History of Northeast Missouri
Part of the American History and Genealogy Project

The Land and the People


Northeast Missouri comprises that part of the state of Missouri lying north of the Missouri River and east of the western boundary of Chariton County. In the territory thus embraced are the counties of Adair, Boone, St. Charles, Montgomery, Callaway, Marion, Audrain, Warren, Lincoln, Pike, Lewis, Clark, Knox, Sullivan, Macon, Chariton, Randolph, Howard, Monroe, Scotland, Ralls, Putnam, Schuyler, Linn and Shelby. It is not the oldest section of Missouri, as far as settlements by the white man make for age. That distinction belongs to southeast Missouri where is Ste. Genevieve, oldest of Missouri towns.

First English Settlements in Missouri

In Northeast Missouri, however, were the first permanent settlements of the English speaking race in Missouri and the beginnings of its history antedate those of any other section of the state, excepting southeast Missouri. In area Northeast Missouri embraces 14,081 square miles. In all Missouri are 68,736 square miles. The population of all Missouri counties in the figures of the United States census of 1910 was 3,293,335. Of these 481,008 are in the twenty-five counties of Northeast Missouri.

In the Boon's Lick country, in St. Charles County and in the Salt River country were the first settlements in Northeast Missouri. As all the west, the country now Northeast Missouri had been peopled with Indians, Sacs, Foxes, Kickapoos, Pottawatomies, Missouris, tribes that roamed the plains and slunk through the forest shades even after the coming of the white man. The pioneers often found the red men troublesome and, on occasion, murderous neighbors. The Indians in Missouri were less savage, perhaps, than those of the far west, but their presence was a source of constant irritation. When Cols. Benjamin and Sarshall Cooper in 1808 led a band of Kentuckians to make their homes in Howard County they were called back by Governor Benjamin Howard nearer the older settlements because he could give them no protection against possible Indian outbreaks. In 1810 they returned and Col. Sarshall Cooper, seated by his own fireside, met death at an Indian's hand. There were no Indian wars of consequence in Northeast Missouri. The uprising, in 1832, of Black Hawk and his band of Indians to the northward stirred up the residents of the outlying settlements, but the uprising, by the victory of the whites at the battle of Bad Axe, was soon at an end. The Indian disturbances were largely local and soon, with the growth of the white population, ceased altogether. The Indian struggled for a few years against white occupation, struggled in barbarous fashion and unsuccessfully, and, then, moved on to the west and southwest.

Relief Map of the United States, showing the location of Missouri

French and Spanish Settlers

The earliest successors of the Indian in Northeast Missouri came from France or Spain. Three gates opened wide to the Missouri territory in the early days. The Spanish came by the lower water gate of the Mississippi River, the Great Water of the Indians, in search of gold; the French first by the upper water gate of the Mississippi led by Marquette's noble missionary zeal and later by the lower water gate as well; through the mountain gate from the eastward came the Virginians, their children of Kentucky and, in later day, the Scotch-Irish of farther north. At yet later time came men and women from north and east and from beyond the sea, all seeking homes where there was blue sky and elbow room and freedom. No one, save the earliest Spaniards or an occasional trapper of the fur trade day, came to Northeast Missouri to make a fortune in mine or forest and return; he came to make a home and abide in the home. Homemaking, English speaking folk settled Northeast Missouri, not gold seeking adventurers. The Spanish are remembered by an occasional name of town or river and the French in the same wise or by some ancient family tree.

