William Lunsford Story (Monograph 17)

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Estimated reading time: 12 minutes


By Dr. Bill Ambrose

The Federal Government’s 1830’s policy for encouraging rapid settlement and economic development of the frontier regions was leveraged on liberal public land sales law and ready availability of money for loans. 1820 Federal Law reduced the minimum per acre purchase price from $2 per acre to $1.25 and the acreage minimum amount from 320 to 80 in an initial attempt to allow individual small farmers to have a better opportunity to buy a piece of public land for their families to farm. Unfortunately, by law public lands were required to be put up for auction before the land became available for sale at the land office, so land speculators continued to find ways to buy up most of the good land first. In combination with excessive monies available for loans for land secured by ever-increasing land values, rapid inflation in land prices prevented many new frontier settlers from becoming land owners. Subsistence farming on the frontier based in almost any form of land tenancy was an acceptable pursuit and a potential good start toward commercial farming. Not many small “farmers” who arrived in Crawford County in the mid 1830’s had the ability to buy a farm. One of those want-to-be farmers was Isham Isom Lunsford.

In about the year 1837, Isham Lunsford and his family arrived in Crawford County with three other early settler families: Mathews, Brown, and the Demarcus Walker family. All four families traveled together in a wagon train. Born in Wilkes County, North Carolina, in 1785, just eight years after the area had been purchased from the Cherokees, Isham had married Rhoda in 1811 and by 1819 had five sons: Joel, Joseph, Amos, Buress, and William. By 1825 the family was living in Wayne County, Kentucky, and had added another son, Hiram, and a daughter, Louisa. By 1830 the family had moved to Morgan, Indiana. Before 1840 they were residing in Courtois Township, Crawford County, Missouri. Unknown at the time, except for the alluvial soil in the creek bottoms, the region had the poorest land for farming in the Missouri Ozarks. Land records do not record any land purchases by Isham; he never achieved farm ownership. Likely the family was forced to live in a squatter’s cabin, mostly living off the land by hunting. Isham and his sons also hired out as farm laborers, as the 1840 Federal Census records. They were the poorest of the poor, likely living in a narrow, rocky draw above the much richer creek bottom lands below. Market hunting of deer to sell hams and hides, digging iron ore from shallow pits to sell to an area iron works, or cutting timber to sell to the iron works to fire the furnaces were possible jobs to generate money to buy essentials that could not be raised or bartered for efficiently.

Other neighbors living nearby, as recorded on the Federal Census, included the Sanders and Brickey families. The Sanders had been in the area for so long that the community was called “Sanders;” the Brickeys so long that the Huzzah Creek crossing was called “Brickey’s.” Both families were numerable and diverse across the Courtois Hills region, but always located on the widest, richest Huzzah bottoms. They had selected, purchased, and settled those farms years before the speculators arrived in the area. They were involved in diverse, productive agriculture with slave labor. They were able to not only feed themselves but were in financial positions to capture income not only by sales of their excess agricultural products but also to benefit from sales of value-added produce like eggs, cream, wheat flour, and finished beef. Additionally, both families were involved in public service in various positions for the Crawford County Court. Like their President Andrew Jackson’s politically promoted persona of “Everyman” (meaning that from meager beginnings he had become self-sufficient and competent through the wise use of his energy and intellect while rejecting elitism), the Brickeys and Sanders had achieved “Everyman” status. Isham had to have believed in the possibility of making something remarkable of his life, like being a yeoman farmer–a cog in the essential wheel of a western farm community. Having six healthy sons would have reinforced that belief.

Because the poorly-backed state-bank-issued paper money paid to the federal government for newly purchased public lands became unreliable and of questionable value, President Andrew Jackson issued an executive order in 1836 requiring lands purchased from the Federal Government to be paid for with “specie,” gold and silver money recognized by the Federal Government. Jackson’s “Specie Circular” led directly to the collapse of the economy because the scarcity of specie immediately ended the existing circular money flow paradigm associated with ever-increasing land values, loans, and land purchases. The “Panic of 1837” that ensued caused general economic contraction for every sector, bankruptcies for land speculators, bank failures for investors, shortages of essentials for consumers, hoarding of species denominations, and a severe depression for the nation lasting several years. The depression forever ended any hope Isham had of becoming “Everyman.”

