Morehouse Hustler Promotes Little River Valley

“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. This idea went nationwide when in New York the Collier’s Weekly on July4, 1909 printed a feature story about the Little River Drainage District and much the same story later printed in the Hustler.

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 plow point slid under a big root 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

Headlight Plantation, near Canalou, was one of the farms established on the land cleared of timber by Himmelberger and Harrison. Xenophon Caverno, from Wisconsin, 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

Honey Island was another area made more accessible as the timber was removed. An island in the southwest part of West Township of New Madrid County 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.


Selling the Lowland

Morehouse Hustler promotes Little River Valley

Headlight Plantation

Honey Island



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07/25/2016 7:41pm

Nice read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing some research on that. And he actually bought me lunch since I found it for him smile Thus let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

04/30/2017 8:12am

nice blog


Little river valley is such an amazing place and the description you have written about its natural beauty in your blogs is fantastic. The history of this valley is very interesting and the present development in the area is also admirable.

08/22/2017 8:28am

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08/29/2017 1:19am

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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