The Real Founders

The colonists from east of the Appalachians seeking homes were the real founders of the early state. They were of genuine pioneer stock. Some peoples will not bear transplanting; even in the wilderness others are the architects of states. Of the latter were the earliest settlers in Northeast Missouri, hardy, dominant and daring. Missouri, easily first of all the states in potential resource, is the product of their handiwork, while every state from the Mississippi River to the Golden Gate shows their skill in commonwealth construction. The name of Pike County, Missouri, has gone abroad in all the land. In struggles with savage beast and untamed man the pioneer Missourian showed persistent heroism and hardihood. They were his children who, in the strife between the states, enlisted to the number of beyond 100,000 in the Union army and more than 50,000 in the Confederate service, keeping the state's quota full without draft or enforced enlistment, not merely in one but in both armies, a record unexampled among the states, north or south. They were church going and school encouraging. Within its boundaries are a majority of the colleges of the state. They had respect for law. No vigilance committee was needed to preserve order even in the most primitive community in Northeast Missouri. In the earliest Missouri constitution Missourians recognized the providence of God, provided for the establishment of free schools, and planned for a state seminary of learning, now the State University in Northeast Missouri. One interior county in Northeast Missouri, Boone, with population of a scant few hundred, in 1839, gave, by voluntary subscription, $117,900 for the founding of a college, a farmer who could neither read nor write heading the subscription list with $3,000, a gift, considering time and circumstance, more princely than that of any modem millionaire.

The early residents of Northeast Missouri were not always from Virginia, the Carolinas, Kentucky or Tennessee. From the Middle and New England states also they came. It was a Pennsylvanian, Alexander McNair, who, settling with his brother in friendly boxing match who should inherit the old homestead and losing the match, became the first Governor of Missouri. It was a South Carolinian, Daniel Dunklin, who was the father of the public school system of the state. From Connecticut came Rufus Easton, the new state's greatest lawyer. Tennessee gave Missouri one of her first United States senators, David Barton, and North Carolina the other, Thomas Hart Benton. Thomas F, Riddick, who gave to Missouri her public school lands, going horseback at his own expense from St. Louis to Washington to plead successfully therefor, John Scott, the first congressman, Frederick Bates, the second governor, State Senator Abraham J. Williams, the one-legged cobbler from Columbia who succeeded Bates as governor, John Miller, who succeeded Williams and served seven years, the longest term of any Missourian to hold the office, these were of Virginia nativity. The dominant life, however, in early Northeast Missouri, in all Missouri, was Virginian and Kentuckian, tempered by the frontier west.

Daniel Boone

First Settlers in Northeast Missouri

Louis Blanchette, surnamed Chasseur, the Hunter, a gay French sportsman, was probably the first settler in Northeast Missouri. He wandered from the hamlet of St Louis in 1769 and built a cabin from which grew "the village of the hills," afterward St. Charles. The eyes of the white man had seen the glories of the land. In earlier years. More than a century before Marquette and Joliet, Jesuit missionaries and explorers, came down the Mississippi river and doubtless landed on its attractive western shore. In 1680, a Franciscan friar, Louis Hennepin, ascended the Mississippi river from the mouth of the Illinois, staying his frail canoe for occasional converse with the Indians on the river banks. Trapper and hunter had, here and there, penetrated the wilderness or rowed upon the streams, but there was no permanent habitation. Following the lead of the adventuresome Blanchette, however, settlers began to enter the territory.

Boone and English Speaking Settlers

Not until the closing years of the eighteenth century, however, did English speaking settlers, chief among them Daniel Boone, America's most famous frontiersman, make their homes here. Others came with the birth of the new century and upon the close of the War of 1812 immigration fairly poured into the new country.

After St. Charles there came the settlement of the Boon's Lick country and then the lands along the Missouri river between Boon's Lick and St. Charles. Two sons of Daniel Boone, Nathan and Daniel M., made salt at the "lick" in Howard County and shipped it in hollow logs down the Missouri River to St. Louis. Soon a settlement grew up nearby at Franklin on the river and the Boon's Lick country, name for all the region round about, came into existence, with Franklin, soon to be washed away by the muddy river, as its chief city. To Franklin came Nathaniel Patten and Benjamin Holliday, enterprising Missourians, and began the publication, April 23, 1819, of the Missouri Intelligencer and Boon's Lick Advertiser, the first newspaper west of St. Louis. In the same year the Independence, Capt. John Nelson commanding, ascended the Missouri River and made landing at Franklin. "What think you, Mr. Reader," said the Albany (N. Y.) Ploughman "of a newspaper at Boon's Lick in the wilds of Missouri, in 1819, where in 1809 there was not, we believe, a civilized being excepting the eccentric character who gave his name to the spot." Franklin became the metropolis of the Boon's Lick country. Only a single brick building, once the Franklin Academy, now remains of all its early greatness. In Callaway County the village of Cote Sans Dessein, the hill without design, had been established and in a few years was the center of a small settlement. In 1812, under the protection of Capt. William Head's fort in Howard County, there was a settlement on Thrall's Prairie in Boone County.

