Postcards: Unparalleled hoopla when Ray celebrated Alexander Doniphan Day

By Linda Emley

A few days ago, I was in Liberty and stopped by the Texas Roadhouse. Normally we would stop here for a steak, but my mission was different on this day.
I stopped by to take a picture of the wall mural there because my man Alexander Doniphan is in it. A few days after my visit to Liberty, I went to Jefferson City and guess who I found there? Yes, Doniphan showed up again. We had to stop and take a picture of the bronze bust of Doniphan that is in the Missouri Capitol.
At this point, I got to feeling a little guilty. because I’ve been spending all my time with Capt. Anderson, so I’m sharing my first story about Doniphan from July in 2010.
On July 29, 1918, over 20,000 people gathered around the Richmond Square to celebrate the unveiling on the 19-foot statue of Alexander William Doniphan. It was a day like no other in Richmond history. Before we journey down that road, I want to share a brief history of the man that stands watch over our courthouse.
We all have walked past him many times. Some of us know his name. A few people around town are even related to his wife, Elizabeth Jane Thornton. Who was this man and why was he chosen to be honored with a statue in Richmond?
Alexander was born in Kentucky July 9, 1808 to Joseph and Anne Doniphan. He started his law practice in Kentucky before moving to Lexington, Mo. in 1830. In 1833, he moved to Liberty.
On Dec. 21, 1837, he married Elizabeth Jane Thornton on her 17th birthday in Liberty. It was a double wedding with Elizabeth’s sister Caroline and the groom, Oliver P. Moss. At the time, Alexander was 29 and a colleague of Elizabeth’s father in the state legislature.
Alexander and Elizabeth had two sons, but both died as teenagers. They were John Thornton (1838–1853) and Alexander William, Jr. (1840–1858). John died from accidental poisoning and Alexander Jr. drowned in a flood-swollen river.
Elizabeth was a frail lady and suffered a stroke while burying her son John. She was a semi-invalid the rest of her life and died in New York City at the age of 52.
She was in New York visiting with her sisters, and Alexander had returned to Richmond when he got the telegram that his wife had died. He was 10 days away from his 65th birthday and lived for another 14 years alone. He died in Richmond Aug. 8, 1887 at the Hudgins House, which was a hotel located on the corner of the square where the Christian Church was later built. He was buried by his wife and sons in Liberty.
Why was our man, Alexander so famous? In 1838, Doniphan was a brigadier general in the Missouri state militia. He and 2,000 troops were sent to Far West in Caldwell County to arrest Joseph Smith and his fellow church leaders, who had refused to leave Missouri. Doniphan was given orders to execute Smith and the other leaders, but he refused. He called the order “cold-blooded murder.”
The Mormon leaders were taken in custody to stand trial, but thanks to Doniphan they were not murdered. He also served as one of their lawyers when they went to trial. Many members of the Mormon Church visit Richmond today and stop at our courthouse to pay their respects to the man that saved Joseph Smith.
When the Spanish American War started in 1846, he helped organize the 1st Regiment of Missouri Mounted Volunteers and was elected colonel of the regiment. For the rest of his life he would carry the nickname of Colonel. He and his troops left Fort Leavenworth on a journey that took them 3,600 miles by land and 2,000 by boat. It is said this was one of the most successful marches in U.S. military history. At one point in New Mexico, Doniphan and his men were assisted by Sterling Price and the Second Missouri Mounted Volunteers. Doniphan even had his picture taken by Matthew Brady when he was in New Orleans on his way home after the war.
This picture was later used to create the face of Doniphan’s statue. The whole story of his Spanish-American War campaigns can be found in the 1973 Ray County History book on page 240-242.
Ninety-two years ago today, Richmond was the place to be! There are so many wonderful stories, it is hard to decide where to start.
My grandmother always told me the story of the boys of World War I getting off the train and marching up the street to the courthouse. It was many years later before I realized she was talking about “Doniphan Day.”
She was 11 at the time and the soldiers were the most impressive sight to her. I am sure the politicians’ speeches were boring, but she forgot to mention that the governor of Missouri did not come by train like the soldiers. He flew to town in a biplane that was piloted by a world-famous flying ace.
The Missourian had this Aug. 1, 1918: “GOV. GARDNER SOARED TWO MILES ABOVE RICHMOND WITH THE GALLANT NEAL. Parallel with the arrival of the soldiers’ train, with Gov Frederick D. Gardner, the First Citizen of Missouri as chief guest of honor, with others held in high esteem, was the mightily expected coming of Lieutenant Marshall S. Neal, United States Army aviator, in his Curtiss military biplane.
“One of the remarkable features of the airplane trip by Gov. Gardner was the telegraphic application and permit for the flight. Jewell Mayes on Monday morning wired Sen. James Reed, who called on Secretary of War Newton Baker immediately and secured permission, which was wired by Baker and arrived here at noon. ‘Thanks to Jewell Mayes, Richmond got to meet Lt. Neal and his biplane.’  Lt. Neal is a mighty fine gentleman and is considered by Gov. Gardner as one of the very best aviators he has ever seen. Goodbye for the German plane that has to deal with our gallant Missouri aviator in a fair and square fight!
The local commission prepared the Forrest Graham pasture for the plane’s arrival, but the trained eye of Lt. Neal spotted a better place to land. He chose the old Chenault farm north of town. “Three of the Chenault girls were by happy coincidence present …” I want to know why the Chenault girls were not already uptown at the party and why did  the “Ace” pick a spot that had three young ladies waving at him to land.
You know there had to be a car waiting to pick them up at the Graham pasture. But hey, you can do what you want when you are Lt. Neal and you have the governor in the back seat of your plane. The band played and somehow the governor and Lt. Neal got up town.
There was an address in the morning by the Hon. Roland Hughes and then an adjournment for dinner. The 20,000 people found tables laden with food. Several of the ladies’ organizations had arranged to feed the crowd and there was plenty for everyone.
At 2:30, the governor and others went back to the platform. More music and speeches followed. Besides the governor’s speech, the highlight of the afternoon was French Lt. Bagues. He had been an artist in Paris before the war.
“He captivated the people with his charming politeness, his fine intelligence, his excellent command of language, and his sentiments expressed in words to the full liking of our American people. Lt. Bagues fired many a heart to join the army and the navy by his address on this great occasion.”
What a day! The governor, a flying ace in his biplane, a French artist, free food for all 20,000 people, the U.S. Army, and a band. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir even came to town for the “Doniphan Day” celebration.
There is one more important event that needs to be mentioned. The Missourian, Aug. 1, 1918: “Manager Carter of the Pathe News moving film company estimated the crowd at ever so much more than 15,000 – he said 20,000 people. The Pathe operator took moving pictures of the unveiling ,the military performances, the airplane flight and the Morton house.”
I think we can safely say this was the first time a news crew came to Richmond and filmed a moving picture. Pathe News Inc. produced their first newsreel in 1914, so Richmond was one of their early news events. Pathe was later owned by RKO Radio and Warner Brothers.
And that’s the way it was Monday, July 29, 1918, when our town celebrated “Doniphan Day.”

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