The water was cold, the air crisp in December 1799. Daniel Boone was 65 years old, and, with his family, once again on the move. Fall had found them leaving their homes in northeast Kentucky for an unsettled territory in present-day Missouri. It was a long journey, but opportunity beckoned. He accepted an invitation from the Spanish government to move to Upper Louisiana, for which he was to receive 850 acres. Attracted by the prospect of good land, the Boones were ready to leave Kentucky behind them. It also was getting crowded in Kentucky; the population was close to 220,000 when he left in the fall of 1799.
In what is now southern St. Charles County near Defiance, Daniel had the benefit of being surrounded by family, plentiful hunting and trapping, and vast wilderness; all of this, a benefit of representing the Spanish government in the Femme Osage District. Never in one place for very long, it’s surprising that Daniel lived in this area longer than any other one place in his life – almost 21 years. After a hero’s welcome when they arrived in St. Louis, Daniel and his family worked their way to the river valley where the Femme Osage runs free until emptying into the Missouri.
What Daniel had earlier said about Kentucky, “Nature here was a series of wonders, and a fund of delight,” could easily be applied to southern St. Charles County. Standing on the banks of the Femme Osage Creek, he would have appreciated the natural beauty all around him. It is not difficult to see what drew the Boones to this region. In fact, if you ever drive to Defiance, Matson, Augusta, or Marthasville, you are in Boone Country. You still can find traces of this remarkable family everywhere; in the road names, in old cemeteries, down back lanes, in the cultural landscape, and in the history of this region.
Today, the most tangible connection to the legendary pioneer can be found by visiting The Historic Daniel Boone Home, part of the St. Charles County Park system. Donated by Lindenwood University in 2016, St. Charles County is the latest in a long line of responsible stewards for the land and the Boone’s story. You can walk where Daniel walked and, like him, appreciate the unspoiled splendor on the property of his youngest son, Nathan. It was in Nathan’s magnificent stone mansion that Daniel spent a majority of his time. In fact, the bedroom on the north side of the house is where Daniel, just shy of his 86th birthday, passed away peacefully in September 1820. It was a busy place back then, in the uncertain and complicated time before statehood, but it was a refuge for the aging pioneer.
Daniel’s story lives on, and still is relevant today. Admission to the park is free, and visitors are encouraged to explore, stand on porches, gaze through windows, and indulge their curiosity. A paid tour of the home provides a more comprehensive glimpse into the lives of the Boones. It is difficult to fully comprehend the complexities of their world, but continuing research helps those of us in the 21st century understand 19th century Missouri.
Walking down the path from the house, where once there was cropland, now stands a collection of historic buildings. Wandering amongst these old buildings, one is struck by the robust log construction, the waviness of the old glass, and the revelation that these buildings were built without power tools. These stout reminders of the past have been dismantled from their original locations and rebuilt on the site. Like the fine wines from the Missouri Valley, all of the buildings are of good vintage, ranging from as early as 1804 to as late as 1865. Visitors find a general store, gristmill, one room school-house, church, blacksmith’s forge, and a carpenter’s shop mixed in with historic homes. It was truly a local economy, where neighbors knew each other and pulled together for the common good. For a broader view of the pioneers in Missouri, visitors can take a guided tour of the “village,” participate in one of the many historic events, and discover for themselves what life was like “back then.”
It is just as quiet today as it was in the 19th century on the banks of the Femme Osage Creek, looking up at the Boone Home from the foot of the park. The creek winds and meanders its way through this valley in its purposeful, but unhurried, the path to the Missouri River. It seems improbable that any place so quiet could be so close to the city. The valley surrounding the park is just as serene now as it was 200 years ago, and to visit is to step back into a quieter pace of life. The park is beautiful in all seasons and rewards repeat visits for the young and young at heart alike. This time of year, one might see deer, wild turkey, or even a bald eagle. For nature lovers, there is always much to behold.
People have been traveling through this valley for thousands of years. The clear water and abundant hunting grounds would have made it desirable for the ancient people who inhabited this valley. The Native Americans, such as the Osage, made good use of this land we now know as Missouri. The French also were here, then the Boones, followed by the Germans. This valley has sustained life; both native and settlers, free and enslaved, for at least a millennium. Visiting The Historic Daniel Boone Home allows visitors the opportunity to literally follow the footsteps of those before us. Some were legendary and larger than life, others less so. But all contributed their stories, making this park the historic landmark it is. Come, blaze a trail of your own, and add your story to this special place.
Learn more at danielboonehome.com, and discover all that St. Charles County Parks have to offer at stccparks.org.
Photos courtesy of The Historic Daniel Boone Home.