Boon's Lick Road and Immigration

The Boon's Lick road, from St. Charles westward, surveyed by the Boones in 1815, brought many settlers. The Intelligencer, April 23, 1819, in one of its brief references to local affairs, said: "The immigration to this territory, and particularly to this county, during the present season almost exceeds belief. Those who have arrived in this quarter are principally from Kentucky, Tennessee, etc. Immense numbers of wagons, carriages, carts, etc., with families, have for some time past been daily arriving. During the month of October it is stated that no less than 271 wagons and four wheeled carriages and fifty-five two wheeled carriages and carts passed near St. Charles, bound probably for Boon's Lick. It is calculated that the number of persons accompanying these wagons, etc., could not be less than three thousand. It is stated in the St. Louis Inquirer of the 10th instant that about twenty wagons, etc., per week had passed through St. Charles for the last nine or ten weeks, with wealthy and respectable immigrants from various states. Their united numbers are supposed to amount to twelve thousand. The county of Howard, already respectable in numbers, will soon possess a vast population, and no section of our country presents a fairer prospect to the immigrant."

Immigration turned toward the north from St. Louis, the gateway, as toward the west. Maturin Bouvet, a Frenchman, had found salt springs in Ralls County in 1792 and shortly afterward, obtaining a grant of land, had built a cabin and warehouse in Marion County. At the close of the War of 1812, English speaking settlers, "finding the Boon's Lick country crowded," moved on to the Salt River country in what is now Marion, Ralls, Shelby and other counties of that section and English civilization began.

German Immigrants

Shortly after the English occupancy a large number of German immigrants came, chiefly as a result of a book of travels written by a scholarly German, Gottfried Duden, who had visited St. Charles, Warren and Montgomery counties in 1824. The large German population of St. Charles and its neighbor counties dates it beginnings to the year 1833 and to the result of Gottfried Duden 's illuminating volume.

Thus came the early settlers to Missouri, the Spanish and French, then the English, the German and people of every nation and speech. It is a composite citizenship in every sense today.

Pioneers of All Nationalities

The life of the pioneer was one of hardship and loneliness but of romance. Only men of courage make successful pioneers. Such were the men who laid the foundations of Northeast Missouri. The pioneer was in peril of Indian attack. Beasts seized upon his cattle. He had few books and scarcely a newspaper. Schools were rare and the school term brief indeed. Manners were rough. But the pioneer was honest, brave, hospitable. He gave welcome to every decent stranger. He was industrious, sober, law abiding. "An amiable and virtuous man," he is said to have been by the Rev. Timothy Flint, a New England visitor of 1816. The Spanish and French had sought for rich mines, for fur trading and for adventure. The English immigrants looked for agriculture and for homesteads. There was never dispute or quarrel between the races. The few Spanish and the more numerous French mixed readily with the English, who soon far outnumbered the pioneers of different blood.

Boon's Lick in a Case Car, First Automobile, 1912, at Terminus
of Northeast Missouri's Most Famous Road

The English speaking pioneer differed from the French pioneer in life as well as in language. Id nothing was this difference more manifest than in the building of homes. The Frenchman settled always in villages and his farm, if land held in common can be called a farm, came to the very edge of the village. His residence was in the village and he seldom tilled a farm so far away that he could not at night join in the amusements of the village. The Englishman, on the contrary, cleared a farm in the wilderness. He located as far from a village as the presence of the Indians would permit. He "never wished to live near enough to hear the bark of his neighbor's dog." With the French the village came first and then the farm. With the English the farm came first and afterward the village.

