Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
By Dr. William “Bill” Ambrose
Mark Dent was born in Maryland in 1777. He moved as a very young child with his family to Virginia. According to family records, he came to the trans-Mississippi West region in 1803, the area being under French ownership at that time. Following mining roads to the inland from St. Genevieve, he found and settled on the first rich dolomite plain beyond the mining region on the north-west side of the St. Francois Mountains, the location being near the contemporary town of Bismarck shown at the large blue arrow on the map. Like Farmington, it was on that band of fertile soil surrounding the Ozark Dome of the St. Francois Mountains, except on the west side of the mountains. Indian attacks drove him away, forcing him to return to Virginia.
He returned to the area in 1811, apparently settling on his original claim location, at that time in the St. Genevieve District of the Louisiana Territory. On June 4, 1812, a large portion of the vast region known as the Louisiana Territory became known officially as the Missouri Territory. In October of 1812, the old districts of the Louisiana Territory – Cape Girardeau, New Madrid, St. Charles, St. Louis, St. Genevieve, and Arkansas – were organized as counties in the Missouri Territory.
The area where Dent settled was in St. Genevieve County in Township 35 North, Range 4 East. When Washington County was established in 1813, that township was included in that new county. And when St. Francois County was established in 1821 from St. Genevieve, Jefferson, and Washington Counties, its western county line was drawn on the range line between Ranges 3 and 4 East, so Dent’s homestead was included in St. Francis County. Without moving, he lived in three counties. That fact gives us a sense of how fast settlement was advancing around the time of Missouri statehood. Dent eventually owned a total of 1000 acres in T35North – R3East in Washington County and T35 North – R4 East in St. Francois County, adjoining townships across the county line.
Being a long-time resident of the area of newly-formed St. Francois County, he was made chairman of a commission of the county in 1821 to locate the county seat of government. The location they selected was on a 52-acre gift of land in the Murphy Settlement, and it was named “Farmington” because of it being in an area of extremely fertile soils. It is reported in the Goodspeed’s “History of Southeast Missouri” that Mark Dent “served as a soldier in the Black Hawk War, and for many years served as a Justice of the Peace.” Additionally, from family records he was Sheriff of the County at one time. Mark Dent was a well-respected leader in his community.
Military records possessed by the family suggest that he served as a private in Col. McNair’s Mounted Regiment in the War of 1812. In Missouri that war was primarily fought against Indians stirred to battle by the British in Canada. That Col. McNair later became Missouri’s first governor, elected in 1820 before Missouri was admitted to the union. Mark Dent had plenty of reason to not like Native Americans.
Family records state that Mark Dent sent a letter in 1831 to his son, Lewis Dent, in Virginia to come to Missouri. Lewis arrived in 1835 and settled westward in the area where the town of Salem developed. Mark Dent purchased 40 acres of land just one-quarter miles north of the 40 acres that Lewis Dent purchased on the same day, March 15, 1837, in T35 N-5 W. The Land Office recorded the location of both of those properties as being at “Dent,” perhaps a small community centered around a cross-roads, church, or general store. That circumstance suggests that Mark bought land near Lewis’ purchase to support him in his early years in Missouri by providing him with the farming opportunities the additional acreage could yield. Lewis’ farmland was nearly 10 miles west of Mark’s plantation – too far to be of value to Mark for farming. Lewis Dent was an early settler in that area, became a very prominent citizen, and was the first representative from the area to the Missouri General Assembly. Dent County was named in his honor.
The Lewis Dent farm located in T35 N – R5 W Section 35 was within a quarter mile of “Dent Ford,” a ford on Spring Creek, a tributary to the Meramec River, in Dent County. That ford was the likely creek crossing in that region that was used by the Peter Hildebrand Detachment on their fateful trek across Missouri on the Trail of Tears on what became known as the Hildebrand Route. Having left their homeland on October 23, 1838, and being the last and largest detachment, only 1311 Cherokees of the original 1766 in the detachment arrived in Indian Territory on March 24, 1839. Likely, Lewis Dent sold supplies to that detachment as we will see his father had done 2 years before on the Northern Route.
Pictured is the “Patent Map” of the north half of the west half of T35N-R4E in St. Francois County from “Family Maps of St. Francois County, Missouri.” The names located on the plat are the original landowners of those fractions of each section, and the dates they were patented. We do not know all the details of the immigration into this region, but we know that many of the names shown along with Mark Dent are his relatives. John Dent and Absalom Dent were his brothers. John W. Cooley was his stepson. Likely, many of the other names shown are also related to Mark Dent. The settlement pattern in this area of St. Francois County represents another dramatic example of familial immigration for purposes of land purchase, settlement, and commercial agriculture onto carefully selected, fertile, and less expensive lands. With the support of one’s family, of course you would leave the worn-out soil, and expensive and non-productive land In the state of Virginia! This migration was unusual because there apparently were no intermediate farming efforts for this family in Tennessee or Kentucky; they came straight to Missouri from Virginia. Undoubtedly, descendants of the original members of the Dent family continue to live on farms across this fertile region.
On November 20, 1837, Lt. Cannon recorded in his journal that the detachment of 366 Cherokees “Marched at 8 o’c A.M., passed thro’ Farmington, Mo., halted at St. Francis river, 4 o’c P.M., encamped and issued corn & fodder, Flour & beef, 15 miles today.” The detachment had camped about 2 miles from Mark Dent’s farm. In the Cannon Detachment record of invoices, on November 21, 1837, Mark W. Dent was paid “50 cents per bushel for 25 &5/8 bushels of corn for horses of a detachment of Cherokees on their way to the west” and “$2.00 per hundred bundles for 449 bundles of for same.” Likely, the extended Dent family and community generally followed Mark Dent’s example and willingly sold supplies to the additional detachments containing 10,000 Cherokee citizens over the following 2 years, saving lives and reducing the misery and tragedy of the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation to Indian Territory on the Trail of Tears. Perhaps now the contemporary descendants of the Dent family will be aware of the endearing part their family played in the Trail of Tears.
Shown here is a painting of Mark W. Dent’s homestead on his “plantation” located on that fertile dolomite plain. Unfortunately, Mark Dent died on December 3, 1837, at age 60 years, just 13 days after he helped the Cherokees. He is buried in the Dent Family Cemetery about a mile south of Bismarck on land entered for patent by his brother, Absalom, in 1837. Today, the Dent family and neighbors see to the cemetery.
If you have any suggestions, comments, or critiques please email Chris.Dunn@GeoVelo.com
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