Progress Notes

Joe Pryor - News Tribune Article Monday, June 04, 2007

Monday, June 16, 2008

Progress Notes

The works of a turn of the century artist from Miller County, John Wright (photo 01), are one way to appreciate the history of our county through the recollections of this talented artist as depicted in some of his paintings. John Wright was the father of Francesca Wright, who is the artist whose paintings are prominently displayed in our new entry way at the Miller County Museum (photo 02).

01 John Wright
01 John Wright


02 Wildwood Days
02 Wildwood Days

I had written recently about Francesca so I thought it would be a good follow-up to give some history about her very interesting father. The following article, by Alan Terry Wright, grandson of John Wright, the painter and father of Francesca, was taken from the Miller County Autogram Sentinel of June 30, 1983. The article was written on the occasion of a showing of some of John's paintings locally. The exhibit, which was set up as an art show, with free standing museum like exhibit boards, also was produced by Alan.

Early Day Area Artist's Work On Display

John was born in 1863. He grew up on the family homestead two and a half miles north of Tuscumbia where his father owned and operated a grist and carding mill powered by the pooled waters of one of the area's largest springs (photo 03). Wright was filled with tales of Osage Indian lore, the Civil war and the growth of the steamboat commerce on the Osage River. His paintings reflect what he saw and heard.

03 James Lawrence Wright Carding Machine on Saline Creek
03 James Lawrence Wright Carding Machine on Saline Creek

His earliest known work is an oil on canvas depicting a watermill with an overshot wheel similar to his father's mill. Wright's mother died in 1874 and his father remarried five years later. After developing a strong dislike for his step mother, he left home to live with a brother, Joseph Thompson Wright, and family.

After leaving home, young John, along with friends and cousins, formed a travelling musical review and variety show. John played the banjo, performed acrobatics and did a ventriloquism act using a little wooden black boy as his companion (photo 04). The troupe, which travelled Southern Missouri and part of Arkansas in the 1880's also had a "Punch and Judy" puppet show in its repertoire.

04 John Wright - Trapeze Artist
04 John Wright - Trapeze Artist

After his marriage in 1891, John turned to his skills of mixing paint pigment and oils for a living and began house painting in the Tuscumbia area. During an era of the replacement of old log homes with large, two storied weather boarded farmhouses, his expert services were in demand. It should be remembered that commercially prepared paints and varnishes were uncommon and the skill to produce and apply paints that would withstand the hard climate was rare.

As his customers grew, so did his family. John and Lillian (Ingram) Wright were to become the parents of nine children, one of whom is the famous painter, Francesca Wright of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Frances is an artist in her own right who paints using the name "Francesca" and is well known in this area.

(Note: Francesca passed away two years ago, but was living and well at the time this article was published)

In spite of his need to support a growing family with a trade, Wright never lost interest in his oil paintings. Innumerable old homes in the Miller, Cole and Camden county areas bear his trademark of lovely little landscapes or florals painted on door panels or windows as a favor to his customers. To this day, many homeowners have preserved these artworks, refusing to remove, paint or varnish over them.

During his working years, "Painter John" painted the steamboats J.R. Wells and Homer C. Wright after their construction at Tuscumbia, as well as applying the name and numerals required by the U.S. Government. These boats plied the waters of the Osage, Missouri and Mississippi rivers well into the 20th century.

His sign writing skills were well known and his graceful letters still adorn a few churches and businesses in the Miller County area.

Wright also painted the original clock face on the Miller County Courthouse (photo 05). Along with carpenter Dan Thompson, he also helped work out the complicated details of constructing the dome of the courthouse. The contractor had not previously built that type of structure and wanted Wright and Thompson's advice on interior bracing and surface detail.

05 Clock Face Courthouse
05 Clock Face Courthouse

Not only was Wright artistically talented, but he was mechanically gifted as well. The Miller County Autogram of January 20, 1898 records:

"John Wright, who is something of a genius himself, is building a power press for his brother, J.P. Wright, which is to publish the first issue of the Western Preacher this month (a religious monthly printed at Tuscumbia)."

After the death of his wife in 1923 and his retirement to Eugene in the late 1920's, "Painter John" worked on his paintings. Slowly and deliberately, with steady hand, he turned out an estimated 100 to 125 works of art. Some were on canvas but most on a smooth sided fiberboard. Sadly, during the height of the Great Depression, unable to afford other materials, he painted on common corrugated boxboard. For many who knew "Painter John," these paintings are the most prized of all.

Seldom did Wright's paintings sell for more than $2.50…most were simply given to friends and relatives who have retained them until the present day. Many have not survived. All were scattered through Missouri and the nation. "Painter John" died February 9, 1939.

Wright's style is a mixture of quaint "folk art" figures of animals and people, combined with skilled representations of the form, colors and textures of nature in the wild (photo 06). He had a penchant for intricate and sometimes extraneous detail, through which he expressed his sense of humor and humanity. Few of his paintings do not depict a situation or "tell a story."

06 Flower Painting by John Wright
06 Flower Painting by John Wright

Many of Painter John's works represent actual places or historic events, drawn from memory or imagination. Examples include: "Colonel Zebulon Pike's Landing at Site of Tuscumbia-1806" (Tuscumbia was an Osage Indian camp at the time of the Pike landing) (photo 07); "Eagle Branch at the Saline Creek in 1878"; "The Osage" (at night, near Tuscumbia); and "Winde's Eddy" (on Wet Glaize Creek).

07 Pike's Landing at Tuscumbia
07 Pike's Landing at Tuscumbia

One of his finest works is a commissioned painting of the lovely Victorian home of steamboat owner J.R. Wells (photo 08). The names of all the seven Wells children were hidden by Wright in this painting. The home is still in use and stands three miles east of Tuscumbia on Highway 17. Wright was a religious man and a few paintings depicting biblical events have also survived.

