Steam Boating on Little River

Big Lake was formed in 1811 by the first of a series of the four earthquakes known as the New Madrid Earthquakes. Littler River flows into it just south of the Missouri-Arkansas state line. Little Rivers flows out of Big Lake to join the St. Francis River near Marked Tree.

Steamboats operated on Big Lake (Arkansas) from an early time. One of the early runs was from Hornersville, Missouri, (head of navigation on Little River) to Marked Tree, Arkansas.  The Annie Mae, owned and operated by Captain Joe Horner was also a big hunter on Big Lake. His steamboat carried passengers, mail, and wild game to market. It sank in 1903 in Big Lake’s Gar Hoe.  

Other steamboats operated along this route. In 1866, the Glenville and the Modock, the Ike, and the Edwin Marshal operated at different time. The Edwin Marshall (originally called the John W. Paterson) hull was constructed on Big Lake by Captain W. C. Marshall and taken to Marked Tree to install its machinery.

In the early 1900’s, Ed Daughterly and Jake Rice operated a fishing camp at River above Buffalo Creek. It was located about half way between Big Lake and Marked Tree. At times as much as 10,000 pounds of fish were caught in a day using nets. Captain Marshall picked up fish the men had packed in ice and put on barges to take to market. The first such shipment consisted of 50 barrels each containing about 200 pounds.

The fishermen were paid one-and-one-half cents per pound for game fish and on cent for buffalo and catfish. Captain Marshall supplied the fishing tackle, half the men’s provision plus $20 a month. He also bought a thousand dozen ducks from market haunter at Big Land and sold them in St. Louis for between #.50 the $6.50 per dozen.

Kennett (Dunklin County)

Kennett was set on the site of an American Indian village long before the county was settled. Just as the Native Americans fount this a desirable location, so did early settler. Early settlers constructed rough, small log cabins near the present location of the town’s site. When the community became official, they gave it the name of a Delaware (Lenape) Tribal chief, Chilletecaux who was living there at the time.

When Dunklin County was formed in 1845, Chilletecaux was chosen as the county seat. Because the name was so hard to pronounce and spell, it soon was changed to Butler. Eventually, because the mail was often directed to Butler County, the community had another name change to Kennett in 1851.

In 1862, during the Civil War, Dunkin County adopted a resolution to secede from the Union. The county became known as the “Independent State of Dunklin.”  Union troops in 1863 briefly occupied Kennett and guerrillas’ raiders constantly roamed the area. With the war’s end, Kennett was no longer a prospering settlement. Most of the town had to be rebuilt.


Otto Kochitizky

In 1903, Otto Kochitizky published “Map of the Lowlands of Southeast Missouri”. It included Bollinger County, Butler County, Cape Girardeau County, Mississippi County, New Madrid County, Pemiscot County Scott County, Stoddard County, and Wayne County. This eventually was to make up the Little River Drainage District.

Founding members of the Little River Drainage District used Kochitizky’s map and hired him to be the first Chief Engineer of the District. He consulted with two other prominent drainage engineers of the time, Isham Randolph and Arthur El Morgan. Together they developed the official plan for drainage in 1908. The Little River Drainage District Corporation was established in 19076 by the Butler County Circuit Court. Between 19909 and 1928, the district constructed nearly 1,000 miles of ditches ad 300 mile of levees to drain 1.2 million acres of overflowed and swamp land in Southeast Missouri.

Crowley’s Ridge

Crowley’s Ridge begins south of Cape Girardeau near Commerce. Going west in an arch to swings back entering the Mississippi River near Helena, Arkansas. During the last period of glaciation some 15,000 years ago, Massive buildup and melting of the glaciers resulted in great floodwaters way beyond modern imagination created the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers as marginal ice melt streams.

At this time the Mississippi was west of Crowley’s Ridge with the Ohio running along the eastern side. This early route may have followed the present path of the St. Francis River. With the end of the last ice melt, the Mississippi joined the Ohio just south of the Thebes Gap near Cairo, Illinois. The remains of this narrow band of uplands became known as Crowley’s Ridge.

Crowley’s Ridge is a unique landform. It is effectively isolated as an island located in the middle of an ocean of land. Animals and plants living in the area were cut off and secluded from their normal migratory patterns. Thus, a number of rare and endangered plants and animals are native to the ridge. Rarest of the various natural communities of the ridge are plants that occur along the trickles, runs and springs. Some of the examples of these rare and exquisite plants are nettled chain fern, yellow fringed orchid, umbrella sedge, black chokeberry and marsh blue violets.

One of the earliest recorded cemetery in the New World is found in Green County, Arkansas, on Crowley Ridge. The Sloan site was excavated in 1974; this was both home and burial ground for a small group of Native Americans who live here approximately 10,500 years ago. This small nomadic group live in semi-permanent village. And established the earliest documented cemetery in North America.

S.N.I.C.K.E.R (Same Names In Cities, Kingdoms, Empires, & Regions)

From a reference book of American city names

Sikeston – Missouri: only one town in the United Stated with that name.

Morehouse (1) Missouri        

Cape Girardeau (1) Missouri 

Blodgett (1) Missouri

Caruthersville (1) Missouri

Dexter (9) Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Missouri, and New York

Bloomfield (9) Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania.

Anniston, (2) Alabama and Missouri

Hayti (2) Missouri and South Dakota

Holland (9) Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and Texas

Parma (4) Idaho, Michigan, North Carolina, and South Dakota

Bell City (1) Missouri

Advance (2) Indiana and Missouri

Essex (5) Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Missouri

Benton (11) Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin

East Prairie (1) Missouri

Dudley (3) Georgia, Missouri, and Pennsylvania

Hornersville (1) Missouri

Senath (1) Missouri

Whitewater (4) Kansas Indiana, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

                                    Himmelberger and Harrison /Morehouse (MO)


                                                Mill and Town Grows Together


  The New Madrid County, Missouri, town of Morehouse owes its existence to the Himmelberger family’s interest in the lumber industry. What was to become Himmelberger-Harrison acquired its first timber lands in 1864 at an estate sale. Without their business interest, the town may have been quite different.

In one sense Morehouse was a mill town. Yet, it did not fit the classical historical pattern. The term originated to describe a situation where the town, including the means of production, the workers house, and all the business within the sphere of influence was owned and controlled by the company. This definition did not apply to Morehouse. The company controlled the means of production and owned much of the land in New Madrid County and beyond. However, businesses and homes were privately owned. While Himmelberger had influence, their control was more advisory.

Morehouse, or Little River as it was known in the embryo of its development, was located in the extreme northwest corner of New Madrid County in a blunt point reaching into Stoddard County on the west and to the north and Scott County on the east, in fact, part of Sikeston, six miles to the east, is in New Madrid County.

The community was located in West Township, which obtained its name, in 1876, from a large slough in the northeast part of the township. West Township was removed from Big Prairie Township May 6, 1890 at the request of Ephraim Brown and the township was named because of its position at the western edge of the county.


Geographic Wonder

 Himmelberger’s new mill set on Little River. This poorly drained depression, over time had several names. Archaeologist, when talking about the Hoecake phase of the Baytown period of Native American settlements, in the area, during the Late Woodland era between 400 and 600 AD, called it the Morehouse Lowlands. The phase is defined by the use of shell embedded clay-tempered ceramics temper by fire.

 Native Americans lived in the Mississippi River Valley for at least 10,000 years. Much of their historical record has been buried or destroyed.

However, the beginning of these lowlands begins some 50 million years ago with an ancient ocean reached north to near where the Ohio River now meets the Mississippi. An extended arm of the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi Embayment, covered the entire area.  Oceans levels were higher due in part to less ice being locked up in the polar ice caps.

During the decline of the Wisconsin Ice Age, massive amounts of sediment were carried southward as the ice melted. Soil grind from rocks by the moving ice was picked up along with soils from the northern part of North America was carried southward by melt water to slowly filled the depression thus create some of the riches farmland in the world.

Geographers concerned with ecoregions with generally similarity ecosystems place the areas in the St. Francis Lowlands.  They define the area, west to east, as between Crowley’s Ridge and the Sikeston Ridge; running north to south from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to where Crowley’s Ridge forces the St. Francis River into the Mississippi River

Geologists have suggested that the Sikeston Ridge one time was connected with Crowley’s ridge. Both are losses (small partials of sand piled up by wind action) formed. However, glacial deposits during the late-Wisconsin Ice Age pushed between them, or at least runoff from their melting rushed between them reforming the landscape leaving a giant swamp.  

Over the years, the unconsolidated soils from the northern United States and Canada became richer as vegetation incorporated with it to form topsoil over 100 feet in places.

A clay based (gumbo) soil dominate the region. The landscape is generally flat, so rain and overflow water stood for months, even years. However, as floodwater push across the floodplain and slowed down the heaver sand drop out leaving scattered deposits.

The forest included species typical of sandy areas such as river birch mixed with cypress, oaks, and hardwood bottomland species leaving a large mainly mixed hardwood forest growing out of the swamp.

The 1838 T. G. Bradford map, Arkansas, referred the area that would become Morehouse as “The Great Swamp.” Except or a strip of land in Arkansas along the Mississippi River, this lowland ended where the St. Francis River joined the Mississippi.

John Berry in his 1998 Book Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America described the early Delta in Mississippi. The “Swamp East Missouri” was very similar in makeup. Dense forest of cane and large tree with vines of wild grape and Muscatine make passage difficult.

The growth was so dense that the moisture in the air hung, untouched by any breeze, and stifled breathing. Stinging flies, gnats and mosquitoes were so thick some travelers stopped to build fires to protect their animals.  Bears, wolfs, wildcats, rattlesnakes, water moccasins populated the region. Illnesses such as yellow fever and malaria were common.

