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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 from 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.)

A British Immigrant Chronicles an 1834 Ozark Trip

George William Featherstonhaugh, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
Public Domian.
George William Featherstonhaugh, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

An often-overlooked journal by a British immigrant provides details of the eastern Ozarks of Missouri in 1834. George W. Featherstonhaugh’s training and connections in government earned him an appointment as U. S. Geologist, assigned to reconnoiter the region between the Missouri and Red Rivers.

At St. Louis, he and his son obtained a “Dearborn wagon,” a 4-wheeled conveyance with side curtains, pulled by a single horse they named “Missouri.” They arrived at Herculaneum on October 29. Featherstonhaugh spent two days in Herculaneum and adjacent Illinois, commenting on “the whirring and croaking of tens of thousands of [whooping] cranes…the scourge of the corn-fields.”

The pair crossed “broken and undulating country” to Valle’s Mines on October 31, southeast of present-day DeSoto. They spent the night in a miner’s dwelling at nearby Taplitt’s and Perry’s mines. George descended the next morning in a bucket into the main 110-foot-deep shaft and described the ore deposits and mine workings. They proceeded to Farmington by nightfall, lodging at Mr. Boice’s tavern. Boice loaned them two saddle horses for a day trip to Iron Mountain on November 2.

The two continued to Mine la Motte where they observed the mining operations. They proceeded on to Fredericktown, about which George said, “This was the ancient St. Michel of the French, in the vicinity of which this modern American settlement has been built on a hill, with its court-house and steeple, a magnificent object to our now rustic eyes, so long accustomed to log cabins.”

Featherstonhaugh failed to mention roads, but they likely followed existing trails. One that was well-established, sometimes known as the Military Road, ran from Fredericktown to Greenville, where it intersected the Natchitoches Trace from Bainbridge Landing near Cape Girardeau. This trace was sometimes called the Military Road as well, and led to Natchitoches, Louisiana and then to Texas.

They left Fredericktown on November 4, traveling through pine barrens, and a burned forest, the first of four fires they observed in Missouri. Upon reaching Greenville on St. Francis River, Featherstonhaugh noted it was “…a poor wretched collection of four or five wooden cabins, where the miserable inhabitants die by inches of chills and fever… [some residents] were roistering about at … a dirty-looking store, where all the vagabonds congregrate together, to discuss politics and whiskey. The settlement, however, is beautifully situated on a rich bottom of land on the east bank of the St. Francis ...”

November 5 the two crossed Black River. Within 14 miles, they reached Mr. Eppes, probably Daniel Eppes whose land lay about 5 miles southwest of present-day Poplar Bluff. There Featherstonhaugh noted the first canebrakes and small flocks of the now-extinct Carolina parakeet. Eppes had recently killed an elk, and noted there were elk and buffalo still in the St. Francis River swamps 20 miles east.

The next day they crossed Little Black River, proceeding through park-like woodland. Featherstonhaugh noted, “Here we saw the first ivory-billed woodpeckers … a beautiful bird, not found farther north than this part of the country.” Shortly they reached the Harris cabin – on Harris Creek in present-day Ripley County near the Arkansas border. Featherstonhaughs left Missouri the next day, arriving in 8 miles to Current River in Arkansas at Pittman’s Ferry.

He and his son continued through Arkansas and a few miles into Texas, then to New Orleans and back East. Featherstonhaugh returned to England in 1838, receiving appointment as British Consul to France. He published the trip journal in 1844 under the unlikely title of Excursion Through the Slave States, from Washington on the Potomac, to the Frontier of Mexico.

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.