08 Wells House by John Wright
08 Wells House by John Wright

The J.R. Wells home was featured as part of the narrative about J.R. Wells placed on this website a few weeks ago (Progress Notes - April 28, 2008).

John Wright's home in southern Miller County even had some interesting touches which he built into the house which originally was a log home (photo 09 and photo 10).

09 John Wright Home - 100 Years Ago
09 John Wright Home - 100 Years Ago


10 John Wright Home - Today
10 John Wright Home - Today

For example, the concrete columns which he made to support the porch roof are an original after touch of his. (photo 11).

11 Concrete Columns - John Wright House
11 Concrete Columns - John Wright House

He helped build the Glover Church and at each corner of the roof put some small wooden ornamental additions (photo 12). Though small and barely noticeable, John always left something on his carpentry work to identify that he had been involved.

12 Glover Church John Wright Decoration
12 Glover Church John Wright Decoration

John made furniture including this original hickory rocking chair which he gave to his nephew, C.B. Wright (photo 13). Also, he was a glass engraver especially for window inserts in doors as pictured here (photo 14).

13 Rocking Chair made by John Wright
13 Rocking Chair made by John Wright


14 Wright Engraving
14 Wright Engraving

In his last years John lived in Eugene in a house (photo 15) which he designed and constructed but either forgot or intentionally left out the stairs to the second story. So he made a mechanical elevator which worked by a system of weights and pulleys to go up and down between floors.

15 John Wright House - Eugene
15 John Wright House - Eugene

John was even known to write poetry as displayed in this short original poem (photo 16) he wrote on the passing of his wife, Lillian in 1923.

16 John Wright Poem
16 John Wright Poem
Click image for larger view

One of the paintings by John noted above depicted his vision of Zebulon Pike's landing at Tuscumbia. Pike was known to have brought with him a group of Osage Indians which he was returning to their native ground a little further up the Osage from Tuscumbia. John apparently knew about the Indians since a number of them are depicted in the painting. Some of them must have been native and not prisoners since the painting seems to depict some trading occurring between the Indians and Pike's group. Peggy Hake wrote a very interesting article about Pike's trip up the Osage and to points further west at this location on our own website:

Also on our webpage we have other links to Zebulon Pike which are of interest:

The history of Native Americans in Miller County and the surrounding area is of great interest to quite a number of people in our area (photo 17).

17 Osage Indian in Canoe
17 Osage Indian in Canoe

The Osage Indians (Wazhazhe) were semi-nomadic and lived along the Osage and Missouri Rivers in western Missouri. They hunted on the Great Plains and fiercely guarded their land. Women foraged and grew vegetables in the summer village gardens. The US Government took the tribe's land in 1808 and 1818, and in 1825 established an Osage reservation in southeastern Kansas. The Osage are closely related to the Kaw or Kanza tribe (The People of the South Wind), from whom the name Kansas is derived.

However, the Osage were not the first humans to inhabit our area. The following link gives a succinct archeological history of what is known about the original inhabitants of Missouri up to and even including the earliest European settlers:

This next link gives a more historical narrative about the earliest human beings in our area and if you want you can continue reading the entire essay for a brief history of the entire state of Missouri:

The following PDF document (photo 18) gives a short history of the Osage Indian Tribe and some information about their ornamental dress.

18 Osage Indian Ornamental Dress
18 Osage Indian Ornamental Dress
Click image to view full PDF document

I found this document when researching the internet about the Osage Indians and was particularly interested that one of the Indian women pictured had Pryor for a middle name. I had known that one of my Pryor ancestors from a very long time ago was distantly related to Nathaniel Pryor who was a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Stephen Ambrose in his book, Undaunted Courage, records Pryor's activities several times in his capacity as a scout and river guide.

Several years after Nathaniel left the expedition he eventually migrated south west from St. Louis to Oklahoma and there married an Osage Indian woman. The town of Pryor, Oklahoma is named after him. So I imagine that quite a few mixed race people in Oklahoma would carry the Pryor name. I have found that years ago it wasn't unusual for the early European settlers to marry Native Americans and quite a few people today can point to a Native American ancestor. For example, my great grandfather on my father's side (who lived in Wright County, Missouri) was said to have married a woman who was half Cherokee.

For a more particular history of the earliest inhabitants of the Miller County area, the Goodspeed History of Miller County (compiled in 1889) offers some information, interesting in that the Goodspeed authors had the opportunity to interview Miller County inhabitants who actually had had contact with the Osage Indians before they left the county:

Pioneer Settlement

General View

The sources of information concerning Miller Territory previous to 1830 are very meager, as the settlers previous to that date are all dead. The period before 1830 belonged chiefly to the Indians and white hunters. The two main floods of immigration were late in the 30's, 50's and during the present decade, succeeding the completion of the railway. This chapter has chiefly to do with the first period and the first immigration of the 30's.


The Mound Builders left remains along the Osage bluffs and bottoms and on the Grand Auglaize. These are in the shape of roughly piled stone mounds on the bluffs, where decade after decade men and boys have amused themselves in tossing off the stones from the top "hunting for bones," and often not only finding bones but charcoal, ashes, stone axes, well-glazed and shapely pottery, and the like, all fairly preserved. These mounds are so comparatively uncommon that they must be considered, in all probability, as the burial mounds of the honored ones among those people, whose existence is so shadowed in obscurity. On the bottoms are groups of regularly arranged earth mounds, in which is also found charcoal. These groups are not so common, but they may have been the "national cemeteries," marking battle grounds, though this is mere conjecture. It is quite certain, however that neither of these are "Indian graves," as is popularly supposed. A group may be seen on the M.M. Coburn farm. Another kind of remains not well accounted for is the so-called "early mining holes" on the side hills two miles south of Tuscumbia. Among the best archaeological collections in the county is one owned by John D. Brown, of Iberia. Captain T. B. Robinson has a cup shaped vessel, found in a mound on Mill Creek that is certain evidence of those ancient people's skill.

