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Cool Things - Trading Post Scales and Money Belt

Scales used at Stinson trading post

These scales and money belt were used at an early Kansas trading post.

Before the Kansas Territory opened up in 1854, only American Indians, military personnel, government traders, and missionaries were allowed in the region. Prior to 1854, Kansas was Indian Territory, land set aside for the tribes.

Thomas Stinson came to Indian Territory around 1843, and served as blacksmith for the Potawatomi Agency on the Marais des Cygnes River. Later, he worked with an Indian trade and mercantile company, Simpson & Hunter of Westport, Missouri.

In 1848 Stinson started his own trading post at Uniontown in western Shawnee County, south of the Kansas River, where the government paid allotments to the Potawatomis. While some of Stinson's customers were white, many others were Indians and people of mixed French and Indian descent. Foodstuffs, household goods, firearms and many other items were available for purchase. Stinson used this money belt and scales at his Uniontown trading post. In 1852, a severe cholera epidemic swept along the Oregon-California Trail, killing 200 persons (mostly Indians) at Uniontown. The site was eventually abandoned and burned.

Stinson's money belt

While at Uniontown, Thomas married 16-year old Julia Beauchmie, a mixed blood Shawnee woman, who had grown up at the Shawnee Indian Mission in present-day Kansas City. Julia's father was a Potawatomi interpreter and preacher there. When Thomas moved his business east in 1853, founding the town of Tecumseh, he and Julia made their home on land she had acquired as part of the Shawnee settlement. Among his other business ventures, Thomas briefly ran a trading post on the Shunganunga River and operated a ferry across the Kansas River.

An Ohio native with connections to Kentucky, Thomas was proslavery. Julia was raised on the Shawnee Indian Mission where the missionaries had numerous slaves. Prominent Shawnees (primarily mixed bloods) also owned slaves. After they married, the Stinsons owned at least two slaves. Despite the influence of slavery in their personal lives, the Stinsons had friendships with people on both sides of the issue. It was not uncommon for the couple to attend social functions in free-state towns like Lawrence.

Friends in High Places

Maintaining these relationships was not always safe or easy. The Stinson's friendship with the first territorial governor Andrew Reeder threatened to bring them in harm's way when the governor switched his allegiances from proslavery to antislavery. Reeder, who became irritated with Missourians' illegal voting in Kansas, used his political and financial clout to promote a freestate Kansas. In the spring of 1855 Reeder was threatened with death by a proslavery mob while visiting at the Stinson home. Julia Stinson helped him escape.

John C. Frémont, famous explorer and later the anti-slavery Republican Presidential candidate, was also a friend of the Stinsons. Frémont was a frequent guest at their home throughout the 1840s and '50s when he made several expeditions west. Thomas and Julia even named one of their daughters, Jessie Benton, after Frémont's wife.

Maintaining diverse personal and business ties served the Stinson's well. They remained in the territory after the Civil War, and prospered. Thomas' money belt and scales are on display at the Kansas Museum of History.

Entry: Cool Things - Trading Post Scales and Money Belt

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: March 2004

Date Modified: September 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.