Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Benjamin Cooper built fort to fend off warring Indians

Daniel Boone’s company of immigrants moved 800 miles from central Kentucky to Missouri in 1800 and settled along the north side of the Missouri River. They built log cabins between Marthasville and Dutzow, just off today’s Highway 94, west of St. Louis. Others came with Benjamin Cooper, whose English ancestry dates to 1598; he led them upstream to Loutre Island on the Missouri River, across from present-day Hermann. Let’s follow Cooper farther west, before there was a settlement in the area.

In February 1804, Ira P. Nash, an eccentric genius and U.S. government surveyor, along with Stephen Hancock and Stephen Jackson, were "the first men to put their feet upon this sacred soil" we call Boone County. They came up the river in February, surveyed, hunted, fished and departed in March.

In 1805, while on a hunting trip, Morgan Boone located salty water oozing from the ground - more than 100 miles from his home.

A saltwater spring was of real value to frontiersmen because salt improves the flavor of food and is essential in human diets. Wild animals crave it and lick the brackish earth where salt accumulates as the water evaporates or seeps away. Obviously that’s a good place to hunt wild game. Deer, raccoons, opossums, squirrels and rabbits provided meat for frontier tables, which often offered almost nothing else.

In November 1806, hunter Morgan Boone and his younger brother Nathan, sons of 71-year-old Daniel Boone, set up a salt "factory" near those springs. They boiled salty water in iron kettles, dried the remaining sludge in the sun and used the precious salt for flavoring food, tanning hides, curing wild game and to trade or sell for cash.

Immigrant wagons heading west followed the Boones’ tracks from near St. Charles and continued west crossing the Missouri River where it was wide and shallow at Arrow Rock.

This cross-state route, which was once just an Indian "trace," soon became known as The Boone’s Lick Trail. It was the eastern end of the Santa Fe, Oregon, California and Overland trails.

Most of Central Missouri north of the river was called "Boonslick Country." But there was still no settlement of Caucasian people west of Cedar Creek - the Boone and Callaway County line - and north of the Missouri River.

In 1808, the three Cooper brothers - Benjamin, Braxton and Sharshall - planted a corn crop and built a cabin two miles southwest of the Boones’ salt works; the Loutre Island settlers planned to move to that spot. However, territorial Gov. Meriwether Lewis directed the three men to return home. They were too far into Indian country for him to provide them adequate military protection.

Two years later, in 1810, the three Coopers returned with their families and about 150 people, counting the children. They were surprised and pleased that the cabin Benjamin Cooper built earlier was unharmed in spite of being surrounded by Indians on all sides.

As planned, they built other cabins in a line with Cooper’s. Then they made it a stockade by driving 9- and 10-foot stakes into the ground endwise, thereby joining the cabins to make an enclosed rectangle. Cabin doors and window holes faced inward, and there was only one entrance/exit into the stockade. It was a protective fort in case of attempted attack.

Cooper’s Fort was the very first settlement of European immigrants west of Cedar Creek and north of the river. When war broke out in 1812, the territorial governor was Benjamin Howard, who advised them all to move near St. Louis.

Watch for Cooper’s reply and the results in next Monday’s column.

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