Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Christmas at Cooper’s Fort spent celebrating safety

Edwin Stephens wrote in his "History of Boone County" of three Cooper brothers - Benjamin, Braxton and Sarshall - who came to this vicinity in 1808 from Loutre Island, near present-day Hermann.

"They raised a crop of corn but were compelled by the Indians to abandon the enterprise and return to Loutre Island."

They came back in 1810 "with a company of 150 persons embracing men, women and children and thus effected the first permanent white settlement of the Boonslick Country."

They erected cabins, planted crops and enjoyed two years of almost "uninterrupted peace" with the natives. In almost every cabin there was "a library of one well worn book - the Bible."

Trouble began in the spring of 1812 when the British, at war with settlers, incited the American Indians by providing them with arms and ammunition.

Stephens reported, "The savages became bold and dangerous and the settlers betook themselves to means of defence."

The first and most important fort was Cooper’s Fort. Cabins were joined by vertical wooden slabs to form an enclosure for protection from weather, wild animals and enemies.

The Indians surrounded the fort, and the "European ‘intruders’ " rarely got to tend their crops, replenish the water supply or even bury their dead. Gov. Benjamin Howard warned the settlers of the dangers and advised them to go east to near St. Louis.

Col. Benjamin Cooper replied: "We have maid our Hams here and all we ha is here & it wed run us to Leave now... We be all good Americans. Not a Tory or one of his pups among us and we have 2 hundred men and boys who will fight to the last and ... 100 women and girls what will teak their place so we can defend this Settlement why, with God’s help we will do. ... So if we had a few burls of powder and 2 hundred lead is all we ask."

For three years the war continued with the "inmates" in great peril, and their condition was "nigh on to complete destruction."

The circle of Indians seemed impregnable, but from Fort Hemstead, six miles to the east, help might come. Not a man could be spared to go there, but young Mildred Cooper wanted to try. Braxton gave his daughter permission.

Mounted on her horse and ready, her father asked if there was anything else she wanted.

"Only a spur," she said. The spur was produced, the gate drawn wide and Millie and her horse flew out of Cooper’s Fort and disappeared into the forest before the Indians realized what had happened!

After giving up hope, Millie, General Dodge and 500 troops came to the rescue! They had "lost not over 20 of their number at the hands of the savages."

Their Bibles were tattered and worn from hard use during those terrible years. It would be safe that Christmas. It came with singing and rejoicing and not much in the way of gift-giving. There might have been apples and cabbage from the dirt piles in the garden and warm mittens and socks knitted from the remaining yarn from worn-out sweaters. There was probably not salt enough to enliven their corn meal mush.

But they were alive.

Crop season was coming, and, in the habit of their ancestors, each family was rejuvenated with new resolve as a patriarch read, from the book of Isaiah, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me ... he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and ... to set at liberty those who are oppressed."

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