Josiah Christeson at Waynesville (Monograph 32)

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Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

By Dr. William “Bill” Ambrose

Subtitled: Robideaux, Rubido, Rubidoux, Robideau, Rubedow, Rubedoo, Rorbidoux, Who Knows?

The “Reports of the Geological Survey of the State of Missouri, 1855 – 1871” states that, in Pulaski County, “The richest soils are found in the valleys of the principal streams, including the Robideaux; throughout all (the streams’) meanderings we find the excellent farms and farm sites, capable of supporting a dense agricultural population.”  Coursing south to north through the center of the south one-half of Pulaski County, the Robideaux Creek meanders across 4 townships before adding the effluent from the famous spring by the same name.  From the Robideaux Spring, it is just a little over 2 miles to the creek’s mouth into the Gasconade River.  The town of Waynesville is located just north of the spring and east of the one-half ellipse formed by the creek in response to the tall bluffs and fertile bottom land confining it from the west.  It is that rich valley soil the Christeson brothers settled on in 1829, at that time it being a portion of the very large Crawford County.  The rainwater on the extensive elevated lands beyond the bluffs flowing downward with gravity over the millennia created the wide, rich valleys of the Robideaux Creek and continue today to fill the subterranean aquifers, enabling 37 million gallons of crystal-clear water per day to flow from Robideaux Spring.    

Little brother Josiah, with his twin older brothers Elijah and Elisha Christeson, all from Adair County, Kentucky, followed the westward movement to the new state of Missouri shortly after statehood.  The three brothers, their wives, and children came as part of the familial migration so common to the settlement of Missouri.  Among the very earliest settlers, they had their pick of farm sites, settling on Robideaux Valley land, all three brothers’ farms being within 2 miles of each other.  As the General Land Office surveys were not done until 1844-45 in this area, officially the Christesons were squatters on public lands of the United States initially.  The settlement of Missouri lands ultimately leading to private land ownership was a complex mixture of various forms of land tenure including squatters with improvements, pre-emption, land grants for various reasons, and fee simple purchase.  All three brothers formally purchased their tracts shortly after the government surveys were complete as seen here on Figure 1. The detailed landholdings information shown was taken from “Family Maps of Pulaski County, Missouri,” published by Arphax Publishing Co., all rights reserved. Likely each of the brothers considered much larger tracts of land as theirs during initial settlement, perhaps as shown on Figure 2.  But when it came time to pay for the land, they likely carefully selected the tracts to buy, reducing the size of their land holdings significantly, but realistically.  They settled close to each other for mutual support.  Health emergencies, farming support, building construction, educational facilities, or protection of their family members or their property claims were all good reasons to be near to each other on the Missouri frontier.

Pulaski County was founded on January 19, 1833, with the town of Waynesville chartered as the County Seat.  The land upon which the town was built was donated by Josiah Christeson and his neighbor to his north, Wm. Moore.  These 2 men laid off the town in 1834.  Figure 3 is an 1855 plat of Pulaski County showing the courses of the main streams and of the and Southwestern Branch of the Pacific Railroad. 

The only trace, or trail, through the region led from near the mouth of the Little Piney Creek into the Gasconade River, across the Big Piney River at Devil’s Elbow, through the site of Waynesville and Robideaux Spring, and then onto Springfield.  It was the Springfield to St. Louis Road.  It was the road the Cannon Detachment had joined at Big Prairie, now St. James, as they headed southwest toward Indian Territory.  And Robideaux Spring was a traditional campsite for travelers on the road; so it was for the detachment.  On December 9, 1837, Cannon recorded in his journal the detachment “Marched at 9 o’c. A.M., Mayfields wagon broke down at a mile left him to get it mended and overtake, halted at Waynesville, Mo. 4 o’c. P.M., encamped and issued corn & fodder, beef & corn meal, weather extremely cold, 12 ½ miles to day.”   While camped at the spring, Cannon purchased corn and fodder for the detachment’s horses and 624 pounds of beef for the Cherokees, all from Edwin Swink, a large landholder and farmer north of town and general store owner and postmaster in town.  Cannon paid Josiah Christeson $0.50 for “quarters and subsistence for the driver of a wagon conveying public funds, medicines, etc., for a detachment of Cherokees.”  Josiah’s house was likely across the Robideaux and a mile or so away from the camp to make it easier to keep the wagon and its contents safe.  Josiah Christeson’s house is drawn in appropriately, west of the creek, on the image in Figure 4 from a contemporaneous state survey of a new road from Pulaski County to Springfield done in 1837.   The survey was found recently by a member of the Trail of Tears Association at the Missouri Archives, within the office of the Secretary of State. Fortuitously, the surveyor drew the old road across the reach of the newly surveyed road, giving details and establishing geographic information not previously available.  The General Land Office plats have both the new and old Springfield to St. Louis Roads drawn on them; this newly discovered map enables researchers to determine which one of those roads shown on the GLO’s was the road taken by the Cherokees crossing Missouri on their forced removal – the Trail of Tears.  Today that route is called the “Northern Route of the Trail of Tears.”  Of the 17,000 Cherokees forcibly removed, at least 10,000 followed this route.  Many died along this road.  Rumors continue in Pulaski County that the walls of Josiah’s log cabin are contained within the walls of an existing building in the cabin’s original location.

