Before the trail days and the covered wagons, the biggest thing around Jackson County was the “beaver.” The Big Blue and Little Blue were some of the best beaver streams anywhere in North America, and the Big Spring near today's Truman and Noland Roads was the center of all activity here in our neighborhood.
Jackson County has always been a land flowing with milk and honey also, a land with an overabundance of wild edibles, and those early settlers who came here before the Civil War made the most of it. They found the sloping soil here along the Missouri River banks adapted easily to the cultivation of fruit, grapes, and berries; the country was teaming with both large and small game; forests full of wildfowl and rivers swarming with fish. The soil was deep and rich; the climate mild and warm with a long growing season, and the river was open to navigation nearly all year long.
The entire state of Missouri was fortunate also, in the character of the people who originally settled it. First came the French with their wonderful wines and soups and salads; then the Virginians with their tradition of good living, their sugar-cured hams and golden fried chicken; the hunters from Kentucky and Tennessee led by Daniel Boone, connoisseurs of wild game and corn whiskey.
After them, the German colonists with their wine and beer and hearty diets; and finally the middle western farmer with his bee hives, cattle, hogs and turkey, his grains and vegetables. Even before these folks, the Native Americans had fared sumptuously, and the tradition of good living has remained unbroken to the present day.
Some of the favorite dishes of our forefathers in the region are no longer available however, such as wild pigeon pie, Little Blue River beaver tails, and the delicious “wild” honey. I assume you do realize that honey bees are not native to Missouri, but the Italian honey bee imported from Europe advanced with the frontier and made it to Missouri long before the first settlers did.
The appearance of honey bees was a signal to the Indians that white man was not far behind them. The Osage referred to the bees as “white man’s flies.” Those first settlers coming up the river found bee trees, filled sometimes with barrels of honey everywhere in the forests along the river. Sometimes bees swarmed onto a passing steamboat as if to welcome the people on board to the new territory.
According to all accounts, the wild honey was infinitely superior to the honey we buy in the stores today, it must have been the sweet wild flowers of the Missouri prairies, which have since been plowed under. The wild flowers gave it a particularly delicious taste that everyone raved about.
Roasted beaver tail was a delicacy unparalleled on the frontier. The flat tail of this animal is covered with a thick scaly skin, resembling in texture certain fish and cooked by roasting before a fire. When the skin was peeled off, it was eaten simply with salt. It had a mellow, luscious taste, melting in the mouth.
Fortunately, Missouri even provided the salt in plentiful supply at a time when salt was still an expensive luxury on the frontier. Daniel Boone and his stalwart sons were among the first to develop these resources at Boonslick down river near Boonville.
To top all of this off, the Missouri climate was ideal for growing excellent tobacco, and the Germans who settled around Washington, Missouri, on the south bank of the Missouri made a superior corn cob pipe and manufactured the zither, so that man could have music while he dined on beaver tails and smoked his corn cob pipe.
-- To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.