The Indians

Miller territory is the old hunting ground of the Osages, but by 1830 they were here only on hunting expeditions. One noted chief has left his name on a creek, a cave and a township, "Jim Henry." It is said the cave was a sort of headquarters. "Joe Muncie" was more noted still, because of his having served under Jackson at the battle of New Orleans. Early in the 30's occurred what is humorously known as the "Blanton Indian War." Two men named Blanton were making all possible speed from Cooper County through Cole (now Miller) to Pulaski, and gave the alarm of a general Indian massacre, which their excited fancy painted in bloody colors. Preston Taylor and his neighbors fortified their families at the widow Nolen's while others took to the brush. No warriors came, however, and it soon leaked out that the Blantons had become frightened at some harmless gunshots from white men.

About 1822 there was an Indian village on Tavern Creek, near the mouth of Barren Fork, on the bottoms near Wilson's Cave.

Early White Settlement

While the Indians were still here white hunters and trappers came and went, and some settled. Among the first of whom information can be obtained was Seneca R. Y. Day, in 1815. He was followed some four years later by A. J. Lindley, near the mouth of Big Tavern. About 1821 William and Boyd Miller settled near Spring Garden Prairie, in the northeast, the first permanent settlers in this territory. Both are now dead.

Between 1828 and 1833 Samuel Richardson, Maston Burriss, John Brockman, Isaac Bass and Hugh Challas settled on the Osage River; also Daniel Brumley on the Tavern, and Isaac Bilyeu. These were about all in the whole county before 1830.

The Osage River was then the boundary line between the two counties until the creation of Miller in 1837…Cole on the north and Pulaski on the south. This fact, together with the natural barrier which a river will make to social intercourse, long caused the people on each side to be more or less ignorant of the other. This exists somewhat even yet, and at one time Wilson Lenox, of Iberia, was elected representative on the issue of making two counties out of Miler with the Osage as a boundary. The plan failed, however.

A more recent history of the Osage Indians and their predecessors was written by local author, Victoria Pope Hubbell, in her book, A Town On Two Rivers. This book was donated some years ago to our library and I have copied here the chapter Victoria so very well researched and wrote about the Osage:

Children of the Middle Waters

Victoria Pope Hubbell

From the book, A Town On Two Rivers

For thousands of years before recorded history, the Woodland people lived and hunted throughout the Ozarks. Abundant springs, cave shelters and game populations made the area appealing to prehistoric groups adept at hunting. The history of these ancient people is elusive to the more casual observer, due to the absence of permanent structures or written languages.

Archeological evidence verifies the existence of human remains from the Late Woodland period in this area. On 17 January 1960, the remains of two people were found in a cave close to the Osage River in Miller County (later known as Indian Burial Cave). Archeologist Carl H. Chapman, an expert in Midwestern archeology from the University of Missouri, confirmed the skeletons as Late Woodland people. The two females had died between the age of twenty five and thirty five (photo 19). Analysis of projectile points and pottery shards dated the site as being from 1000 to 1200 years old.

19 Indian Burial Cave Burial Site
19 Indian Burial Cave Burial Site

The Indians of the Historic Period (1400-1800 A.D.) were those present when Europeans arrived in North America. In Missouri the Indians of the Historic Period formed two primary tribes according to land ownership. The tribe of the Missouri claimed the land north of the Missouri River, and the Osage tribe claimed the territory lying to the south. The territory of the Osage was more extensive than this, however, with hunting rights reaching as far south as the Snake River in Texas.

The Osage was a large tribe whose numbers in the 1800's were estimated at around 5000. In describing their territory as west of the Mississippi River and south of the Missouri, they also named themselves: Wha-zha-zhe, Children of the Middle Waters. The use of the name "Osage" appears to have begun when the Frenchmen wrote "Wha-zha-zhe" phonetically in French. Later, when the English acquired the territory and read what the French had written, the current pronunciation may have seen its beginnings.

Since the beginning of settlement in this area, residents have found arrowheads and other artifacts, usually along the river bottom, suggesting occupation by Native American (photo 20). The assumption that the findings are Osage in origin is difficult to prove without pottery sherds (variant of a shard) or other archeological evidence, and Missouri archeologists estimate artifacts found in this area were most likely of the Woodland people.

20 Arrowheads
20 Arrowheads
Click image for larger view

In addition, Indian settlements other than those of the Osage existed throughout the Ozark Highlands from 1600 to the late 1800's Many tribes whose territories were originally east of the Mississippi had been steadily moving west to avoid conflicts with the whites. The Indian Removal Bill (1830) legislated the displacement of all tribes still living east of the Mississippi and resulted in an estimated 60,000 Indians settling on traditional Osage lands. Thus, white settlers, as well as warring within tribes, caused frequent tribe relocation.

Technically, the Osage were considered Plains Indians whose permanent villages of long houses were slightly east of present day Kansas City. They also had villages in the south western potion of Missouri and near Versailles, Missouri. The Osage were considered agriculturally advanced and cultivated corn, beans, squash, pumpkins and other crops.

At designated times throughout the year, the Osage left their homes to hunt. The hunting season began with the black bear hunt in February or March. After trade with the French was imitated, a beaver hunt followed the bear. They hunted deer and buffalo in May and again in August.

The wigwam, a temporary home used on the hunting trip, was made of green poles covered with animal skins or rush mats, resembling a modern dome tent. These hunts took place over hundreds of years, during which the Osage Indians occupied the Osage River area.

