Things to Do in St. Joseph

Since the first Pony Express rider raced west from St. Joseph, Missouri in April 1860, the city's Wild West mystique has only grown


St. Joseph was the final railroad stop for settlers heading to the Oregon Trail and the final destination for the first cattle drive along the Chisholm Trail. For vacationing families, the city is a glimpse into America's rough-and-tumble frontier days.

The Email of Its Day

The Pony Express riders of the early 1860s needed 9-11 days to carry the mail over the prairies, rivers and mountains that lay between St. Joseph and Sacramento. The Pony Express National Museum—originally Pike's Peak Stables, where their journey began—highlights the struggles of life on the trail for the mail carriers and for families heading west in covered wagons. Among the fun and interesting activities at the museum are exploring one of the relay stations where riders got fresh mounts at the end of each 10-mile trail segment; turning the kids loose in the Pioneer Children's Play Area to don period costumes; cooking a pioneer meal or rope a stationary horse; and tapping out a Morse-code telegraph message using the same technology that doomed the Pony Express almost before it began.

Anything Goes

"Something for everyone" is the goal of the National Historic Landmark Patee House Museum, which began as a luxury hotel and the Pony Express Headquarters. You can explore the 2nd-floor ballroom, where the Union Army held its Civil War trials, contemplate a half-ton ball of string, hop aboard the Hannibal and St. Joseph locomotive that rushed the eastern mail to the Pony Express offices, and wash down some popcorn with a belt of sarsaparilla at the 19th-century Buffalo Saloon. Other interesting items on display include vintage radios and cameras and the dentist office where Walter Cronkite's dad plied his trade. Tip: Although kids under 5 are free, the Museum doesn't allow strollers.

An Infamous Day

Next door to the Patee House stands the Jesse James Home Museum. Within the white-clapboard walls of this house, James met his end on April 3, 1888. You can see the hole that the fatal bullet from Robert Ford's gun made in the parlor wall; Jesse’s portraits; artifacts from his grave; and personal belongings of Jesse, his brother Frank, and the Fords. Are you into eerie coincidences? Frank James' Smith & Wesson revolver—part of the extensive wall display—was patented on April 3, 1855.

St. Joe Steak

If you’re looking for affordable food and friendly service, head on over to the Frederick Inn Steak House (1627 Frederick Avenue, St. Joseph). Daily specials—such as roast beef and gravy or grilled ham steak with pineapple—cost less than $10, as do most Monday-to-Thursday early bird specials. The 10-and-under set can munch on chicken nuggets, mini-corn dogs, hamburgers and other kiddie favorites for less than $4. Prime rib, filet mignon and steaks are all house specialties, and dinners include all-you-can-eat soup, salad and homemade dinner or cinnamon rolls.

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