The River

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.

The Beginnings

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

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.

Some ten years later, a second operation was acquired five-and-one-half miles to the east, at Morehouse. The Morehouse operations were started and grew mainly because of the efforts of Isaac Himmelberger.

With his son John, who used the Buffington as a training ground, the Morehouse facilities grew fast. Before long they acquired approximately 100,000 acres of timberland.  

 In 1880, E. J. Malone had a small sawmill at Little River; as was a post office with U. L. Huggins postmaster as well as physician and station master. Before long, approximately 100 residents of the new community received mail daily.

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.

At 302 feet above sea level Morehouse is the second highest elevation in the New Madrid County. Matthews, located on Sikeston Ridge (Pharris Ridge), at 312 feet is the highest. Other community in the county and their elevations: Canalou, 289 feet; Gideon, 269 feet; Howardsville, 292 feet; Kewanee, 299 feet; Lilbourn, 285 feet; New Madrid , 295 feet; Parma, 279 feet; Portageville; 285 feet; Risco, 276 feet.

Operations were now under the name of I. Himmelberger and I. Himmelberger Co. until 1894 when another businessman from Indiana, Charles L. Luce invested in Southeast Missouri real estate, especially in the Morehouse area. In 1895, the heirs of Charles J. Luce and I. and John Himmelberger merged their business interest to form Himmelberger-Luce Land and Lumber Company.

As the Luce family owned and controlled several hundred thousand acres of timberland in New Madrid County and surrounding area joining together was a good move for both parties. Himmelberger had the equipment, the men, and distribution system and now were assured of an unbelievable large supply of timber

At this time the decision was made to place the Morehouse and Billington mills under the same management with the active head of operations overseen by I. Himmelberger. Morehouse became the headquarters with most of the mill’s improvements being made at Morehouse.

Educational Beginnings

In 1889, serious thought was first given to the idea of a school for the developing community. Everyone assumed that the area was included in the Pharris Ridge School District. The Thursday, May 10, 1900 edition of the Southeast Missourian, New Madrid ran a story placing Pharris Ridge settlement eight miles southwest of Sikeston. This location came from a story reprinted from the Sikeston Clarion.

Citizen around the Himmelberger mill thought the Pharris Ridge area should be considered within the same district they lived in. Therefore, children from both areas should continue to attend the Pharris Ridge School. The citizens from that school district disagreed. Because of their objections, an election was held in that district. Recognizing the importance of the issue, John H. Himmelberger closed the mill for the day. Wading through the swamps to Pharris Ridge to the voting place, Morehouse residences out voted that district.

Pharris Ridge was not happy with the outcome of the election. So great was their disaffection and complaints, the case was taken to court. Surveyors were brought in and Pharris Ridge lost, as it was proven the school was not in their district.

      This action alerted the leading citizens of Morehouse to the necessity of creating a local school district. In 1891, John Himmelberger donated land on the east side of Jackson Street and gave part of the lumber, and some money to build a one room school. To raise the rest of the money needed, funds were raised by entertainment events of assorted kinds until the building was complete and paid for. Himmelberger saw this as advancing the town and the populace into better, more active citizens. He realized a content mother meant a happier husband and in turn, a better employee.

At an unknown date, the one-room was partitioned into two rooms and an office for the principal. Three teachers were soon hired. Then in 1903, this structure burned.

Classes for the rest of the year were held in the “Temple,” located across from Rauch’s Drug Store in the Vanausdale Store Building located on the corner of Front Street and the Farm to Market Highway.

Morley & Morehouse Railroad v. John Himmelberger  in Supreme Court of Missouri

n July 1, 1897, Stephen B. Hunter entered into a written agreement with the Morley & Morehouse Railroad Company, Hock’s Missouri & Arkansas Railroad Company and Louis J. Houch.  Hunter agreed to furnish $20,000 for the purchase of railroad materials, payments were to be made on delivery of rails, ties, and other construction materials to the Morley & Morehouse Railroad Company.

Five years for the date this agreement was signed, the Morley & Morehouse Railroad, Houck’s Missouri & Arkansas   Railroad company and Louis Houch agree to pay Stephen B. Hunt $20,000 plus eight per cent interest per year, all interest payable annually. Hunter was to be issued a trust deed on the proposed rail line from Morley to Morehouse. An additional security promise by Louis Houck to Hunter was a deposit in a bank of $20,000 in bonds of Houck’s Missouri & Arkansas Railroad.

Hunter, a real estate merchant, large land owner, would later establish the community Huntersville in Stoddard County about 1904. By 1938, he was director of the Missouri penal institutions. Before dealing seriously with Houch, Hunter made an agreement with I. Himmelberger to assign his rights to the lumber company.

Houck wanting to make sure the rail line was assured revenues. Therefore, an additional agreement was reached giving Hunter and his assigns, certain specified freight rates guaranties. Covered were lumber and all other manufactured forest products from Morehouse to Cape Girardeau, East Cape Girardeau, and Commerce. Also included were logs and spoke butts from any point on the Morley & Morehouse Railroad. Hunter and his assigns (I. Himmelberger & Company) claimed the right to haul logs with their own engines and cars at the same rates on ties and pilings shipped to Cape Girardeau and Commerce at the lowest rates given any other shipper.

This contract was to be in force for five years from the date of its’ signing. Hunter inserted an escape clause; this contract binds him to fulfill it “unless prevented by fire or other unavoidable accident to give, furnish and deliver, or causes to be done by others, to; whom he may assign of transfer his rights hereunder.

Five thousand dollars of freight was to be delivered to Morley & Morehouse Railroad each of the five years of the contract. Part of this money was to be put on in interest with the rest applied to the principal. If Hunter does not fulfill his part of the deal, he agrees to take first mortgage bonds on Houck’s Missouri & Arkansas Railroad.

Louis Houck can be given a lot of credit for opening up the swamp lands of Southeast Missouri. By training, the Illinois born son of a printer, became a lawyer. For a year, 1868-1869, he lived in St. Louis where he served as an Assistance U. S. Attorney. After moving to Cape Girardeau to practice law, his interest shifted to railroads. His first adventure into railroad build came in 1880 when he promoted and build the Cape Girardeau Railway Company.

                        Louis Houck

In building his law practice, he traveled though out the lowlands of Southeast Missouri. He saw opportunity to open the region to development. St. Louis, he saw as a market for the farmers of the region.  Railroads he believed were the answer to that development and as a means to increase the population.

Houck created three railways in his lifetime. He built the lines by purchasing established lines and building short lines to adjacent cities. By this process Houck created an extensive network that reached north to Ste. Genevieve, Missouri; south to Leachville, Arkansas; east to Carbondale, Illinois; and west to Idlewild, Missouri. All this wheeling and dealing sometime cut his money supply short.

In 1902, the Morley & Morehouse Railroad became part of the Frisco system.

After Houck lost his lawsuit against John Himmelberger and Stephen Hunter, in the Cape Girardeau Court of Common Pleas, he appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court. One of railroads’ lawyers was Giboney Houch, the chief plaintiffs Louis Houch, son and business partner.

The railroad’s suit was to cancel the note held by the lumber company, now organized under the name of Himmelberger and Luce Land and Lumber Company. Houck’s lawyer claimed that in the first year of the contract, the lumber company did not live up to the contract with the railroad by only furnishing half the freight obligated by the agreement. Furthermore, has the Morley & Morehouse Railroad no longer had been sold and not owned by Houch, the contract was void and the money borrowed from Hunter need not to be paid back.

The defendant answered the railroad did not supply equipment to satisfy the contract because the line was under construction. However, more than enough freight revenue was generated other years to make up the difference. (Houch claimed this extra revenue applied only to the year generated and could not be rolled over.) None deliver of rail cars was an action beyond the control of the lumber company, therefore, they were not required to meet the conditions of the contract that year.

The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court’s judgment that during each year of the contract stands alone and freight from other years could not be used to pay for another year.

Morehouse Become Legal

Himmelberger-Luce Land and Lumber Company drew up the first formal plat of the Village of Morehouse in 1898. By now, the population had grown to 900 with sixteen businesses, two of which dealt with the lumber industry. Drawing up a plan for the proposed town was the first step towards incorporating a community.

In 1908, the Village of Morehouse was recorded in the Recorders office at New Madrid recognizing the City of Morehouse as a forth class city adopting a mayor-alderman system of government. The 1910 census recorded a population of 1636 residents. This was nearly an 82% increase in ten years.

The name came from A. P. Morehouse, lieutenant-governor of Missouri. He became governor at the death of Marmaduke in 1887, serving until 1889 when he retired from public life. Two years later, he died; committing suicide. 

Missouri in the only state in the Union with town named Morehouse.

Himmelberger-Luce Start Dredging

Between 1860 and 1890, three important developments helped pave the way for drainage of southeast Missouri’s swamplands. The land within the Little River Drainage District was given to Missouri under the Swamp Land Act of September 28, 1850.

Hoping to encourage development, the state transferred large tracks of these lands to the counties. Counties always needing monies to support the local government hoped their ownership would encourage more aggressive actions by local developers to buy the land especially as it would be to the county’s benefit. Not only would they be able to collect taxes for developed lands, the money from their sale would go to the county government.

The land was offered for sale far as little as $1.25 per acre. Few people were interested in the land for farming operations. A few land spectators did take advantage of the offer. However, it was the logging interest that made most of the purchases

Himmelberger-Luce Land and Lumber Co. desiring to dredge the Little River channel contacted the county about a contract to do the job, which they got.  The channel was shallow, crooked, and chocked with trees and brush. Instead of draining the watershed, the river overflow flooded the whole area. Instead of taking a short cut for the swamps of Arkansas the rainfalls and headwaters left the channel flowing over the level county around.

