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Dec 01

A Look Back with the County Executive: The History of Hunting in St. Charles County

Posted on December 1, 2017 at 9:26 AM by County Executive

Located at the juncture of three major rivers, St. Charles County has long been a “hunting ground” for all who have called the area home.

The ecology of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers varied because of the nature of each river. The Missouri River’s average gradient of one foot per mile enables it to move more sediment. Because it drains a loess-mantled region, it carries high suspensions of loess materials, giving the river its famous muddy color. In its natural state, the Missouri River channel was broad and shallow, with numerous islands and sandbars. Before the 20th century, it was approximately twice its present width, occupying thirty to fifty percent of the width of its floodplain. The Missouri River bottoms had natural lakes or perennial wetlands in St. Charles County, including Marais Croche and Marais Temps Claire. Amos Stoddard reported in 1804 that the extensive bottoms of the Missouri River “are generally covered with wood, and are seldom inundated.” 1       

Describing the Mississippi River floodplain, Rev. Timothy Flint observed, “Between such magnificent outlines, from the foot of the Mamelles, the prairie, in ascending to the north, has a width of five miles, and is seventy miles in length…Two fine islands of woodland, of a circular form, diversify the view.” 2 Its floodplain was wetter than that of the Missouri and a much better habitat for wildlife, causing Flint to record, “In the autumn immense flocks of pelicans, sand-bills, cranes, geese, swans, ducks and all kinds of aquatic fowl, are seen hovering over it.” 3 In his autobiography, Sauk Chief Blackhawk stated, “We always had plenty – our children never cried with hunger, nor our people were never in want.  Here our village had stood for more than a hundred years, during all which time we were the undisputed possessors of the valley of the Mississippi from Ouisconsin (Wisconsin) to the Portage des Sioux, being about seven hundred miles in length.”4 When the Sauk and Fox tribes ceded by treaty a vast area that included St. Charles County, the treaty stated, “As long as the lands that are now ceded to the United States remain their property, the Indians belonging to said tribes, shall enjoy the privilege of living and hunting upon them.” 5 

French settlers hunted the grasslands for bison and other game. Manuel Gayosa De Lemos, visiting San Carlos del Misuri in 1795, stated, “To the rear of San Carlos immense savannahs begin which extend as far as the hunters have penetrated in all directions…” 6 Perrin du Lac explained in 1802, “After St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve, St. Charles is the most important place…the results of the emigration of some families from St. Louis, who being hunters by profession came to reside there, in order to be near a country the most abundant in game.” 7 Many of the French-speakers of St. Charles were involved in the fur trade. A contemporary explained, “Their young men were engaged during the summer in hunting, boating and trading, whilst the old men and boys were left with their families to cultivate the little farms.” 8     

Many of the American settlers who came to St. Charles County were hunters who made their living with the rifle. Nathan Boone, son of Daniel Boone, left St. Charles County in the autumn of 1800 to go hunting south of the Missouri River, and did not return, with meat for his family and skins to sell in St. Louis, until January. Nathan, like his father, was a good hunter, but an indifferent farmer. While profits from the land were meager and required backbreaking work, the woods provided a bounty of skins, furs and meats for anyone willing to endure its hardship and privation.9 Wolves, bears, mountain lions and other predators threatened livestock and the pioneer’s supply of wild game. The first bounty laws on adult wolves and panthers were passed in Missouri in 1816. The County Court paid the bounty hunter two dollars for each adult wolf or panther, and fifty cents for every bobcat, shot within two miles of a settlement.  

Read more, starting on page 4, in “The History of Hunting in St. Charles County” by County Executive Steve Ehlmann."

  1. “The Missouri Reader, Americans in the Valley,” Ed by Ruby Matson Robins, MHR, Vol. 47, January, 1953, 149.
  2. “The Missouri Reader,” 152.
  3. J.C. Holmes, “Early History.”
  4. Donald Mincke, The History of Portage de Sioux Township Missouri, The Land Between the Rivers, (Portage des Sioux: Land Between the Rivers Historical Society 1999), 4.  Blackhawk’s village was on the Rock River in Illinois.
  5. Place Names, Western Manuscript Collection, HSM; Foley, A History of Missouri, 1683-1820, 92; Daniel T. Brown, Westering River, 160; Foley, A History of Missouri, 1683 to 1820, 94; Flynn, St. Peters at its Best, 34.
  6. “A 1795 Inspection of Missouri,” 14.
  7. Missouri: A Guide to the “Show Me” State, compiled by workers of the Writers’ Program of the Works Progress Administration in the State of Missouri.  (American Guide Series, c1941 by the Missouri State Highway Department), 260.
  8. Valley of the Mississippi, edited by Louis Thomas, (St. Louis: Hawthorne Publishing Co., 1841), 42.
  9. R. Douglas Hurt, Nathan Boone and the American Frontier, (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998), 33-34.