The history of Buchanan County, located in Northwest Missouri, actually begins in the year 1837, when the Platte Purchase added approximately two million acres of land to the state of Missouri. This triangle of land had originally been ceded to the Sac, Fox and Ioway Indians in the treaty of Prairie du Chien, ratified in 1830. Out of this Platte Purchase, six counties were carved. Platte and Buchanan Counties were organized in 1838, by the General Assembly of Missouri. Buchanan County was named in honor of James Buchanan, who was at that time the appointed Envoy Extraordinary and Minister to St. Petersburg in Russia. Later, in 1856, he was elected President of the United States.
The first county seat was in the town of Sparta, just a few miles south of present-day St. Joseph. A two room log structure served as a court house. By 1842, $6,000 had been appropriated for a more substantial court house; however, a petition was being circulated to move the county seat to the principal trading point at Blacksnake Hills (present day St. Joseph).
After two elections, the county seat was moved to the newly platted city of St. Joseph where a two story brick structure with a portico and dome was built. It served until 1871, when a new building costing $173,000 was erected. This was considered the grandest county building in the West at that time. In 1885, it was severely damaged by fire but was rebuilt with a squattier dome and is still in use today.
Buchanan County figures prominently in American history beginning with the early French fur traders, especially Joseph Robidoux III, (founder of St. Joseph) who had special permission of the federal government to be there as early as 1803. St. Joseph, in Buchanan County was one of the main "jumping off" places for wagon trains filled with pioneers as they headed west in search of gold. Over 250,000 passed through this area in one year. By 1859, the first railroad to cross the state of Missouri stretched from Hannibal to St. Joseph, in Buchanan County. On April 3, 1860, the Pony Express sent it first rider from St. Joseph to Sacramento, California. For 18 months, they carried the mail to the western frontier.
In 1882, Jesse James met his demise in St. Joseph after being shot by a fellow gang member.
Buchanan County's financial growth has always had a close connection with agriculture and continues today. In the very early days, hemp was a major product. Later corn and wheat would replace hemp.
Today a variety of crops including soybeans, corn, wheat, corn, and livestock form the agricultural basis.
For many years, meat packing, drug companies, dry goods, wholesalers and bankers added to the agricultural economy.
The population of Buchanan County is about 82,000. The largest city in the county is St. Joseph with a population of approximately 72,000. Other cities include Easton, DeKalb, Rushville, Faucett, Agency, Frazer, East Atchison, Willowbrook, Halls, Wallace, and San Antonio.
Several ox-bow lakes such as Lake Contrary, Mud Lake, and Horseshoe Lake near the Missouri River furnish fishing and recreational spots.
The stockyards and most of the manufacturing are located in St. Joseph.
Missouri Western State University and several excellent school districts are located within the confines of the county.
Buchanan County has often been called the "Gateway to the West" or "The place where the East meets the West". Even though located in the northern part of Missouri, there is a certain southern charm, possibly brought by the settlers who came from Kentucky and Virginia.