At death, personal possessions were traditionally buried with the dead along with enough food and water to last for the journey to the spirit world. Prominent men were often buried in small rock mounds or cairns with the scalp of an enemy hung above the structure by a friend or relative. This act, a great honor for the male responsible for the procuring of the scalp, was one of the reasons Osage warriors were feared. They raided neighboring tribes for the burial scalps.

Artist George Catlin's realistic portrayal of American Indians is significant in light of the cultural changes caused by American Expansionism. Rather than paint from imagination or the descriptions of others, Catlin (1796-1872) sketched in Indian villages and made copious narrative notes as well. His methods, novel at the time, allowed him to artistically chronicle a doomed way of life.

Both men and women pierced and decorated the outer ear and lobe with bones or shells. Later, they also used trade items such as silver. Bracelets were common; men wore them on their wrists as well as their forearms.

Tattoos often designated a warrior's honor, similar to a present day medal. The warrior could choose to confer the honor to his wife and daughters by giving them similar tattoos. Later, head pieces with an appearance suggesting European influence were photographed after the Indians moved to the Oklahoma reservation (photo 20a).

20a Osage Head Pieces
20a Osage Head Pieces

Hairstyles distinguished married women from unmarried. While unmarried women braided their hair or brought it together in two rolls on each side of the head, married women wore their hair down or gathered loosely with a leather or cloth tie.

Osage children usually went naked, even in winter, until they were six or seven. This custom was strange to the white men, one of whom noted, "Many, and indeed most of their little children, are seen going abroad naked, even at this cold season of the year, notwithstanding the thermometer had sometimes stood below zero."

Young children also wore their hair in special in group haircuts, with each clan having its own distinctive method of cutting the child's hair. At puberty they abandoned these styles.

Here are four Osage Indians painted by George Catlin in the mid 19th century (photo 21, photo 22, photo 23 and photo 24):

21 Cler-ment, Osage
21 Cler-ment, Osage
Click image for larger view


22 Tcha-To-Ga, Mad Buffalo, Osage
22 Tcha-To-Ga, Mad Buffalo, Osage
Click image for larger view


23 Tchong-Las-sab-bee, The Black Dog, Osage
23 Tchong-Las-sab-bee, The Black Dog, Osage
Click image for larger view


24 Wah-chee-te, Osage
24 Wah-chee-te, Osage
Click image for larger view

The relationship between the French and the Osage was a fascinating one. Mutually beneficial to both groups, it affected the cultural development of the Osage tribe more than it did French civilization. This relationship also left some reminders in present day Miller County in names of rivers and landmarks.

The Osage were noted by the French as early as 1673. French traders and trappers, whose enthusiasm for making the long journey up the Osage River was fueled by lucrative markets overseas, initiated interaction with the Osage. By all accounts, the two groups generally got along well. French traders were vivacious and friendly, and accounts of them socializing with the Osage are not uncommon. The French were not usually interested in taking large tracts of land from the Indians, nor were they preoccupied with changing Osage customs and religious beliefs. The relationship also benefited from sparse populations on both sides. French occupation during the 1700s occurred at a time when the entire Native American population for the state of Missouri was only 15,000, and few French settlers left towns for the wilds of the Ozarks. In short, there was plenty of room for both groups to exist in harmony.

The Indian was at an advantage over all, because his knowledge of and expertise in local trapping and hunting techniques was superior. In return, the Osage appreciated goods which were useful alternatives in their daily lives. The French lived among the Whaz-zha-zhe, sounding the name out in accordance with French grammar and writing it "Ou-sa-ge" on their maps, documents and letters home.

Occasionally the Osage sold land to Frenchmen. Although the French crown had already claimed the land, they did not send the military power to back up this claim to such remote areas as the Ozarks. One Indian chief noted that land often sold at six acres a penny.

Traditionally, the Indians thought in non economic terms. "Young warriors dreamed of captives and scalps that would bring him fame and glory." The Osage also valued their highly structured and closely knit communities, their elaborate religious beliefs and their hunting rituals.

This old way changed in interactions with Europeans. "The Osage, one of the "doomed" prairie horticulturists, rose to meet the new challenges. At a time when most of the prairie farmers retreated and declined, the Osage advanced and expanded…the Osage enthusiastically became a part of the European exchange system…" Along with furs, the French also wanted horses and slaves, and the Osage became the middlemen. Iron tools and guns provided a special incentive to the Indians, along with cloth and jewelry.

The culture of the Osage changed in response to the competition with other tribes as well as the effects of Europeans now in North America:

"This desire to acquire manufactured products was more than Osage materialism or nascent capitalism. The Osage enjoyed the improved quality of life that iron hoes, brass pots, and woolen stroud provided, but more importantly, they needed French weapons in order to survive. Large, well armed tribes living north and east of the Osage began raiding their villages in the seventeenth century. Without guns and ammunition they would have been defenseless against the hammering raids of the Potawatomi, Mesquakie, Sauk, and Illinois, and they would have been driven from their homes. In order to acquire the critical weapons, the Osage became large scale commercial hunters and aggressive livestock and slave traders".

The 1800's would not prove as profitable for the Osage as the earlier years. The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 began the process of Americans replacing the French as the "legal" land owners of Osage Territory . In 1806 Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Osage informing them their land had been sold by the French to the United States government for three cents an acre. Legend states the Osage leaders responded by throwing the letter in the fire. But the Jackson administration had an aggressive expansionist agenda "which only followed years of less sweeping tribal dislocations, resulting in the displacement of thousands of Indians."

