Water and lack thereof lead to demise of towns

Wagons are going west over the animal-path trail through what will later be Boone County. All of Mid-Missouri is known as Boonslick — or Boone’s Lick — Country, and the trace is called Boone’s Lick Trail because Nathan and Morgan Boone went this way hunting a salt lick. They went back and forth for four years, manufacturing salt.

It’s 1821. Daniel Boone died last September about the same time the legislature carved this county out of huge Howard. They named our county Boone, honoring the legendary Daniel, before Missouri even gained its statehood.

A stream of wagons moves from Callaway into Boone County by crossing Cedar "river" and continuing west toward the salt lick. About 1815, after the Indians relinquished all claim to land north of the Missouri River, three men, all from Madison County, Ky., stopped along the "highway" and erected cabins as taverns for travelers.

The first of these was William Callahan, for whom Callahan’s fork of the Perche Creek is named. Callahan was a noted hunter and Indian fighter and "can justly be designated as the first white man ever to settle in Boone County." So said historian Edwin Stephens.

"About the same time, the second one of the three Kentuckians, John Graham, built a cabin/tavern near the present site of Rocky Fork Church, and Robert Hinkson built another near the source of the stream that bears his name."

That was a few miles northeast of a hill on which settlers had built a cluster of five cabins plus a "store, tavern and house of entertainment." They named that village Smithton after the genial fellow in charge of the land office at Franklin.

The salt lick is not far from Franklin, which is a metropolis in the wilderness, situated on fertile Missouri River-bottom farmland. The U.S. government opened a land office there in 1818. Early settlers in Smithton and Franklin sent word back to Kentucky and Virginia that fertile land could be bought for $4 to $6 per acre.

The war is over, "inmates" who were confined in the filthy, crowded, almost unbearable forts because of hostile Indians are busily improving their homes and farms. Many who were in Fort Head, north of Rocheport, are the intelligent, wealthy and industrious ones from Kentucky and Virginia. Their descendants will prosper and remain in Boone County for many generations.

Smithton is being abandoned because of a water problem. Men dug with hand tools three very deep wells. One hole is 90 feet into the earth! There was no vein of "living" up on that hill! There wasn’t enough to even supply the few who had built homes there.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurs formed "The Smithton Company" and bought hundreds of acres of land, some to keep and a lot to sell at a profit. They’ve platted a new town, Columbia, with straight parallel streets, 83 feet wide. The main street, Broadway, is to be even wider, 100 feet wide, to accommodate farm sales in the middle with space for wagons to unload and load animals and space for teams and wagons to turn around without backing.

Franklin is the boomtown on the frontier. Five years ago, at the end of the war of 1812, the entire population of Howard County was only 500. Now in 1821, it’s more than 13,000! Franklin alone has about 1,500 people. The city boasts 225 buildings, "The Intelligencer" newspaper, two academies of learning, a jail, three taverns, five stores, a library, a carding machine, a tobacco factory, six Baptist churches and much more.

Alas! Like many frontier towns, Franklin, too, will disappear — completely destroyed in a matter of hours by the Missouri River flood.

More later.

Click here to return to the index
Copyright © 1994-2010 Sue Gerard. All Rights Reserved. No text or images on this website may be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author, except small quotations to be used in reviews.