July 4, 1908


Found They Could Kill Earlier and
Cure Meat Faster and Save
Shrinkage and a
Long Drive.

Col. R. T. Van Horn of Evanston says Kansas City became a great beef packing center by accident. Many year ago the colonel took a visitor to the site of the persent Armour plant and heard John Plankinton, Phillip D. Armour's first partner, explain how he discovered the meat could be cured faster here than on the lake front and how, with the crude equipment of the day, he could kill earlier in the season.

"The manner in which the Armour plant came into existence is fresh in my memory as if it were yesterday," said Colonel Van Horn. "It was sometime in the '60's -- the exact date could be found in The Journal files.

"There was no hog killing, and as refrigerator cars were not in use, the business was packing mess beef, putting the product in barrels; steamboats taking it aboard at the river bank nearby.

"It was in October, the most salubrious and beautiful month of all the year in this midcontinent region. The firm name then was Plankinton & Armour -- John Plankinton and Philip D. Armour -- and the locality was about where the great Armour plant is now. The incident was as follows: Hon. William D. Kelley (Pig Iron Kelley), member of congress from Philadelphia, had been on a Western trip as far as Denver, and returning, stopped over at Kansas City on a visit to Colonel Morton, whose fine farm is in the Clay county bluffs, north of Harlem. Mrs. Kelley and Mrs. Morton had been school girls together and the stop over was to afford them a visit and an old-time reunion.

"Judge Kelley came over every day, and, as I had made his acquaintance in the house of representatives, I was the only person he personally knew here, and I took more than ordinary pains to show him the hospitality of the city, which he kindly returned by a public address in the old court house. His address can be found reported in The Journal of the time.

"Then, as now, the packing business was the great enterprise of the city, and was the point of interest to show all visitors. One day I took Judge Kelley up to the Bottoms to see it. There wsa then no structure that could be called a building -- a frame to cover the killing beds, and a long covered runway for the slaughtered carcasses of beef.

"It so happened that John Plankinton himself was present and, when Judge Kelley was introduced to him, Mr. Plankinton gave him that attention and consideration due a man of eminence and national reputation. Judge Kelly was astonished at the magnitude of the business, was profuse in his compliments and questions, and said: 'I am astounded, sir, at the existence of such an immense business away out here in the wilderness, and so much greater than any of like character in our Eastern states. How does it come and what induced its establishment?'

" 'Well,' said Mr. Plankinton, 'it was what you might call an accident. As you perhaps know, we have been packing beef in Chicago and Milwaukee for some years. Many of our cattle came from the country south of this. The common name was Cherokee cattle, being brought mostly from the Indian Territory. Our method was to drive the cattle to this point, as it is the nearest Missouri river locality, the river being narrow and deep and the banks solid, swimming them across by driving to Quincy, and by rail to Chicago.

" 'It was when I was here on one of those occasions, while stopping at the hotel in Kansas City, that I heard of some cattle over in the Delaware country and, getting on my horse one morning, came across the bottom here to cross the Kaw at the Wyandotte ferry. As I was riding along, not far from where we now are, I saw a dead steer lying at the road side and thinking I would find a strong odor from it I began looking for a way to ride around it, but the under brush, as you may see in places, was so dense that only the roadway to accommodate a single wagon was to be seen. But as no stench was noticed I concluded the air was moving toward the other side and that I would get the benefit of the dead carcass after I passed it. But there was no difference and my horse did not seem to notice it. The facts excited my curiosity and I rode back to the dead carcass and struck it with my whip. It sounded like a drum.

"The incident set me to thinking and I concluded that if the climate here would so cure a dead steer, the carcass of a slaughtered one ought to keep for a longer time than on the lake shore. And then I thought of the jerked buffalo meat cured from time immemorial without salt. And so we concluded to triy it as a packing point, saving the drive to Quincy, the railroad charges from there, and the shrinkage in transit.'

" 'And so we have found it. Today, Judge Kelley,' said Mr. Plankinton, pointing to the immense rows of dressed carcasses on the runways, 'we are killing 1,200 head of cattle and, with the thermometer at Chicago thee same as it is here, all of that meat would spoil, and we can kill two and three weeks earlier than there. And thus you have the reasons why we are here.'

"The facts are exact as I have given you and the words, as a rule, as they were uttered. The points covered are all literally presented -- particularly as to the dead steer and its results. It is all faithful history.