The Trask Boys (Monograph 30)

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By Dr. Bill Ambrose

Marvin Trask owned over half of the 640-acre township due west of the Cannon Detachment’s six-day sickness camp at Silas Brickey’s spring and schoolhouse.  That location, with shelter in the schoolhouse for the sickest Cherokees and fresh water for everyone, was made available to the detachment by the local residents after having spent 4 days in the open in freezing temperatures on the banks of Huzzah Creek, as sickness was increasing.  As early as 1827, Marvin Trask also owned a large acreage in and around Section 23 of T38-N, R3-W, 4 miles further down the Huzzah Creek.  In the 1850 Agricultural Census, M. Trask owned over 700 acres with property and assets worth four to five times that of his neighbors.  From Lt. B.B. Cannon’s invoices for the first trans-Missouri detachment, Trask was paid $0.10 per pound for “526 pounds of bacon for the subsistence of the teamsters belonging to a detachment of Cherokees” on Nov. 29, 1837.  The community that had developed beginning in 1824 by Peter Brickey, Marvin Trask, and in 1828 with James Sanders, was settled quickly in that isolated oasis hidden within the most difficult topography of Missouri’s Meramec River Hills.  The rich riparian fields adjacent to the “Osage Fork of the Courtois,” as it was known then, now called Huzzah Creek, and the fields comprising the second step up above the stream just out of the reach of frequent flooding, attracted these Presbyterian Scot-Irish settlers to farming after they found out that the mining opportunities would not support their families.  The Trask brothers, Marvin, Josiah, and Putnam, had come to Missouri to engage in mining at Webster, a small mining town serving the mining interests on Hazel Creek.  The brothers were at Webster by 1826; by 1827 all three had relocated to farming opportunities on the Huzzah Creek.

Crawford County was established in 1829 and until 1834, it included most of present-day Phelps and Dent Counties.  On February 23, 1834, commissioners appointed to organize the new, smaller Crawford County, met at Liberty Hill on the Little Piney Creek to choose the new county seat.  The town of Steelville was selected, and in May of 1837 Marvin Trask was named superintendent of the building of a new courthouse.  Trask submitted plans for a 26-feet by 30-feet story and a half building, but no action was taken even though funds had been appropriated.  Finally in May of 1838, Trask’s plan for a 2-story 29-foot-square courthouse was approved and built.  One must wonder if the Cannon Detachment’s passage through the area in the winter of 1837-38 may have impacted the project.

Besides being a successful farmer and community leader of long-standing, Marvin was the Surveyor of Crawford County, and represented Crawford County in the Missouri State Legislature in 1844. He was the father of 18 children by 2 wives: Alice Steen was born in 1826 and died in 1852, Elizabeth Dawson survived Marvin’s passing in 1865, her death occurring in 1897.

Marvin Trask and Silas Brickey led the effort to establish the Steelville Academy, a general and liberal arts educational institution required to have no influence in favor of any religious denomination, but high moral discipline for all attendees.  The institution was chartered by the Missouri Legislature in 1853. 

Marvin’s bother Putnam Trask, with Putnam’s son, Andrew Trask, traveled overland to the gold fields in California in 1850.  Mining continued into this second generation of the Trask family not just in California, but also in Missouri, as Andrew bought land six miles up the Huzzah in T36-N, R2-W in 1856.  The eastern half of Crawford County was certainly an important part of the Missouri mining region.  And Trask & Garrison’s Diggin’s, located near the middle of the west line of Section 5 in that township, yielded 10,000 to 15,000 pounds of lead over the course of its activity. 

The legacy of leadership and service to the community by the Trask family continued as Andrew served as a County Judge several terms followed by his son Julius serving as Sheriff of Crawford County. 

A closer look at Marvin Trask reveals a much more poignant Trail of Tears story.  Family records describe his early life.  Born in 1794 in Connecticut, he was the son of Sampson Trask, a Revolutionary War veteran.  The family moved to New York shortly after 1800; Sampson Trask died about 1810, resulting in the family being destitute.  At the age of 15, Marvin was bound out – a labor system that attached poor boys and girls to masters and mistresses as apprentices or servants, usually for a period of 10 years.  Marvin escaped that servitude and enlisted in the New York Militia as a cook during the War of 1812.  The Cannon invoice entry on Nov. 29, 1837, is one of only two that list food purchased specifically for the detachment’s teamsters.  The teamsters for the 20 wagons were probably under contract by the army for the detachment’s overland trip to Indian Territory.  We do not know the exact make up of this cadre of “drivers,” but they were likely enslaved “black boys” as described in the Cannon Invoices and journal, or others in indentured servitude contracted by their masters to the detachment via military arrangement.

Apparently, the teamsters were segregated in camp from the detachment, as they had, at least at this encampment, their own food supply – seen to by none other than Marvin Trask.  You see, he knew all about being bound out and in service to a master.  He found out the condition of the teamsters at the sickness camp, described here by Dr. Townsend, the detachment physician: …”Ten days elapsed before I felt myself authorized to pronounce their (return to the trail} free from danger, and even then the cases were daily occurring until two-thirds of the whole party  had past through the pestilence.  Nor was the disease confined exclusively to the emigrants, as nearly all the drivers were sick, some of whom had to be left on the road and substitutes hired.”  In fact, one of the teamsters died and at least 2 Cherokees died at Silas Brickey’s spring and schoolhouse, now a Certified Site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.  Two more drivers had to be left at the H. E. Davis campsite several days later to recover.  Trask’s food was purchased for “the Teamsters belonging to a detachment of Cherokees.”  The Scot-Irish were a committed religious family, and following biblical verses literally was an important part of their theology.  In Chapter 25 of Mathews Gospel, Mathew quoted Jesus about the coming judgment, writing, “For I was hungry and you gave me food….Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of  the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

And perhaps, even more importantly, the community leader, Marvin Trask, validated, by providing “for the least of them,” the extension of care and supplies to the detachment camp, signaling to the resident community for their support.  Over the ten days the detachment spent in the Huzzah valley, local farmers brought in and sold over 8600 pounds of corn one thousand pounds of bacon, and 2500 pounds of beef for the Cherokees.  And perhaps Marvin Trask’s actions set the stage for the community to meet the needs of an additional 10,000 Cherokee travelers through this oasis over the next 2 years.     

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