From around Cape Girardeau to the Arkansas   state line, there was a 100 feet drop in elevation. As the distance is about 10 miles, that is a drop of one foot per mile.

Draining timbered swampland was a formidable task. To use shovel-wielding men or mule–drawn scrapers to excavate the massive ditch as needed to drain the swampland was virtually impossible.

Floating dredge using yard-wide bucket operated by steam power and dynamite made the job possible. Floating dredges moved up to one-thousand cubic yards of material daily were used.   While this cost up the $3,000 a day, it was the only feasible way to drain swampland.

In the 1860s and ‘70s, large tracks of land in Southeast Missouri were selling for pennies per acre. In nearby Stoddard County one such body of more than 8,000 acres sold for $663.95.

Dredging operations in 1896 cut the channel deeper while crooked places were cut off by ditching across them to straighten the channel out. Staring at the Iron Mountain Railroad, at Morehouse, the dredging operations ended at the south end of the county. This was the real beginning of draining the swamps of New Madrid County.

 In neighboring counties, other drainage projects quickly followed. By 1910, all the land north of the Iron Mountain Railroad and east of Little River is thoroughly drained and a large portion is under cultivation.  The rest of the counties in the Little River Watershed in Missouri were activity draining their swamps.

 Land that appeared in 1880 to Isaac Himmelberger as worthless, except for the timber growing on it, was becoming rich farmland. Being able to grow 75 to 100 bushels of corn per acres raised the selling price of $1.25 per acre in 1880, to $100 per acre in 1910.

Himmelberger-Lucy Land and Lumber Company was paid by the county in land for dredging Little River receiving several thousand acres of land for their work. A large portion of this acreage already had the timber removed. Much of it had been sold and resold several times and was in a high state of cultivation.

Dredging operation of the Little River ended in 1899. Within the three years of its operation, the county changed from an economy built entirely on lumber to become increasing an agriculture-timber mixed economy.

Entrepreneurs were encouraged to build railroads into and out of the swamps. To encourage railroad development strips of land was given to those building railroads along their roadbeds. This was a common practice. Between 1850 and 1870, over 129 million acres, seven percent of the continental United States, had been ceded to 80 railroads; most of it west of the Mississippi River. Ten square miles of land was given for each mile of track laid. Usually, the state was given an equal amount of land by the federal government.

Land titles of several thousand acres of land were given to the Fulton & Alton Railroad Co. in 1857. This was part of the government’s efforts to encourage develop the west. Twenty-one years later, in 1878, the Cairo, Arkansas, & Texas Railroad Company laid rails through the area where Morehouse later developed. This line was called the “Cat.”

By 1892, Little River Station’s business district had grown to include C. L. Armstrong, hotel owner and barber; Berry and Hawk Meat market; H. F. Emery & Co., general Store; I. Himmelberger & Co., saw mill; John Himmelberger, express agent; W. H. Marshall General Store; Lud Myer, temperance saloon; James Roberts, grist mill; and James Ryans, Hotel.

The Rail Road’s: Route to Markets

The swamps’ dense forest contained millions of feet of markable timber. Some oaks reached circumferences of 27 feet and some cypress to 10 to 12 feet. In the late 1800’s, lumbermen recognized the value of the abundant timber buying up the land for next to nothing.

Without transportation, most of these large trees would still be standing because the finished product needed a market. Trains provided transportation to market. Large bulky loads could be carried out of this swampy wildness and transported long distances to furniture and building markets.

Dr. E. J. Malone had his saw mill on Little River. The “Cat” (Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad) crossed the river here to head towards Buffington westward to Dexter and Popular Bluff. Dr. Malone’s holdings, equipment and land became part of I. Himmelberger & Co., a partnership between Isaac Himmelberger and his son John Himmelberger. At this time the decision was made to move their milling operation from the Stoddard County community of Buffington to Little River Station.

At least, until 1895, the community was still Little River, according to the 1895 Matthews Northrop map. The east-west railroad was now a train stop was called Little River Station. This was the year the Himmelberger’s consolidated their lumber interest with the heirs of Charles L. Luce to form the Himmelberger-Luce Land and Lumber Company.

In 1898, Cat branch of the Iron Mountain Railroad became owner of the Houck Road. Lonas Houck builds this road in a shoddy manner. Ties were too far apart. Light steel rails were used. Instead of removing large trees, the railroad was run around them. Still, the road was able to fulfill its purpose that of hauling freight from the swamplands.

According to George Franklin Cram’s 1901 map old “Cat” branch railroad became the St. Louis, Morehouse, and Southern Railway for a short time.  The road went from Popular Bluff to Jackson, then over to Cape Girardeau and became part of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railway.

Changing ownership again in 1902, the “Cat” road became part of the Frisco system. Now this branch of the Frisco railroad was called the “Pea Vine” road. Improvements were started by laying heavier rails on new ties and straightening the roadbed by removing trees instead of going around them. In 1906, four years after Frisco acquired the old Houck Road, a depot was erected. One freight and one passenger train was scheduled each day for Morehouse.

The Artesian Well

In an effort to increase revenues, in 1902, Himmelberger-Harrison Lumber Company drilled for oil. At 690 feet, a broken drill forced the well to be abandoned. Moving the drilling rig about sixteen feet, a new well was started. At 780 feet, a stream of water starts flowing.   The flow of water was constant until sometime after Rowe Furniture leased the Himmelberger-Harrison facilities in 1973 after which the well was capped. 

A chemical analysis of the artesian well water per gallon is as following: .7009 grains Silica; 10.2009 grains Calcium Sulphate; 24.7873 grains Calcium Chloride; 12.5962 grains Magnesium Chloride; 96.1236 grains Sodium Chloride.

Believing the water had medicinal value, many people filled containers of water home. Travelers, and train crews sometime stopped to collect some of the water. Most drinkers considered the water distasteful. After drinking the water over a period of time, it became more palatable.

The make-up of the areas soil was revealed by the drill core. The top lay was 30 feet of clay then 110 feet of coarse sand, ten feet of gravel, 40 feet gumbo or brown clay, followed by 40 feet brown quicksand, eight feet cement gravel, then 197 feet gumbo, one foot of rock followed by another 20 feet of gumbo, 224 feet of white sand, 40 feet of limestone, 15 feet of sand, and 35 feet of limestone

Himmelberger-Luce Land & Lumber Company v. Blackman and New Madrid County and Missouri Supreme Court

  In 1885 New Madrid County made a contract with Charles Luce to do reclaiming work by cutting ditches and to take payment in swamp. Work was to be paid for by the county at 14 cents per cubic yard and swamp and overflow land at the price $1.25 per acre. Included in the contract was land in section 18, at $1.25 an acre. What part of section 18 was not specified in the contract; just a general statement about that block of land.

Before the contract was fulfilled, Luce died on September 15, 1886. At this time, work has started, but not completed. In fact little work had been stated, however little had been accomplished. Contract terms called for the work to be completed by January 1, 1894. On May 20, 1893, the contractor’s widow and his heirs successfully applied to the county court for an extension of the contract.

The heirs of the contractor assigned all their interest in the contracts to the lumber company.  A clause in the renewed contract allowed “any person in actual possession of any of the lands, who had made improvements and is not residing thereon, shall have the right to  purchase” eighty acres of the same at $1.25 per acre, paid to the contractor for land in payment for improvements.

In 1887, one Shelfer settled on the eight acres under dispute. He builds a fence, cleared and cultivated 15 or 18 acres, put up a house, and lived there until 1889. At this time he sold the property to Blackman and conveyed to him all rights and who the next year applied for a patent and was issued one to the settler, not the lumber company.

Under Missouri law, a claim of ownership by a “squatter” was to make “improvements” on the property.

Lawyers Oliver & Oliver for the lumber company claimed Blackman was not in possession of the land as required by clause eleven of the contract. Shelfer made the improvement to the land, not Blackman and had never lived there. Therefore, he did not meet the terms of the original drainage contract and thus ineligible to retain ownership of the land in question. Thus the county court had no right to dispose of that land as it had no jurisdiction in this matter.

Defense lawyers, H. C. O’Bryan said the county court was authorized to dispose of this land.  Blackman had a legal title to the land and he had made improvement, by at least a provable $400. When the original 1885 contract with Luce was made, the law in force recognized the right of settlers included proper right and improvement to any quality of lands, not seceding 80 acres.  Both the original and renewed contract must be read together.

J. Gantt, for the Missouri Supreme Court agreed with O’Bryan. The original contract between New Madrid County and Charles Luce in December 1, 1885, Luce agreed to dig a certain ditch or canal in the county from the Iron Mountain Railroad near Morehouse in a southern direction along Little River some twenty-three miles. This ditch was to be about 40 feet wide and ten feet deep for the draining and reclaiming swamp and overflowed land in the county.

When inspectors declared the contract completed, the lumber company submitted a bill for $267,114. 18 with the right to claim swamp land at $1.25 per acre (which divides out to 213,691 acres). As neither the old or new contract stated ownership of what land would full fill the county’s obligation, Blackman’s title was valid as the county had more than 400,000 acres to disperse, and therefore, other land was available to fulfill the contract.

     Harrison Joins Himmelberger

Seemingly, while in the prime of his life and in good health, Isaac Himmelberger was suddenly stricken with an illness and died July 16, 1900. John H. Himmelberger became president and resident manager.

Buffington and Morehouse was still the site for their saw mills. Besides cutting timber and making dimension lumber, a planning mills making char squares, draw stock, making custom parts for furniture manufactures, a spoke factory, and other items. Lumber was shipped out to the building industry and they were supplying other mills with timber. Himmelberger was national known and within a thirty year had grown from a small crude sawmill to become one of the largest factories in its industry.

