Date of Graduation

Spring 2023


Master of Arts in History



Committee Chair

Jeremy Neely


Americans are largely accustomed to the history of western expansion and enslavement by slaveholders. Questionable government policies led to the removal of Native American tribes further west. In Missouri, French Canadian traders moved to continue their business with them, and eventually, white settlement along the invisible border between Indian Territory and Missouri replaced indigenous peoples. William Gilliss, born in Maryland about 1797, is a prime example of an enterprising trader who, because of his reliance upon Native American tribes, followed his source of income west. His relationships with multiple Native American women resulted in at least three children. His relocation to Jackson County, Missouri and involvement in the Town Company which established Kansas City made him one of the most important and one of the area’s richest early settlers. This, however, along with his Southern sympathies, made him a target of the Union and antislavery settlers. By the time he died in 1869, his work as a trader, relationships with Native American tribes, and role as a town builder were soon overshadowed by headlines over the contestation of his will by his Native American children and grandchildren. Through depositions in these cases from Native Americans, former traders, one of his children, the formerly enslaved, and prominent residents of Kansas City, an analysis of a Kansas City businessman and the community in which he lived can be assessed with great detail.


William Gilliss, Indian removal, Delaware, Shawnee, Indian traders, Kansas City, slavery, Town Company, Kaskaskia, indentured servitude


© Diane M. Euston

Open Access