Early Native American and European Contact
Native Americans made only temporary forays into the southern Courtois Hills between the end of the thirteenth century and the initial settlement by white Americans. Little archeological evidence suggests any occupation along the Current and Jacks Fork rivers in the immediate centuries after the Mississippian people moved southeast of the riverways. The sixteenth and seventeenth century records of Spanish and French explorers note a relatively dense Indian occupation along the Mississippi River and the most southeastern section of the present state of Missouri. Villages also existed in the Ozark hills east of the Current River basin, but only hunting or war parties most likely traversed the latter region. By the early nineteenth century, at the time of the first white American settlement, the area of the Current and Jacks Fork was a small part of an extensive trade network between white traders and Indians migrating from the eastern United States.
The first recorded evidence of Native Americans in the Ozarks began with the Spanish exploration of Hernando de Soto. In 1541, when De Soto's army crossed the Mississippi River, it found well established agricultural societies in northern Arkansas and southeast Missouri. Fear and violence characterized the first meeting of the cultures. The Spanish encountered the people of Pacaha near the Mississippi River and overran their village. The Indians quickly succumbed to the mounted, musket-bearing conquistadors and their war dogs and offered the invaders supplies and gifts. After this skirmish, other bands in the region followed the example and sent the invaders supplies and other tokens of friendship. The head of the Casqui, a chiefdom on the St. Francis and Tyronza rivers in Arkansas, tried to establish an alliance with De Soto against the Pacaha and gave the Spaniard his daughter. The rival chief of the Pacaha trumped his adversary by giving De Soto one of his wives, a sister and a third woman of high social status. 
Some sources claim De Soto and his troops marched north, in search of precious ores, up to the town of Coligoa near the headwaters of the St. Francis or Black rivers. Unable to find any riches, they turned around and headed toward the Arkansas River where they camped for the winter before exploring lands to the southwest. The Spanish invaders, despite the violence and disease accompanying them, also left a more positive legacy in their introduction of the horse and hog to North America. Moreover, violence was by no means one-sided, as the Spanish suffered a number of surprise attacks from the Indians. Fighting and disease killed approximately one half of the 620 members of De Soto's army. 
French explorers, traveling in small groups during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, made a more significant contact with the Missouri Indians and left a more detailed record of these Native Americans. The tribes most common to Missouri descended from the Siouian linguistic group. They included the Osage, Kansas, Ponca, and Mahas (or Omahas) who for years lived near the mouth of the Missouri River. Yet they had moved west by the time the French traders entered the area. After 1763, when the Spanish controlled Missouri following the French and Indian War, the commander at St. Louis reported the Osage, Missouri, Otoes, and Mahas inhabited the Missouri River district. Many of these tribes received gifts and annuities from the Spanish government and established a regular trade with the Europeans at St. Louis. 
The Osage nation dominated much of the territory south of the Missouri River. They claimed to control an area from the Missouri River south to the Arkansas River and from within the present day state of Kansas east to the Mississippi River. Three separate societies of Osage, the Great Osage, the Little Osage, and the Arkansas Osage, existed at the time of their first encounters with white explorers. In 1673, while exploring the Mississippi River valley, Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet located Osage villages up the Missouri River. More than 130 years later, an American expedition led by Zebulon Pike identified the principal town of the Great Osage on the headwaters of the Little Osage River in southwestern Missouri and, a few miles south, the Little Osage occupied a village. The Arkansas Osage were centered about sixty miles from the mouth of the Verdigris River. The tribes led a semi-sedentary existence; they occupied permanent villages but traveled to various hunting grounds throughout the year. The hunting trips extended across Missouri and into the surrounding states, as the Osage went west after buffalo and south and east for deer and bear. These hunting expeditions routinely crossed into the eastern Ozarks. In 1818, Henry Schoolcraft discovered an empty Osage hut just west of Potosi in southeast Missouri. Ten years earlier, the Osage had ceded to the United States their claim to the eastern three-fourths of Missouri; however they continued to hunt and trade in the region. Fear of the Osage among settlers south of the Current River prevented Schoolcraft from obtaining a guide to lead him southwest into the Arkansas region. 