A period of treaty making followed, with the Indians gradually relinquishing more and more of their traditional land. "Various treaties shifted the Osage from one area to the next, establishing reservations first in what is now Kansas, and finally in Oklahoma." What transpired first on paper took longer to accomplish in reality. Although according to governmental documents local land was ceded to the United States of America in 1825, accounts locally suggest Native Americans lingered later into the decade.

During the 1800's, the Osage received compensation from the government for their land in two ways: payment at one cent an acre, and hunting rights on the land they once owned. Osage Indians took advantage of the hunting rights until the mid 1800's returning to the area to hunt. The buffalo's extinction was especially difficult for the tribe. There are stories within the Osage tribe of braves returning to the plains on "symbolic" buffalo hunts going through the motions even though they knew no animals would be found.

The culture of the Children of the Middle Waters began with a prehistory almost as ancient as the Egyptians. For over two hundred years, they interacted with the Europeans until the Indian removal to reservations out of state. They were only one of many tribes from the historic period who could have left evidence of their presence. Locally, all known burial cairns have been destroyed. Artifacts have been gathered by individuals and have not been saved for public display. At the time of this writing, little remains to remind residents of this Native American heritage.

Thanks Victoria.

The most romantic writing about the earliest Miller County inhabitants, I believe, is that by Clyde Lee Jenkins in the first 23 pages of his book, "History of Miller County: Volume 1." That section is too long to copy here but I did find a shorter narrative written by Clyde in which he delivered as a talk at a celebration of the bicentennial in 1976 held in Tuscumbia. This oration was printed in the Autogram and I found it as a clipping in our files at the museum. Although Clyde's speech continued on a timeline going into some of the history of the earliest European settlers as well as the establishment of Tuscumbia after the Native Americans had left the area, I am copying here only the part of the talk concerning the Indians:

Earliest Inhabitants of Miller County

Clyde Lee Jenkins

On July 4, 1776, John Hancock of Massachusetts was president of the Continental congress of the United States of America with the national seat of government situated at Philadelphia in the Colony of Pennsylvania. And as the inhabitants rejoiced over the issuance of the Declaration of Independence, what was happening in what is now Miller County, Missouri?

Well, let me tell you, it was a wilderness of mystery, having been ventured into by only a few Frenchmen by way of the Osage River which lay in the sun like a crooked snake kicked in the head. The Osage Valley was then, and still is, truly the Garden of Eden of the North American Continent. It was a land known as Louisiana, and owned by a foreign government. It was a land where wild creatures roamed in the tall woods and upon the prairies. It was a place where the French hunters and adventurers would see phosphorescent eyes shining around their campfires at night, where the panthers screamed, and if pursued would like a gray ghost, sneak away with their bellies to the ground (photo 25). The buffalo roamed on the Big Richwoods and Saline Township prairies, and in the first full moons of autumn, the bull elks would come prodding onto the prairies, challenging.

25 French Trapper and Hunter
25 French Trapper and Hunter
Click image for larger view

And in the hour before dawn each morning the flesh of the Frenchmen would creep as the voices of the many wild creatures around them were silenced by a loud wailing, which to them sounded like the crying of the great timber wolf in distress, but not quite so for it was human. This crying was always suddenly broken in a lamenting of anguish, which made it appear the pleading was never finished.

This crying in the wilderness were the voices from the mouths of nature's unspoiled children praying to their grandfather, the sun, for in their genesis, they had descended from the sky in which there was perfect order, to the sacred Osage River Valley, where their grandfather, the sun, afterward smiled upon them from sunrise to sunset. These were the Osage Indians! And they were the men preeminent in Miller County at that time.

The Osage Indians were unique. They were the tallest tribe of Indians on the North American continent. Most of the braves stood 7 or more feet in height, usually weighing from 160 to more than 300 pounds. They could easily stride through the wilderness, when necessary, at more than 100 miles per day. Although they practiced selective breeding to perpetuate the height and largeness of their warriors, the Osage River valley was the only place in North America where the buffalo, the elk, antelope, deer, bear, and wild vegetables could be found enough in abundance that the splendid physical characteristics and traits of 10,000 or more human beings could be sustained for more than 500 years.

The Osage ruled supreme from the Missouri River south to the Arkansas River, and from the Mississippi River to the Verdigris and Red rivers on the western plains. The only Indians they ever tolerated in their domain were a band of Shawnee whose chief was, incidentally, a white man, having been kidnapped when a baby and raised in captivity, becoming chief of the tribe when grown. The Osage had often, while the Shawnee were yet living in the Territory of Indiana, traded buffalo robes to them for maple syrup and sugar.

The history of this area, in regard to life as we know it now, actually began in February, 1764, when French traders under Maxent, Laclede and Company established a traders' post at what is now St. Louis. August Chouteau, then just a youth of 14 summers, and better known as Cadet, immediately was fascinated by the arrogant giants in the wilderness of the Osage Valley, and he commenced a rather romantic association with them. Without him, the Osages would have destroyed St. Louis in its infancy, but they had faith in Cadet Chouteau, and affectionately called St. Louis "Chouteau's Town."

In 1794, Cadet, Pierre, and Edward Chouteau were granted by the commandment at New Orleans exclusive trading rights with the Osage. In 1795 the Chouteau brothers ascended the Osage River, passing Riverside Park in Tuscumbia early in the year, and with 100 of the king's best men, erected Fort Carondelet upon the south bank of the Osage River, upon what is known now as Haley's Bluff in Vernon County.

Following this the Osage River was soon a commercial way of great importance for the trappers and traders, and here at Tuscumbia, Tuttasuggy, or Chief Soughing-in-the-Wind, of the Little Osages traded furs and peltries to the Frenchmen for metal and trinkets and later, gunpowder and firearms.

(Note: This photo (photo 26) of an Osage Indian Chief in full dress would have been similar to that of Chief Soughing-in-the-Wind.)

