Shortly after the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, President Thomas Jefferson dispatched Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their Corps of Discovery up the Missouri River in search of an easy route to the Pacific Northwest and to record everything they found along the way.
On June 23, 1804, they spied a steep bluff high up on a hill at a sharp curve of the river. There they put into shore at what would soon become Fort Osage in northeastern Jackson County.
Clark made note in his journal which read, “That would be a good site for a fort and trading post with the Indians.”
Four years later in 1808, Clark returned to the same sharp curve in the river with 80 men and boats loaded with tools and equipment and fixed the spot where the fort and other buildings were to be located.
Back in St. Charles, where they set off from, another six keelboats carrying George C. Sibley and 81 soldiers set off up the river behind them. The two parties met on the high bluff and within 11 days, they had a fort ready to be christened.
William Clark was in charge of construction and his top aide was none other than Nathan Boone, son of the great Daniel Boone. Nathan Boone brought in the Great Osage chiefs and two important treaties were negotiated, which gave up all Osage lands south to the Arkansas River and some north of the Missouri. In exchange, the white men agreed to buy the Indians fur pelts, and provide them with plows and other tools, and furnish them with a blacksmith shop in the Osage villages. For signing the treaty, the Osage also received some American currency, ammunition, paint, blankets, trinkets and other assorted American merchandise.
George Sibley was the man in charge of the new post as the agent – the factor of the government storehouse. Sibley was not only an efficient, energetic and hard-working agent, but became a great host and a friend to the Osage.
The fort was basically abandoned during the War of 1812 and Sibley was removed to the St. Louis area, which is when he met the remarkable Mary Easton. Mary was born into a well-to-do New England family back in 1800, and was only 4 years old when her family arrived in St. Louis, where she grew up in a melting pot of neighborhood kids.
Educational opportunities for girls in the new territory were almost non-existent in those early years, so Mary’s mother took it upon herself to educate her own children. Mary became a musical young lady of grace and knowledge as she grew to womanhood. It was George who caught Mary’s eye, and he was immediately smitten with her remarkable qualities, not to mention her charm and beauty. George was 33 and Mary was only 15 when they married.
Upon his return to Fort Osage following the end of the war, he brought his lovely new bride and her piano back up the river with him. The first piano on the Missouri frontier became a great curiosity to the Osage Indians, who simply adored her beautiful music, which seemed to be from heaven. As a teacher at heart, Mary did her best to educate the settlers and Indian children alike around the six mile district of Fort Osage.
George built a fine log home for Mary at the fort, which was noted for its hospitality, and all prominent travelers on the Missouri River were duly entertained by the newlyweds.
As gracious hosts the Sibleys welcomed such guests as Dr. John Robinson, Manuel Lisa, Pierre Menard, Pierre Chouteau, William Breckenridge, John Bradbury, Chief Shahaka and among many others, including the old scout himself, 85-year-old Daniel Boone.
Reference: “Missouri Heritage” by Lew Larkin
To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send email to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.