County Executive's Blog

Aug 27

[ARCHIVED] A Look Back with the County Executive: St. Charles County's Beginnings, Part 2

The original item was published from August 26, 2021 11:25 AM to August 27, 2021 10:23 AM

On August 10, Missouri celebrated its 200th anniversary of statehood. The momentous occasion has and continues to be celebrated. I would like to extend another thank you to Governor Mike Parson and First Lady Theresa Parson for including The Historic Daniel Boone Home and the First State Capitol—two landmark locations in Missouri’s history—as part of their Missouri Bicentennial Tour. 

As I hope you learned in my blog last month, St. Charles County is actually older than Missouri and has quite a history in its formation. Of course, the organization of St. Charles County in 1812 was just the first step. In honor of the bicentennial and in recognition of St. Charles County’s history, I will finish this two-part series by covering what happened with public safety issues and subsequent “growing pains” as our young county developed.

Neither county nor territorial governments could ensure the safety of anyone beyond the existing settlements in the county, where a series of fortified houses were erected for common defense. The principal “forts” erected in St. Charles County were Boone’s Fort in Darst Bottom, Howell’s Fort on Howell Prairie, Pond Fort on Dardenne Prairie, White’s Fort on Dog Prairie, Kountz Fort on the Boonslick Trail, Castlio’s Fort near Howell Prairie, and Fort Zumwalt, on Beleau Creek.1   Nevertheless, citizens of St. Charles met on December 3, 1812, and resolved, “we consider our lives, our property all neglected, and miserably forgotten by the general government.” 2  Missouri's newly elected territorial delegate to Congress, Edward Hempstead of St. Charles, worked closely with territorial delegates from the Illinois and Indiana territories to improve frontier defense, and assured constituents of his efforts to secure a vigorous prosecution of the war. When William Clark became governor, blockhouse fortifications were constructed at Portage des Sioux and the Missouri territory was given permission to recruit three new companies of rangers. One of them was Captain James Callaway's Company, composed principally of volunteers from St. Charles County, including surveyor P.K. Robbins, early settler Francis Howell Sr. and Daniel Hays, grandson of Daniel Boone.3     

Nevertheless, inhabitants of St. Charles County never felt that the federal government was doing enough to protect them. William Van Burkleo, from his farm near present-day Black Walnut, explained how, during the War of 1812, “The Indians attacked my house one night. They fired into the bed where my wife and myself were asleep. They broke my wife’s leg and hit me with seven buckshot in my thigh which awoke me. I knew what was up and sprang to my gun, which was hanging on the rack over my head. But as I got the gun from the rack, one of them came into the house. My wife said he pointed his gun at me, fired and ran out of the house.  The powder burned and blinded me, so that I never got to see the rest of them dodging around.”4 A sadder outcome befell the Ramsay family, who were killed by Indians at their home near Femme Osage during the war.   According to one account, “Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay both died from their wounds. When Nathan Boone and other settlers who had heard of this raid came to the place, one of the children, a boy about 5 years old, who had been scalped, still breathed, and as he opened his eyes and saw his father, he attempted to get up, and said, ‘Daddy, the Indians did scalp me,’ and died.”5 In March 1813, a farmer near Portage des Sioux was killed, and the following August six settlers were attacked, and one killed, near the Cuivre River. Nathan Boone’s troops followed the Indians across the Mississippi River, but were ambushed and had to withdraw. By the time General Howard returned with a larger force, the Indians had fled north. His diplomacy was more successful as he was able to persuade 1,500 friendly Sac and Fox to cross the river, rendezvous at Portage des Sioux, and relocate to what is now Moniteau County, Missouri. Trading on the Missouri River was abandoned, and small groups of Indians continued to terrorize settlers throughout 1814. The Indian War was such a distraction that local government in the town of St. Charles, which had been incorporated in 1809 with Alexander McNair and Dr. Antoine Reynal as two of the original trustees, ceased to function.6  

While apprehension remained high throughout the conflict, a major attack on the St. Louis region never came. By 1814, when Lieutenant Zachary Taylor brought a company of soldiers to Woods’ Fort in Troy, then a part of St. Charles County, he was not there to protect the frontier from Indian attacks, but to recruit troops to join General Andrew Jackson against the British forces expected to arrive in New Orleans. While the extent of Osage land north of the Missouri River had never been defined, Governor Clark defined such land and ordered it all annexed to St. Charles County in March. The same month, Captain Callaway and several of his rangers from St. Charles County were ambushed and killed by Indians in what is now Montgomery County. Until the tribes were pacified, such pronouncements meant little. Representatives of the United States and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812 on Dec. 24, 1815. However, the Indian tribes had not been defeated, and the treaty required the Americans to restore to the Indians, “all possessions, rights and privileges they had enjoyed in 1811.” The hostile tribes did not agreed to meet at Portage des Sioux to sign a peace treaty until the following July.  Governor William Clark of the Missouri Territory, Governor Ninian Edwards of the Illinois Territory, Auguste Chouteau of St. Louis, and Robert Walsh of Baltimore, represented the United States, while William Van Burkleo, Manuel Lisa and John Baptiste Point du Sable served as translators. The federal government gave the assembled tribes $20,000 worth of presents pursuant to the treaties, under which Chief Keokuk confirmed the former cession of an immense territory on both sides of the Mississippi, north of the Missouri and Illinois rivers.7