In 1902, Luce was no longer connected to the Morehouse operations.  That year, W. Harrison acquired the greater part of the Luce interest to form Himmelberger-Harrison Lumber Company. The reach of the company continued to grow. They made acquisitions and dispositions of land that included ownership, warrants and leases to lands in southeast Missouri and into northern Arkansas.

During 1900 W. J. Harrison joined the company and moved the corporate offices to Cape Girardeau. Leaving a career in railroads, he became vice-president and treasurer when he realized how large I. Himmelberger and Co. had grown.

During 1907-1908, Himmelberger and Harrison built the Himmelberger and Harrison Building at 400 Broadway in Cape Girardeau. In a story on July 17, 1906, the Cape Girardeau Daily Republican featured a story declaring the Himmelberger and Harrison Steel Structure the first of its kind in Southeast Missouri. The structure was a five-storied red brick, H-shaped building exemplifying the Commercial Building, ca 1850-1950.

During 1907-1908, Himmelberger and Harrison built the Himmelberger and Harrison Building at 400 Broadway in Cape Girardeau. In a story on July 17, 1906, the Cape Girardeau Daily Republican featured a story declaring the Himmelberger and Harrison Steel Structure the first of its kind in Southeast Missouri. The structure was a five-storied red brick, H-shaped building exemplifying the Commercial Building, ca 1850-1950.

Himmelberger and Harrison 1900

One has difficult realizing the extent of the Himmelberger and Harrison operation in 1900. During the first decade of the nineteenth century, one could walk for sever miles with stacks of rough lumber taller than their heads on either side of them.

From Mill Number 1 (closed by 1919) the lumber was hauled to the various stacks by trucks or elevated tracks. The lumber being stacked from the high tracks; with each layer separated by slim strips of wood to allow air to circulate between the layers to help dry, or cure, the lumber. Lumber Yard 1 (closed by 1919) was much higher than at Lumber Yard Number 2, which was twenty feet tall.

Lumber Yard Number 2 was stacked from the ground from lumber hauled by wagons. This was green lumber fresh from the saw mills. Here, the lumber remained for ninety days to season slowly.  After seasoning for six months, it was considered “bone-Dry,” which later became a trade mark for the company. Lumber Yard Number 2 had a capacity to hold 5, 000,000 feet of lumber.

However, a considerable amount of lumber, especially one inch thick or less, was shipped before three months In the Yard.

 Each mill had a dry kiln where the lumber was place on large trucks and enclosed in an area where the temperature is kept at about 160 decrees. Each section of the kiln was laced with a series of hot pipes. Wood scraps from the mills fired steam boilers to furnish heat.  The heated air in each kiln was circulated by large fans.  By 1910, Himmelberger and Harrison had lost three kilns from fire.

Not all the lumber shipped was air dried or green from the saw mills. Some of it spent ten days in a dry kiln before shipment. Air dried lumber was considered superior to that artificially dried in kilns. 

A Planning Mill was constructed in 1902. Here flooring, ceilings, moulding, and about any custom wooden articles wanted for any variety of use was cut. Also in the Planning Mill furnished dimension materials for that part of the operation that worked in hickory products.

Saw Mill Number 2 was constructed in 1904. That was also the year the last of the Billington Mill was moved to Morehouse. This new mill was state-of-the-arts with a capacity to cut 50,000 board feet in a ten hour shift. This was done by a large 30 foot diameter band saw on one side of the mill and a large 20 foot diameter re-saw on the other side.

Belt and chain conveyors carried dimension squares to the Planning Mill where they were cut into the desired product and made ready for shipment. Slabs and offalls (unusable scrape pieces) were conveyed to the boiler area to either be burned to heat the kilns or send to a wood pile that could be used by the citizens of Morehouse for heating and cooking.

Himmelberger and Harrison Reaches Out for Raw Materials

1910, most of the usable timber close to the Morehouse mil had been cut. Logs had to be transported thirty miles from the south. Therefore, Himmelberger and Harrison built a short line railroad that joined the Frisco road at Risco.  Logs loaded on flatcars in the woods

Operation at Risco started almost as soon as Louis Houck completed his railroad into in 1900. The St. Louis San Francisco Railroad (Frisco) acquired the line a year later.

Himmelberger and Harrison, very shortly after Frisco brought the line started logging operating with a four 2-2 steam locomotives, (two sets of smaller wheels in front and powered by two sets of larger wheels behind them).

The St. Louis San Francisco Railroad (Frisco) acquired the line a year later. Himmelberger and Harrison, very shortly after Frisco brought the line started logging operating with a four 2-2 steam locomotives, (two sets of smaller wheels in front and powered by two sets of larger wheels behind them).

During construction an empty Frisco boxcar set at the end of the line which was used as an office.  The R was missing from the company name, so the construction site became Risco, a name the settlement around it kept the name.  At Risco, one steam engine serviced the log loaders and did the switching, and another transported logs to the mills at Morehouse.  Another locomotive was used in the Morehouse yard for switching; the fourth was held in reserve.

Where possible and when the ground was dry and hard, almost of the logs were transported to the train by horses. During the wet season, oxen were used. They had broader hoofs and thus more stale in mud and water.

Logging was a seasonal occupation being done largely between July and December. As many as 250 teams were used at the same time during the busier September and October.

The short line (tram) road was 25 miles long. Two long loaders loaded 100 flat cars. To feed all the mills when they were running required 20 acres of timber.

Tram Switch was a log loading station on the Frisco just north of Canalou. On the maps, it was Deshler, named after the man overseeing this operation for Himmelberger and Harrison, who built this short line track. Within the company, it was Tram Switch. The tram, or tramway, is a short roadway or railway used for transporting logs or lumber from the camps to the railroad.

Trams also ran into Stoddard County. Indian Spur was laid out in 1907. Himmelberger and Harrison ask Frisco to name seven mile spur. As the Himmelberger family came from Indiana, the railroad chose the name, Indian Spur not only were logs delivered by tram.  A great many were came from upstream on Little River. During low water, logs were dragged to the river bank. There they were chained together.  When the river rose, they were floated down stream.

Himmelberger and Harrison also used their engines and loaders on the main Frisco tracks north as well as south of Morehouse.  Little River made a large loop as it crossed Himmelberger and Harrison property. A canal was dug to cut off and shorten the river, thus forming Bridwell Island. A short ways downstream, the company constructed a dam. Afterwards, the depth of the river could be controlled and logs floated to the Himmelberger and Harrison the year around.

The men worked at Himmelberger and Harrison six days a week. Monday through Friday their working ten hours and ten minutes a day. Saturday’s work day was one hour shorter.

Realizing the families of their work force needed decant housing Himmelberger and Harrison build homes for their labors. Unlike many mill towns that rented their housing to their employees, Himmelberger and Harrison sold theirs to their workers and others under an installment plan.

Build on long and narrow lots with enough room for a garden and chicken pen. These houses were simple in design. Behind a front porch was a living room with two doors, each opens into a bedroom. Both bedrooms opened into the kitchen. On the back was another porch, a protected area to do the laundry during bad weather. At the back of each lot was a coal shed and out-house with an alley behind.

Himmelberger and Harrison supplied jobs for about 250 men at Morehouse and a larger number of men in the woods. When all the mills were operating, a car load of lumber was sawed every forty-five minutes.

Capitalized at $600,000, the corporation is worth a dozen times that amount. Himmelberger and Harrison set on 75 acres of ground west of the Missouri Pacific Rail Road and the bulk of Morehouse’s business district.

 Four miles of 16 feet wide, three-inch lumber in plank roads traversed the mill yard. These roads used more than a million feet board measure of lumber. Add to this, there were vast amounts of lumber used for truck runways, stack foundations, loading docks, buildings, and other uses to load about 150, or more, rail cars. For the average county saw mill, this would be about six month’s production.  

Canalou, like Morehouse started as a sawmill town. This was around 1900. Until 1904, the settlement had neither a post office of store. Canalou is about six miles from Morehouse and had limited shopping. Therefore, Morehouse became the shopping center for Canalou (which in Spanish means “where is the channel” an appropriate name as in the spring, the channel of Little River was hard to find). In 1902 Canalou, 52 lots were surveyed on Himmelberger and Harrison land. Later, Canalou had three more additions plotted on Himmelberger and Harrison property.

By today’s standards, an industry capitalized at $600,000 is not much. But recall, the average wage in 1900 was $438 a year, (nationwide) an average of between .17 and .22 cents an hour. School teachers made, on average $328 yearly. Men’s shirts cost from between .22 to .69. Women’s dress skirts $4.98.

Others Sawmills

Morehouse was a mill town. While Himmelberger and Harrison was the dominant economic force in town, there were other lumber and timber mills. With a 1920 peak population of 1913 people Morehouse was able to support five lumbers and saw mill operations. Not only did each operation have a saw mill but also at least one other finishing factor.

Bimel Ashcraft Manufacturing Company make spokes for wagons. They were located at the North end of Bates Street on the east end of town. Their property in 1919 crossed the St. Louis Iron Mountain Rail Road.   Branching off the rail line here was a siding that joined and crossed the Frisco lint running into Himmelberger and Harrison’s property.  A saw mill supported the Bimel Ashcraft manufacturing enterprise.

North-north-west of Himmelberger and Harrison was John H. Kohl Company. They manufactured staves and headers. Their operation consisted of a saw mill, two dry kilns, and a stave mill (a stave is a thin, shaped strip of wood set edge to edge to for the wall of a barrel or bucket).

