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Almost Yesterday: The Rivers of St. Francois County

Almost Yesterday
Southeast Missouri State University

It seems like Almost Yesterday that the legendary origin of the four rivers of St. Francois County was recorded by the writer and historian Allan Hinchey.

The four rivers – the Whitewater, Castor, Saline, and Little St. Francois – emerge close together, northeast of Fredericktown, Missouri, near the junction of Perry, Bollinger, Ste. Genevieve, Madison, and St. Francois Counties. Although they emerge close together, the four rivers flow in different directions.

The Native American explanation of the unique geographic feature came from the tale of a Shawnee chieftain who lived along Apple Creek with his four sons. The sons married and lived in their individual homes in their father’s village. While the four brothers got along well, their wives did not, and there was soon friction among them.

To end the bickering, the wise chieftain gathered his four sons and walked north until they were standing on a beautiful hill in what is now the southeast corner of St. Francois County. The chief took an arrow and shot it far into the distance and told his eldest son to follow the arrow and that where the arrow landed a stream of water would gush forth, and that would be his stream.

The chief then fired three more arrows, repeating the orders to the other sons, telling them that as they could not live together they should live separately, each on his own stream which came from where the chief’s arrow pierced the ground.

Today the Shawnee, the chief, his sons, and the squabbling wives are gone, but the four rivers of St. Francois County continue to flow, each in a different direction.

Frank Nickell is a retired history professor at Southeast Missouri State University.
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