Cockrell: Small But Full of History

Reprinted from Lee's Summit Journal, December 1978

Along old US 50, between MO-7 and Lone Jack, exists a small community not listed on many maps-Cockrell.
Cockrell, which claims a population of about 25 persons, has never been a large town- some would say it was never a town at all in the proper sense of the word. But it does have an identity of its own and a history that goes back more than a century.
Mildred Shawhan, a local historian and granddaughter of Martin Leinweber (for whom Leinweber Road is named) has lived near Cockrell most of her life. Her grandfather came to Jackson County from Illinois in 1898 and she has studied county history for some time. Some would call her an expert (perhaps the only one) on the area of Cockrell.
Much of the information she acquired about the area is from the General Services Administration, but much comes from interviews with former and present inhabitants.
The land where Cockrell is located was once part of a 1,220-acre estate owned by Absolem Powell.
The name, however, was taken from Francis Marion Cockrell, a former brigadier general in the Confederate Army and a United States Senator from 1875 to 1905. The name was given to the area sometime after 1877. The oldest home still standing in Cockrell is thought to be a home built by William M. Rust. Mrs. Shawhan talked to a woman in Peculiar who said she was born in the house in 1877. The woman’s name Clara Rust West, daughter of William M. Rust.
The house, along with a barn and some out-buildings, is now owned by Paul Williams and was probably built in the early to mid 1870s.
A post office was established in 1886 and that’s why Cockrell is included on many county and state maps.
The first postmaster, William W. Twyman, was a merchant who operated a general store built in 1884 by a local entrepreneur, John Harris. The post office was operated from the store and Twyman remained postmaster until 1898.
Harris built hardware and harness shop shortly after the first store was built and it was operated by William Echkart.
Denton O. Hymes built a more modern store at Gammon Road, on the south side of old US 50 in 1898 and Harris’ stores could not stand the competition and closed shortly thereafter.
Hymes became postmaster that year, moved the post office into the new store and remained in that capacity until the post office closed in 1902.
In the meantime, John Harris’ daughter, Edna, married Frank Kennedy and the couple was given a house across from the new store. The house was built around 1881, making it the second oldest structure which is still standing in Cockrell.
Frank Kennedy served in the Missouri Legislature at the turn of the century and his daughters, Treat Levasseur and Hazel Sanders, live in the stately home today.
Mrs. Levasseur has fond memories of the old house, not the least of which include visits from Cole Younger, a long-time friends of the Kennedy and Harris families.
“The Youngers and the James families for that matter, were well respected in this part of the country,” she remembered. “Cole Younger called my mother “cousin Edna” and ate at our table often.”
Mrs. Levasseur explained many families in and around Cockrell were from the South and this caused some hardships during the Civil War.
“The only reason the US government gave the Youngers such a hard time was because of their southern heritage,” she contends.
“Most families around here either favored the Youngers or were kin to them,” she added with a smile.
Meanwhile the store across from the Kennedy house changed hands a number of times until, in 1940, it was purchased by the millionaire builder of the Lone Summit Range, Bruce Dodson.
Dodson’s foreman and right-hand man, Howard McCandless, purchased the store in January 1945. He and his wife, Grace, operated the Cockrell store until December 1959 when Mrs. McCandless became ill.
“The doctor told me it was either the store or my wife,” McCandless noted.
The contents of the store were auctioned off and it was turned into an apartment house, as it remains today.
Mrs. McCandless’ health improved and, about four years ago, Public Water District No. 15 rented a building on the property and installed an office, which the couple operates.
Howard and Grace McCandless handle water payments, turn-ons, turn-offs and meter reading for approximately 90 miles of water line which serves Lake Lotawana and Lone Jack. During their leisure time, they like to look at their photo albums and reminisce about their years at the old Cockrell Store.
In 1957 a man came in just as Howard was about to take money to the bank,” Mrs McCandless remembers. “He put a gun in Howard’s stomach and robbed the store.”
Justice prevailed, however, when the robber was caught three weeks later. He turned out to be a former city official from a nearby municipality, the McCandlesses added.
Although there are no city limits to Cockrell and most maps don’t include it anymore, the residents there express pride in the history of the small community – all 25 of them.