H.E. Davis Avoids the Trail of Death, Pt. 2 (Monograph 6)

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By Dr. Bill Ambrose

Was it just good luck or fate that put the Cherokees at Mr. Davis’s homestead? Likely neither! Research has found that Mr. Davis knew the Brickey family – not just a little. Crawford County Circuit Court records disclose the frequent jury duty service assigned to the extensive Brickey family – a large number of male brothers and cousins from the “Sanders” and Huzzah Crossing communities in Crawford County. Landowner males were required, because only they could serve on juries; prominent and respected local folks were the essence of the early-Missouri justice system. Only juries of your local peers were considered truly “just.” Circuit Clerk Davis was at every session of court in Crawford County throughout the mid- 1830’s; he was in charge of those juries and their administration. 

 The Davis family practiced their Presbyterian faith “strictly,” according to the available genealogical history of Crawford County. With a name like “Brickey,” easily changed to “Brickee,” the Scot-Irish basis and Presbyterian faith is not just a little likely. Could the B.B.Cannon Detachment have had a pre-arranged campsite at Davis’s? Had Mr. Davis and Mr. Brickey arranged to host the Cannon Detachment? Evidence says “Yes!” How else could you explain all the food and forage received by the Cherokees that day? How could a neighbor of Mr. Davis manage to provide six wagon loads of shell corn (three thousand pounds) from several miles away in winter conditions on the northern border region of the Ozarks without having several days’ notice? Looking back a week or so to Brickey’s at Huzzah Crossing, what are the chances two farmers from the area had an extra nearly one-thousand pounds of fresh beef for sale? This level of provisioning required significant planning and lead time!

So how far does this scenario take us? It takes the story to a new paradigm for the Trail of Tears story across Missouri. The original epic included Cherokee braves in scouting and hunting parties ranging far and wide from the trail to harvest meat for the detachments. It included the able-bodied elders gleaning the near-to-the-trail landscape for nuts, fruit, berries, roots, and greens. It was the classic return to the Native American hunter-gatherer paradigm, which the Cherokees had not practiced for years. The newly uncovered apparent modus operandi on the trail was for a very much pre-arranged plan. Further evidence and just cause may be found in the Christianization of the Cherokees. Detachments were even accompanied by missionaries. Jesus Christ said he goes to prepare a place for the Christian faithful. What better way for a frontier Presbyterian faithful community to live out their literal faith than to provide daily sustenance and shelter for an undeserved Christian diaspora?

The detachment left the Davis camp at 9:00 a.m. and made camp that afternoon of December 5, 1837, at the Meremac River, having travelled ten miles that day. The next morning Abraham Benton arrived with eight-hundred sixty-eight pounds of fresh beef for the detachment. At that time in frontier Missouri, fresh beef was considered an extreme luxury, and pork was far more common. Logic would require that Mr. Benton had, as part of a plan, slaughtered two or more beefs perhaps several days before for this specific purpose. Even a wealthy family would have no more than one beef at a time hanging in a smokehouse for family use. Land ownership records have been located for Mr. Benton in Johnson Township, Crawford County, a few miles north of the iron works. He may very well have driven two wagons through the night a significant distance to deliver his life-saving foodstuffs. The origin of the name Benton is English, first found in Warwickshire at Binton; however, many “Bentons” are known to have emigrated from Ulster, of Scot-Irish origin. Abraham Benton was likely Presbyterian with Brickey and Davis.

Consider the significance of pre-arranging wagons full of food and supplies arriving in a timely manner to Cherokee campsites in mid-winter on the northern border region of the Ozark Mountains by frontier settlers, mostly subsistence farmers. That would represent an extreme Christian commitment to a humanitarian crisis not of their making. It would, in total, change and refresh the Trail of Tears epic across Missouri’s Ozarks. The earthly “saving grace” shown by frontier Missouri Christian communities needs to be recognized and honored as part of our heritage here in the Show-Me State! It will add great depth to our rich, culturally diverse, frontier Missouri history – if its true!

If you have any suggestions, comments, or critiques please email Chris.Dunn@GeoVelo.com

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