26 Indian Chief Full Dress
26 Indian Chief Full Dress

It was about this time that the first American settlers, who included among others, the Musick, Sullens, Clark, Martin, Richardson, Hildebrand, and Boone families, crossed the Mississippi and settled in what is now Missouri.

The reverend Thomas R. Musick, whose father, Ephraim, settled beyond the fort at St. Louis in 1797, established the Fee Fee Baptist Church in 1807, which is considered by many as the first church of the Protestant faith in Missouri. Descendants of this Musick clan, and some of the other families mentioned, are outstanding citizens in this community today.

On the 3rd day of August in 1806, Lt. Zebulon M. Pike and his famous exploring party to the Far West passed the present site of Tuscumbia. Pike's party was accompanied by 51 Osage and Pawnee Indians, who included Osage Chiefs Big Soldier, Traveling Rain, Beautiful Bird, No Ears, and White Hair who being the smallest in stature stood 6 feet, 8 inches tall. While passing through what is now Miller County, Pike's party killed more than 30 deer, 2 turkeys, 1 goose, and 1 wildcat.

The next year, the first white settler appeared in Miller County, and during the next 15 years, among others, the West, Wilson, Brumley, Bilyeu, Harrison, Snodgrass, Duncan, Crismon, Helton, and Brockman families would appear in central Missouri, living generally among the Indians.

This was the beginning of the era of "Mountain Men," and Jacob and 'Sam Hawken of St. Louis, were the gunsmiths who supplied the famous Rocky Mountain rifles carried by old Bill Williams, William Ashley, Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, and others. These were the descendants of Christian Hawken, gunsmith of Hagerstown, Maryland, and descendants of Christian Hawken are in Miller County today.

Carl Hawken of this county has an exact replica of the famous Rocky Mountain rifle made by his ancestors, and the reputation of the rifle for being the best weapon on the frontier is so great that a genuine Hawken rifle in good condition today is worth anywhere from 25 to 75 thousand dollars (photo 27).

27 Hawken Rifle
27 Hawken Rifle

(Note: The rifle possessed by Carl after his death was passed on to his son who later passed it on to his own son who has it now.)

In 1834, James Pryor and John B. Harrison established a trading post and ferry at the crossing of the Osage River where Tuttasuggy, or Chief Soughing -in the-Wind, of the Osage Indians had often traded with the first hunters and trappers. The arrival of a white man's trading post on the Osage at Tuscumbia could be said to have been a time marker for the beginning of the significant presence of the White Man in the land of the Osage after which the Indian gradually was crowded out and soon was to disappear from Miller County.

Now, in closing, just let me say, since a small child, I have been fascinated by the name Tuscumbia. For some reason, it is a place in which I have always wanted to live. About 12 years ago, my wife and my children and myself moved here from our farm between Tuscumbia and Eugene. The more I've studied the history of this place, the more it has excited my feelings. There is no place in the world better than Miller County and its seat of justice. Tuscumbia has been alive since the days when old Chief Soughing-in-the-Wind stood here in Riverside Park, beside the river which lay in the sun like a stunned snake kicked in the head, in North America's Garden of Eden, and in the hour before dawn each morning, wailed his song prayer which was never finished, to his grandfather, the sun.

This place in the Osage River Valley was alive then; and you, the people, are keeping it alive today. So will it be 200 years from now!

Clyde Lee finishes his section of the History of the Indians in Miller County in his book, The History of Miller County by recording a number of anecdotes which had been passed along through several generations and had become a part of Miller County folklore. Some of these legends are well known to long time Miller County residents; others may not be so familiar. However, I thought they were so interesting that I would copy them from his book at this point. What is interesting to me is that these stories are from our very own Miller County ancestors and many Miller Countians reading them today will recognize one or more very familiar names from their own families:

Indian Anecdotes of Miller County

Clyde Lee Jenkins
History of Miller County p. 15-23

The Osage Indians continued hunting in Miller County for many years, even coming to this area in considerable numbers by automobile after World War 1. A group of Indians visited the late C.P. Tellman and informed him they would appreciate looking his farm over for a spring of clear water running from the bottom of a perfectly shaped bowl of rock. Before the White man's arrival on the scene, religious ceremonies had been performed by their people at this site. Receiving Tellman's permission to search the farm, the spring and rock bowl eventually were found by them.

Other Indians in this particular group were peculiarly interested in territory along the Dog Creek, thoroughly roaming in the Dog Creek valley a number of days. A few local citizens believed them hunting for buried treasure, but if gold or silver were found, they failed to inform anyone, for the Indians departed without fanfare, suddenly, to the Southwest.


Early merchants profited from trading with the Indians. J.P. Harrison, upon donating a tract of land to Miller County for the Seat of Justice, set a portion of the tract aside as a place for the Indians to camp upon when visiting Tuscumbia. Harrison's reservation was situated on the North bank of the Shut In branch by the river.

Having improved a small acreage in the Big Richwoods, Indian Tall Bear was leading a rather settled way of life when the White man arrived on the scene. Colonel Josiah and Nancy Huddleston Birdsong purchased Tall Bear's improvement for a gourd of powder and a hunting knife. Tall Bear informed the Colonel of having in his youth many times stalked herds of more than 60 buffalo grazing on the prairies in the Big and Little Richwoods, with wild game of almost all kinds in abundance everywhere.

The dress of an adult Indian, man or woman, was a waist cloth and a belted blanket made from animal skins. No clothing was worn by Indian children until almost grown. Their first garment was a long, home made shirt,…the first sack dress in Miller County. The Osages lived in crude shelters made of skin and bark.

