I’m sure most people reading this column have looked out across the hills of Eastern Jackson County on a bright sunshiny day and noticed the beautiful blue haze that is prevalent most times of the year. We live in one of the few areas in this country that has that blue haze. The Blue Ridge Mountains back along the slopes of the Appalachian chain has that same blue haze. Drive out into Kansas a little ways into the Smoky Hills area and you encounter a similar gray haze. The Great Smokey Mountains back in eastern Tennessee also have their same gray haze.
The first white men to step foot in what is now Jackson County were the French fur trappers and traders. They were the ones who referred to our neighborhood as the Blue Country, because of that blue haze. It was these guys who first wrote Little Blue and Big Blue Rivers on their maps. If Andrew Jackson had not been so dad-gum popular, we would probably live in Blue County today.
Long before the first American settlers arrived in our neighborhood, this was Great Osage Indian hunting grounds. However, along the journey toward statehood, a series of treaties between the Osage Nation and the U.S. government removed the tribe across the border into Indian Territory.
Fort Osage is the oldest white settlement here in Blue Country. Its construction in 1808 was overseen by William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame. The old fort was originally referred to as Fort Point during its construction. But, shortly after its completion, it was renamed in honor of William Clark, and was known for a time as Fort Clark. It was later renamed once again in honor of the Osage, who deeded over the ground that the fort occupies, plus an additional six-square mile area for livestock and crops on which to support the fort and the soldiers stationed there. That area is still referred to as the Six Mile District around the fort.
Several other tribes lived across what is today the state of Missouri, but the Osage were the predominant tribe in our neighborhood. In fact, the Osage claimed territory covering most of Missouri and Arkansas from the Missouri River south to the Arkansas River, and much of Oklahoma and Kansas as far west as the Rockies.
If you were born in Jackson County about that time, you would probably have been born either an Indian or a French child. If you were Indian you would most likely have been Osage or possibly Kaw or maybe even Shawnee. Those two tribes lived out on the plains of Kansas during the summer months, but many of them wintered around the springs of Eastern Jackson County. There was an abundance of fresh water all winter and plenty of wild game for food.
The French in Blue Country were fur traders and trappers, and many took Indian wives. So, if you were born a French boy child, you no doubt would have grown up to be a fur trapper. However, if you were born a young French girl, you would have been schooled in finery and taught to be quite a lady. The French fur trappers were mostly Creole from Canada and were a generation or two removed from France, but they remained remarkably, very French.
Reference: “Jackson County Pioneers” by Pearl Wilcox.
To reach Ted Stillwell, send an email to Ted@blueandgrey or call him at 816-896-3592.