William Bent purchased the farmland and soon built a larger two-story brick home on the property.3 William Bent was the founder of Fort Bent, located in present-day La Junta, Colorado. Fort Bent was created to trade with the Plains Indians and other trappers traders in a peaceful and businesslike manner. The fort was the only major white American settlement along the Santa Fe Trail between Mexico and Missouri.4 William Bent was a negotiator between Native American Tribes, which helped fuel the massive success of the trading empire he had created. Bent married three Cheyenne women who bore him five children, making him a Cheyenne sub-chief. Bent is considered to be the first permanent white settler in the area.2
Throughout the following decades, the house erected by Bent would endure a Civil War battle, the death of Bent himself, and the exchange of ownership to another distinguished frontiersman, Seth Ward.
On October 23, 1864 Confederate Major General Sterling Price led a legendary raid into Missouri in hopes of forcing the loss of a border state. If the raid was successful, Abraham Lincoln would have had faced a challenging reelection, allowing the Confederacy the chance to negotiate a settlement. However, this raid was met head-on by the Army of Missouri, leading to the largest Civil War battle west of the Mississippi River with Confederate forces numbering 8,500 troops and 22,000 Union soldiers. 5 The Battle of Westport, often referred to as the “Gettysburg of the West,” was a major Union victory. This battle occurred on the pastureland of the William Bent farmstead. With about 3,000 Union and Confederate casualties combined, the Battle of Westport is forever entrenched in the ground of the Bent-Ward property. Today, the battleground is now a part of the Jacob L. Loose Park in Kansas City, Missouri.
Seth E. Ward was a successful fur trader, banker, entrepreneur, and real estate aficionado who purchased the homestead of the recently-deceased William Bent, Ward’s personal trading friend and partner, in 1871. Ward manned a prosperous mercantile store outside of Fort Laramie, Wyoming catering to the needs of settlers traveling westward as well as traders along the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails. 6 Ward was a lucrative trader and trapper, learning these skills at a young age, which allowed him to understand the needs of the people he would encounter at a mercantile store. Ward remained at Fort Laramie from 1848 to 1871, when he moved his wife and children to Westport, Missouri. Ward built another small brick home in addition to the massive home constructed by William Bent that was already on the property. Ward’s considerable wealth and skills made him a prominent figure in Westport and helped bring commerce to the area. Ward died in 1903, but his legacy remained in Kansas City history, including Ward Parkway, a boulevard dedicated to the distinguished tradesman. The Seth Ward house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.1
1032 West 55th Street, Kansas City, Missouri 64112
Beckenbaugh, Terry. ““Battle of Westport” Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865.” Civil War on the Western Border (accessed November 11, 2018).
Lubers, H. L. “William Bent’s Family and the Indians of the Plains.” Colorado Magazine 13, no. 1 (January 1936): 19-22.
Ryder, Elaine. “Seth Ward House”. Kansas City, Mo.: Landmarks Commission of Kansas City, 1977.
“Seth Edmund Ward Papers, biographical note.” Western History Collection, Denver Public Library (accessed November 11, 2018).
Shaw, Beverly. “2013-Bent Ward Home.” Symphony Designers Showhouse (accessed November 28, 2018).
Weiser-Alexander, Kathy. “Bent Brothers-Trading on the Santa Fe Trail.” Legends of America (accessed November 15, 2018).
Shaw, Bent Ward Home ↩ ↩2
Lubers, William Bent’s Family and the Indians of the Plains ↩
Weiser-Alexander, Bent Brothers-Trading on the Santa Fe Trail ↩
Beckenbaugh, Battle of Westport ↩