Himmelberger bought out the small sawmill started in 1880 by E. J. Malone. A small area was cut out of the wilderness to erect the mill and build a few houses for the workers along the banks of Little River. It was not much of a mill. However, it did attract workers who brought their families. This was the beginning of Morehouse.

 The workers and their families that moved into the wilderness around Morehouse had to be able to put up with a great deal of discomfort.  Heat, cold, flies, mosquitoes, humidly, and snakes, were all part of daily living. Housing was not, by today’s standards, suitable for a dog house.

 Some of these shacks were clustered close to the saw mills; others were in the woods set apart from the others. Most were only one room, build on stilts, made of green lumber of unequal thickness that shrank and warped as it seasoned. Also coming from the cull pile, was bark covered strips used to cover the gaps between the outside wall boards. Doors were loose fitting and homemade. Windows, if they had them, may have been oiled newspaper. Pricy was unheard of. 

The number of houses and amount of people increased for a number of years. However, the community was not stable. Because so many of the families were transit, the community and work force was in a state of flux.

Like the people living by it, Little River was uncontrolled.  With the land relative flat, the river’s spread was determined only by the amount of water it carried. Especially in the Spring Little River claimed much of Little River Valley.


This community in the northwest corner of New Madrid County, in 1889 had three businesses; I. Himmelberger & Co. saw mill; Casson Weakley Hotel; Winchester and Marshall General Store. Population was now 150. The nearest bank was five-and-one-half miles away at Sikeston.

By 1900, the population reached 900; the community was now starting to stabilize into a more civilized society. Commercial hunting became less important.

Even as the population increased, the buildings looked much the same. They were built with rough timber. Because of the frequent flooding, they were built on stilts. Even the sidewalks, what few they had had been also build on stilts.

Little River was not a navigable stream except for small gasoline launches. Sundays found the river full of young men and their small water crafts. The river furnished a variety of fish for the residents’ dinner table.

Early Settlement

First settlers in Morehouse arrived around 1880. When they arrived, the only permanent building in the area was a railroad section house, a building used to store roadway repair equipment, for the Cape Girardeau and Caruthersville branch of the Cairo Arkansas and Texas railroad commonly called the “Cat”.  Work was done to keep the road in good repair.

The “Cat” road was soon operating two passengers and one freight train each way a day. Poles were set and strung with two telegraph wires. Morehouse was then connected to the outside world.

In 1867, Isaac Himmelberger started a lumber and saw mill operation at Logansport, Indiana.  Around 1879, his son, John H. Himmelberger with I. Himmelberger started operation at Bluffingtion, in Stoddard County, Missouri.  Because the mill in Missouri only had a small amount of equipment, Himmelberger augmented the equipment by moving more equipment for Logansport.  

Buffington, at this time showed promise of becoming a thriving town. From 1886 to 1904, a post office was located there. Only by the luck of the draw did Himmelberger choose to move the major part of his operation to Morehouse.

The Buffington mill, as bought was powered by a thirty-horse power plant and employed from forth to fifty men. Its production could not come close to meeting the orders they had.

Orders were coming in from Northern Illinois and Iowa for material for plows; wagon parts orders came from Kentucky and Illinois. Handles made from gum sold in the Chicago and New York markets.

Business was so good that in 1886, the mill’s capacity was doubled. Still they were unable to meet the demand for lumber.  Another mill was build powered by a fifty house-power plant. Employment went up to sixty more men. Daily, the production reached 40,000 board feet.

Within a few years Isaac Himmelberger joined a partnership with John Burris making barrel staves at Dexter, Missouri. Because his other businesses demanded so much time, this relationship did not last long.

With the establishment of the Missouri mill, John Himmelberger became the bookkeeper and manager. Then in 1887, he became a full partner and was in charge of the Stoddard County business.

In late 1890, the federal government declared the frontier closed. More men started drifting into Southeast Missouri. Workers entering the swamps had to be hardy people to survive. Working condition were the worst. The weather was blistering hot in the summer and miserably cold during the winters while finding it difficult to stay dry any time of the year. Isolation and loneliness along with sickness was a constant problem. With water all around, none of it was fit to drank, therefore, moonshine became the drink of choose.

The work was backbreaking. To stay out of the water, Titer boards were used; which meant a notch was cut in a tree above the water and a board was inserted. Then you balanced yourself while cutting a tree that may have a diameter of twenty feet. Hard men were necessary to cut the timber to feed logs to mills.

Axes and one- and two-man felling saws were the common tools. Falling trees went were they were inclined to in spite of the sawing angle and driven wedges.  Falling tree trunks became projectiles of huge weight and momentum when they fell. Sawn trees hung up on standing tree making weapons of the sawed tree trunk, making them “widow-makers.”

Logging was a dangerous job that required hard physical labor and brute strength. Stihl’s gas-powered chain saws were not mass-produced until the 1930’s and not widely used until after World War II.

