James Evans West of Caledonia (Monograph 29)

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By Dr. William “Bill” Ambrose

James Evans west of Caledonia

On November 21, 1837, Cannon recorded that the detachment “passed through Caledonia, halted at Mr. Jackson’s, encamped and issued corn & fodder, beef and bacon, mostly bacon, 14 miles today.”  We have been unable to identify this Mr. Jackson or any land he may have owned.  Probate records indicate that he was related to the Evans family.  We believe that he was likely renting land from James S. Evans, the most important landowner in that area.  And, as Cannon’s invoices record, Cannon purchased from James S. Evans “405 lbs. of bacon for subsistence of a detachment of Cherokees at 10 cents per pound” that day.  Land records indicate that Evans owned over 1000 acres of land on this Belleview Plain.  In addition to his own acreage, he was in farming partnership with Jesse R. Evans, C. Colin, and James H. Rolfe.  Altogether this group of commercial farmers had over 30 slaves.  Many other farmers in Belleview Valley had that many or more enslaved farm workers.  The obvious association I am making here, as in the region around Cook Settlement, is that these men settled in the valley knowing it contained rich soils upon which to raise commercial quantities of staple crops.  These farmers also raised hemp and tobacco as cash crops.  Both of these crops are extremely labor intensive and profitable.  During that 1820 to 1840 period, Missouri tobacco was considered the best in the world.  They could trade their produce with other commercial farmers on adjacent fertile plains, transporting them on wagon roads between their farms.  Also, they had ready markets with nearby mining interests.  Additionally, they had distant markets eastward at St. Genevieve on the Mississippi River or westward at Massy Iron Works, where as many as 500 men were employed, if the prices were good enough to pay for the added cost of the transportation.  Better roads would make for better commerce.  And commerce was the fuel needed to advance settlement.  Cannon needed this same road system to travel on with the 20 horse-drawn wagons in the detachment.  Coincidentally, the roads connected him to commercial farmers who could provide the quantities of staples and other supplies he needed to sustain his human and animal charges.  This same synergism sustained another 10,000 Cherokees over the next two years as they walked this narrow path to Indian Territory.  Cannon and his detachment of 366 Cherokees would have been amazed at the agricultural production in Belleview Valley.  By the way, Evans wasn’t just a commercial farmer.  He had a lead smelting furnace at Old Mines, a general store, blacksmith shop, and sawmill in Caledonia, and operated the first flourmill in the valley.  For many years he lived in the largest house in Caledonia and paid the highest county tax bill.  His life’s grandeur abruptly ended with the Civil War in Missouri.  Owning a plantation with slaves was more than the civil authority during the war could tolerate.  Prison was the answer.  He survived prison but never regained his economic prominence. 

James Evans grandfather was Jesse Evans, a Major in the Revolutionary War and, after moving to Missouri in 1815, became a confidant of William Clark working to settle Indian issues in the Territory.  James’ father was Joseph, a Colonel in the War of 1812 here in Missouri.  A lawyer while in Virginia, he served with Gen. Robbins surveying the Booneslick for the Surveyor General before moving to Washington County.  James himself purchased hundreds of acres after Washington County was surveyed, and then cleared it for farming to engage in commercial production of food to help meet the needs of an advancing frontier of settlement.   He was there, willing and able to help the Cherokees in the Cannon Detachment and likely the following detachments over the next 2 years.  The multi-generation Evans family served the region with safety and security, civil organization, and then settlement and food and fiber production, an appropriate family timeline of service matching the advancement of Missouri’s citizens’ and society’s needs.


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