Located north of Himmelberger and Harrison, Morehouse Stave & Manufacturing Company produced tight & sack barrel staves as well as wagon spokes.  A sawmill produced raw materials for the manufacturing plant. Two warehouses were serviced by a siding of the St. Louis San Francisco Railroad.  Located near Little River where a wooden railroad trestle crossed.

Hanna & Young Handle Company was located 250 feet south of the Bimel Ashcraft spoke shed on the east end of town. Hanna and Young produced a variety of handles; broom, mop, shoves, hoes, and other home yard tools. Their manufacturing plant and stock shed had electric power and lights by no heat; water came from a well.

By 1911, the Miles Loper grist and saw mill on Spruce Street had closed.  However, a grain warehouse set on a Frisco siding was still in business.

  Little River Drainage District

The dredging and draining operations that I. Himmelberger started in 1896 later became the model later for the Little River Drainage District. Fifteen years after the initial effort of draining southeast Missouri, the Little River Drainage District became a formal taxing district able to issue bonds. Construction was financed by an $11 million in bonds beginning in 1913. Each landowner paid a small tax, based on property value, to a quasi-governmental agency.

The Little River Drainage District was incorporated on November 30, 1907 in the Circuit Court of Butler County with Cape Girardeau as the headquarters. Land owners meet at Morehouse for the first time on December, 30 of that year.

  John H. Himmelberger as president of Himmelberger became a major force in the formation of the Little River Drainage District.  Draining the “swamplands” of southeast Missouri was of financial advantage to Himmelberger-Harrison’s lumber interest.  With the swamp drained, cutting and moving timber became simpler, thus, decreasing the cost of each board feet of lumber furnished by his operation.

A five-member Board of supervisors was elected by the district’s landowners. Daily work by the district was to be overseen by a Chief Engineer and later the position of assistant Chief Engineer was added.

 Otto Kochtitzky was the first Chief Engineer charged with drawing up plans for draining Southeast Missouri. While not formally trained, he had experience and knew the land as he had mapped New Madrid and Pemiscot counties and laid out a route for a rail line between New Madrid and Malden. To help drain the swamps, he invented a walking excavator for ditching.

 The Little River Drainage District, one of the largest in the United States, encompassed 750,000 acres upland and 1.2 million all told in seven counties; Cape Girardeau, Bollinger, Dunkin, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Scott, and Stoddard. Little River Drainage District was responsible for draining an area 90 miles long and from 10 to 20 miles wide.

The District knew they could depend on gravity to move the water. Topographical maps showed the elevation of the land dropped one foot per mile to the border.

Ditches extended from Cape Girardeau south to the Arkansas border. The main ditches maintained by draglines are 200 feet wide and able to carry water 8 feet deep. Smaller ditches are 30 to 40 feet wide.  

The longest ditch in the lower district is Ditch Number 1, which is approximately 100 miles long running from the northern end of the district to the Arkansas   state lin. Also in the main district, they are five ditches running parallel, which requires over one-quarter of a mile wide, 265,000 acres of improved acreage of farmland

Water carrying capacity is estimated to be over 31.5 million gallons of water through the system annually. Eventually all this water flows into the Mississippi River near Helena, Arkansas, by the St. Francis River. Some of the water travels 231 miles to get there.

At the start of their work, the district had only 22,000 improved acres. This was increased to 265,000 acres of improved acreage of farmland. Less than 10% of the land was water free with the formation of the Little River Drainage District. When they had finished, 96% of the land was water free year round opening the land for habitation and farming.

Little River Drainage District between 1914-1928 cut 957.8 miles of ditches, built 304.43 miles of levees and three detention ponds. One source said dredging operations moved more dirt than moved to construct the Panama Canal; more than one million cubic yard.  Work in the area around Morehouse starting in September 1914, north of Highway 60, with Drainage District became the responsible of U. S. 

The Little River Drainage District, one of the largest in the United States, encompassed 750,000 acres upland and 1.2 million all told in seven counties; Cape Girardeau, Bollinger, Dunkin, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Scott, and Stoddard. Little River Drainage District was responsible for draining an area 90 miles long and from 10 to 20 miles wide.

Little River Drainage District Northern District

The Headwater Division Channel is a canal in southeast Missouri. Flowing west to east, it diverts the headwaters of the Castor and Whitewaters (northern part of Little River) rivers, and Crooked Creek directly into the Mississippi River south of Cape Girardeau. The head water channel was built between 1912 and 1916, to divert the streams that formerly flowed into the Little River and still does in the downstream portion of the district.

On November 27, 1912, a contract was awarded to D. C. Stephens Company of Buffalo, New York, with the work expected to start in 1913.  This contract required a drainage ditch thirty miles long from near Allenville on the west and the Mississippi River on the east. A channel would be dug approximately one-hundred feet wide and twenty feet deep to carry the water from the north and west that had for generation regularly feed the great wetlands of Southeast Missouri, giving rise to the name “Swampeast Missouri.”

Stephen’ contract was for $1.25 million for clearing 4,000 acres of timber, building approximately forty miles of levees on the south side o the headwater, and moving eight-and-one-half million yards of soil. Roughly 34 miles long, this channel serves as a flood control structure and is not considered navigable. This was the largest single contract for movement of earth in world history.

Houck V. Little River Drainage District, John Himmelberger U. S. Supreme Court

 Louis Houck in 1898 builds a railroad, later to become part of the Frisco system, into Morehouse and beyond. Although the construction was shoddy and unsafe, its building rewarded him thousands of acres of swampland. As a supporter of Southeast Missouri builds railroads into this swampland to bring settlers into it. 

 As the Little River Drainage District work increased the value of the land Louis Houck owned, at first thought, you would think he would support it. Yet, he fierily opposed the Little River Drainage District, especially its power to tax. Twenty-five cents per acre does not seem much to pay for what you would get in return. But if you owned several thousand acres and was over extended financially, $1,000 was a lot of money (think in terms of 1909 dollars).

So, on October 27 and 28, 1915, Houck challenges to Little River Drainage District’s right to be able to level taxes; that the state of Missouri did not have to power to grant such an enterprise the right to tax. He also claimed he was deprived of his rights under the Fourteenth Admendent of the Federal Constitution without due process of law.  

The U. S. Supreme Court agreed with the Missouri Supreme Court in saying that the plaintiffs, Houck, was wrong in all its claims. Missouri’s Constitution bestowed the right to create the Little River Drainage District with taxing powers. In this instance, this tax did not deprive him of Due Process. The power to tax is not to be confused with eminent domain; it is not necessary to show special benefits in order to lay a tax, which is an enforced contribution or the payment of public expenses.

 Otto Kochtitzky Chief Engineer Little River Drainage District

Spiritual Guidance

To combat the less than savory reputation Morehouse had as a lumber camp, some of the wives of the community’s’ business leader organized the Morehouse Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.). Miss Nora Hunt (later Mrs. J. A. Spence, Mrs. J. H. Himmelberger, Mrs. W. H. Marshall, Mrs. Retta Buchannan, and Miss Sarah Margaret Moore (later Mrs. Robert Lilland of Sikeston), along with others realized no one group could afford to build a worship building. These ladies encouraged the community’s citizen to help build a “Temple” for Community Worship.

A building was completed (324 Beech Street) by 1894, at which time the Methodist congregation started using it. This was the first organized denominational groups in Morehouse. Before they used the “Temple” for devotion, groups met in homes for their worship.

The “Temple,” as it was called was available to any denomination desiring its use. Also, it was used as the community center and the site of community plays and meeting of all kinds. All forms of alcohol were forbidden on the grounds or fatalities.  Later when the building was sold and moved, a band stand was constructed there among large trees.

In 1954, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union deeded the property to the Morehouse Kiwanis Club. This land was to be for public use. The W.C.T.U. bank balance was divided among the church, the Eastern Star Lodge Christian Party for the aged, and Boy Scout Troop No. 49. The Morehouse Honor Roll, listing local residence active in World War II is located here.

 In 1903, the Methodist became the first congregation to build their own worship center. They build at the corner of Benton and Beech. A large wooden building build some eighteen inches above the ground set on a twelve inch wooden frame. The bell tower was accessed from the finished second floor that was used as classrooms. Electric lights furnished illumination with the heat coming from a stove. Church membership by the end of the decade numbered 200.

            Methodist Church Building 1903

The First Baptist Church in Morehouse was organized in 1896. On June 19, 1907, a prolonged tent meeting conducted by T. H. Jenking of Marble Hill, Missouri, assisted by Hillary Patterson of Portageville, Missouri, increased the Missionary Baptist Church membership from 6 to 45. Finances in the small congregation were a problem. In 1907, the pastor was promised $250 with half of it to be paid by the Baptist Board. February of 1908 had receipts for the month of $5.00 and expenses of $11.00.

The Baptist Ladies Aid Society, in 1911 bought a lot for the church at the corner of Mason and Beech. The same year, a Sunday School was organized, the community’s first. By 1914, the monthly pay for the pastor rose from $25 to $35. Also, 1914 the church had another evangelistic tent meeting added another 20 members to the church. That year and the next, more lots were purchased. Early in 1916, plans were drawn up for their building and construction started.

In 1916, the Nazarene congregation they moved into their new facilities at the corner of Madison and Spruce.  That year they purchased the Temple moving it to their new lot. In the late 1940’s they replaced the large wooden frame building with a smaller concrete block structure on the front part of the lot where the old “Temple” stood.

The year 1819 say the birth of the Oneness Pentecostal Church. Early leaders in this church were Rev. Dowdy, Rev. Moore, Rev. Griffen, and others.

The Morehouse Assembly of God made its appearance September 25, 1954. They met in a building on Beech Street, paying $50 a month rent. A lot, on Scott Street, was purchased for $500 on May 31, 1955. A building soon followed and by 1957 the Sunday School attendance had risen to 83. Pastor George H. Hill, 1954-1959, led his church during this period of formation.

