Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
By Dr. William “Bill” Ambrose
The Osage and other Native Americans before them had many rhythms to their lives. These rhythms were patterned like their beliefs, based in balance, not in conflict. For the Osage all the important features of life existed in duality. Earth and sky, male and female, peace and war – every issue was structured from a balanced framework and by design avoided conflict. It was a cosmology of essential reciprocity that favored the middle ground. Normalcy and contentment resulted from an ongoing process of working toward balance.
There was no dualism category of good versus evil. Lifeways were established to predispose success to their strategies. Naturally, then, so was their choice of location in which to live life as seminomadic hunter-gatherers. The short grass prairie plain on the upland west of the Missouri Ozarks afforded amazing monocultural resources that provided great comfort and dependable food for many months during the warm seasons. Buffalo out on the prairie, waterfowl and fish in the slow-moving Osage River marshes, fertile soil for growing corn, beans, and squash, gentle prairie breezes unabated by dense forests– all in dependable abundance – made for a good life in spring, summer, and fall. But the monocultures failed them in the winters.
The buffalo moved away, marshes froze over, and firewood became scarce as the unbroken fierce winter winds rose. Winter was not the season to live on the short-grass prairie plains. The dualism of life led to the protection of deep Ozark hollows for winter. The abundance of the Ozarks was its dependable diversity based in its complex topography and karst geology. Forested and well-watered valley bottoms with abundant deer, turkey, bear, and fish provided essential open water, cover, food, and warmth to survive the harsh winters confidently. Roots, berries, nuts, and native fruits added to the food sources. The most important balanced dualism for the Osage was the choice of habitation location– the short grass prairie plain and deep Ozark cove forest; the only strategy necessary was timing the transition – their preeminent lifeways rhythm. For the Osage the most important life balance was lost, and the lifeways rhythm died in 1808, crushed by white-man’s lies and enforced by a nebulous treaty.
Negotiated by William Clark under the direction of Merewether Lewis, the 1808 Treaty of Fort Clark removed the Osage from their fifty-thousand square mile Ozark winter refuge. The treaty established the eastern Osage boundary line as a vertical line drawn from Fort Clark (later Fort Osage) on the Missouri River to Frog Bayou on the Arkansas River, now a line twenty-five miles east of Missouri’s western state line. In 1825 the next Osage Treaty totally removed the Osage Nation from their Missouri Ozarks; even though the Osage lifeways duality did not include “good versus evil,” the white frontier settlement paradigm did! The Osage necessarily had to continue to use the Missouri Ozarks into the 1830’s for limited hunting and trading to meet their food and furs-for-trading needs for essentials.
Other Native American tribes were caught in the same enforced diaspora. Shawnees, Kickapoos, Otoes, Delawares, Sac and Foxes were among those nations. At statehood in 1821, an estimated twenty thousand Native Americans resided in Missouri, equaling nearly one-third the white population. As white settlement advanced westward, the vast unsettled regions of the Ozarks available for those limited hunting and trading activities continued to rapidly narrow. The Courtois Hills region had become the practical limit to white westward settlement into the Ozark highland at that time. Settlement supported by waterways did not exist to that westward region as no consistent waterway access existed.
By the 1820’s the Courtois Hill’s valleys had filled with Scot-Irish Southerners engaged in farming. Mining areas were dug up for lead and iron ore, and rutted roads were interrupted by tiny trading hamlets. For another decade the iron works at Meremac Spring was the center of industrial manufacturing in the Ozark region and the practical limit to settlement. The hunter-trader lifestyle of frontier existence was still in style beyond the iron works, even more so the further west one travelled. Opportunities for trading posts developed as the tribal hunters and white trappers and traders developed a circular travel loop over the Ozark dome and returned to their homes beyond the state on their ancient travel route tracing the St. Louis to Springfield Road. In 1818 James Berry Harrison made the decision to pursue that trading opportunity at a strategic location on that ancient road.
James Berry Harrison was born March 11, 1788, in Botetourt County, Virginia. He was the son of John Peyton Harrison, a Revolutionary War captain who served at least two years in the 2nd Virginia Regiment. Three of John’s brothers were killed in the war. The family always referred to John Peyton as “of the Revolutionary War.” The Harrisons honored that history; they were proudly patriotic. The Harrisons moved to Spartanburg County, South Carolina by 1800.
There, several years later in the vicinity of the village of Duncan, James married Lovisa Voss Duncan. By 1817 James Berry Harrison and his brother-in-law John Duncan and their families were living near the mouth of the Little Piney River in Franklin County, Missouri where both the Little and Big Piney Rivers emptied into the Gasconade River. His family, along with several other families, including the Duncans, had traveled the Boone’s Lick Road heading for opportunities in that region of fertile soil. The War of 1812 had ended in 1815, and civilian deaths from Indian attacks prompted by the British in the Boone’s Lick had also ended.
