Like many of the best orators, Doniphan fought bashful nature

Postcards DONIPHAN webBy Linda Emley

On April 9, I’ll be the guest speaker for The Kansas City Posse of the Westerners at the Golden Ox Restaurant in Kansas City.

I was honored when they asked me because the topic they chose is one of my favorite Ray County men, Alexander William Doniphan.

A few days after I accepted their invitation, I found out that some of the people in this group are big fans of Doniphan so they already know most of his stories.

After hearing this news, I’ve been on a quest for the past few months trying to find some stories about our main man so I can entertain the “K.C. Posse.”

With a little help from my friends, we’ve been tring to prove that Doniphan was a member of a Masonic Lodge. We are running out of options on this story and still haven’t found any proof.

Most of his friends were members, but Doniphan’s name hasn’t been found in any of the old records. He may have joined a lodge out East and never moved his membership, so we will continue our search there. Another interesting story was that he had married for the second time in his later years, but the facts seem to prove that he didn’t marry again.

I was started to get worried about my Doniphan speech, but then I found an interesting article about him that was written in 1923. So now 90 years later, Doniphan’s words have saved the day for me.

The book is “Missouri’s Hall of Fame, Lives of Eminent Missourians” by Floyd Calvin Shoemaker, A.B., A.M. Floyd was secretary of the State Historical Society of Missouri and editor of The Missouri Historical Review. The Historical Review is still being publsihed and the Ray County Museum has a current collection of these publications.

This 90-year-old book has some stories about Doniphan that I’ve heard before and some that I haven’t, but to me the best one I found is as follows: “As an orator, he was the equal of Missouri’s most eloquent speakers. What an orator he was! Men who had been in Congress used to say that Webster and Clay could not sway men as could old Alex Doniphan. He may have been bashful before he began, but once under way he was on fire. The whole man was like a flame. His burning eyes, his gestures, his tall figure – everything about was like fire.

“I think perhaps I cannot give you a better idea of him than to tell you what an old woodsman, Adam K. McClintock, told me once. He was describing a barbecue on the Clear Fork of Fishing River at a place called Hawkins Mill. McClintock, a young man, was helping serve the barbecue, and at first he paid no particular attention to the speaking. There were several speakers. ‘Finally it came around to Doniphan,’ the woodsman said,’ and instantly there was a great rush of people from all around to the speakers’ stand. 

“At the very first I paid no attention to it. As he went on he charmed not only the people, but the birds and the wild animals. I discovered that the trees around the speakers’ stand were full of birds and squirrels, chattering and barking away. He had even charmed the birds and squirrels out of their lairs. I never saw such an effect produced on people as he made that day.

“Colonel Doniphan told a friend that he never began a speech without feeing bashful. Many great orators have said the same thing about themselves.”

At first I was amused that the great Doniphan was bashful, but in the end this just makes me admire him even more because it proves that he was human. I understand completely because I feel the same way every time I stand before a group and tell a story about our history.

Doniphan never prepared a speech beforehand, but always delivered his words with passion. I’m sure he used notes, but his speeches came from the heart and that’s what made them magnificent.

When I stand before the Kansas City Posse, I will speak from the heart because Alexander W. Doniphan will be there with me. I hope eveyone will know and love Doniphan when the night is done because, “As a citizen and gentlemen, he was honest, courteous and public spirited.”

I like this statement. I know Doniphan wasn’t perfect, but he is a good example of the kind of person that makes a difference.

Know something about Alexander Doniphan that Linda Emley might not? You can tell her at or see her in person at Ray County Museum during business hours. The museum is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.


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