Isaac Bilyeu and his wife, both under twenty years of age, having followed Bill Hews into the Gasconade country on a hunting expedition in late 1818, settled on the Big Tavern Creek east of present day Iberia in the early 1800's. For a number of year their closest neighbors were John Wilson on the barren Fork, and Daniel Brumley on the Big tavern.

Isaac hunted for deer and bear, of which there was abundance. From these animals he got meat for food and skins for leather breeches. For a number of years he got corn from James Harrison, then living at the mouth of the Little Piney in present day Phelps County. Isaac kept this corn inside his cabin concealed in a hollow log barrel. When needed for food a small portion of the grain was placed in a bowl shaped rock and crushed with a round stone by hand.

Until about 1829, Isaac hunted with a Indian Chief named Rodgers. Chief Rodgers, a White man, was removed from the cradle of his parents by Indians raiding White settlements near modern Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before the Revolutionary War.

After the War, Rodgers' Shawnee band drifted down the river from the falls of the Ohio to the Mississippi, crossing the Father of Waters and hunting leisurely, northwestwardly, into the Ozark Mountains. Upon reaching the Gasconade country, finding game to be in such abundance, they ceased moving, erecting their villages on the Gasconade and Big Maries rivers. The area of the Big Tavern creek was a portion of their hunting grounds.

The band by whom he was kidnapped eventually made Rodgers their Chief.


In the late Autumn of 1815, Daniel Brumley, having settled on the Big tavern Creek, obtained a supply of maize from the Indians at one of their villages on the Big Maries. At Cedar creek he visited Jim and Archie Snodgrass, two young men from Tennessee, fifteen and seventeen years of age.

In 1823 Brumley accompanied Campbell Crisman to the Missouri river for salt coming down in canoes from the Boone's Lick. Campbell Crismon's wife, a half-blood Cherokee, was called Wannah. Campbell told Daniel that his wife, when a young girl, witnessed the torture of a Creek Indian captured by her father , a White man living with the tribe, and other warriors, while on the warpath in the Great Smoky Mountains of South Carolina.

Watching her people burn the young Creek to death at the stake, she observed, although the fire seared his flesh, he stood like a statue, for no Indian ever displayed any emotions in times like this. Only his hands moved slowly, twisting and assuming grotesque shapes, as he suffered through the agonies of flaming death.

The vision of the ordeal remained in Wannah's mind, becoming more intensified in the later years of her lifetime. Until her death, in moments of solitude, Wannah might be seen twisting, turning, and rubbing her hands.

Isaac Bilyeu and his wife attended one tribal dance held by Chief Rodgers, on the Big Tavern Creek. This was a lively affair. To the rhythm of log drums the squaws and children chanted, while the young braves stomped, jumped, circled, and yelled in cadence.


In earlier days a corn dance was held by the Osage tribe on the Big Tavern creek each spring, near their village north of the Wilson Cave, celebrating the appearance of the first green sprigs of maize.


Hearing of very fertile land along the Osage River, in the late 1820's John M. Brockman settled six miles above later day Tuscumbia, by a big spring. He moved there with a yoke of oxen, an ox cart, a gun, a double bit axe, and a few hand tools from in the vicinity of a very small settlement called Pleasant Mount on the prairie.

He cleared with great toil and area out of the wilderness near the big spring. In a short time he was joined by a stranger from the other side of the river. The stranger carried information that if logs were to be raised for a cabin, Mr. Brockman could find a pattern already cut on the other side of the Osage. He had the logs for a cabin ready to be raised, but there were too many Indians. They had not molested him in anyway, but friendly or not their standing and sitting around watching while he worked made him nervous. He was returning to civilization and giving his tenancy back to the Indians. He was returning to the vicinity of Pleasant Mount on the prairie.

John M. Brockman crossed the river and found the pattern. In a few days the logs were raised and the cabin completed. The Indians remained in the vicinity several weeks. Later, the land was patented by Mr. Brockman during the administration of President Andrew Jackson. This farm remained in the Brockman family until 1948, more that 120 years. The Brockman farm, the Brockman Ford across the Osage River, the Brockman Ferry, the Brockman steamboat landing, and the Big Spring, were early landmarks in Miller County.


The early settlers along the Dog creek in Miller County were informed by the Indians that once upon a time the back waters of the Osage River filled the creek to the upper spring on the Zelly branch. In elm bark canoes they had traveled form the river to the spring. The settler believed this impossible since the spring was located too high in the valley and far from the river. In 1943, the waters of the Osage River flooded the Dog Creek and the Zelly branch filled to the upper spring. The high waters referred to by the Indians probably occurred in 1785, noted as the Year of the Great Waters on the Mississippi.


In 1828, Samuel Gilliland and his wife, Mary, settled on a tract of land near present day Olean. The deer and the wolves played on the prairie where Eldon is located A lone Indian, or a group of Indians in single file, traveling across the prairie were viewed as a part of the primitive scene.

An Indian trading post was at present day Tuscumbia. A village of Indians occupied the bank of the Osage River at the foot of the bluff and by the spring. A White man was told by an Indian that if ever a cabin was placed at this point it should be raised above a certain mark on the bluff side to be safe from floods.


In a treaty with the Osage Nation on November 10, 1808, at Fort Osage, located on the south bank of the Missouri river east of present day Kansas City, the Indians ceded their lands in Missouri to the Government of the United States. For these lands and others, the Great Osages received $1800 in cash and merchandise, the Little Osages half that amount; a bargain of fantastic proportions.

However, upon ceding this part of their land to the Government they retained a right to hunt over the ground for a number of years. These hunting parties made the people nervous and Indian scares were common, especially on the North side of the Osage River. Often families slept concealed near their cabins. At other times a number of families gathered in one place for protection against imminent attack but always the Indians were peaceable.