The Boone’s Lick region of rich soil north along the Missouri River had just been opened for sale. The opening of the Boone’s Lick had created a steady movement of settlers through St. Louis and along the Boone’s Lick Road hoping for a new start; the population of the Missouri Territory tripled between 1815 and 1820. If James Harrison had wanted to be a farmer, he would have gone to the Boone’s Lick; however, the travelers stopped at his brother John Harrison’s farm on Loutre Island at Hermann and saw lots of pine plank lumber floating past the island in rafts.
The pine plank lumber was coming from the lumbering activities in the extensive, pine-rich watersheds of the Gasconade River. There were reasons to not move into the deeper Ozark areas. As late as 1818, Schoolcraft had trouble hiring a guide for his Ozark Expedition because of the risks associated with Indian hunting parties still roaming the region. Additionally, the Gasconade bottoms, and river bottoms generally, had become associated with bad health and early deaths as malaria, a very debilitating illness, was endemic, and infant deaths thought to be from the river bottom fogs were common. Nonetheless, the wagon train turned south, following the Gasconade to the confluence of the Little Piney. Harrison and Duncan were likely traders at heart, not farmers.
James Berry Harrison was likely the very first white settler to that very game-rich, three-river region. He likely had a brisk business trading with the various Indians and hunters moving along that travel route. A few primary documents exist pertaining to his trading posts, including his purchase of a grocer’s license for $5.00 in 1835 from the Crawford County Court. The Gasconade River entered from the west, the Big Piney River from the south, and the Little Piney from the east.
The pine forests in the broad upper watersheds of these three rivers supplied fine pine lumber to the building industry in St. Louis, the lumber being floated down all the way to St. Louis, a two-hundred-and-fifty-mile distance. Lumbermen would have been customers of Harrison’s. Millers, mechanics, ox-drivers, and rafters, all associated with the lumbering business, would have been customers. The region was famous through the 1940’s for its abundant deer, bear, and turkey hunting. Commercial hunters would have been customers, trading deer skins and hams for the necessities of their lifeways.
He built the very first log cabin in the area, built directly adjacent to the St. Louis-to-Springfield Road for his family and to be used as a mercantile. James’ strategic location allowed him to develop a lumberyard for the purpose of preparing the pine lumber for the float to St. Louis. His six slaves and fourteen children created a powerful workforce. His blacksmithing skills would have been very useful. After statehood in 1821, his cabin, patriotically named Liberty Hill, was initially located in Franklin County. His brother-in-law and neighbor, John Duncan, was a judge on the first county court held at Liberty Hill on January 29, 1829, after Crawford County was established. The first order of the court named James Harrison as “Clerk.”
The cabin became the post office for the entire postal region all the way to Springfield. James was the postmaster, giving him access to the most up-to-date pricing on commodities and peltries – quite a benefit in a bartering economy. The cabin was a community meeting house for many years. James also served in the Missouri General Assembly in 1826 and 1832. For practical purposes James was the law on that frontier; he was Justice of the Peace for his township in 1828. In the following decades, as settlement moved west, so did the Harrison family. One of James’ sons became a founder of the Laclede County seat town of Lebanon, another a founder of the Miller County seat town of Tuscumbia.
The St. Louis-to-Springfield Road was the travel route for the eleven detachments of Cherokees who took the Trail of Tears route known as the “Northern Route.” Each detachment included about one-thousand Cherokee citizens. The detachments depended upon getting food and supplies along the trail from farmers and traders. Each detachment had government-issued gold and silver specie to buy their needed supplies. Many of those detachments would have purchased quantities of supplies from Harrison, resulting in significant profits for him. On March 4, 1839, Dr. William Morrow, detachment physician for the Richard Taylor Detachment, recorded in his diary, “James Harrison 2 miles below Bates a mean man – will not let any person connected with emigration stay with him.”
As a rule Dr. Morrow preferred to stay with area settlers along the trail instead of in camp because he could not get any rest in those detachment camps. Dr. Morrow had to travel ten miles farther that cold night to find a warm place to sleep, prompting him to record for history how mean a man James Harrison was. Records show that overnight guests were common at Liberty Hill, including judges, lawyers, and traders; no reason was recorded by Morrow for Harrison’s meanness. History records all kinds of things many people would prefer to have been forgotten.
For example, history records that the State of Georgia and the people of Georgia were responsible for the epic tragedy known as the Trail of Tears that had placed Dr. Morrow at James Harrison’s that cold night. Now we know that a Missouri resident was responsible for making the Trail of Tears more arduous for one traveler. And one more thing: what is the difference between the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation from their Georgia homeland by the people of Georgia and the forced removal of the Osage Nation from their Missouri homeland by the residents of Missouri?
Prior to the first white explorations of the Missouri landmass, every square inch was “owned” by Native Americans. In 1838, the Missouri General Assembly passed a law making it illegal for a Native American to be in the State of Missouri. Today there are over five-hundred federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States of America. The State of Missouri does not recognize a single Native American tribe, nor does any Native American tribe own or control a single square foot of property in the State of Missouri. Guilty as charged!
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