While frequently hostile to white settlers, the Osage were also in a perpetual state of war with a number of Indian nations. For decades, they waged an ongoing conflict with the Sac and Fox to the north, the Pawnee to the west, and the Caddo to the south. In the early nineteenth century, they frequently engaged Cherokees and other tribes migrating across southern Missouri and northern Arkansas from the east. These conflicts heightened after the Cherokee population on the lower Arkansas River, a favorite hunting ground of the Osage, rose to approximately three thousand after the War of 1812. The Indian wars continued with few interruptions until the Osage ceded their land, totaling forty-five thousand square miles in Missouri and Arkansas, to the United States in the Treaty of 1825. They agreed to settle on a reservation along the Neosho and Verdigris rivers twenty-five miles west of the Missouri state line. Facing few alternatives, the Osage accepted the unfavorable treaty because of mounting war casualties and, most importantly, because of their growing impoverishment. Like other Indian nations in contact with the westward-moving whites, the Osage had become dependent on an intercultural trade network with the Americans and on annual annuity payments from the federal government. The United States reduced or withheld the annuity payments and paid the money for damages in suits brought by white settlers and other tribes against the Osage. The loss of funds left the Osage destitute. 
A regular trade between the Osage and whites began soon after the early contact between the two and represented a common pattern of exchange between the cultures on the frontier. Despite their often hostile treatment of white settlers, the Osage early developed a relative amiable relationship with the roving French trappers and traders in the early eighteenth century. It was common for French traders to marry into the Osage tribe, which enhanced the business connections. As a result of the trade, the Indians received guns, ammunition, blankets, and other goods. Their dependence on trade with whites continued after the Spanish won the southern Louisiana territory from the French, and in 1769 the Osage were among the nations receiving gifts from Spain. The Osage, however, as allies with the French, were hostile toward the Spanish, and Spain outlawed trade with them in 1780. Reflecting a growing dependence on white manufactured goods, the Indians simply redirected their trade to the Americans east of the Mississippi.  The trade continued and precipitated the loss of the Osage's independence.
A major trade route of the Osage to St. Louis crossed the lower Current River in Ripley County. It was part of a circular route that began from the main villages of the Great and Little Osage near the Little Osage River. On their annual hunting expeditions, the Osage frequently followed a trail south to the Verdigris and Red rivers in the Oklahoma and Arkansas territories. From here, the hunting parties headed east and connected with the Vincennes-Natchitoches trail that they followed northeast, through southeastern Missouri and up to St. Louis. They hunted along the way, including in the southern Current River basin, and traded their furs for goods in the city.  By the early 1800s, and after the Osage gave up their Missouri and Arkansas hunting grounds, eastern tribes, the Cherokee, Delaware, and Shawnee, dominated the white traders lucrative Ozark trade network until approximately 1830. 
Three periods of migration mark the westward movement of the Cherokee, Delaware, and Shawnee: (1) the years of Spanish colonization after 1763; (2) the years of American ascension after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803; and (3) the years following the War of 1812 up to the Cherokee "Trail of Tears" of 1837. The Spanish solicited eastern tribes to move west of the Mississippi to buffer the white settlements from the hostile Osage and other western tribes. These Indian groups also crossed the Mississippi to profit from the growing commerce in furs and foodstuffs. They found an expanding market for their surplus animal products and food crops among the white settlements and travelers on the Mississippi River. Along with these factors pulling them west, the eastern Indian nations were being pushed by the increasing white settlements on the American side of the Mississippi. In 1765, the Kickapoo crossed the river and settled west of St. Louis; in 1784, Shawnee and Delaware had villages around the Cape Girardeau area of southeast Missouri; and in 1785 a group of Cherokee arrived on the St. Francis and White rivers after the Treaty of Hopwell. After the turn of the nineteenth century, the Spanish convinced two thousand Cherokees to move to the Arkansas Ozarks.  The presence of the Shawnee and Delaware had a greater significance in the history of the southeast Missouri Ozarks, including the Current River basin, than had the Cherokee.
