Osceola - Surviving All
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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
Indians when the United States government took control of the
Louisiana Purchase in 1804 -- territory previously held by the French and
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.
Missouri, Kathy Weiser,
In 1808 and 1825, the Osage had been
convinced to sign treaties with the government, giving up all of
Missouri and parts of
Oklahoma. In 1872, they traded their remaining
lands for the present reservation in
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
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.
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
The Osage River from Harper's Weekly.
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
Missouriwere actively fighting against "free-staters” in newly developed
Territory as to whether the state would join the union as a free or
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
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
had heard that Confederate supplies and money were being held there.
The Sacking of Osceola
Battle of Wilson's Creek,
August 10, 1861, the Union army retreated, leaving the Kansas border
exposed. To combat this, General James H. Lane organized his men led them
into action against Confederate general, Sterling Price, in the
Battle of Dry Wood Creek
on September 2, 1861. Though, his troops lost the battle, Lane continued
on, fighting and pillaging in the towns of Paninsville, Butler,
Harrisonville, and Clinton,
before he finally came to Osceola on September 23, 1861. At that time,
Osceola was a prosperous town of over 2,000 people, though the vast
majority of its able-bodied men were off to war.
After exchanging a few shots with some Confederates on the outskirts of
entered the settlement with two pieces of large
artillery and immediately began to ransack it, starting with the bank.
After blowing open the safe, they were disappointed to find no money
there, but only a few documents. Allegedly, the citizens of
having heard of the incoming soldiers, had hidden the money before their
Sentries were posted at the town entry points to stop any help from
approaching and anyone daring to do so, was fired on immediately.
Lane ordered his men to pillage and
burn the entire town. The courthouse was broken open and the county
records destroyed, stores and private homes were pillaged and torched, and
buildings were bombarded with cannon balls. It was not long before the
city was a smoking mass of ruins.
If this was not enough of an atrocity, twelve men were given a farcical
trial and shot on the town square. These men, who had tried to defend the
town, were "convicted” of treason and condemned to death by firing squad,
Lane himself took part. Amazingly, three of them would survive,
not aware of this or he probably would have returned to kill them.
men brought their frenzy of pillaging and murder to a close by
celebrated by getting drunk, so much so,
that according to reports, many of the men were unable to march when it
came time to leave many and had to ride in wagons and carriages. With
them, they took their plunder including
Lane's personal share, which
included a piano and a quantity of silk dresses. The troops then continued
to Kansas City,
settlement suffered more than $1,000,000 worth of damage including that
belonging to pro-Union citizens.
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