Native American tribes did not immediately disappear from St. Charles County. One writer related, “Beyond  the rapid river was the wigwam of the sprawling Sioux, hovering above and hanging around below the village (of St. Charles) were the last remains of the Illinois and the fierce Tamarois, the war spent and wasted Kas-Kas-Kias, the Miamis, the Foxes, the Chippewa and the Ottawa.”8 However, White concludes, “After the end of the War of 1812 the imperial contest over (this region) came to an end and politically, the consequence of Indians faded. They could no longer pose a major threat or be a major threat to an empire or a republic, and even their economic consequence declined with the fur trade.”9 Of course this was not clear at the time to most settlers in the Missouri Territory, who resented the treaties signed with the Indians at Portage des Sioux. On the other side, Chief Blackhawk knew the cession of land was a fraud and he became a rival of Chief Keokuk. Blackhawk’s followers refused to leave the ceded land in 1832, occasioning the Blackhawk War. While Captain Nathan Boone again organized a company of rangers in St. Charles County, before they could engage, Blackhawk was defeated, mainly by Illinois troops.10

In fact, the fate of Native-Americans in the county had been sealed long before, when a steady stream of pioneers began pouring into the Missouri Territory after the War of 1812. James Audrain, who served in the War of 1812, moved to St. Charles County in 1816 and settled on Peruque Creek. The same year, Robert Wells came to Missouri as a surveyor, and Thomas Lindsay, one of the founders of the local Presbyterian Church, settled north of St. Charles. Nathan Heald, who was the commander of Fort Dearborn (Chicago) when it was surrendered to the British during the war, moved with his wife Rebecca to St. Charles County in 1817 and purchased the Jacob Zumwalt farm. While settlement had practically ceased during the war, the territorial population increased from an estimated 25,000 in 1814 to more than 65,000 in 1820. In the decade that followed, additional settlers arrived, including William McClay, another veteran of the War of 1812. Another company from St. Charles County was later sent to the Indian Territory to protect the Southwest Missouri settlements. Some volunteers from St. Charles County even went to Florida to fight the Seminoles with Andrew Jackson.   But the Indian threat in St. Charles County had ended by 1815. Among the Illinois troopers who fought in the Blackhawk War was a young Abraham Lincoln. When it was over, he returned home to Springfield, as Boone’s Rangers returned home to St. Charles County where, with the Indians pacified, politics had taken center stage two decades earlier.11

St. Charles did not grow much during the territorial period. While the residents incorporated as a village in 1809, other concerns, including the War of 1812, caused them to ignored municipal government until 1814, when a group of St. Charlesans petitioned David Barton, Circuit Judge for the Northern Circuit of the Territory of Missouri, stating:

    The Petition of the undersigned citizens of the Town of St. Charles respectfully herewith.  That the Town of St. Charles has heretofore been incorporated according to law.  That for several years last past the annual election of Trustees has been neglected.  That they desire to enjoy the privileges of an incorporated community for the purpose of promoting the health, comfort and prosperity of St. Charles. They therefore pray this honorable court to extend to them the desired privileges, by appointing commissioners to supervise the Election of new Trustees.  And your petitioners will ever pray.12

The petition was granted, and five trustees elected on March 16, 1818. St. Charles had nearly a thousand people when it became the state capitol. The western limit of the town, between Jefferson and Chauncey Streets, was Fifth Street, though not many houses were built beyond Third Street to St. Charles in 1823, Lewis Beck noted, “Its advantages and healthy situation, however, soon attracted the attention of Americans; and after the session of Louisiana, it increased rapidly. Within the last few years its increase has been considerable.”13 

 While the St. Charles city limits expanded slowly, St. Charles County actually shrunk in size. When Howard County was cut off from the western part of St. Charles County and organized into a separate county in 1816, the eastern boundary of present Boone County was established as the line between St. Charles and Howard counties. When Montgomery, Lincoln and Warren Counties were organized in 1818, St. Charles County was reduced to its present boundaries.  


1. 1885 history 152.  While most forts took the name of the owner of the land on which they were located, Pond fort was built on land Robert Baldridge, one of the first settlers in the county, obtained as a Spanish land grant. Place Names, Western Manuscript Collection, HSM.

2. Hurt, Nathan Boone, 91.

3. Foley, A History of Missouri, 1683-1820, 153.  In August, 1832, President Jackson commissioned Boone captain of dragoons; President Polk's promoted him major; and President Fillmore promoted him to lieutenant colonel of dragoons in 1850, before his death in 1856, at age 76.  Hurt, Nathan Boone.

4. Lori Breslow, Small Town, (St. Charles: The John J. Buse Historical Museum, 1977), 195-196.

5. Ruby Matson Robbins, “The Missouri Reader,” MHR, Vol.47, January 1953, 160.

6. Hurt, Nathan Boone, 95; St. Charles County Circuit Court Records, November, 27, 1814.

7. Spellman, American Pioneers, 57.  The   troop recruited fought with General Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans.  Ibid.  Foley, A History of Missouri, 1683-1820, 161; Hurt, Agriculture and Slavery 102-105; Edna McElhiney Olson, Historical Articles, Vol. II, 322.  Born in Maryland in 1775, Ninian Edwards served as governor of the Territory of Illinois from 1809 to 1818.  Upon the admission of Illinois to the Union, he was elected as a Democratic Republican (and later as Adams-Clay Republican) to the United States Senate and served from December 3, 1818, to March 4, 1824, when he resigned.  His mercantile pursuits caused him to become party to several lawsuits in the Circuit Court of St. Charles County before his death in 1833.  St. Charles County Circuit Court Records.

8. Breslow, Small Town, 194.

9. Richard White, Middle Ground, 517.

10. 1885 history 164.  

11. Ibid. 164, Edna McElhiney Olson, Historical Articles, Vol. II, 333; Flynn, St. Peters at its Best, 39.  

12. St. Charles County Circuit Court Records, November 27, 1814.  The Northern District of the Circuit Court included the counties of St. Charles and St. Louis.

13. Floyd C. Shoemaker, “St. Charles, City of Paradoxes,” MHR, 186.