A long, long time ago, back before American settlement in our neighborhood, this was a small part of the Great Osage Nation. They were the largest of what is known as the Prairie Tribes. The Osage controlled much of today’s Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. They were great warriors and robust giants compared to those early European settlers. They had their problems, but, all said and done the Osage were quite friendly toward the encroaching white man – they liked the idea of trading for European goods.
Besides the Osage presence, Eastern Jackson County has seen both the French and Spanish flags flown overhead, but in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson made a $15 million deal with Napoleon of France in the Louisiana Purchase, which in effect, doubled the size of the United States. The Louisiana Purchase covered all of the present territory from the Mississippi River to the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountains, and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian Border.
Jefferson sent the legendary Lewis and Clark up the Missouri River the following year to scope out the new purchase and help the country figure out just exactly what we had bought. Lewis and Clark camped over night at least five nights along the shores of northern Jackson County on their journey up the river.
From the time they began their trip near St. Louis, it took them 39 days to come up the river this far, camping just upstream from Levasy on June 22. The next day a head wind slowed them down; they made only about 3 1/2 miles to the next campsite, across from Fort Osage. On June 24 they camped again just north of Atherton where the men spotted numerous signs of deer and black bear, apparently they were after mulberries.
Thirteen miles upstream to the next campsite on an island near Sugar Creek, and on June 26 they camped for two days at a point where the Kaw River dumps into the Missouri River.
William Clark calculated they had traveled 366 1/2 river miles so far to that point and he observed numerous Carolina parakeets along the riverbanks. Sorry to say, but those little birds are now extinct; however, they looked much like the parakeets we buy in the pet store today, maybe a little larger. They were bright green with a yellow head and black wing tips. They also had a big red circle around each eye, with their little curved parakeet beaks.
The night they camped across from Fort Osage they noted that it would be an excellent spot for a fort, because of the steep high river bluff on a curve in the river which afforded an excellent view in both directions up and down the river.
William Clark returned in 1808 to manage the construction of Fort Osage in 1808, which became the first in a string of forts the U.S. Government built along the Missouri River. Its purpose was protection for the Americans and to trade trinkets with the Indians for their furs and beaver pelts. The Big Blue and Little Blue Rivers were some of the best beaver streams in America, and beaver hides were in high demand back in Europe.
It took close to 20 years after the Louisiana Purchase before Missouri was able to achieve statehood in 1821, but a 26 mile wide strip of land from the fort to the present-day Kansas Missouri border was not opened for American settlement until 1825. That 26 mile wide strip of land became Jackson, Cass, Bates, Vernon, Barton, Jasper, Newton and McDonald Counties.
Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups.
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