Original Thomas Jefferson Monument,
University Campus, Columbia

The house of the Englishman was constructed differently from that of his French neighbor. Both were log cabins, sometimes of one room, sometimes of two, with a wide open way between. The French man put his logs on end and fastened horizontal seats to the walls. The Englishman, however, laid the logs for his house horizontally, notched them together at the ends and filled the spaces between with "chinking of mud and plaster. Hospitality was the rule. The door of the pioneer home was made of boards, swung on wooden hinges. It was fastened within by a latch. From the latch a string was hung through an opening in the door. "The latchstring is always on the outside" indicated the open hearted welcome. The cabins had windows without glass. A shutter or greased paper in a sash was used instead. A "Virginia rail fence" made an enclosure around the cabin. The chimney was partly of stone and a huge fireplace gave warmth.

The food and clothing of the pioneer were products of the land. Bears, deer, turkey and small game were plentiful. Farm and garden furnished vegetables and from the com came his bread. Skins of wild animals were made into rough but substantial garments and the loom in the cabin furnished homespun clothing. He had little money and little use for money. His wants were few and he could supply them with moderate ease. When he would buy anything at the village he could give peltries in exchange. Barter was common. "Pins, needles and sheets of coarse writing paper were used as money." Spanish silver dollars were the coin mostly seen. These were cut into small pieces known as "bits" for change. The expressions, "two bits" and "six bits," have not yet disappeared. Thus was the life of the pioneer.

County of Pike and Missouri "Pikers"

Many Americans, in the early years of the nineteenth century, believed that the republic of the United States would not extend beyond the Allegheny Mountains. They thought the western country a wilderness or desert unfit for human habitation. Others believed that the country would be divided into several nations, as they thought it impossible for so large a territory as that from the Atlantic Ocean to Louisiana to be successful under one government. It was claimed by many that the amount of money, $15,000,000, paid by the United States for Louisiana, was too great. Surely, they said, the wild land west of the Mississippi was not worth this sum. To make answer to the criticisms and doubts the Lewis and Clark expedition was sent out by President Thomas Jefferson in 1804. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, officers in the United States army, were at the head of the expedition which explored the Missouri River 1,200 miles and crossed to the Pacific Ocean. This expedition and the later ones under the leadership of Lieutenant (afterwards General) Zebulon M. Pike were important and far reaching in their effects upon Northeast Missouri. Pike's expeditions in 1805, 1806 and 1807, first to the sources of the Mississippi River and second to the sources of the Platte and Kansas rivers, turned attention to the Middle West of which Northeast Missouri was the frontier. Pike's Peak, in Colorado, and Pike County, in Missouri, are named for the explorer. For years many persons outside Missouri knew only one county in the state, the county of Pike in Northeast Missouri, and called all Missourians '"Pikers."

Initial County Organization

Five counties were in Missouri territory in 1812, only one, St. Charles, in all Northeast Missouri. The western boundary of St. Charles County was the Pacific Ocean and the northern border the Canada line. When the state came into the union in 1821 there were fifteen counties, of which ten, Boone, Callaway, Chariton, Clark, Howard, Lincoln, Montgomery, Pike, Ralls and St. Charles, were in Northeast Missouri. This shows the growth of the region. Macon County was organized in 1826; Randolph in 1829; Monroe in 1831; Lewis and Warren in 1833; Shelby in 1835 ; Audrain in 1836; Linn and Macon in 1837; Adair and Scotland in 1841; Sullivan in 1844; Schuyler, Putnam and Knox in 1845. These organization dates show the process of the population.

Boundary Dispute with Iowa

In 1840 the boundary line between Northeast Missouri and the state of Iowa was finally settled. There had been difference of opinion between the officers in the two states as to the ownership of a strip of land about twenty miles wide. Instead of pursuing a sensible policy and seeking to settle the difference by law, each state undertook to enforce its authority on the disputed strip. Finally troops were called out by both states. It looked as if there would be war. The tract of land, mostly covered by forest, was noted for wild bees and the dispute was called "The Honey War." Seeing the folly of fighting, it was agreed by both aides to stop war preparations until the national government could settle the boundary line. This was done and now in Northeast Missouri the counties of Clark, Scotland, Schuyler and Putnam have their northern boundaries, the Missouri Iowa state line, definitely marked by iron posts, ten miles apart.