No wonder Morehouse and the other mill towns in the area had an undesirable reputation among citizens of more settle regions. Many frontier towns had less than savory reputations. This was especially true of lumber camps, and mining towns. Upstanding, highly moral and upright men were not attracted to the life required to work in these areas.  Morehouse was considered one of the roughest placed in the state


 On April 9, 1851, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported the New Madrid Herald said the earth there shook longer and was more intent than any felt for several years. Preceding and following the shock a rumbling noise resembling thunder was heard. The earth opened near West Lake in several places and on the Wm. Connelly, seven miles from town. Six miles from town on the Silas Beavers farm the earth opened and threw sand and water to forty to fifty feet into the air. This was believed to be the first time the earth opened since 1812.

March 2, 1851 Commercial Appeal

However, the vast quantities of timber attracted humans. Trees were here because of the land. The rivers brought the soils to form the land. In a word, “geography” created a system that birth Morehouse. The land and its products determined the economy of an area. Especially, this is true in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, frequently called the Delta.

Early maps of the Morehouse Lowlands showed how much they did not know about the area. An 1823 edition of the Bradford map named what is now known as Little River, White Water River.  Anthony Finley and David H. Vance published a map in 1826, Missouri and Territory of Arkansas, which also showed White Water Creek, not Little River, running through the area. 

 Tanners’ 1833 New Map of Arkansas with its Canals and Roads shows an unnamed river running north from Arkansas stopping before reaching as far north as New Madrid. Morris and Breese 1845 Arkansas map showed Little River not leaving the Bootheel.

The headwater of Little River rises in the St. Francois Hills flowing south through New Madrid, Pemiscot and Dunklin Counties into Arkansas. Whitewater is the name that seemed to apply to the entire stream shortly after the New Madrid Earthquake of 1811-1812.

To the Indians, it was Ne ska or Unica. Schoolcraft says the Osage name was Unica, meaning white, but he is believed to have confused the White River, largely in Arkansas   and Whitewater, this stream. The Chippeway name for the river was also Ne ska, meaning white water it is often written Niska. Early Spanish explorers called it Rio Blanch and the French La Rivier Blanche or L’eu Blanch.

In the English translation it became Whitewater by which name the entire stream was known as late as 1817. The name “Little” seems to have been given between 11817-1822, in the French form La Petite Riviere, with reference to the size of the Mississippi and St. Francis with which Little River lies between and was compared to the two.

Shortly after the start of the twentieth century a group of businessmen  came together for the determined purpose of draining Southeast Missouri. This job proved to be the largest engineering and drainage job ever completed at the time. More dirt was moved than in building the Panama  Channel The job started in 1909 and was completed in 1926. The cost of $11 million.  In today money, according to the web site Measuring Worth the labor value, using unskilled labor would be $485,000,000.00 with the real value set at $275,000,000.

One half a million acres of timber covered swamp was converted into rich farm land. Not only some of the riches in the state, but some of the most fertile agricultural land in the world.

Thad Snow, a Charleston planter, dubbed it "Swamp-East" Missouri. Others referred to it as the Big Swamp, the Great Swamp, or the Dark Cypress. It was a flood plain covering the ares of Southeast Missouri south of the Benton Hills and almost uninhabited by people. Wildlife was abundant in the area, including deer, bears, squirrels, and reptiles. This, the largest wetlands in the interior America, was also infected by swarms of mosquitoes.

The project did not meet universal approval. Railroads such as the Frisco, Cotton Belt and the St. Lou8is, Iron Mountain and Southern had built lines into the forest to haul out the timber and did not want to pay for its construction with the timber gone and seeing no freight to replace it. Louis Houck, railroad builder from Cape Girardeau, opposed it all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

Many more years were required before the land was cleared and became productive. Surviving the depression, where the Little River Drainage District almost went bankrupt, the area recovered into a booming agriculture area. Today, there is little sign that 98 percent of the land was unproductive because it was covered by water.
    Having grown up on Little River, I have been fascinated with it. Over the past several years, as a local historian, this area has been a special interest. 

     These areas have been treated much like step-children by Jefferson City and Little Rock. They seem to believe nothing has ever happened here.  Our history has been long and varied. Hope you enjoy my trip.  

    Near Puxico is the swampy Mingo Wildlife Refuge. One hundred and fifty year ago, most of the Little River Valley appeared that way. This valley covering two million acres was part of the largest wetland in America.

    Floods frequently intimated the Valley. Between 1815 and 2011, 15 major floods covered or threatened the area.

    Timber companies came in at the end of the 19th Century to clean cut the forest. Louis Houck, a Cape Girardeau lawyer and railroad builder, envisioned a rail network that covered the wetlands.

    Little River Drainage District (LRDD) Corporation was established in 1907 by an act of the Butler County (MO) Circuit Court. 

    Between 1909 and 1928 the LRDD dug nearly 1000 miles of ditches and constructed 30 miles of levees to drain 1.2 million acres of swamp and overflow land in Southeast Missouri. More dirt was moved than in building the Panama Canal.

    One surprise I had was the number of settlements in the area before 1811-1812. Another was the water connection between the Mississippi River and the St. Francis and I had no idea that Little River had enough current to run a grist mill.

    Norman Vickers


    January 2015
    November 2014
    October 2014
    April 2014
    March 2014
    January 2014
    December 2013
    November 2013
    October 2013
    September 2013
    August 2013
    July 2013
    June 2013
    May 2013




    Little River's Geographic Past