When the word got out in 1825 that the U.S. government was about to sign a final treaty with the Osage that would open up this part of Missouri for settlement by Americans, the pioneers came immediately. In fact as the treaty was being signed, there were about 50 families waiting at Fort Osage for permission to move into Jackson County. Those 50 families that were waiting on the sidelines were mostly Appalachian people from the Carolinas, Kentucky, Tennessee and the Virginias. They were, at that time, considered Southern farmers and brought with them all of their worldly possessions, including their African slaves.
In fact, much of the country across Missouri was settled by Southerners who were so Southern in fact they referred to their land holdings, not as farms or ranches, but as plantations.
The 1803 Louisiana Purchase effectively doubled the size of the United States, and the whole country turned and faced westward waiting for the opportunity to move into this new untamed land. At that time, there were only two so-called towns in the new territory, New Orleans and St. Louis.
It was impossible to travel west out of New Orleans, because, if the alligators didn’t get you, you would probably get lost in the swamps. So, everybody headed for St. Louis. However, Missouri was not much better.
You know how fast the grass grows in your backyard – well think what it was like before the lawn mower. You could not walk across the state of Missouri. The prairie grass was taller than a man’s head and so thick, you couldn’t wade through it.
There were an estimated 20,000 Indians living in what is now the State of Missouri at that time, so there were a lot of Indian paths crossing the state, but they were just that, foot paths. If a man had enough nerve, he could probably walk the Indian trails, or ride his mule down one, but no way could he take a covered wagon down one.
So the Missouri River became the highway of the day. The immigrants would load their belongings on a river barge and pull it up the river. That was before the days of steamboats on the Missouri, so they literally pulled the boats up stream by rope – a grueling task. Of course, the river was a much different animal in those days. Before the river was channeled, straightened, and levied in, it flowed all over the Missouri River bottoms.
As you travel Missouri 291 toward Liberty, you know how you go down over the bluff, across the flat bottom-land, up over the big river bridge, then travel some more across the bottom-land before you go back up over the bluff to Liberty. Well, it's three miles across the river bottoms, and in the 1800s the Big Muddy covered the whole three miles. It wasn’t simply one big river like it is today, it had many channels and lots of willow covered islands, but just think of how beautiful it must have been. However, it was very swift and shallow and prone to flooding at the drop of a hat.
Maybe they had a downpour up in Nebraska, or a snow melt up in Montana, whatever, by the time those waters reached Jackson County it was a raging torrent. The flood waters would change the channels and eat away at the river banks and yank those massive cottonwood trees right out by the roots and deposit them downstream in the middle of the river.
So the river was full of dead trees and this was about as far as they could safely navigate the river. Independence soon became the most important settlement of any consequence on the extreme 19th century Western Frontier.
Reference: “Jackson County Pioneers” by Pearl Wilcox.
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