Large land grants awarded by the Spanish government to two experienced Indian agents stimulated the influx of several thousand Shawnee and Delaware into the Missouri Ozarks during the 1780s. Following the American Revolution, Pierre Louis Lorimer briefly settled in the Ste. Genevieve district. A French-Canadian, Lorimer was an Indian interpreter for the British during the war and, after the colonists' victory, he found it advantageous to leave the American states. He soon moved to the Cape Girardeau district where the Spanish appointed him as an Indian agent. Lorimer had a wife of mixed Shawnee and French ancestry, and he had a history of contact with many Shawnee and Delaware before his arrival in Missouri. Ambitious to resume a lucrative trade, he convinced a group of Shawnee and Delaware to come to the Cape Girardeau area. The Spanish government supported his business ventures by granting him two large tracts of land and also by awarding land grants in the Apple Creek watershed to 1,200 Shawnee and 600 Delaware.  Within a few years of their arrival, the Shawnee and Delaware established three villages between Cape Girardeau and Ste. Genevieve. They cleared and fenced in fields to protect them from animals much like the white American settlers. 
Spanish officials also provided a large tract of land for the New Madrid colonial enterprise that attracted large numbers of eastern Algonquin Indians to enter southeast Missouri. George Morgan, a Philadelphia land speculator, planned a colony with initial Spanish approval about twelve miles below the mouth of the Ohio. Although settlers began to arrive, Morgan's role in the venture ended after the Spanish decided his loyalty to the American states was contrary to Spain's colonial interests. Morgan also lost interest in the project after a great flood, in 1790, inundated most of New Madrid. Yet the settlement of the New Madrid area continued and expanded the southeast Missouri frontier trade network and, in turn, attracted more Delaware and Shawnee. The Algonquin people eventually moved into the St. Francis River area where they raised livestock and crops. They also hunted to furnish bear oil and furs to the river trade revolving around New Madrid, Little Prairie, and Point Pleasant. 
The United States assumed control of the area soon to become the Missouri territory after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. American pioneers marked the new period by moving west of the Mississippi in larger numbers and hostilities increased between the Osage and immigrant bands of Cherokee, Shawnee, and Delaware from 1805 to 1808. The federal government adopted an Indian pacification policy that initially resulted in the signing of the Osage Treaty of 1808. Treaty negotiator and fur trader Pierre Chouteau impressed upon the Osage the vast power of the Americans and convinced them to sell their claim to most of their Missouri land. Louisiana Territory Governor Meriwether Lewis said that "the land was needed for white hunters and intimately friendly Indians." 
Amiable relations between the Delaware and Shawnee and white settlers apparently existed around Apple Creek in southeast Missouri. Pioneer family reminiscences recount incidents of Indian and white children playing together and tell of horse racing events and festivals involving the two cultures. Moreover, intercultural marriages commonly occurred during the early decades of the nineteenth century and seeded Ozarks culture with an Indian heritage. During the War of 1812, the overall relations soured as the Shawnee, Delaware, and Creek bands east of the Mississippi sided with the British. 
Conflict between Indians and whites in the western and southern states had repercussions in the Missouri territory. In Indiana, preceding the war, the rise of Tecumseh sparked an Indian war. Tecumseh and his brother, the Prophet, descending from a mixed Shawnee and Creek union, tried to consolidate the Indian nations to stop the persistent treaty concessions. United States regular troops and Indiana militia eventually overpowered Tecumseh and the other bands that sided with the British in the War of 1812. The uprising, which Tecumseh led from the Shawnee homelands in Indiana, sparked tensions between the American and the Shawnee and Delaware settlers in southeast Missouri. After the war these tribes began moving west and southwest as both white settlers and more eastern Indians pushed west. 
