Welcome to Blackwater. Population: 162. Traveling across Missouri, you see signs for this historic town driving I-70. But if you ain’t from around these parts, you might only recognize it as the town where the Red Dead Redemption saga currently begins and ends.
Having only visited Blackwater vicariously through the outlaw John Marston, Spence and I added it to our to-do list immediately after finishing our Red Dead Redemption 2 playthrough. Since it’s less than an hour and a half east of Kansas City, we decided to make a weekend trip out there. The Friends of Blackwater host a May Festival while nearby Arrow Rock has a Birds & Bees Festival on Mother’s Day weekend, making it the perfect opportunity to visit.
We booked an Airbnb in the historic town of Arrow Rock, which I will write about in a separate post. As you can imagine, there aren’t many lodging options in Blackwater aside from Main Street’s 10-room Iron Horse Hotel which wasn’t a good choice for us with three dogs and two tiny humans resources in tow. As a mom to two kids under two, I’ve found it best to book an entire place for ourselves when we go on vacation so as not to torture folks enjoying their holiday with crying babies, toddler tantrums and happy shrieks.
Our daughters, Reila and Asena, love car rides – especially once the vast, green acreage of heartland farms covered in cows and horses become visible from the highway. I stand corrected – they’re moos, not cows according to my 21-month-old Reila. Three-month-old Asena sleeps while her big sister says, “Moo,” over and over. It’s an easy drive from Kansas City – sail straight east on I-70.
When Exit 89 finally appears, Rockstar’s masterpiece in the multiverse collides with reality. We found ourselves on hilly Highway K, watching red-tailed hawks circle overhead and turkey vultures perched on a barn. Eventually, one soars down to feast upon something dead in a field of yarrow.
What I love most about Red Dead Redemption 2 is its ability to educate and connect players to the Earth and natural wonders around us. And what I love about Missouri (aside from the Missouri Fox Trotter, arguably the best in-game horse) is its temperate climate and all-encompassing terrain. Missouri has swamps, mountains, fertile prairies, two great rivers, streams to boot, tumbleweeds and a lake known as the Magic Dragon.
But I digress.
Highway K turns into Main Street and as the downtown block appears on the horizon, it’ll have your outlaw lad or lady saying, “Shut up, you silly (wo)man, and kiss me,” before you find a rowboat to borrow to take ’em out on the…river. Hate to break it to you guys, but there’s no lake in this dimension.
However, Blackwater has plenty of other treasures to offer, such as the Mid-Missouri Museum of Independent Telephone Pioneers, an 1890s jail, an old-fashioned windmill guarding the town’s original well, cornstalk fencing and a post office that’s been up and running since 1873. Being surrounded by all this 19th-century architecture is an experience, regardless of your familiarity with Red Dead Redemption.
Continuing north as you leave this quaint business district, you’ll see the replica train depot on the right, which wasn’t open to walk through when we got there but can be utilized for events by contacting city hall in advance. Anyway, Spencer couldn’t stop gawking at the train station so I knew we would have to explore and document it on our May Festival adventures the next day. With two little human resources and three dogs, we were anxious to get to the Airbnb and settle in.
“Let’s get that picture taken if it means that much to you,” I got to say as we pulled up to the Blackwater train station the following morning donning our favorite cowboy hats.
“It does. Today, it does,” Spence retorted. Of course.
By this time, our favorite photog Aunt Tate (Taylre Pearson Photography) was in town to celebrate Mother’s Day with us, so we handed the camera over to her. She told us to make a pose we felt comfortable with and snapped a few pics. Then, the camera returned to my amateur hands.
Unfortunately, it rained the day of the festival, making it pretty doggone cold – especially for the little ones. Storm clouds rolling over Blackwater. Shocking (not). Still, we wandered around to all the vendors’ booths and hopped into local businesses to warm up. We enjoyed the tractor parade from the front window of Kimberly’s Place, where one waitress labeled our ticket as the “cute cowboy hat couple” as we admired the train-covered bar, coffee mugs decorated with the faces of regulars and deer skulls hanging across the sloped ceiling. A handsome couple, quite something.
We bought a beautiful one-of-a-kind pepper grinder from Charles Thompson of Woodchuck’s Woodworking Shop and Aunt Tate scored a deal on two quality beanies to keep warm. This was all after we had finished exploring the Birds & Bees Festival at Arrow Rock. A few vendors packed up a bit earlier than expected but I couldn’t blame them. The wind and rain made a frigid combo.
If you’re looking for a small-town getaway or a place to bring your Red Dead Redemption cosplay to life, take a two-mile detour from I-70 and a step back in time to explore Blackwater, Missouri. Established in 1887 as a coal refilling station for Missouri Pacific Railroad, the trains traveling between Jefferson City and Kansas City were once the lifeforce of Blackwater. All them years… But as you will see, residents have done an amazing job keeping up this beautiful slice of Americana and deserve tourist support.
Have you been to Blackwater? Interested in attending a Red Dead Redemption meetup there? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below!