Under Spanish control, Louisiana was divided into two districts. The northern part, Upper Louisiana, was divided into five districts: St. Charles, St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve, Cape Girardeau, and New Madrid. After the 1803 purchase by the United States, they kept this division. The new District of Louisiana came under the over site of the Governor and the three Judges of Indiana Territory early in the fall of 1804, a session of the legislature that passed a law  retaining the old Spanish subdivision thus Arkansas fell into the District of New Madrid.

        Morgan’s Arrival

The area that turned into New Madrid County came from a Spanish Land Grant given to Colonel George Morgan who arrived in the New Madrid area with emigrants mainly from Maryland and Pennsylvania during the winter of 1789. Flat boating down the Ohio and into the Mississippi Rivers with his American companions, he selected a site to establish a community, New Madrid. In the United States, Morgan had been a man of influence and had a high position.

However, he became angry and resentful of the federal government. Having acquired a large tract of Indian land in the west, enough to make him independently wealthy, Morgan was denied ownership. United States policy at the time did not recognize the validity of an Indian land transfers to individuals. The government did not recognize the right or power to authority to set aside, sale, or trade any land. Morgan’s claims invalidated, he was practically penniless.  His appeals to the federal Congress for redress was denied.

As a hunter, trapper, and outdoorsman, in his earlier year, had traveled in the far west. Angry at the United States government, he made plans for revenge. He planned to build a settlement in Spanish territory. Included in his plan was also acquiring personal wealth. His plan to help build up the power of Spain along the Mississippi River was detailed in a letter to Don Diego Gardoqui, the Spanish minister at Washington. Morgan stressed the importance of colonizing the Spanish Territory west of the Mississippi and inducing settlers form America to emigrate there.

Gardoqui liked his scheme and gave Morgan a land grant consisting of 12 and 15 million areas of land. His grant reached from Cinqui Homme (a township and community in southern Perry County Missouri near the Headwaters of Whitewater River) to the mouth of the St. Francis River near Helena, Arkansas) a distance of some 300 miles. It stretched from 12 to 15 miles away from the river.

Morgan made and got further concessions from Gardoqui. It was agreed the Americans would be exempt from taxes and allowed the right of self-government. Hoping for a good profit, it was agreed Morgan had the right to sell any part of his holding; he planned to sell small plots to the incoming settlers. Morgan was to encourage Native American to settle within is holding. In doing this, he was a bright future in the fur trade as well as protection against the Osage Indians.

The land Morgan decided to settle on was about 12 leagues (a measure of distance varying in different times and countries; in English speaking countries, a league is about three miles) below the mouth of the Ohio River formerly called L’Ance la Grasse. The land here on the banks of the Mississippi, for some distance were high, dry, and suited for corn, tobacco, hemp, cotton, flax and indigo.  Rising gradually from the Mississippi the area is fine, dry, agreeable and healthful.

Beaver’s Causeway was a road, more likely a trail, described in the plans for the town of New Madrid in 1789. A causeway can be described as a road, particularly one built through marshy ground or shallow water. This one is thought to be named so because the road was built by beaver lodges.

When Morgan arrived at “L’Anse ala Graise”, (New Madrid) he was greeted by Francois and Joseph LeSieur, two Canadian trappers and traders that had come to the area in 1783 from Canada. Not only had they been the first Europeans in the area, but were now perhaps some the most influential men in the Mississippi River Valley.

Fort Celeste, at New Madrid, was built by the order of Spanish Governor Miro after he came to the New Madrid Territory in 1789. Miro wanted to take over Colonel Morgan’s work in building New Madrid.  The governor named the fort after his wife.  However, the fort was destroyed during the earthquakes of 1811-1812.

St. John’s Bayou was a large bayous starting in Scott County near the southern edge of hills before they entered New Madrid County from the north and empties into the Mississippi River just east of New Madrid. St. John’s Bayou had been rechanneled and controlled into a drainage ditch passing through Sikeston just west of the air port and the Bootheel Golf Club. After hitting the hills east of Benton it goes under Interstate 55 to end about halfway to Commerce.

