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Rural Missouri Magazine
A trace of history
Traveling the Boone's Lick Trail offers a lesson in Missouri's forgotten 19th-century past

by Bob McEowen

Visitors to the the Nathan Boone home near Defiance learn about the role frontiersman Daniel Boone and his sons played in Missouri settlement. The Boone sons extended western migration to the Boone’s Lick Country, in central Missouri, when they discovered a salt lick there.

A granite marker stands on the lawn of a modern ranch home in suburban St. Charles County. The stone block, placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1913, is one of 30 similar stones along a path stretching 120 miles from St. Charles to New Franklin. Each stone recalls a stagecoach stop, tavern, fort or some other outpost along the Boone’s Lick Trail, an early road traveled by pioneers who settled Missouri.

Today, sprawling subdivisions, shopping malls and four-lane highways surround the marker. Recently, a traveler visiting the site would have seen a flatbed trailer bearing a “For Sale” sign securely chained to the granite block.

This irreverent use of a historical marker may be symbolic of how Missourians value their past. The Boone’s Lick Trail was essential to the development of Missouri but it’s largely overlooked or forgotten by most residents of the state today.

“This history is the most important and most valuable history west of the Mississippi River and Missouri just hasn’t done a thing with it. It’s not in our books,” says Ken Kamper, a historian who specializes in the life of frontiersman Daniel Boone and his offspring.

What the history books lack, a dedicated traveler can discover by visiting just a few historic sites along the Boone’s Lick Trail. These sites — historic St. Charles, the Boone home near Defiance, the historic town of Arrow Rock and the Boone’s Lick State Historic Site — provide a sense of early Missouri history and an appreciation for the trail that once linked these locations.

The importance of the Boone’s Lick Trail and its predecessor, the Boone Trace, cannot be overstated, says Kamper, resident historian at the Daniel Boone Home and Boonesfield Village in southern St. Charles County.

“The Boone’s Lick Trail was the only trail people were using going west until you got to the Oregon Trail and the Sante Fe Trail,” he says. “It was a major corridor for 40 years.”

Ken Kamper stands by a roadside park near Matson and describes the Boone settlement. Kamper is the resident historian at the Daniel Boone Home and Boonesfield Village.

The Boone’s Lick Trail carried travelers as far west as Franklin, where the Sante Fe Trail began. In New Franklin, back-to-back markers recognize the end and beginning of the two trails. Ironically, the Boone’s Lick Trail marker is scarcely noticed as flowers surrounding the much larger Sante Fe Trail marker cover it.

Often what brought settlers along these trails was Daniel Boone himself. Throughout his life Boone opened an ever-westward-reaching frontier, first leading settlers across the Blue Ridge Mountains into Kentucky and later into Missouri.

“This is the guy who is moving America westward,” Kamper says.

Boone came to Missouri, then a Spanish territory, in 1799. Lured by an offer of a generous land grant for himself and every family that followed, the Boones settled in the Femme Osage Creek Valley, not far from the Missouri River at present-day Matson. The settlement, arguably the westernmost American village at the time, was noted in the journals of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

Little remains of the Boone settlement. A roadside display describes the holdings of various Boone relatives. A tree, planted in 1999, recalls Boone’s “Judgment Tree” where he held court as territorial commandant. A monument near Marthasville marks the burial site of Daniel and Rebecca Boone.

A series of 30 stone markers, placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1913, mark the Boone's Lick Trail. This marker honors Lewistown, near present-day High Hill. The village, named in honor of Meriwether Lewis, lasted just seven years.

Most notable, the incorrectly named Daniel Boone Home (it was actually Nathan Boone’s home) located north of Defiance on Highway F, preserves the history of the family and a few original artifacts. Now a campus of Lindenwood University, the site also includes Boonesfield Village, a cluster of historic structures all carefully moved from their original locations and rebuilt on the Boone grounds.

“I think it’s a little bit of a secret treasure,” says Pam Jensen, site manager. “People have not realized, lately, the importance of the Boone family.

“Here you are able to tour the home and find out all about the Boone family, both in their time prior to Missouri, what they did in Missouri and also about the sons, Nathan and Daniel Morgan Boone, who are also very important to Missouri settlement.”

In 1805 the Boone brothers located a salt lick in Howard County, in present-day central Missouri. Salt was essential for settlers, who used it to cure meat. The Boones established a business, boiling water from the saline spring and shipping the precious salt 160 miles down the Missouri River to the Boone settlement.

The Boone’s Lick Historic Site near Boonesboro preserves the location of a 19th-century salt works.

Initially, settlers traveled to this new outpost along the Boone Trace, a barely marked footpath that followed the river to the lick. In 1808 Nathan Boone led a group of militiamen under the command of William Clark — then returned from his historic voyage — from St. Charles to Franklin, near the salt works. Their path, a few miles north of the Boone Trace, eventually became the Boone’s Lick Trail.

