Rural Missouri - June 2013 - (Page 28)
Territorial Gov. Clark quells Indian attacks during the War of 1812
by Jim Denny
n June 4, 1812, the Territory of Louisiana
became the Missouri Territory. As a secondclass territory, Missouri could now elect a
delegate to Congress and vote for its own
territorial legislature. Two weeks later, however, the
United States declared war on Great Britain, plunging the ﬂedgling territory into a state of war.
Out on this western fringe of the nation, the
impressment of American sailors or access to foreign
ports meant little as reasons to go to war with England. For Missourians, most transplanted from Kentucky, the war was going to be the dark and bloody
ground days of the American Revolution all over
again: Indians incited and supplied by British agents,
raiding into frontier settlements and putting men,
women and children to the tomahawk.
Fortunately, the ground was not nearly so bloodied during Missouri’s War of 1812 as back in Kentucky in those earlier times. But blood did spill and
settlers — including women and children — were
slaughtered by Indian assailants. The frontier settlement vanguard along the Mississippi or Missouri
rivers would huddle into stockades while hostile
Indians ﬁlled the surrounding woods — or at least
Indian tensions already were high when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark ﬁrst saw this country in 1804 on their great expedition. In what is
now central Missouri, they noticed signs of a brewing Indian war. The Sauk-Fox Indians, who ranged
through northern Missouri, had crossed the Missouri
River to attack the Osage Indians whose villages
were in southwest Missouri. Ioway Indians also were
warring against the Osage. This dangerous situation
was further complicated by the arrival of thousands
of settlers, who poured into the new Louisiana Purchase lands. Between 1804 and 1810, the population doubled to more than 20,000 citizens. Some of
these settlers headed for choice lands that also were
claimed by Indians.
By 1813, William Clark was territorial governor.
He would have to employ his considerable skills
to restrain land-hungry frontiersmen from
encroaching on lands claimed by Indians. He needed some time to forge
the necessary treaties with Indian
nations to open these tribal
lands up to American
Treaty making was
something at which
Clark excelled. By
means of treaties, Clark and
tract of land between the Missouri and Arkansas
rivers from the mighty Osage Indian tribe in 1808.
That same year, he directed the construction of Fort
Osage, 350 miles up the Missouri River, to provide
trade goods to the Osage and protection from their
enemies. Four years earlier, William Henry Harrison
convinced some Sauk-Fox to sign a treaty ceding a
portion of northeast Missouri, along with large tracts
in Illinois and Wisconsin. In 1808, Fort Madison was
erected on the Mississippi River, above the mouth of
the Des Moines River, to control the belligerent SaukFox Indians who were concentrated at their Rock
River villages near present Rock Island, Ill.
The war years were ﬁlled with anxiety that huge
Indian armies were amassing along the upper Mississippi preparing to attack. The Shawnee leaders,
Tecumseh and his brother the Prophet, were exhorting Indian tribes to join the British. The war chieftain, Black Hawk, led a faction of the Sauk-Fox tribe
to the British side. Would they send their armies
down the Mississippi River?
Luckily, the dreaded attacks never materialized
during the ﬁrst two years of the war. The Territory of
Missouri was unprepared to defend the scattered settlements of Missouri — or even St. Louis — against
a British-Indian army. Despite the fact that only 241
regular Army soldiers were stationed west of the Mississippi River, it was vital that the Osage be kept neutral and that the Sauk-Fox and other hostile nations
be held at bay.
The attacks that did occur happened when small
bands of Indians ambushed isolated settlers. In February 1812, in the remote Salt River country, the
mother and nine children of the O’Neal family were
murdered by a band of Kickapoo Indians. Fort Mason
was built by Missouri Rangers soon after.
In September 1812, a man and his wife were
wounded and their horses and cow taken by a band
of Indians outside Portage des Sioux. The following March, a young man was killed by Potawatomi
Indians while hunting horses in the same vicinity.
On Aug. 3, 1813, a group of men and boys picking
turnips near Fort Howard were ﬁred on by Sauk-Fox,
who killed one settler and wounded another.
The most successful military operations in Missouri were carried out by the four companies of
the Missouri Rangers. During 1812 and 1813, these
hardy frontiersmen were recruited from the Boone
settlement on the Missouri River and other backwoods locales and led by men such as Capt. Nathan
Boone, Daniel’s youngest son, who could “climb like
a bear and swim like a duck.”
The rangers kept up constant patrols in the hinterland that stretched from the Loutre Island settlement on the Missouri River to Fort Portage des Sioux
and up the Mississippi River to Fort Madison.
In July 1813, a patrol of 11 rangers had a bloody
encounter with an equal number of Winnebagos
near Fort Mason. The running battle left four rangers dead. The ranger patrols may well have discouraged additional Indian attacks during those troubled
The Fort Osage factory trading post was closed
in the spring of 1813. In the fall of that year, it
reopened near present-day Arrow Rock. Directly
across the Missouri River from the factory was the
Boonslick settlement, the westernmost outpost of the
American settlement frontier. Fort Madison also was
closed in the fall of 1813. Unlike personnel at Fort
Osage, who maintained friendly relations with the
Osage, those at Fort Madison existed in an almost
continuous state of siege by the hostile Sauk-Fox.
Finally, on Sept. 3, the garrison at Fort Madison ﬁred
the fort and escaped with their lives.
By then, Gov. Clark had managed through long
negotiations to convince a large contingent of the
Sauk-Fox tribe to separate themselves from Black
Hawk’s pro-British band on the Mississippi River and
to relocate to a site on the Missouri River near Little
Moniteau Creek in today’s Moniteau County.
The factory that had provided trade goods at
Fort Madison was moved to the new village site.
This seemed to be a good idea at the time, but 1,500
newly transplanted “friendly” Sauk-Fox Indians
were now just 50 miles downriver from the sizable
Boonslick settlement. Could they peacefully coexist?
Nationally, the War of 1812 was starting to take a
favorable turn. Oliver Perry’s victory on Lake
Erie and the defeat and death of Tecumseh gave hope to Territorial Missourians that the war might have
turned the corner. Little did
they know that the most difﬁcult days still lay ahead.
Jim Denny from
Lupus is a freelance
writer and historian retired from
The lunette mural, “Indian Attack on the Village of St. Louis, 1780,” painted by Oscar Edmund Berninghaus in 1921, adorns a wall inside the Capitol in Jefferson City. It
depicts the type of warfare that early Territorial Missourians faced as the War of 1812 waged.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - June 2013
Rural Missouri - June 2013
Table of Contents
Back to the land
Full steam ahead
Out of the Way Eats
Where shall I thee wed?
Missouri Snapshots contest
Hearth and Home
Missouri’s forgotten war
Plant during summer’s sizzle
Rural Missouri - June 2013