Tribes Forced West by Federal Government

Pressure by the United States government forced many tribes to move westward. Some entered Missouri. The Spanish were tolerant of smaller tribes moving in. However, they were not charitable to larger groups with a history of warring on one another. The new comers presented trading profits to the merchants who welcomed them. The Shawnees settled near Cape Girardeau under the supervision of Louis Lorimier.

Sometimes small bands for Indians for a tribe entered individually. In the 1870’s groups of Delaware arrived in southern Missouri.

After the Revolutionary War, Cherokee warriors killed white immigrants at Muscle Shoals Alabama, for forcing the Native Americans off their farms; they were forced to move and settled on the St. Francis River near Helena, Arkansas in 1794.

In 1811, Cherokee Chief Skaquaw, “The Swan” told his followers about a vision he had one night while leaning against a stump watching a comet. He told how lighting suddenly flashed from all four directions to form a small light at his feet. Using a wood chip, he picked up; because it was “tame fire,” it did not burn his hand. Then two children, one from the east and another from the west, came to him and put him to sleep when they perfumed the air. While asleep the Great Spirit advised him to lead his people out of the St. Francis River Valley before disaster struck. After one of the children blew out the fire, Skaquaw awaken. After he told his tribe what he had seen in his vision, they left and thus escaped the New Madrid earthquakes.

The Mississippi River received its name from Algonquian-speaking Indians. For example, Ojibway, missi is “big” and sippi is “river.” The Algonquian term, Meact-Chassipi, has been translated to mean “The Ancient Father of Rivers.” Ny-Tonks,” Great River, was the Quapaw name for both the Mississippi and Ohio.

        Five Civilized Tribes

Contrary to common concept, Many of the members of the “Five Civilized Tribes,”− Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole−lived in urbane towns complete with well laid-out streets and public building. Many also lived on farms or plantation and some owned black slaves. Some were educated in law or the arts; they owned businesses, dressed in western clothes and lived in houses or cabins much the same as their white neighbors. As they were not considered citizens of the United Stated, they made their own forms of government, including constitutions and laws. Theirs was a shadow government, a nation, within and make treaties with the United States. Small groups of these tribes were scattered throughout the New Madrid Seismic Zone.


A few miles to the west of Chillicothe was another Native American city it passed close to the now-extinct City of Chillicothe, located north of Cape Girardeau. Chillicothe was one of the regional centers of the Shawnee Nation with a population of around 500 residents. The “Child-li-co-a-thee,” in Shawnee means “big town where we live.”

Several places in Southeast Missouri have Indian names. Chilletecaus River in Dunklin County, Jim Ease’s camp in New Madrid, and Seneca Slough to name a few.

Apple Creek later became the dividing line between Perry and Cape Girardeau counties. Along this stream were the principal locations for the larger Native American villages. This was the location of Chillicoathee.  Along this creek were villages of both the Shawnees who had a hatred for both the Americans and the Delaware.

In New Madrid County another of the large Indian settlement was Maisonville. Near Point Pleasant was another large Indian community. Dunklin County was the site of Chilletecaus. Kennett now set on that village’s site. It was situated on a branch of the St. Francis River.

In 1811, the Native American population was larger than of those of European decent throughout the Central Mississippi Valley. White settlers in the Cape Girardeau area did not feel safe when they ventures away for their settlement alone.

        Creek Indian Threat Ended by the Delaware

Generally the relationship between the whites and the native cultures were friendly and they traded and got along. This was not always true.  Shortly before the Earthquakes of 1811-1812, a war party of Creek Indians under the leadership of Chief Captain George crossed the Mississippi some four miles below Little Prairie. Their plan was to capture Little Prairie and then destroy New Madrid. The Delaware in the area came to the white settles aid and stopped the attack

        Government Treaty with Native Americans

In 1808 the United States government made a treaty with the Osages. Both sides agreed the natives would give all lands east of a line from Fort Osage on the Mississippi down the Arkansas River to the Mississippi. This left the Osage land only on the Missouri River. In 1825, another treaty they give up all land claims in Missouri.

In 1815, understand they were given the land in a treaty with the Spanish Government, the Shawnees and Delaware moves west, crossed the Mississippi to the Cape Girardeau area. They believed the area on the Castor, St. Francis River, and White River had been promise in consideration of their removal. Ten year later, the Shawnees gave up the Spanish Lands grants in the Cape Girardeau area promised in 1793.

The Delaware, in 1829 also gave up all their Cape Girardeau land rights. They joined the Shawnee moving west. By 1832, both tribes relinquished the rights to all improvements and land in Missouri.

Not all Indians left the area in 1832. One of the last bands to leave was those living near the village of Chilletecaux near Kennett. This group stayed until the wild game disappeared to the point it was impossible to live by hunting.

        New Madrid

On October 1, 1812, the Missouri Territorial Legislator created New Madrid County along with the counties of Cape Girardeau, Ste Genevieve, St. Louis, and St. Charles. These were the first counties formed in Missouri

The first European settlement in this district was made in 1783 by Francois and Joseph LeSieur. They were two Canadian trappers and traders who came to the area of New Madrid to hunt and trade with the Indians. They set up a temporary trading post, “L’Anse a la Graise” which means “Cove of Grease.”

The settlement was founded by LeSieurs. Its setting on the east bank of the Cha-Poosa Creek which was the early name for St. John’s Bayou was an ideal location for a village. The ridge upon which it set was one of the most fertile and desirable parts of Southeast Missouri. This uplift extended to the foot of the Scott County hills.