Another arbitrary Jackson decision put the Cherokee Nation on the Trail of Tears at about this same time. President Jackson could have used a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling to stop the State of Georgia from forcibly taking Cherokee Sovereign Nation homelands. Instead he sent the U.S. Army to manage the Cherokee removal to Indian Territory. Lt. B.B. Cannon was assigned to lead a detachment of Cherokees overland from their homelands in the East through Missouri to their newly-assigned land in “Indian Territory” beginning in October of 1837. It was an extremely cold and snowy winter with wind, rain, sleet, and heavy snow. The two-and-one-half day traumatic crossing of the Mississippi River into Missouri subjected the 365 Cherokee travelers to long periods unprotected from the winter’s worst weather. Two weeks later, on November 24, Dr. Townsend, the detachment physician, demanded that Lt. Cannon call a halt to travel due to the sickness of the detachment. The nearly four-hundred-person detachment set up long-term camp in as protected an area as they could near good water – Huzzah Crossing at Silas Brickey’s farm. They needed nourishing food. At that location on the incipient Missouri frontier, the social impacts of President Andrew Jackson’s two recent arbitrary political decisions met head-on and brought into sharp contrast his chimerical “Everyman” paradigm.

Five days into that camp, George “Corn” Tassel’s child died and was buried. This would have been an extremely poignant death because Tassel had been illegally hanged by the State of Georgia on December 24, 1830, one of the initial events in the Cherokee removal epic. That evening in camp, November 29, 1837, eighteen-year-old William Lunsford, Isham’s fifth-born son, arrived at that cold winter camp with 406 pounds of fresh beef for sale. Lt. Cannon was carrying “specie” from which he had Dr. Townsend pay young William three cents per pound of beef, which totaled $12.18. That price per pound seems to have been the preset “government” rate allowed for fresh beef, as that was the usual amount Cannon had been paying for beef on the trail. Over the years since the Cherokee removal, researchers and historians have argued that the Trail of Tears was a welcome opportunity for farmers along the trail to get their hands on “real” money, as opposed to unsecure local paper money or especially having to barter for limited specific essential products. Specie could be used unequivocally for the purchase of anything, including land. The use of specie for purchases gave the buyer unequaled bargaining power. Regardless of any other factors, specie was a powerful tool in one’s pocket! From a very limited perspective, the Trail of Tears was a boon to farmers and merchants along the trail who were lucky enough to have supplies and services needed for the removal trek.

The issue to be considered is not the money; the issue is “Where did the beef come from?” The Lunsfords had no farm. Not only that, but the Lunsfords had only been there a few months. Around a squatter’s cabin, one might find at most a highly prized milk cow, but certainly not an extra head of beef. Agricultural records prove there were fewer than one head of cattle per two square miles in that region of the Ozarks at that time. It is possible that William’s beef was last year’s calf. Maintaining a cow and calf for fresh milk and butter would have been very expensive for anyone without their own corn crop because of the need for ear corn and fodder; the Lunsford’s had no corn field. Milk cows and their calves had to be “kept up” around the homestead to milk the cow and keep the calf safe, as predators in the forests would kill and eat them. Fodder was required for winter feed. It is also possible that this beef was a stray belonging to someone else. It could have been feral, just running at large through the Ozark woods. It could have been an opportunity William could not resist. And why did young William deliver the beef to the detachment camp instead of Isham? There are no answers to these questions, but consider the following records:

1. William Lunsford married Rachel Walker on October 2, 1839, in Crawford County, Missouri. She was the daughter of Demarcus Walker and had traveled in the wagon train with William.

2. On July 5, 1840, Allen Davis and his wife, Missouri, sold 70 acres on Courtois Creek (about 2 miles northeast of the Huzzah Crossing) to William Lunsford for $250. The land was within the same section of land that her father’s farm was in.

3. During the April 1843 Term of the Circuit Court of Crawford County, Buress, Hiram, and William Lunsford were indicted for burglary. The cause was continued to the court’s next term.

4. During the October 1843 Term of the Circuit Court of Crawford County, Buress, Hiram, and William Lunsford’s trial for burglary continued. It was continued again.

