Blind Boone in Warrensburg
Rachel Boone Hendricks grave in Sunset Hill
John William Boone was born on May 17, 1864, to Rachel Boone in Miami, Missouri, in a Union army camp occupied by the Seventh Militia, Company I. Rachel Boone had been enslaved at birth in 1843 in Kentucky. It is unclear just exactly who enslaved her, but her enslaver moved her to Missouri by the outbreak of the civil war.
When the Civil War broke out, Rachel made her way to the Union army camp in Miami, which provided her protection from her enslavers and became a camp cook. Boone's father was probably Private William S. Belcher, who was a private in the Seventh Militia, Company I. Belcher was stationed at Camp Grover, near Warrensburg, Missouri, in May of 1864. It is quite possible that Rachel and her young son relocated to Warrensburg shortly after his birth to be near Belcher.
However, the relationship between Boone and Belcher did not work out and Belcher left Rachel and their son in Warrensburg. Rachel found work as a laundress and she worked and lived in the homes of some of Warrensburg's most prominent citizens including T. T. Crittenden, who served as Governor of Missouri and Francis Marion Cockrell, who was elected to the United States Senate.
Warrensburg was an interesting place when Rachel and her son arrived. Before the Civil War started in 1860 the total population of Johnson County was 14,644 and of that number 12,743 individuals were white and 1896 were enslaved. The county's population included a mere five free blacks. The town quickly developed around Main Street, which included a county courthouse, but by 1870 the city and its development shifted closer to the railroad and a new courthouse was built on Holden Street. By 1870 the population of Warrensburg included 2,447 whites and 498 African Americans.
Rachel and her son probably remained in Warrensburg because of the Union Camp at Grover Park and perhaps also because the American Missionary Association established a Freedman's schools for African American children in Warrensburg in January of 1865. The school was completed in August of 1867 and was named the Howard School in honor of General Oliver Otis Howard, who was the Commissioner of the Freedman's Bureau.
About the time of the announcement that a school for African American children would be built in Warrensburg, Boone contracted an illness that took his eyesight. He apparently had contracted either encephalitis or meningitis, which created pressure on the brain and one way to remove some of the pressure was to remove the patient's eyes. Another possibility is that Boone had developed an infection in his eyes, which necessitated the need for their removal.
Blind Boone, who the locals called, "Willie," grew up in the homes of some of Warrensburg's most prominent white citizens because his mother worked for them. He developed an early interest in music by using tin pans and this attracted the attention of Senator Francis Marion Cockrell.
Around 1872 Rachel Boone married Harrison Hendricks, who already had five children and moved into his one-room cabin, which was located behind Old Land Fike's Mill and was known as the Eureka Mill in Warrensburg. The one-room cabin was a crowded environment for eight year old Boone, but he was not to remain in the one room cabin for long.
In the fall of 1872, when he was just eight years old, some citizens of Warrensburg, which included Francis Cockrell and others, raised money to send young Boone to the Missouri Institute for the Education of the Blind in St. Louis. Young Boone was only a student there a couple of years, but he returned to Warrensburg knowing how to play the piano by ear.
In 1880 Boone, at the age of fifteen became the principal in the Blind Boone Concert Company, which toured the United States under the management of John Lange. Lange agreed to send $10.00 a month back to Rachel in Warrensburg until he was twenty-one years old. The income was welcome in the Hendricks household, but Rachel continued to work.
In 1884 Rachel worked as a "washerwoman" for the Fike family. In 1885 her son became a full partner in the Blind Boone Concert company and a now twenty-one year old "Willie" Boone took steps to take care of his mother. The Blind Boone Concert company toured between early September until late June and in the 1880s and 1890s the touring company did quite well financially.
Because of that success, Boone purchased a home for his mother in August of 1899 on W. Culton street that was previously known as the Vollmer place. The Journal Democrat noted: "Blind Boone,...left several days ago for Columbia. Before going he bought the seven room residence in the northeast part of town, known as the Vollmer place, consideration $1200, and presented it to his mother for a home for the balance of her days. This was a magnificent act on the part of her illustrious son." He visited her at this residence in July of 1900 and Rachel Boone Hendricks died at that home on January 9, 1901. She is buried in the Sunset Hill Cemetery in Warrensburg.