After the Indians ceased hunting in Miler County, small groups occasionally passed through the territory following the old Harmony Mission Trace and Indian trails going to and from St. Louis or to visit the great White Father in Washington. The Old Harmony Mission trace was the White man's first overland trail through Miller County. It was used by the first settlers from the East coming to Central and Western Missouri, and earlier, by the fur traders and trappers of the tribe of Daniel Boone.


In many parts of Miller County artificial mounds and other remains give evidence of Indian habitation. The Osages buried their dead by covering the corpse, wrapped in skins with stones. Buried side by side and covered with stones, mounds of considerable size were erected.


The sole inhabitants of the forests and the prairies when the White man arrived on the scene, the Osage Indians, after 1835, were generally gone as long as the sun shall shine or the waters run in the rivers, forever.

Thanks Clyde. The most famous Indian story of our county is that of Jim Henry. Because we already have that story on our website I will link you to it here:

Much more could be placed here about Miller County's first inhabitants but space and time is limiting. However, for those who want more information one simple method for inquiry is to use our "site index" which is the last choice of the drop down box when you click on the "About Us" heading on the top left of our home page. In the box just type "Indian" and you will get fifty or more places on our website to peruse about Miller County Indians.

Our museum has several exhibits pertaining to our county's earliest inhabitants. A major display was given us by Alton Davis, Miller County resident, who has collected Indian paraphernalia most of his life. Alton can remember many anecdotes and stories from Indian folklore and when he is at the museum visitors have a real treat listening to him. He is a sculptor also and we have a couple of his works in the display (photo 28).

28 Indian Sculptures
28 Indian Sculptures

He has donated hundreds of arrow heads and other Osage Indian weaponry and artifacts (photo 29, photo 30, photo 31 and photo 32).

29 Arrowheads
29 Arrowheads


30 Arrowheads and Peace Pipe
30 Arrowheads and Peace Pipe


31 Stone Knife
31 Stone Knife


32 Tomahawk
32 Tomahawk

Now for some odds and ends. Here is a ball like object, perfectly round and smooth, given us by Patsy (Adcock) Wyrick (photo 33). You might have thought it was a cannonball found in a field somewhere in Miller County, something that does happen once in a great while, but this ball is too light. Patsy told me it was a "hair ball" that was found in a cow's stomach at the time of it being butchered.

33 Hair Ball
33 Hair Ball

Next is this slab of wood with hundreds of tracings and markings (photo 34). You might have thought it to be Indian hieroglyphs. But I am told it was a larvae of some type eating its way through the inside bark of a tree.

34 Etched Wood
34 Etched Wood

Next we have another article given us by Patsy. This is a delicately embroidered and beaded small pillow with the year 1903 sewn in at the top (photo 35). If anyone knows of anything that happened in 1903 that would have occasioned the creation of this beautiful piece of embroidery, please let us know.

35 Embroidered Pillow
35 Embroidered Pillow

And finally, we just received this new display of the Bear family which provided six brothers who fought for the North during the Civil War. The collection includes photos of the brothers' parents, George and Elizabeth Bear, as well as the sons' wives and some of their children (photo 36).

36 Bear Family Soldier Display
36 Bear Family Soldier Display

The unusual feature of this display is first, that so many members of one family fought in the war; and secondly, that photos of them have survived to the present time. You can find this display prominently located to your right just as soon as you leave the entrance foyer to enter the museum. Also you can read in detail about the Bear family and the six brothers who fought in the Civil War at this location on our web site:

Scroll about a fourth the way down through the Bear family site to find the story about the soldiers.

Don't forget to attend our Ice Cream Social this coming Saturday, June 21 from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Joe Jeffries and his group will be performing in the lower level meeting area of the new addition located at the rear of the old museum building.

That's all for this week.

Joe Pryor

President's Message of 06-09-2008
President's Message of 06-02-2008
President's Message of 05-26-2008
President's Message of 05-19-2008
President's Message of 05-12-2008
President's Message of 05-05-2008
President's Message of 04-28-2008
President's Message of 04-21-2008
President's Message of 04-14-2008
President's Message of 04-07-2008
President's Message of 03-31-2008
President's Message of 03-24-2008
President's Message of 03-17-2008
President's Message of 03-10-2008
President's Message of 03-03-2008
President's Message of 02-25-2008
President's Message of 02-18-2008
President's Message of 02-11-2008
President's Message of 02-04-2008
President's Message of 01-28-2008
President's Message of 01-21-2008
President's Message of 01-14-2008
President's Message of 01-07-2008
President's Message of 12-31-2007
President's Message of 12-24-2007
President's Message of 12-17-2007
President's Message of 12-10-2007
President's Message of 12-03-2007
President's Message of 11-26-2007
President's Message of 11-19-2007
President's Message of 11-12-2007
President's Message of 11-05-2007
President's Message of 10-29-2007
President's Message of 10-22-2007
President's Message of 10-15-2007
President's Message of 10-08-2007
President's Message of 10-02-2007
President's Message of 09-25-2007
President's Message of 09-17-2007
President's Message of 09-10-2007
President's Message of 09-02-2007
President's Message of 08-26-2007
President's Message of 08-19-2007
President's Message of 08-12-2007
President's Message of 08-05-2007
President's Message of 07-28-2007
President's Message of 07-20-2007
President's Message of 07-13-2007
President's Message of 07-05-2007
President's Message of 06-26-2007
President's Message of 06-21-2007
President's Message of 06-16-2007
President's Message of 06-09-2007
President's Message of 06-06-2007
President's Message of 05-28-2007
President's Message of 05-25-2007
President's Message of 05-19-2007
President's Message of 05-16-2007
President's Message of 05-05-2007
President's Message of 04-29-2007
President's Message of 04-22-2007
Here We "GROW"

 Increase Font Size  Decrease Font Size