In 1963, the Church of Christ stared meeting in a rented building in downtown Morehouse. Three years later, their first services were held in July in their new building on Highway 60, (now 114) with more than 50 members with Brother Saunders has the first minister.

While the churches and leading women of town was able to keep beer halls and saloons from Morehouse, during this period, the bootleggers were doing quite well.

Morehouse 1901 – 1912

Part of Morehouse was supplied with water from Himmelberger and Harrison in 1911 (a small part of the business district). Electric lights were also available to a few. The homes were heated by stoves burning wood available free from the mills. There was no organized fire department in the town. Nor were there any paved streets, they were however, graded level. Telephone service was available to a few who could afford it. Mainly, Himmelberger and Harrison and the other mills used it for business purposes’

On December 1, 1901, the Morehouse Drug Co. was organized by W. H., I. H. Marshall and W .R. Griffin as chief stockers. Daily operations were overseen by Fred B. Rauch and W. R. Griffin.

With the death of W. H. Marshall, his business interest went to I. H. Marshall. In the spring of 1907 Rauch acquired the Marshall stock. That fall, Rauch brought out W. R. Griffin’s interest. Rauch now, at age 31, had ownership, control, and management of the Morehouse Drug Company. During this time, they had constructed and stocked a brick building at 317 Beach Street that also housed the post office.

In early 1902, the post office was in the Morehouse Drug Store; Frank Rauch became post master with the resignation of H. J. Himmelberger.

On the east end of Beach Street, a two story brick school building was completed in 1904. This site was selected, and the land donated by M. J. Tickle, because the ground drained better because it was sander than soil closer to Little River and the location was not as pronged to flooding. With steam heat and electric lights, the building was modern.

A newspaper came to Morehouse in 1905; James L. Bailey called his publication the Morehouse Sun. Two years later, Claude B. Hay purchased Sun and renamed it the Morehouse Hustler. In 1915 to 1939, James T, Yager was editor-publisher of the Morehouse Messenger.  Harry Burgess bought the newspaper in 1939 renamed it the Morehouse Hustler. Yager remained in the printing business and printed the Pentecostal Talks until 1956, seven years before his death.

J. E Parmley arrived in Morehouse from Livingston County, Kentucky, in 1898. After working for a year at the mills, he quit. First he opened a restaurant. Before long, he also operated a barber shop; this did not last long. In 1901, he opened a jeweler store and watch making enterprise. Then in 1909, he entered a partnership with O. M. Headlee (later, Morehouse’s first mayor). In December of the following year when he sold his share and retired.

The Parmley and Headlee partnership constructed a large brick building along Beech (spelled Beach until 1911) Street sometime in 1909 or 1910. In it, Parmley moved his business interest into this structure. He left his Hay and grain business in the building he owned on the corner of Locust and Cass streets.

 Starting on the north side of Beech, a short walk from the Frisco Depot and cross the street from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union Temple, just beyond a peanut stand, set a block long two story brick building.

Housed here were a hardware and telephone exchange next to the post office and Morehouse Drug Store followed by a barber shop setting next to a confectionery, then a bakery and just before Madison Street there was housed a combination grocery, drug, bakery, and milers shop.

Other 1911 business on Beech Street included three general merchandise stores, an insurance office, a printing shop a brick hotel with a bank and dining room, Starting on the north side of Beech, a short walk from the Frisco Depot and cross the street from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union Temple, just beyond a peanut stand, set a block long two story brick building.  and grocery and meat market.

Along Front Street, this bordered the St. Louis, Iron Mountain, and Southern Rail Road and depot, was several more businesses. At either end of the street were two wooden frame hotels; (M. C. McColgal’s Hotel that had a Doctor’s office attached and Farmers Hotel). Along with several vacant building scattered along the street was another doctor’s office, a restaurant, a watch maker, pool hall, and a grocery store.

Sanborn Map Morehouse 1911

In her early years, Morehouse had several fires. The worst, the most destructive happened November 16, 1908. Fire started, cause unknown, in Marshall-Harrison Mercantile Company. The building and contents were a total loss. A strong wind whipped the flames westward to engulf the Morehouse Drug Company, another total loss of building and merchandize. Next the fire enflamed the Central office of the Southeast Missouri Telephone Company before leaping the street to burn the Iron Mountain Depot. The three story brick Forest Hotel also became a victim that night.

Officially, Morehouse was dry, no whiskey stores were listed. However, it was rumored and Canalou history records that spirits were not sold there until 1910, however they were available at Morehouse and Parma.  Was this thirst quince supplied by bootleggers in the woods? 

By 1910, all the businesses destroyed by fire were again in operation. Only the Forest Hotel occupied the same spot. Using the same foundation, they constructed a two story building, not the three of the original. Smaller but designed to have much the same capacity as the old building. The Morehouse Bank was one again in the southeast corner.

Besides Front (Front Street later became U.S. Highway 60, then Missouri Highway 114), Beech and Madison, Morehouse in 1911, only had five others streets in town. The residential streets were Jackson, Monroe, Dunkin, Locust, and Cass.

    Roads through the Swamp

The first road through the Morehouse Lowlands was laid out during the Civil War. Build for military use in shifting men and supplies from Bloomfield to join the Kings Highway near Sikeston.

While under Spanish control, a plan was set forth to connect New Orleans with St. Louis overland. Established in 1789 following an old Indian trail through New Madrid County, sometime referred to as El Camino Real was name by Colonel Morgan, the planner of New Madrid, to honor Charles IV, of Spain, 1788-1808. To the French, it was known as Le Chemin du Roi. Only a small part of the Kings Highway was built to the South. Eventfully the road did reach St. Louis. It was also known by early settlers as the Illinois Road because it went to Illinois.

For many years a narrow dirt road and right-a-way connected Morehouse to Sikeston. This path followed much the same route as Highway 114 does today. For long periods each year the road was impassable because of mud and water. As part of the drainage efforts, ditches were cut running east and west.   Because the dump was higher and dryer, the ditch dump became the road for a while. The dump was extremely uneven and bumpy, thus it was undesirable, yet better than the road.

With the onset of bad weather, to go to Sikeston, people in Morehouse had to go south to the old military road, turn east until arriving at the King Highway then turn north towards Sikeston. In January of 1922, the present day highway 114 was graveled through New Madrid County to become State Highway 16.

Some adjustments to the right-away were made in 1926 and were given a concrete surface. Having been selected by the American Association of Highway Officials it came part of the National road system and designated U, S. Highway 60. During the late 1970s, a highway bypass was constructed around Morehouse. Designated as Highway 60, the new road had two lanes until it become a four-lane road latter. Old Federal Highway 60 then became state road 114.

Running south from the original Route 60 in Morehouse, supplementary Route E was completed to the Canalou road in September 1932. This road eventually ran north from Dodd’s Spur. This was a flag-stop on the Cottonbelt Railroad west of Lilbourn was sometimes call Spurdod, (known as Sky to the railroad.) Some called it Airline Road because it ran such a straight line along the western edge of the county to Morehouse. Dodd’s Spur was established to ship ducks and other wild game. Another flagstop on this line was Crumpecker which was established in 1915 on the farm of C. H. Crumpecker Risco.

The Farming Community Grows

        Once the timber was removed from the land, the landowners, mostly lumbermen, found they were paying taxes on land that was of no value to them. With the land drained of water, an effort to attract famers begins in earnest.

Better than gold mine is a farm in the beautiful Little River Valley.”  “Soon the Little River Valley will be known as The Second Nile of the World.” These are two of the claims made about Southeast Missouri by the Morehouse Hustler, December 16, 1910.

The per capital wealth (for each man, woman, and child) was a little over $2,000 in 1910, according to the 1910 Morehouse Hustler article. The assessed tax rate was one-third its retail value while the state rate was 17 cents and county 50 cents per $100 valuation. These figures were pushed proudly in the Hustler’s unashamedly proclaimed the virtues of Morehouse and the cleared land ready to be converted into farmland. Claims were made for being able to raise two crops a year.

Farming, near Morehouse, the paper proclaimed using the best land in the county would assure to “make a young man rich.”  The county side was covered by fine home that have replaced the shacks that one were common. Future buyers were told they were not listing to a fairy tale; “nothing had been with held.”

While the land may have been cleared of timber, stumps by the hundreds on forty acres remained. As heavy equipment was not available, horses, mules, and oxen were of limited value in removing them. The most common means of removing stumps was to dig down under it and then place dynamite in the hole. This was hard dangerous work.  

Before the land could be plowed came the problem of clearing the land of all the chunks of stumps scattered by the dynamite. We wouldn’t mention the holes left by the removed stumps. Not only was plowing new ground hard work, it was painful. A single breaking plow was pulled by a single, or pair of animals.

The worker walked between plow handles struggling to keep the plow tip in the ground and the row straight. While the main part of the stump had been removed, all the roots had not. When the ploy point slid under a big runner, more often than not, one of the plow handles would deliver a stunning blow to the man plowing.

Everett Dick in his classical 1947 study, The Dixie Frontier claimed single field hand was able to maintain six acres. Thus, large families were encouraged and welcome as their labor was necessary for the farmer. Dick stated that if cotton or other crop was raised, an equal acreage of corn was produced for animal food.

A 1910 edition of the Hustler in praising the growth of Morehouse explained, “The small tenant house that were first built have been replaced by nice painted structures, many of them two story. Instead of a small cleaned patch in the woods, cleared fields were fast replacing the path through the wood. The old wooden bridges across the ditches are being replaced with modern all steel bridges.”