5. During the April 1844 Term of the Crawford County Circuit Court, under an indictment for burglary, Buress, Hiram, and William Lunsford’s case was discharged following the prosecutor’s declaration of nolle prosequi (Latin for “we shall no longer prosecute.”)

6. During the period from April, 1845, until September, 1846, there was little or no Crawford County Circuit Court activity because there was no Circuit Court Clerk. Sometime during this period Isham, James, and William Lunsford were charged with felonious assault and had to post bond with their property to get out of jail.

7. During the September 1846 Term of the Circuit Court of Crawford County, Isham, James, and William Lunsford were called by the sheriff but failed to appear at a Recognizance Hearing. All of their properties’ deeds were ordered by the judge to be certified in the name of the bondsman, D. S. Hill, effective October 30, 1846. With that they lost their farms.

8. During the April 1847 Term of the Circuit Court of Crawford County, William Lunsford was indicted for perjury. On motion filed the Court ordered the indictment quashed.

9. During the April 1847 Term of the Crawford County Circuit Court, James Lunsford faced an indictment for felonious assault. A motion had been filed to quash the indictment and was so ordered by the judge.

10. During the April 1847 Term of the Circuit Court of Crawford County, Isham Lunsford was indicted for felonious assault with intent to kill. A jury trial was held, but the jury could not reach a verdict that day. At nine o’clock the next morning the trial continued. The jury did eventually reach a verdict of not guilty, so Isham was discharged. The judge ordered that the State of Missouri, the plaintiff in this case, must pay Isham’s legal expenses.

11. During the April 1847 Term of the Circuit Court of Crawford County, immediately after Isham’s trial, James and William Lunsford’s recognizance in the assault case was discharged. Isham’s recognizance wasn’t discharged, as he probably had none to contribute to the bond originally. William and James got their property back. This was fortunate, indeed, because William had apparently already sold his farm to a brother-in-law, as follows.

On September 23, 1846, William and Rachel Walker Lunsford sold their farm with tenement to Robert C. Walker for $300. It is likely that Robert was Rachel’s brother; that the sale was done more as a loan than a land sale; that William and Rachel needed money for some other reason, perhaps legal fees, and chose to use the farm in this way to generate some cash with the full intention to “buy” back their farm. They likely did not leave their home on their farm after this “sale,” but immediately began repaying Robert for the “loan.”

On September 16, 1850, William and Rachel Lunsford along with at least a half dozen other members of the Walker family and their spouses, including Demarcus, whose names had been added to the deed, sold “their” farm to John W. Harmon for $240. Probably William and Rachel recovered the title to their farm from Robert Walker in the late 1840’s. Likely they had to sell off shares or pieces of their farm, recorded partial interests, to members of Rachel’s family to meet living expenses that they could not meet otherwise. With the sale of the farm, William and Rachel paid off all the other “interested” owners and moved on — to land they hoped would offer them a better life and future. Could his legal problems have been another reason to move away? The Platte Purchase in 1836 in northwestern Missouri, with two million acres of deep, fertile prairie soils, had to have looked like a good opportunity to a failed farm family from the poorest soil region of the state. Records indicate that over the decade of the 1850’s William’s family and most of his brothers and their families moved to the Platte.

Isham died in 1860 in Meramec Township, Dent County, just across the Meramec River a few miles away from his old home in the Courtois Hills. He was living with son Hiram at the time, both being listed as “farm laborers” on the 1860 Federal Census. Perhaps they moved there to get into a different legal jurisdiction. Isham’s oldest son Joel had stayed nearby also, living in Sullivan, Missouri at that time. On April 6, 1862, Joel’s son, Isham Isom Lunsford’s namesake grandson, was killed at the Shiloh, Tennessee Civil War battle. Hiram’s son John was also killed in the Civil War.

Very few records exist about William Lunsford after 1850. He was living in Holt County, Missouri, in 1859 when his three-year-old son died. William died in 1891 and is buried in Union Cemetery in Forest City, Holt County, Missouri, aside several of his bothers. Do you suppose that they found “Everyman” in the Platte?

Thanks to State Archivist, John Dougan, and the research staff at the Missouri State Archives in the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office for extensive research support that made this vignette possible.



If you have any suggestions, comments, or critiques please email Chris.Dunn@GeoVelo.com

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