There are no public remnants of the original trail today. Instead, its course became “the state road” prior to the 20th century. The route closely paralleled today’s Highway N through St. Charles and Warren counties and Interstate 70 from Warrenton to Boonville.

In fact, it could be said that the Boone’s Lick Trail gave birth to the interstate. In 1911, the Daughters of the American Revolution led a crusade for a national highway built along the old frontier roads. Missourians, especially the Missouri Good Roads Committee, led that fight. Their determination that the pioneer paths form the basis of the national road system won the day.

Much of the Boone’s Lick Trail became U.S. Highway 40 and later I-70. In fact, the first section of the interstate completed was just a few blocks from the beginning of the Boone’s Lick Trail.

The intersection of South Main Street and Boone’s Lick Road in St. Charles’ historic district is considered the start of the trail. This area is alive with an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and historic sites. Visitors can tour museums dedicated to Lewis and Clark, learn about Missouri’s first state Capitol and generally revel in the state’s history.

School children wait for a bus beside the Western House at the corner of South Main and Boone’s Lick in St. Charles. This former hotel, built in 1840, once hosted settlers as they prepared to begin their trek on the Boone’s Lick Trail.

It took days for a 19th-century sojourner to reach the Boone’s Lick from St. Charles. Today, travelers can make the trip in just two hours, traveling I-70, or a half-day’s drive if stopping at historic markers. To find the markers, purchase a copy of Dan Rothwell’s “Along the Boone’s Lick Trail” at one of the many museums or historic sites in St. Charles, or at the Arrow Rock State Historic Site at the other end of the trail.

Travelers to “the Boone’s Lick Country” soon found not just the salt works but also the settlements of Boonville, Rocheport and Arrow Rock, among others. As happened in Kentucky and elsewhere, where the Boones went, others followed.

This is especially true after the War of 1812. While America fought the British in the East, in Missouri it was largely an Indian war. The end of hostilities brought relative safety for settlers and a flood of migration ensued. In 1812 the non-Indian population of the Boone’s Lick region was just 500. By 1821 it was 15,000.

Michael Dickey, site administrator at the Arrow Rock State Historic Site, says the Boone’s Lick Country was the primary destination of settlers in the early 19th century.

“There were several famous quotations,” Dickey says. “John Mason Peck, Baptist missionary, talked about the number of settlers coming west in 1816 and ’17. He said they came like an avalanche.

A collection of 18th- and 19th-century firearms awaits guests at the Friends of Arrow Rock visitor's center. The tiny village of Arrow Rock is rich in early Missouri history.

“He said it seemed like all of Kentucky and Tennessee were breaking up and moving to the far West. Stop a traveler and ask him where he was going and he’d say, ‘To the Boone’s Lick, to be sure.’”

The history of this migration is told at the Arrow Rock State Historic Site visitor’s center. Across the river, near tiny Boonesboro, the Boone’s Lick State Historic Site preserves the location of the original salt works.

Arrow Rock itself is ripe with history. The Friends of Arrow Rock offers tours of the historic village which take visitors to the 1834 Arrow Rock Tavern, a pioneer gun shop and the homes of artist George Caleb Bingham and Dr. John Sappington, who developed a cure for malaria and led a political dynasty that included four governors.

Beyond Arrow Rock, related history can be found at Fort Osage near Sibley and at the National Frontier Trails Center in Independence.

Much of the history of the Boone family and the Boone’s Lick Trail is overlooked because of the way the state designates tourism regions, says Kathy Borgman, executive director of Friends of Arrow Rock.

Jeanette and Rocky Meo of Jefferson City examine artifacts from the Boone’s Lick at the Arrow Rock State Historic Site.

“In the tourism book, we’re in three different regions here and yet we don’t fit in any of them,” she says. “We get put in with the Lake of the Ozarks. We have much more in common with St. Charles than we do the Lake of the Ozarks.”

Instead, Bergman, Kamper and others say tourists who recognize the significance of the Boone’s Lick Trail will discover an entire region shaped by Daniel Boone and his family. Doing so, she says, Missourians can begin to experience and appreciate a part of their own past often overlooked.

“It‘s a chance to learn a piece of Missouri history that people know very little about.”

For information about Arrow Rock and Boone’s Lick state historic sites call (660) 837-3330. The Department of Natural Resources’ Web site, www.mostateparks.com, also offers information about these sites, as well as the First Missouri State Capitol in St. Charles. For information about The Daniel Boone Home and Boonesfield Village call (636) 798-2005. The Friends of Arrow Rock also maintains a Web site. Log onto www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/trails.htm for a history of the National Old Trails Road.

 

 

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