Headlight Plantation was one of the farms established on the land cleared of timber by Himmelberger and Harrison. Xenophon Caverno bought this land in the southern part of West Township in 1907. His favorite horse, one he bought in Kentucky, he named Headlight, thus the name of his plantation. With the purchase of a Model T, Highlight was retired. Highlight School, a one-room school for blacks was established in the area in 1926.

Honey Island was another area made more accessible as the timber was removed. An island in the southwest part of West Township was made by the waters of Little River during flood season. The island was named for Mr. “Honey” Johnson, an early settler on Honey Island with the hobby of collecting wild honey.                                                   

Morehouse Business District, 1919

As the December 16, 1910 edition of the Morehouse Hustler predicted, the community did grow and prosper. Not only did the business district develop but the physical size of the city increased.

Still, city water came from Himmelberger and Harrison, electric lighting was still limited. Nor had a fire department been organized, and the streets were still unpaved. However, along the business district of Beech Street, a concrete walk had been laid.

Morehouse now was able to support three hotels. On the west end of Beech was the Brick Forest Hotel; it was the only one with electric lights and steam heat. The Vick Hotel, on Front Street east of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad, was a two story frame building with electric lights and a strove furnished heat. At the corner of Front and Jackson was the Farmers Hotel, also a two story framed building with electric lights and using a stove for heat.

A city hall and jail, a brick building had electric lights. It faced Beech Street on the corner of Dunkin. The State Bank of Morehouse was still in the Forest Hotel. There were three auto repair shops; one of the two on Beech Street had a concrete floor and stalls for two automobiles.  On Locust, east of the Frisco train tracks, there is an ice storage building. Also on Beech Street were two undertakers, a movie house, four drug, grocery, meat, and general stores in assorted combinations.  Other businesses in town included jewelry, pool hall, Three barber shops, cobbler, ladies ready-to-wear shop, a furniture store, furniture warehouse, three restaurant and confectionary stores, and a stove warehouse.

As Himmelberger and Harrison grew and prospered so did the community it supported. No longer did the town remain almost entirely within a square formed on two sides by the two railroads. Front Street had become an extension of Beech Street. These two streets along with Locust and Madison were the east west pathway across town in both 1911 and 1919. North-south streets were all shorter, only running three to four blocks.  They were Jackson, Monroe, Dunkin, and Spruce. Cass became Headlee by 1919.

 Scott and Benton, north-south streets, were extended across the Missouri Pacific Railroad.  Benton runs north towards Salcedo and South towards Canalou, becoming Supplementary Route E to in September 1932. Joining Scott, which did not cross the tracks, to become North Scott and Benton were joined by Elm, Maple, Laurel, and Pine Streets.

        Early Schools 1904-1920

In 1904, Morehouse became a forth-class city. O. M. Headlee was elected as the first mayor. He saw the need for a more substantial structure as a house of learning in a growing and progressive city if a better class of citizens is to settle here.

Most of the residents agreed that a better physical plant was need. The question was where it would set. Many public discussions were held. Many of these debates were heated and terminated in street brawls and fist-fights over just where this new building should be located.

The dispute was between Morehouse, which was the town west of the Frisco tracks on Jackson the site of the one-room school and “Little River,” the citizens east of the tracks insisted it be located in their area. Those opposing locating the building at the Jackson site west of town claimed it was dangerous for the children either being pushed of falling into the muddy waters of the overflowing Little River.

Emotions were running so high on the issue; a rational decision could not be reached. An election had to solve the problem. The majority of the voters decided the new school should be relocated on a higher, dryer spot. M. J. Tickle donated land and a two-story brick building was constructed. By using extra labor, the building was ready for the 1904 school year. Mr. Cook served as superintendent.

For four years, this building served well. However, on March 13, 1908, spontaneous combustion reduced this prized possession to ashes.

A new two-story brick build was constructed in 1909. The Morehouse School District hired seven teachers that year, all elementary instructors.

The first year of high school was added in 1912. Another grade was added the following year. In the spring of 1913, Morehouse graduated its first graduating class from a two-year high school. An eleventh grade was added during the 1914-1915 school year. 

During the spring of 1917 the first graduation exercises from a four-year high school was held. The United States entered World War I that year, and all the boys were serving their county. Therefore, only five girls were members of the graduating class. From then until the high school moved to Sikeston in the late 1960’s, Morehouse remained a first-class high school.

Between 1910 and 1920, Morehouse’s population grew by 277 residents. While this ten year growth was small, it was enough to require an addition to be added to the grade school facilities.  A new $2500 addition was built as a wing extending south for the main building. The attendance had reached the point that 12 teachers were hired.

School District 1920-1930

As interest and pride grew among the student body, they citizen of town responded in 1922 and an election for a school board was held. On the night before the election, W. R. Griffin decided he wanted to be on the school board. As the ballots were already printed, his name was hand written on them; he won.

In 1923 athletics programs and teams became popular in the county’s school systems. Morehouse joined this movement with enthusiasm. Up until then, a building commonly known as “The Old Hay Market” acted as a makeshift gym. At the back of the school building was an outdoor court. Study hall had been converted into classrooms using sliding doors; these could be pulled back and with the furnishing removed, used for athletic events. Under Griffin’s leadership, the district floated a $6,000 bond and the first gymnasium in New Madrid County was build.

That year, Morehouse had its largest graduating class to date, a class of twenty.

With the annexation of two county districts in 1924 Morehouse School District grew. One of these was the Landers Ridge School. This was a rural community build around the school and Landers Ridge Church. Located in the center part of West Township, it was first settled around 1900 New York the Landers family. Citizens of the area, on March 11, 1922, after an effort by Canalou to annex them, voted to join the Morehouse School District.

Another small school located in the center part of West Township was absorbed by the Morehouse School that year was Cline School. First it was called Eberett School in honor of one of the early settlers in the area. Later it was renamed Cline School after a prominence landowner, Henry Cline.

Enrollment was such in 1925; the school district could justify hiring 18 teachers. The sidewalks were now on the ground. Civilization had settled in as the community changed from a rough population made up of drifters to a more settle group of property owners. The community leaders were looking at a glowing future. Good face on the situation in spite of the fact that Himmelberger and Harrison’s production and growth continued. They saw some promise in farming developing on the land cleared of timber. Yet, land sales were developing.

While the economy was faltering, the school was prospering. Within the next five years the students and their after school actives increased as did the course offerings

 In athletics, their achievements were second to none in the county. Self expression and knowledge took on a new meaning as the debate teams increased their reputation. With all the cut-over timber land within the school district, Vocational Agriculture took on a new importance. Interest increased as more land for farming as the drainage ditches made it available.  As few women worked outside the home, home economics were added to the curriculum.

A monthly newspaper, The Morehouse Tiger, was sponsored by the school. As detailed information about the different actives of the school community as made available, this became a popular addition to the school’s culture.

New books were added to the library during this period. These were cataloged with the Dewey Decimal System that was used in most of the leading libraries at that time.

Setting in two corner of the school yard were two white “water closets.” During this time, they were replaced by sanitary indoor toilets and showers.

The 1924 annexing of two county schools became important in 1929. That year, Morehouse became a Consolidated District. A consolidated district would receive a larger per student funds and guaranteed aid from the state. Some of the directors, aware of the national situation in the financial markets of the nation, saw an advantage in consolidation.

The gymnasium was the site of a mass meeting in 1929. Here the first School Board for the Morehouse Consolidated District Number 12 was held. Those elected were O. M. Headlee, F. B. Rauch, D. L. Fisher, William Crumpecker, J. S. Wallace, and Hillary Boone.

With an influx of students from Gray Ridge, the enrolment increased in 1929 because that school lost its accreditation to become a second class school. Until 1931, each student was responsible for their transportation. At that time, Gray Ridge district started furnishing transportation. This was the situation until 1938, when Gray Ridge Schools regained a first class high school ranking which caused a reduction in the students at Morehouse High School as non- residency student left the district.


Several men, Isaac Himmelberger, E. J. Malone, John Burris, Charles Luce, John H. Himmelberger, Stephen B. Hunter, Louis J. Houch, and W. J. Harrison, furnished the resources to tackle the swamplands of Southeast Missouri. Men, many of the early drifters were less than respectable. They came to take advantage of these early opportunities. As conditions improved, more stable families came and settled to create a steadier workforce. 

They preformed the Herculean task of clearing the trees from the swamp. Stumps were grubbed from the land. Water was drained from the land that in the 1880’s looked impossible. What was considered useless land fit for nothing but growing trees became some of the Nation’s richest farmland.

While this was happening, civilization slowly came to the mill town. Within twenty years, churches arrived, along with telephones. A variety of stores prospered. Hotels greeted visitors brought to town daily from the outside world.  Within thirty years, there were banks, newspaper, more and better housing, auto repair shops, and two undertakers. School had become more than a one-room facility.

Like most of America, the Depression took its toll on Morehouse. During the 1920-1930 decade, Morehouse lost 749 citizens, or 39% of its population.

However, the foundations were strong. Himmelberger and Harrison recovered, thus, so did the town. While the population never returned to the 1920 level, to be the most populace town in the county, the population during the ‘40’s grew by 433 people, 27 percent.  The ‘50’s population reached 1,635 which were 85.5% of the peak 1920 population. Each decade after that saw a decline: 1960, 1417; 1970 population was 1,332; 1980, 1,220; 1990, 1,068; 2000, 1,015; and 2009, 917.

With Roe Furniture’s 1973 lease with Himmelberger and Harrison, Morehouse’s prospects dimmed. With its closing.

Source Material This information came from several sources, including stories from my wife’s family. She is from Arkansas but her family worked the swamps to clean the land and later worked new ground. 