From its founding in the 1780’s New Madrid was in important town. From then to its near ruin during the earthquakes, its location literally controlled the boat traffic on the Mississippi from the mouth of the Ohio to Natchez and New Orleans. At the time of the earthquakes, New Madrid was the third largest river town between St. Louis and New Orleans with a population of about 1000: Ste. Genevieve, Missouri 1,200 people, Natchez Mississippi 3,000 residents. Scattered throughout the county living mostly in isolation were some 3,200 people within her trade area.

Located on the west bank of the river, New Madrid was set in the middle of a 25 mile bend. From its setting, it commanded a good view of the river in both directions.  From upstream, the town would be viewed for six miles and the river could be seen for ten miles.

        Spanish Control

Before 1800, while still under Spanish control, a 12 acre lot had been set aside for the King’s use in the middle of the city. Ornamental trees were planted here and walk laid out for the general public’s use. The town founders envisioned streets 120 feet wide with a large park at the town’s center. The population was made up mainly of French and Spanish settlers along with a few American traders with a few Native Americans living in the backwoods.

Under Spanish rule, New Madrid was also a military post. During this time, New Madrid had three military organizations. Two militia companies were supported by a company of dragoons (heavily armed cavalrymen). The rulers were concerned about American intruding into their territory. As they saw the Americans as being aggressive and they wanted to control their influence. They desired to keep them out.

On July 25, 1795, The Post of San Fernando de las Barrancas was established on the Forth Chickasaw Bluffs (Memphis) by the Spanish governor of the Natchez. Like all Spanish post on the Mississippi frontier under their control they were governed under the Laws of the Indies which allowed local commanders to make rules to adjust to local situations.

Commandant Barrancas set up his new command at Memphis, by issuing 66 local regulations, which in effect were laws. Regulation 11 concerned acquiring meat rations. As no system is in place to acquire fresh meat, shipments of salt meat from New Madrid will be used.

The division of a squadron of cruiser posted between New Madrid and Memphis was the subject of Rule 33. This flotilla will be available upon request from the fleet commander.

In matters of defense was covered in items 34 and 35. In this mater, cooperation with the Commandant of New Madrid and his Cruisers is the policy. If the post is in danger of attack, the commandant at Arkansas Post (near the Mouth of the Arkansas River) will be notified asking for help and at the same time word with be sent to New Madrid with the same notice. Friendly Indians will also be asks for help offering them payment.

Captain McCoy was a prominent man in New Madrid coming to the settlement with Morgan. After becoming a Spanish officer he commanded a Spanish galley, or revenue boat. Several operated in the area. This fleet was charged with executing all Spanish laws including stopping all river traffic to take an explanation of their business in the region and to collect a mandatory tax.

McCoy was in command of the boat that captured the infamous Mason Gang. This was a group of robbers and river pirates that had operated for several years plundering not only the river traffic but also isolated settlers in the region. After the Gang was returned to New Madrid, they were transported to New Orleans. On the return trip back upriver, while Mason is his men were seizing the boat Captain McCoy was wounded. In 1799 McCoy became commandant of the New Madrid post. Latter, he was commandant at Tywappity Bottom.

The French settlers, the Spanish accepted. Many of them lived like the natives and were not seen as a threat. In 1796, the pastor at New Madrid became responsible for ministering to the people of Arkansas.

Early in May of 1793, part the military attachment was pulled out and sent to Arkansas Post to destroy the Osages. Then under American rule, New Madrid became the administration center for Arkansas from 1808 to 1812.

The Catholic Church in New Madrid began in 1789 after Father Gibault arrived from Ste Genevieve. A building was erected in 1799 and dedicated to St. Isidore. After Gibault’s death in 1802, the building fell into disrepair and was washed into the Mississippi River in 1816.

Alliot in an 1803 trip through Louisiana made some observation about New Madrid. He thought it a charming little village of three score resident located 100 leagues (a league equaled about three miles) below Belle Riviere (Ohio River) The Fort l’ance a la Graice housed 150 soldiers. This was the first place (he claimed) where wheat was raised. On the meadows there were cows and steers grazing and the inhabitants were raising hogs and fowls. In the forest there were an abundance of all sorts of wild game.

The United States government, by 1805, had established post offices at Cape Girardeau, and New Madrid. Mail delivery was once a week. Postage rates were very high. The distance a letter or parcel was carried, not a fix rate based on weight, determined the postage.

Between 1805 and 1812, cotton was the staple crop grown. At that time corn became the principal crop.

Early in the region’s history, its reputation was not good. Its populace included counterfeiters, horse thieves, murders, debt dodgers, and others escaping from the law. Life on the far western edge of European civilization was rough needing hard people to settle in the backwoods away from more civilized conditions.

With the start of 1811, the merchants and traders at New Madrid saw only a prosperous future. They had a water route to the Little River Valley and beyond to the St. Francis River Valley. Not only was this a fertile trade region for their merchandise, but it also produced a large trade in furs as did the area across the Mississippi. The river also brought in trade and from flatboatmens heading both directions.

Native Americans Meet Europeans

Tribes Forced West by Federal Government

Five Civilized Tribes


Creek Indian Threat Ended by the Delaware

Government Treaties with Native Americans

New Madrid

Spanish Control



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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


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    Little River's Geographic Past