The fact that there was significant enough infrastructure and resources available to meet the needs of the detachment through this reach of the Trail is due to the earliest hardy settlers’ efforts in claiming civilization out of the wilderness in just a few short years after their arrival.  The Christeson family went on to serve in many important ways as Pulaski County prospered in those early years.  The family continues its presence and service today.

Following the Cannon Detachment, beginning 2 years later, 10 detachments of approximately 1000 Cherokees each used this “Northern Route.”  Various references suggest this location at Robideaux Spring was the preferred camping location along this reach of the trail for all of them.  Scant definitive records exist, but there is confirmation that the Richard Taylor Detachment did camp here.  From Rev. Daniel S. Butrick’s Journal of that detachment, dated Tuesday, March 12, 1839, “We travelled about 12 miles to a settlement called Port Royal (Waynesville), on the banks of a beautiful stream named Rubedoo.  Here we had a delightful place, on the banks of the river, convenient to wood and water.  We employed our kind Nancy, a black woman to wash, and dried our clothes in the evening by the fire.”  The evening before the detachment, encamped on the Big Piney, had buried a Cherokee woman who had died that morning.  Death was a common occurrence along the Trail.

On Friday, June 19, 2015, seven Trail of Tears interpretive wayside panels were unveiled at the Robideaux Spring location.  The panels were created by the National Park Service in recognition of the importance of this location on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, known as Laughlin Park in the city of Waynesville, Missouri.

The Cherokee Tribes sponsor an annual “Remember the Removal” bicycle ride from the original Cherokee homeland to the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.  Usually, a dozen or more Cherokee youth train and then complete the 1000-mile ride every summer.  Figure 5 shows some of the previous Cherokee youth on their “Remember the Removal” ride.  It has been the practice each year for the Missouri Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association to welcome the riders to the Rodideaux Spring site with a recognition program attended by state and local dignitaries and members of the public.  The Missouri Chapter then provides the evening meal for the “Remember the Removal” riders and support staff at an area restaurant.  This year’s event is scheduled for June 16, 2023.   See you there!

3D Diorama Along the Trail of Tears

By William Ambrose

On the western side of the state of Missouri, the Trail of Tears is generally the Springfield to St. Louis Road.  The General Land Office (GLO) surveyors, those earliest government surveyors who surveyed the unsettled frontier lands ahead of any land sales, were required to draw the existing roads on the township plats beginning at about the time they surveyed the western half of Missouri.  The Springfield to St. Louis Road was pre-historic – it was a trace on the ground from Springfield to St. Louis used by Native Americans for travel for trade and hunting long before Americans arrived in the state.  The GLOs were the building blocks of President Jefferson’s rectilinear survey system, known as the Public Land Survey System, created by the Land Ordinance of 1785, a federal law. The system was laid out in 6-mile-by-6-mile squares, each square being known by its north-south “Township” number and its east-west “Range” number. 


By William Ambrose

From 1837 to 1839, the Federal Government forcibly removed 17,000 Cherokees from their centuries-old homelands in Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, and Alabama.  The Cherokee families were rounded up at gunpoint by Federal troops, held prisoner in detention camps, divided up into detachments of about 1000 people, and then forced to walk the 1000 miles to “Indian Territory,” now Oklahoma. Approximately 4000 died during that process. 

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