The city throve on the freighting trade of the mines.
Lexington succeeded Sibley as the eastern terminus of the Santa Fe trade, and was in turn displaced by Independence; it long owed its prosperity to the freighting trade up the Missouri, and at the opening of the Civil War it was the most important river town between St Louis and St Joseph and commanded the approach by water to Fort Leavenworth.
In 1858 it became the headquarters of a great freighting-firm that distributed supplies for the United States government among the army posts between the Missouri river and the Rocky Mountains; in seven months in 1859 this one firm employed 602 men, used 517 wagons, 5682 oxen, and 75 mules, and shipped 2,782,258 lb.
A road over the Ute Pass to South Park and Leadville was built, and at one time about 12,000 horses and mules were employed in freighting to the Leadville camps.
Trade was largely confined to the rivers and freighting for Sante Fe and Salt Lake before the war, but the first railway entered the state in 1853.