Missouri Bicentennial Minutes: The Stephen H. Long Expedition

Oct 22, 2020

October 1820 marked the return of the Major Stephen H. Long expedition to Missouri from its explorations in the central plains. The scientists, artists, soldiers, and others of the expedition studied local animals and plants, described geology and countryside, created improved maps, held councils with Indian tribes, ascended Pike’s Peak, and named Long’s Peak in Colorado. Edwin James, geologist and botanist, chronicled the trip.

The initial leg in 1819 was by steamboat to Council Bluffs. In June 1820, the party proceeded overland along the Platte to the Rockies. The group split after reaching the Arkansas River, Long’s party heading toward the Red River. Long mistakenly reached the Canadian River, so the parties united near Fort Smith, Arkansas. One group then cut across the southeast Ozarks toward the Mississippi, reaching Jackson October 8.

Jackson contained over 50 log houses, having an appearance of "consequence and superiority.” The explorers assembled in Cape Girardeau October 12. Cape was in decline after the county seat moved to Jackson, and because Louis Lorimier’s land grant was still in limbo. James described it as a “miserable and forsaken little town,” with 20 or 30 log cabins, several in ruins, an abandoned log jail, a large unfinished brick dwelling, and a finished and occupied small brick dwelling. Streets were well-marked and formal, intersecting at right angles, but gullies and weeds made many impassable.

The country west of town was hilly with oak, tulip poplar, and gum forest, mixed with sugar maple and beech. The surrounding area had many well-cultivated farms. Expedition members left Cape Girardeau on November 22. Part crossed the Mississippi 10 miles upstream at Bainbridge, took the road to Golconda, Illinois and returned up the Ohio.

The Long Expedition journals provide a general description of southeast Missouri at statehood, a capstone of a successful expedition.