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Behind the big themes, celebrated figures, and dry dates of history are the interesting stories of life in the past and ordinary people. Southeast Missouri has a varied and rich history that you often don’t hear about in history classes. Join Bill Eddleman of the State Historical Society of Missouri to hear about these stories with “Tales of Days Gone By.” Listen in on the second and fourth Thursday of the month during Morning Edition (7:45 a.m.) and All Things Considered (4:44 p.m.)

“He Was Left Alone”: George D. Strother in the War of 1812

Upper Mississippi River During War of 1812.png
Billwhittaker at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
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The Upper Mississippi River during the War of 1812. 1. Fort Bellefontaine, U. S. headquarters; 2. Fort Osage, abandoned 1813; 3. Fort Madison, defeated 1813; 4. Fort Shelby, defeated 1814; 5. Battle of Rock Island Rapids, July 1814 and the Battle of Credit Island, September 1814; 6. Fort Johnson, abandoned 1814; 7. Fort Cap au Gris and the Battle of the Sink Hole, May 1815.

The War of 1812 in Missouri bore little resemblance to the war most of us hear about in history classes. True, the war was between the U. S. and the British, but in Missouri the foes were mainly indigenous Sauk and Fox and their allies. The British provided arms and support but avoided active participation in this part of the frontier. Most Missourians who served were frontier militiamen such as a young man from near Caledonia—George D. Strother.

Strother was a son—probably the youngest son—of Benjamin and Mary Strother, settlers from Virginia via Kentucky. Benjamin had received land grants from the French authorities, first on Saline Creek in Ste. Genevieve County, and then at the northern end of the Belleview Valley. The governor of Louisiana stipulated that Benjamin establish a mill on the latter grant, which he did. When George Strother reached his mid-teens, he left his father’s home to live in St. Charles County, probably seeking opportunity or adventure.

George enlisted in the militia three times during the War of 1812. His first tour began August 17, 1813, when he enlisted for 60 days in a company of Missouri Mounted Volunteers commanded by Capt. Richard Moore. His service time was uneventful, and he mustered out October 21. He volunteered a second time in St. Charles County for service in Capt. William Hurl’s or Harald’s company of Missouri Militia, mustering in on June 1, 1814. Again, he served for 60 days uneventfully, mustering out on August 15.

Strother’s final tour began on or about April 15, 1815, when he signed up in St. Louis for service in Captain Yiezer’s artillery company. This company’s mission was transporting provisions and ammunition to Prairie du Chien by boat. His service continued until May 9, 1815, when the boat stopped to make replacement oars. The captain dispatched Strother and a few others to hunt. The day was dark and cloudy, and he went further afield than the other hunters. Meanwhile, a strong breeze arose, the company had finished its task, and the boat hoisted sail and departed. George returned to find himself “…A lone on Shore…” with the boat nowhere in sight!

Pondering the situation, he returned to Fort Howard and reported himself to the commander. The commander assigned him with duty in reconnoitering and spying while he awaited his company’s return. Thusly, he served the remainder of his term of enlistment, avoiding the nearby Battle of the Sinkhole on May 24. No one ever returned to Fort Howard from his company. George later found that Capt. Yiezer had returned to St. Louis and disbanded the company!

When George applied for bounty land in 1850, he swore that was the reason he had no formal discharge papers. Despite abandonment by his unit, George still received a full complement of 40 and 120 acres of bounty land.

George Strother returned home to Washington County after 1819, possibly to care for his aged parents. He continued to farm in the Bellevue Valley before moving a little farther south after cashing in his 40-acre military warrant. George D. Strother lived out his life in the area that became Iron County, passing between 1862 and 1870, and leaving a rare story of a military company going AWOL from one of its soldiers.

Bill Eddleman was born in Cape Girardeau, and is an 8th-generation Cape Countian. His first Missouri ancestor came to the state in 1802. He attended SEMO for two years before transferring to the University of Missouri to study Fisheries and Wildlife Biology. He stayed at Mizzou to earn a master of science in Fisheries and Wildlife, and continued studies in Wildlife Ecology at Oklahoma State University.