Two sources I depended heavily on was a newspaper supplement, Morehouse, 1896-1966; The First 100 Years; Saturday October, 5, 1996; Historical New Madrid County: Mother of Southeast Missouri : A Project of the High School Department New Madrid County Teachers Association reprint of the March 19, 1948 that was made available in 1998 by the New Madrid Historical Museum.

For a description of the land, in part Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 And How it Changed America by John Berry a 1997 Touchstone publication I used in a graduate course at Arkansas State University.

Other publications that were useful were The Uncertainty of Everyday Live: 1915-1945 by Harvey Green, University of Arkansas Press, 2000 in covering the logging industry. On life in frontier society I used Mind of the South, a 1969 vintage book by W. J. Cash: and The Dixie Frontier: A Social History . . . a 1993 reprint of Evert Dick’s University of Oklahoma’s Press 1848 edition. For background on issues concerning clearing the Bootheel of its swamp I looked to The Final Frontiers, 1880-1930: Settling the Southern Bottomlands by John Solomon Otto, a 1999 book by Greenwood Press.

A fun book if you are weird, it is where I found out that no other town in America is named Morehouse is S.N.I.C.K.E.R. – Same Names in Cities, Kingdoms, Empires, & Regions published in Memphis in 1994 by Marjory Lee Enterprises.

The Indians and the Hoecake phase information came from Prehistory of the Central Mississippi Valley as edited by Charles H. McNutt for the University of Alabama Press in 1996.

Map information came mainly from the internet but also from a CD Arkansas Map Collection put out by Euriskodata Inc. which also showed Southeast Missouri. Much of the same information is on the web at davidrumseycom/luna; however, the CD was easier to work with. It was on this site I first found out about the St. Louis, Morehouse & Southern Railroad.

The details about 1911 and 1919 Morehouse came from the Sanborn Maps for Missouri. These I found in the digital.library.umsystem.ed a University of Missouri Library web site.

Another University library site is This will give you special collections and Archives at Southeast Missouri State University/.

Other sites I found interesting; Draining Big Swamp of Southeast Missouri. Little River Where Hs it Gone? Little River Drainage District-1927. New Madrid County, Missouri Place Names, 1928-1945. Town, Villages, and Hamlets of Missouri.  Just type in Morehouse or Little River Drainage District   a lot of information comes up.

Law suit information also came off the web. Try 239 U.S. 254 Louis Houck vs. Little River Drainage District, Himmelberger.

Himmelberger and Harrison Lumber Company v. Simon E. Crain

Himmelberger-Luce Land & Lumber Company vs. Blackman and New Madrid County

lawyer. Houck vs. Little River Drainage District., 239 U. S. 254 (1915)

 As some of these are LexisNexis sites, a pay for use programs, you may have to go to a university or see a

P.O.W.’s in Southeast Missouri

Because of the planters’ short slightness during the 1930 in getting rid of their sharecropper and due to the demands for military personal with the start of World War II, Southeast Missouri farmers had a serious labor shortage. This was especially true for cotton farmers, as their crops were labor intensive.

Therefore, the idea of POW labor was very appealing to the planters and landowners.. They saw prisoner labor as a work force they could control and at a cheap price.  Contract labor was a very pleasing idea.

The fall of 1944 in the Bootheel saw several contract camps developed to harvest the cotton crop. POW camps were starting to show up earlier that year in field near Charleston, Kennett, Malden, Marston, New Madrid and Sikeston. Malden Air Base supplied these camps with the supplies needed for everyday operations.

Some like the camp at Malden only operated just a little more than two months.


Other camps turned into semi-permanent operation. Sikeston’s operation was one such camp. It functioned from November 1944 through August 1945. Starting as a corn detasseling project for the C. F. McMullin Farm that was a hybrid-seed corn producer, the prisoners stayed to pick cotton there and on nearby farms. During the slack agriculture season they joined other POW in a nearby cotton-oil mill.

Most of the prisoners in Sikeston were Italians. Frequently they made contact with the residents in that they were allowed to use the municipally swimming pool twice a week. Regularly they went to movies at the Malone Theater and attend Mass at St. Francis Xavier Church on Sundays.

The Reverend John O’Neill, the pastor of St. Francis Xavier, was mainly responsible for the presents of the Italians being in town. Acting on behalf of the local agricultural interest, he wrote to Monsignor Cody of the St. Louis Archdioceses in October of 1943 asking about the possibility of obtaining POW’s for farm labor.

His litter was sent through the chain of command resulting in determining that Sikeston of in needed help with labor. Thus, some Italians were sent to the 8,000 farm just outside of town. Here they lopped off the pollen-laden plums from the tops of corn plans to allow pollination with other varieties in adjacent rows, thus producing hybrid seed.

With the success of this experience, farmers in Sikeston and the Bootheel clamored for more prisoners to labor in their fields. Thus, that September, POW’s returned to town, tore down the tent and started construction of basic prefab wooden barracks fitted with running water and heat.

Other POW arrived in Sikeston to total 100 Italian officers. About forth continued to bring in the cotton harvest from 700 acres on the McMullin Estate with another 30 working from Pennell Hunter on acreage owned by S. L. Hunter and Sons farms; and the other 30 checked in at the Sikeston Oil Mill making them the first Prisoners working in a Southeast Missouri plant.

The resident’s attitude toward the prisoners and American guards was quite relaxed until an Italian lieutenant wondered in a Sikeston resident scaring a female resident. Almost everyone agreed the man was just lonely and desiring to talk and meant no harm. The camp officials were not blamed for the incident, but the offender whom the other prisoners also became upset because there privileges were canceled and the easygoing atmosphere, marked by trust, was put in jeopardy by his fellow’s actions. He was soon shipped out of Sikeston to another camp to protect him from fellow prisoners.


Four-hundred Italian prisoners from Camp Weingarten were camped on the Charleston National Guard Armory to the end of 1944 starting in October. When the tents planned for them to live in failed to arrive, the POW’s were moved into the armory’s auditorium.

            It was A. J. Drinkwater, Jr., Clifford Vowels, and E. L. Brown, Jr. who lead the effort to bring the prisoners to the area to finish the cotton harvest. To do so, they had to deposit $700 against future wages and $2,000 in cash to defray building a bathhouse, pay for fencing, light poles and other equipment needed to secure the camp located on the edge of town.

            As a full-time manger, J. W. Barron was hired of the 320 prisoners. Some went to farms in Mississippi County with others going to Scott County farms. The POW’s were not paid an hourly wage, instead were paid $2 per hundred pounds for the cotton picked. Prisoners were allotted to farmers in groups of ten and posted a deposit each day equal to a day picking and provide all equipment needed and furnished transportation to and from the prison camp.

            Not understanding food from the camp came from military supplies many locals blamed the POW’s for the food shortage in the area. This was a common complaint in most of the Southeast Missouri communities hosting a prison camp. The only materials purchased on the local economies were construction items and fresh food items like bread, mild, and ice. Guards and prisoners did without the scare item just as the towns’ people.


In Kennett, the Dunklin County Farm Labor Board led by Earl Jones, Kimble Swindle, and Fred Chailland to set up a POW camp. On August 17, 1943, a Dunklin Democrat article announce a minimum of 300 prisoners were coming to help harvest 80,000 bales of cotton.

Grover Wicker, farm manager for the Cotton Exchange Bank was in charge of the Kennett camp. This camp was at the edge of town at the east end of Second Street where in now runs into Chance. Farm land was beyond. It was one of the smaller camps and was short lived.

Four of the prisoners decided to go to Chicago to be with relatives. Instead of heading north, in their confusion, they went south. Staying off the highway, they went through the lowland and were soon wet and cold. Giving up they approached a house near Rives, Missouri, about ten miles from camp and gave up. The family feed them and notified the sheriff.

Dunklin Countians had a mixed reaction towards the prisoners. Some blamed them for the food shortage. Others felt empathy for the POW’s realizing they were caught in a situation beyond their control.


New Madrid farmers, like most Bootheel cotton growers, welcomed the labor of the POW’s. New Madrid County Extension service and the New Madrid County Farm Labor Association lead by growers, Arline Avery and Albert Beis sponsored a camp at Marston. Labor was needed badly as 80 percent of the cotton crop was still in the field.

Coming to the Marston area were enlisted Germans from the base camp at Clarinda, Iowa with control quickly being shifted to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Fifty POW’s in the first group to arrive while the new camp was being prepared in late September and early October of 1944. They bunked in the Marston high school gym was erecting fences, latrines, and putting wooden floors under sturdy square tents.

Four-hundred followed and resided in t grove of trees on the Charles Pikey farm on Highway 61 near Conrad, some 11 miles south of New Madrid. During the rest of October, they picked about 599,000 pounds of cotton. After the cotton was harvested, to help control boll weevils the POW’s chopped cotton stakes and then laboring in the soybean-oil meal near Portageville.

Accusation arose claiming the prisoners were living the high life and were being coddled. Rumors said the prisoners were free to go and come as they pleased without proper supervision. Thus in March of1945, army officials, led by Colonel Andrew Duvall the commander of the main cam at Fort Leonard Wood led a troupe of newsmen on a tour of the camp.

The news people were convinced the army was proving proper security and like the rest of the nation, they too were affected by the food shortage.

Included among the prisoners was former Afrika Korps trooper who proved to be trouble makers. Because of their belief in the superiority, thy caused some friction in the camp, both with the farmers and the more recently captured German  prisoners who did not know how poorly the war was going for Germany.

The POW program was coming to an end, during the early spring of 1946 the process of disbanding the Marston Camp go started. Only 70 prisoners of the 425 prisoners were left by February of 1946. By the end of the month, all POW’s were gone and the camp closed.





    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


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    Little River's Geographic Past