Kansas City’s first city park, originally called West Prospect Triangle, huddles above the West Bottoms just south of where Interstate 670 rips through the bluff.
Today it’s Andrew Drips Park, a cramped West Side patch identified by a small monument to a man who’d swung his elbows in the soaring northern Rockies and vast plains before.
After starting with the Missouri Fur Co. in the 1820s, Drips and partner Lucien Fontenelle ran a trading post at Bellevue, Neb., where he took an Otoe wife, called Mary.
They left the rivers for the high country, joining the American Fur Co., “the trust,” in trying to muscle out the competition. Hoping to poach the wily Jim Bridger’s best beaver grounds, Drips once found his brigade suckered into hostile Blackfoot country.
Yes, he may have been at the 1832 Battle of Pierre’s Hole (just west of the Tetons) against the Gros Ventres, but, contrary to popular lore, his daughter Catherine apparently was not really born while the bullets were flying.
Another tale: John C. Fremont couldn’t find Major Drips to guide a mapping expedition but settled for Kit Carson.
Westport would watch as Drips led out caravans of two-wheeled mule carts packed with trading goods. In the 1838 train was Johann Sutter, whose mill would start the California gold rush, and some missionaries, their wives the first white women to traverse the Oregon Trail.
Made Indian agent for the Upper Missouri in 1842 by President John Tyler, Drips tried to curb the liquor trade with the tribes (which just incidentally helped the trust).
By this time, Drips had his cabin on the bluff overlooking Kawsmouth with its French residents and their mixed-blood families. Mary having died, he wed a 16-year-old French-Sioux woman, Louise Girous. Five more children resulted amid his continued treks west.
Catherine, meanwhile, had hooked up with William Mulkey, a canny Indian trader/saloon owner/gambler/speculator/race horse breeder from an old Westport family — actually they were here before Westport.
Their own cabin up there was replaced by a large brick residence (supposedly, Kansas City’s first) at 13th and Summit.
Twelve years later, in 1869, Mulkey platted his little farm into a three-block extension south of Quality Hill, our original residential suburb. In 1882, the couple donated the little patch on West 16th Street to the city. It was given the mountain man’s name in 1951.
Catherine Street later was renamed Madison; Drips Avenue became Belleview. Mulkey Square, now north of I-670, was where the home stood. There, the major, who had slept so often out under the Rockies’ brightest stars, died in bed in 1860.
Interestingly, another, even more ancient, trapper, Jacques Fournais, called “Old Pino,” also passed away there in 1871 — reputedly at age 124. But that’s another story.