Our History

The Patee House

Built as a luxury hotel in 1858 by John Patee, he meant it to serve as the last stop of refinement and civility as travelers made their ways farther into newly-settled western territories. The hotel was a modern marvel, with amenities such as hot and cold running water in the bathrooms and a cupola that allowed for better air circulation, like a natural cooling system.

On April 3, 1860, business men William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell, established the headquarters for the Pony Express on the first floor of Patee House. The men wanted to provide a faster mail route between St. Joseph and Sacramento, California, with the hope of riding the distance in just 10 days. Unfortunately, with the expansion of the telegraph, the Pony Express ended in October 1861, lasting only 18 months.

During the Civil War, Patee House was used as the Provost Marshal’s office. After the war, the hotel’s grand ballroom was used as the court room in which Confederate officers were tried.

In the fall of 1864, John Patee made plans to dispose of his hotel in a nation-wide lottery. The drawing was held in April 1865, but the winning lottery ticket came back in an unsold bunch, meaning Patee would keep his hotel.

He did eventually sell the hotel to be used as the Patee Female College. However, by 1868 the building was sold again and converted back into a hotel. It was once again lavishly furnished, only to close within another few years and then abandoned.

In 1876, it opened as St. Joseph Female College, under the direction of Dr. Elijah S. Dulin. It remained open until the summer of 1881, with plans to open a hotel one last time. Dr. Samuel A. Richmond opened The World’s Hotel, sparing no expense. Unfortunately, financial difficulties led to the hotel’s final closure in December 1882.

Patee House could not succeed as a hotel because it was located too far away from the downtown, and its location often flooded after hard rains, which drove away patrons. Finally, in 1886, R.L McDonald purchased the building and converted it into a garment factory, which remained in operation until the late 1950’s.

Jesse James Home

On Christmas Eve of 1881, Jesse James, under the name of Thomas Howard, moved his wife Zerelda and their two small children into a small four-bedroom home at 1318 Lafayette Street. The home sat at the top of a hill about a block north of the World’s Hotel (formerly Patee House), and Jesse would occasionally visit under his assumed name.

Missouri governor Tom Crittenden had announced a $10,000 reward for anyone who could help lead to the capture of Jesse, who had earned outlaw status during the years following the Civil War. Jesse tried to lead a quiet life in St. Joseph, but on April 3, 1882, he and his partners Robert and Charles Ford, made plans to rob the Platte City bank the following day. It was a warm day, and because the front door was open, Jesse had removed his guns. He noticed a picture on the wall needed straightening, and while his back was turned, Robert pulled out his .44 caliber Smith & Wesson pistol and shot Jesse behind his right ear. The infamous “bullet hole” is still exposed in the home, but has been chipped away over the years by tourist wanting a souvenir of Jesse. However, when Jesse’s body was exhumed and examined in 1995 by Professor James Starrs of George Washington University, he concluded the bullet never left Jesse’s skull.

The Ford brothers were arrested and charged with murder, and they were not awarded the $10,000. Although Jesse was a dangerous outlaw, there was no sympathy for the men who would murder another man with his back turned. Zerelda and the children stayed at the World’s Hotel for a few days following Jesse’s death. The family was left destitute after Jesse’s murder, and in order to pay for funeral expenses, had to auction off all their belongings, right down to the family dog.

The Pony Express Historical Association

After the McDonald’s factory closed in the late 1950’s, the former Patee House fell into disrepair, was condemned, and scheduled for demolition in the early 60’s. Realizing its historical significance, a group of concerned citizens joined together, forming the Pony Express Historical Association to save the building from its demise. After a short time, the association raised enough money to buy the building and begin the process of converting it into a museum.

In 1965, Patee House was designated a National Historic Landmark for its role as the Headquarters for the Pony Express, and a bronze plaque was installed by the National Parks Service on the front of the building

In 1977, the association acquired the Jesse James Home. It was moved onto the south-west corner of Patee House lot. It officially opened in 1978.

Both museums attract thousands of visitors each year from all over the world just to see where the Pony Express started and Jesse James stopped.