A treaty with American Indians caused most of them to move
south of the Missouri River about 1815 but some danger remained
here, in this part of Upper Louisiana. People throughout the
nation were hearing glowing accounts about the land and climate
in huge Howard County, which contained five of our present
counties including Boone. An early historian said, "Probably
there was not one white man inhabiting the present soil of Boone,
Columbia didn’t exist. The Boone’s Lick Trail
bypassed the area on the north, on its way to a river-bottom town
called Franklin. Franklin was a frontier "metropolis"
that boasted churches, schools, a newspaper, a library, a jail
and fertile soil.
President Thomas Jefferson established the area’s first
U.S. Government Land Office in Franklin in 1818 Franklin
was washed away by the river 10 years later.
Travelers on their way to Franklin in ox-drawn wagons were
attracted to a forest hill overlooking a creek and good grazing
and cropland. Perhaps it reminded them of Kentucky, from which
they came, and they recognized the future value of the land.
Five or six families, including Richard Gentry’s, stopped
on the hill that is near Columbia’s central water tower, the
library and Grant Elementary School.
Those people named their settlement "Smithton,"
honoring Thomas Smith, who was in charge of the land office.
The hill location was a mistake because water had to be
carried up from a spring down near Flat Branch.
After failing to get water by digging wells, it was obvious
that the families had to move down the hill in order to have
"living water." Smithton village never contained more
than 20 people.
Thirty-five enterprising area pioneers, including farmer David
Gordon and merchant Richard Gentry, formed The Smithton Co. to
buy and resell the land that is now downtown Columbia and its
Historians Edwin Stephens and William Switzler refer to these
families as some of the finest cultured, intelligent
people who had considerable wealth.
Most of them came from Madison County in east central
Kentucky. These people came to the wilderness and endured
"cabins of the rudest structure and of only the poorest
Besides Gordon and Gentry, other names included in The
Smithton Co. were Cave, Boggs, Bass, Woods, Todd, Benson, Adams,
Woodson, Berry, Turner and many others. The surveyor was Peter
Wright, who deserves credit for the systematic and elaborate plan
for Columbia. Many of these people’s descendants are our
friends and neighbors today.
The Kentuckians cut logs from the forests and hastily put up
one-room, dirt-floor cabins with small doors and no glass in
their windows. Their lives centered around huge fireplaces that
served as a place to cook, visit, read the Bible and play
homemade games. They worked hard, worshiped, enjoyed husking bees
and log rollings, fiddled and danced, and made a happy and good
life for their children.
By 1821, Missouri was a state, Columbia was the county seat of
Boone’s government and David Gordon was planning his
permanent home. It was finished in 1823, and today its strong
walls stand though the interior was gutted by fire.
I was born in "spittin’ distance" of
Gordon’s two-story brick mansion and attended many a
community celebration when it was N.D. Evans’ pasture.
The pond was enlarged to a beautiful lake. I helped teach
canoeing there for Stephens College in 1949. All of my life,
I’ve admired that building that historians called "A
sentinel guarding the eastern portals of Columbia." It still
guards, even in ruins.
Recently, a Stephens College graduate, with tears in her eyes,
told of how that was a symbol of the most wonderful part of her
early adult life. "Many thousands of us loved her," she
Yes, we still do.