The United States doubled its land size in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. Prior to 1815, most settlers coming up the Mississippi River chose to settle close to the river between St. Louis and New Madrid. Only the most adventurous dared to settle farther west than the village of St. Charles, which was on the Missouri River just west of St. Louis.
After the War of 1812, and when Indian attacks were less frequent, some settlers headed for Salt River country north and west of St. Charles. Others followed the Missouri River and settled close to it. Franklin, established north of the Missouri River in 1817, was one such town.
On Aug. 2, 1817, the Zebulon M. Pike, the first steamboat to come up the Mississippi River above the Ohio, docked at St. Louis. Hundreds of cheering people met the boat for that historic event.
In 1819, the Independence headed up the Missouri River for Franklin. A year later, Franklin boasted numerous stores, a federal land office and its own newspaper. By 1820, the Boonslick country (mostly Chariton, Saline, Howard and Cooper counties) had more than 20,000 people.
As the population grew, so did the need for good public roads. To save money, the Legislature authorized local officials to require able-bodied men 16-45 years old to devote a specified number of days each year to road construction and maintenance. There were complaints this was an undue hardship on poorer residents who could not afford the time or heavy fines for failure to meet this obligation. Others just joined forces with neighbors and did as their female counterparts did when making quilts — they had a "road bee." It gave them time to socialize a bit and catch up on local news while fulfilling their obligations.
With each advancement, whether it was better steamboats for getting up the Missouri River or better roads for the settlers, Missouri moved one step closer to statehood.
Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written Historically Yours for the Boonville Daily News for over 10 years. In celebration of Missouri's upcoming Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to [email protected]