Leaving eastern Missouri, the Shawnee and a few Delaware concentrated in the upper and lower Gasconade valley while larger groups of Delaware went to the James River valley and northern Arkansas. The James River became the principal reservation for the Delaware nation during the 1820s. The head chief of the Delaware, William Anderson (who had an American father and Delaware mother), arrived on the James in 1822. By this time, Chief Anderson had lived all of his life among whites and had grown dependent on annuities from the United States government and white traders. Over his long life, he negotiated with the American government over the removal of the Delaware from Ohio and Indiana through the 1795 treaty at Greenville and the 1818 treaty at St. Marys respectively. The latter treaty awarded the entire Delaware nation a yearly payment of $4,000; the cash annuity then attracted white traders to follow the Indians across Missouri. 
It was during this third period of Delaware and Shawnee migration through Missouri, 1812-1837, that some Delaware established villages for a short time on the Jacks Fork River southwest of present day Eminence. In the years 1815-1822, the Delaware lived and hunted the Upper Current River basin and participated in the Ozark Indian trade network. Chief William Anderson, while on his way to the James River reservation, camped at the Jacks Fork village in 1821-1822. The Delaware complained to federal authorities of horse thieves in the area. During the chief's brief stay here, American trader William Gillis made one of his early field contacts with Anderson's Delaware. At the time, Gillis was a partner of the powerful Menard-Valle interests of Ste. Genevieve; however, he befriended Chief Anderson and then established his own trading post near the James River after Anderson's arrival on the reservation. Capitalizing on the relationship, Gillis married a Delaware woman and grew wealthy from the Indian trade. 
The principal westward Indian trade route across the Ozarks, however, passed north of the Current River basin. It began at Ste. Genevieve and went through Farmington and the location of present day Steeleville; it then turned southwest along the "great interior highway," passing through the modern sites of Waynesville and Marshfield and from there down the James River valley to the Delaware reservation. By the third decade of the nineteenth century, St. Louis replaced Ste. Genevieve as the leading shipping point to the west. Yet William Gillis and his associate, Joseph Philibert, marketed their trade goods in the Arkansas, White, Black, St. Francis, and a number of other Missouri and Arkansas river valleys. In addition, historian Lynn Morrow, who has widely researched the Delaware trade and migration through Missouri, noted that Gillis and Philibert "occasionally rendezvoused at Hicks Ferry on Current River and then followed the Natchitoches Trace into the Black and St. Francois River valleys." Here, in the southeast Missouri Ozarks, they dealt with the Shawnee, Delaware, and Creek who had remained in the area. 
By the 1830s, most of the Delaware and Shawnee had departed the Ozarks, but they left a lasting mark on the Current River and Missouri Ozarks. The federal government removed Chief Anderson and many of his band to a reservation in the Kansas territory in the years 1829-1831. This largely ended, except for small wandering groups, periodic Delaware hunting trips to the eastern Ozarks. Yet Delaware and Shawnee place names are the most visible reminder of their early nineteenth century presence in the Current River valley. Just a few miles west and southwest of Eminence, a small community and a township are named Delaware. Shawnee and Little Shawnee creeks, flowing northward into Jacks Fork a little east of Eminence, recount this tribe's contact with the area; however, little information is available about the Shawnee activities. More Shawnee might have passed through the Ozarks after the Delaware left because many had not given up their Ohio homelands until the early 1830s. 
A Delaware and Shawnee blood line in portions of the Ozark population and an illusive archeological record represent less visible remnants of the eastern Indians' presence. Historical maps and other literary sources report at least ten Indian camps and villages in the Current River valley during the first decades of the nineteenth century. While half of these were associated with the Shawnee, they also include Delaware, Cherokee, and Choctaw bands. Most, but not all, were reported near the Jacks Fork River.  Archeological surveys in the mid-1980s, however, have not located any archeological evidence of these sites although local artifact collections include arrow points and "unusual" gun flints, unlike those found on American eastern Ozark sites. The vague site locations of the primary and secondary literature provided little help in the archeological search. 
Last Updated: 02-Mar-2005