St. Charles, Old Missouri Capital

The capital of Missouri was, for a time, in Northeast Missouri, at St. Charles, where the building in which the first general assembly met yet stands. Most of the members of the first Missouri legislature, in 1820, as well as the governor and other high dignitaries, rode to St, Charles on horseback. The members boarded at private houses. Pork sold at 1% cents a pound; venison hams, 25 cents each; eggs, 5 cents a dozen; honey, 5 cents a gallon; and coffee, $1 a pound. Sugar was not in the market and those who drank coffee sweetened it with honey. The legislators dressed in homespun clothes, buckskin leggins and hunting shirts. Some wore rough shoes of their own manufacture, while others encased their feet in buckskin moccasins. Some had slouched hats, but the greater number wore caps made of the skins of wildcats and raccoons. Governor McNair was the only man who had a fine cloth coat cut in the old "pigeon-tail" style. He also wore a beaver hat and endeavored to carry himself with the dignity becoming a man holding the highest executive office in the state.

General Development

The growth and development of Northeast Missouri, the story of its progress, is told in the separate county histories. Written by high authorities, they make a real contribution to the history of the important territory. The life of the pioneer, the part played by women, the building of roadways to bind the population together, the waterways, the organization of churches, the literature, the dark days of the civil war, the history of the state as a whole, these are presented adequately and admirably in separate chapters and need not be considered here.

Map of the twenty-five counties of Northeast Missouri

Northeast Missouri is a section of many interests. Largely rural, it contains no city of more than 20,000 population. Its chief interest is agriculture, but manufacturing and mining are of much importance. It is a center of fine stock growing. Half the land is underlaid with coal. Diverse industries, an extended crop season and fertility of soil make, because of the skill, intelligence and energy of the people, a prosperous community. The Mississippi and Missouri river bottom lands are like the Nile valley for richness. The uplands are unexcelled for fruit. The prairies afford abundant harvests. Nor is there neglect of those things which make for the higher life of the citizenship.

Eminent Men

The list of eminent men who have been residents of Northeast Missouri is a long one. In the county histories that follow, their names are recorded. Here may be mentioned, among the dead, James S. Rollins, the eloquent father of the University of Missouri, Bishop Enoch R. Marvin, James O. Broadhead, James S. Green, Edward Bates, John Miller, George C. Sibley, Sterling Price, Claiborne F. Jackson, Charles H. Hardin, John A. Hockaday, George C. Bingham, Eugene Field, Mark Twain, Abiel Leonard, James L. Stephens, John H. Lathrop, Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, soldiers of war and soldiers of peace, educators, statesmen.

The spirit of its people is the spirit of progress, tempered by sane conservatism. It rejects not the old because of its age nor refuses the new because it is not old. It is the spirit of a community conscious of its own secure position, somewhat too careless at times of the world's opinion, hospitable, generous, brave. The dream of the greatest statesman is a nation of citizens dwelling in happy homes. In Northeast Missouri the dream finds realization.

A Home History of a Home Land

This is a home history, not a story of trumpet and drum, and is told by men who live among and know the people. The individual county histories and special chapters, gathered by, this editor to give comprehensive and composite view of Northeast Missouri, have been written with fine discrimination and loving, sympathetic hand. They record the Missourian's good deeds and the rich romances of his life for the edifying of the generations that come after him.

This is a home history of a home land. Long the western outpost of American civilization, its chief contribution to history is the homes it founded in the wilderness and sustained amid privation, stress and danger unto the abundant home life of today. The energy the old home of Northeast Missouri stored, the iron it put into the blood, the clear eyes and unclouded brain and the faith and love it has bequeathed enable the men and women of today to walk in straighter path and more safely. This home, in country or on city street, is the old Missouri's heritage to humanity. First of all and always the Missourian was a home builder. And with the perishing of the homes he builded and others like unto them, the republic, no matter its cities or its commerce, its courts or its governors, will be at an end. Upon the historic past we build the historic present. The New Missouri rests upon the Old Missouri.

Let those in Northeast Missouri who know tell of the Old and of the New, a home history of a home land.

  Northeast Missouri| AHGP Missouri | Books on AHGP

Source: History of Northeast Missouri, edited by Walter Williams, Volume I, Lewis Publishing Company, 1913


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