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Osceola - Surviving All Odds

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A sleepy little town today, with a population of some 850 people, this has not always been the case as the community was on its way to becoming an important port city at one time.


Before the town was founded, the site, situated on the Osage River, was just downstream from the main villages of the Osage Nation and the area was often frequented by the tribe, who had made their home in the area for centuries.


However, things would begin to change for the Osage Indians when the United States government took control of the Louisiana Purchase in 1804 -- territory previously held by the French and Spanish.


Unlike the French who had successfully traded with the Osage, American settlers demanded protection from the Indians, who were known for their skill with both horses and guns.


Osceola, Missouri

Osceola, Missouri, Kathy Weiser, December, 2007.




In 1808 and 1825, the Osage had been convinced to sign treaties with the government, giving up all of present-day Missouri and parts of Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma. In 1872, they traded their remaining Kansas lands for the present reservation in Oklahoma.


As more and more settlers moved into the area, the town that would later be known as Osceola was founded in the mid 1830s. The first house was built in the winter of 1835-36. The logs were cut by Sanders Nance and his slave, Martin, and hauled to the bluff. However, a dispute soon erupted between Nance and a man named Phillip Crow as to whose land it was. Nance backed off and Crow built the house. He was soon joined by a man named Richard P. Crutchfield, and the spring of 1836, the pair opened the first store on the banks of Osage River called the "Crossing of the Osage at Crow and Crutchfield's." 


Crow and Crutchfield were soon joined by the Cox brothers -- Pleasant, Joseph and William, who opened the second store in the settlement.  More and more people continued to come to the area, with James Gardner opening a log tavern, John W. Bridges establishing a blacksmith shop and Pleasant Cox opening a sawmill, all in 1837. The following year, Phillip Crow expanded his business dealings by building a ferry across the Osage River. A post office was also established in 1838.


New settlers continued to come, primarily supported by agriculture, timber, and livestock. In 1839, the town adopted the name of  the famed Seminole Chief and Warrior, Osceola, who had died in South Carolina two years earlier. David Corbin and his son built the first frame building in the town in 1839, which was soon occupied as a tailor shop run by a Frenchman named Ernest Lemming.


On January 29, 1841, St. Clair County was formed from Rives (later Henry) County and named for Arthur St. Clair, a Revolutionary War general. After a bitter contest and numerous debates, Osceola became the county seat in November, 1841, a designation it continues to hold today. 


The first courts of St. Clair County met in homes before a courthouse was built in 1842. The building was a two-story structure, described as having a tin roof, a parapet around its roof line, and plank floors, was situated on the town square.


Osage River, Missouri

The Osage River from Harper's Weekly. 


Beginning in the early 1840's, small steamboats began to ascend the Osage River, making Osceola an important port, as it was situated at the head of the navigatable waters. Acting as a transfer point between the steamboats and wagon trains, sometimes as many as 100 wagons would be lined up to obtain supplies.


In 1848, Osceola gained its first newspaper called the Whig, established by a man named P.C. Davis.


By 1850, the town had grown large enough that the Commercial Hotel was built that was first called the Pollard House and the Union Inn.


By the mid 1850’s western Missouri was suffering from the results of what is known as the Kansas-Missouri Border War. Years before the Civil War began, pro-slavery factions of Missouri were actively fighting against "free-staters” in newly developed Kansas Territory as to whether the state would join the union as a free or slave state.


As a result, warfare developed all along the border counties of both states. These "unofficial soldiers” who fought in the skirmishes in guerilla-type warfare were referred to as Jawhawks or Redlegs on the Kansas side and  Missouri bushwhackers, ruffians or raiders in the "Show Me State.”


When the Civil War officially erupted, Missouri joined the Union side of the conflict but was filled with residents who supported the Confederate cause. Many of those who had emigrated to Osceola were of southern origin and General James H. Lane, a controversial Union leader from Kansas, had heard that Confederate supplies and money were being held there.



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