Don’t be surprised when I say that this busy, mushrooming city was once in a large wilderness called Upper Louisiana. It was purchased from France in 1803, and later a large area north of the Missouri River came to be called Boone’s Lick Country - named for Daniel Boone’s sons who made salt near here. The enormous Howard County was later carved into segments including Boone, Howard and several other counties. But what was here before there was Columbia?
Historian Edwin Stephens included the following in his "History of Boone County," which was printed in the county’s first atlas. Emigration to Howard was immense for its first five years.
"Her fertile soil, genial climate and rich undeveloped resources attracted hundreds of the wealthiest and best families of Kentucky and Virginia. Perceiving the inevitable destiny of that region, men purchased large tracts of land. The town of Franklin was the focus around which all of the newcomers clustered."
Few people were attracted to what became Columbia, all being eager to press on westward to Franklin on the Missouri River. The first settlers of our area were three men who lived along this route and kept taverns that had provisions for travelers going westward.
The first one of these of whom we have any account was William Callahan, who lived in the northwestern section of the county near the creek that bears his name.
Callahan was a noted hunter and Indian fighter and can be justly designated as the first white man who ever settled in Boone County.
"At nearly the same time, however, John Graham built a cabin" - a tavern - "near the site of Rocky Fork Church; he was followed by Robert Hinkson" - also a tavern owner - "who lived near the source of the stream that bears his name."
The first land sales of the state were held under the supervision of the Franklin Land office in 1818, and the first lands sold were the 11th, 12th and 13th ranges of Boone County. Travel from Franklin to St. Louis was done on horseback, and merchandise was carried upstream on the river in keel boats.
There were no coaches between these places until 1820. It was a three-day trip from Franklin to St. Louis, and the fare by stage was $10.50.
"When the Territorial legislature assembled in 1813, there was probably not a white man inhabiting the present soil of Boone, nor is there evidence of anyone living here until after the War of 1812, in 1815."
The ground on which Columbia now stands was divided into lots of 11 acres - the "in" lots - and 40 acres - the "out" lots - according to the land purchased. The rate paid per acre was $4 to $6.
On Nov. 14 the land owners conveyed ownership of land on which to lay out a town. The five buyers were Tom Daly, Gerard Robinson, David Todd, Richard Gentry and Taylor Berry. The town was named "Smithton" in honor of Gen. Thomas A. Smith, the receiver of lands in this district. No cabin except a small one was built until the fall.
The five families built log cabins and a tavern in Smithton and dug wells; they discovered that sufficient "living" water was not to be had at the top of that rocky hill - near Columbia’s library at West Broadway and Garth Avenue.
Smithton was doomed; the cabins were dismantled and land traded for equal value sites in the newly planned city to be called "Columbia."