The early name of the stream was Chepoosa Creek or Chapoosa River. This probably a name applied by LaSalle to a group of Indians along Kaskaskia River to which the name Chepoosa is sometimes given, or to the group collected by his invitation at Kaskaskia, for some chief or leader. LaSalle visited the race or tribe of Chepoosa in 1677. White settlers changed the name to Sound River and also so called by Kitchen and Hutchen in 1966. The stream was changed by the earthquakes in 1811-1812 and later drained.

Terrein Moville was a large slough that flowed into St. John Bayou receiving its name from early French settlers. This name is only used by Goodspeed; the spelling terrein is the French spelling of terrain while moville is probably a corruption of mobile. Terrian Mobile would mean “moving soil or quicksand. This slough was another victim of the 1811-1812 Earthquake.

Another early landmark destroyed by the Earthquake of 1811and1812 was Bayou de Boeuf in the northern part of New Madrid County. Probably it was named by early French settlers. Translated, the name means Buffalo Bayou.

        French Settlers

Bayou Fourche was two miles south of present day New Madrid. It flowed past Big Mound, a large Indian mound near New Madrid called La Grande Cote by the French settlers of the area. Before 1811, it was used by the Indians as a signal or look-out mound, not as a burial site. At the mound, the bayou split into two branches, one emptied into Lake St. Ann and the other into Lake St. Mary. French settlers so named it because of the two branches.

Francois Derousser owned land in eastern New Madrid County near New Madrid. In 1800, Bayou St. Henry bordered his holdings. This bayou was probable named for the saint of some member of his bailey; possibly St. Henry (972-1204), a German king, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire that was canonized in 1146. This was another casualty of the earthquake.

Bayou St. Thomas was also destroyed by the earthquake. This was a small stream in the central part of the New Madrid County close to New Madrid. Colonel Morgan’s 1789 plans for New Madrid show in on his map. This stream, sometimes called St. Thomas River, was probably named by early traders for St. Thomas, the apostle.

Beaver’s Causeway was a road, probably more a trail, in 1789 leading away from the young settlement of New Madrid. A causeway is a road, particularly on built through marshy ground or shallow water, and may have been so named because the road was believed to have been built by beavers.

        American Influence Begins

Taylor’s Slough was a large slough in the southern part of New Madrid County (now in Dunklin County); named by the early French settlers Lique Terrible because of the size and depth of the swamp. It was considered a bad place because of the mosquitoes and fevers. After the Taylor family moved into the area, the location became Taylor’s Slough. Before 1811, there were two branches on the west side of the slough knows as New and Old Slough.

The river was important to New Madrid in 1790 because of the trade it brought. While it was known in the Eastern United States, the community’s location was fuzzy. One report placed it in Tennessee. “Notes of a Journey from Philadelphia, Tennessee 1790” published in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, quoted that “flour was exchanged for furs” at the following prices per skin: bear, $1,wildcat, 65¢, otter. $3, beaver, $1, buffalo $10.

In 1811, the western bank of the Mississippi had only been under United States ownership for eight years. Only a few town and settlements by American were in the New Madrid Earthquake Zone. There may have been 5,000 settlers of European and African descendants in and around the periphery of the region.

The population of the New Madrid Earthquake Zone was increased by the addition of between ten to fifteen thousand Native Americans. Hundreds of Indian settlements, villages, towns, and hunting camps ranged in size from a dozen to 400 or more. Numerous Indian villages of considerable size dotted New Madrid Seismic Zone. Several large Indian settlements were in the Blytheville, Arkansas area as well as further south near Lepanto and Marked Tree. A Number of Shawnee and Delaware villages were encircling Cape Girardeau on the north, west, and south, as well as throughout the county.

        Cape Girardeau

Cape Girardeau was first a French settlement dating from the 1720’s settled when Jean Baptiste Girardeau (also spelled Girardot and Girardo) crossed the Mississippi from Kaskaskia in Illinois to the Missouri side. He quickly established a trading post between Indians and French boatmen on a scenic rocky prominence overlooking the river.

In general, the chief employment of the French people consisted in raising cattle, hunting, fishing, and trapping. As group, they accepted the Indians as equal marrying into their tribes. Most of the Frenchmen came from Canada. Very few of them spoke English.

Some 73 years later, Louis Lorimier, a 65 year old French fur trader from St. Louis, landed just downstream from Cape Rock to establish another trading post he named “Cape Girardeau.” This town bearing a French name was founded by a devout Catholic that was a faithful subject of the king Spain. He had trouble supporting democracy as he deeply believed a monarchy was the only “approved” form of government.

Cape Girardeau was made prosperous by steamboat. In the decade between 1820 and 1830, steamboat traffic assumed a large grown with Cape Girardeau’s business community experience remarkable growth. However, it was not until 1853 that a bank was established there when a state bank in Jackson open a branch in the river town.

To the west and south of Cape Girardeau travel was extremely difficult. Thus, it became the trade center for a large area as it was the easiest river point the people from the interior could reach.

The large area of the Little River Swamp (Nigger Wool Swamp) had the cut off many settlers from the river, leaving them a hard journey to get supplies. While the early settlers were almost self sufficient, they still needed flour, sugar, gun power, and other basics.

Between 1900 and 1910 the population of Cape Girardeau nearly doubled reaching 8,585. The town supported over 150 businesses. There were a Number of general and department story with every form of mercantile establishments represent. Woodworking establishments manufactured lumber, staves, boxes, sash, and doors. Factories were making shoes, lime, brick, cement, flour, cigars, ice cream, and candy, as well as small industrial operations.

First incorporated as a village in 1808; in 1843, the legislature incorporated as the City of Cape Girardeau with a special charter providing for a mayor and seven councilmen.

When Lorimier first came to the area he had a smoothing effect on the natives in the area. Before his arrival, there had been war between the tribes, the Shawnees, the Delaware, the Osage, and between other tribes that were passing through. Warfare between the different cultural groups had been a common feature of Native American mores since the introduction of the bow and arrow. Yet, Lorimier was able to calm the differences while they were in the area

        King’s Highway -“El Camino Real”

The King’s Highway, the Spanish called “El Camino RReal” when they laid it out in 1789 to followed an assortment of Indian trails. Before the Europeans formally used the route, it was known as the “Shawnee Path.  It passed close to Shawneetown, Missouri, 20 miles north of Cape Girardeau, a Shawnee village in 1811. A large town for its time, it was about the same size as Cape Girardeau. In the French, it was called “le Lesser Village de Suavage,” or “The Smaller Village of the Savages.”

Improvements were made in the El Camino dirt road in 1807. Then it was elevated to the status being the “first north-south highway in Missouri Territory.” Roughly, Interstate 55 and U.S. Highway 60 follow the original route from New Madrid to St. Louis. Cape Girardeau and Sikeston both have streets named “Kingshighway.” This was one of the first roads in Missouri, if not the first.

With the opening of the Kingshighway a Number of small settlements sprung up. Some were in what became Scott County. The first of these were in the Sikeston vicinity by Edward Robertson and a son-in-law Moses Hurley. Near Benton, Captain Charles Friend settled his family on a Spanish Grant. He too became an Indian trader.


European Settlers and Early American

Early Settlers

Morgan’s Arrival

French Settlers

American Influence Begins

Cape Girardeau

Kings Highway - El Camino Real



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I agree with you! I love studying History because it gives me the feeling that I am capable of going back to the past and seeing the situations that happened there. Regarding this post, I didn't know that there were French settlers who dominated Louisiana for more than three decades. I am pretty sure that some of their original beliefs and traditions were adopted by the locals there that can be seen in the people of Louisiana today.

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By and large, the central work of the French individuals comprised in raising dairy cattle, chasing, angling, and catching. As gathering, they acknowledged the Indians as equivalent wedding into their tribes. The greater part of the Frenchmen originated from Canada. Not very many of them communicated in English.

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    Having grown up on Little River, I have been fascinated with it. Over the past several years, as a local historian, this area has been a special interest. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Norman Vickers


    January 2015
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    Little River's Geographic Past