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Van Burkleo Family History

The following narrative forms a part of the Van Burkleo saga. It illustrates the hardships and stresses of life in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries on the frontier.



EDITED BY JEAN FIELDS of Lindenwood College.


In 1854 William Van Burkleo sat down to write the story of his
adventures on the Kentucky and Missouri frontiers in his own remarkable style.
He was 74 Years old.
He couldn't spell or punctuate and he had probably never heard of a
paragraph. It didn't matter. His vivid, direct, detailed style brought to life
a period in St. Charles history when Indian raiding parties struck without
warning at isolated cabins. Settlers dared not venture out alone for fear of
ambush. Tension and fear, fueled by rumors, swirled through the settlements.
Often the rumors were true.
There was never a major Indian battle in St. Charles county, but from
1808 until 1816, more than six months after the end of the War of 1812, small
raiding parties struck from one end of the county to the other. In 1812 more
than 400 Indians crossed the Mississippi and landed near Portage Des Sioux
where they broke up into raiding parties. Citizens were killed, horses stolen
or shot and property destroyed. Over the next four years the pattern remained
the same - raiding parties slipped into the county, like modern day terrorists,
and terrified the countryside.
So many horses were stolen or shot that settlers sometimes found it
difficult to plant crops. In the Boone's Lick Country, settlers were still short
of horses in 1817.
This is the past that William Van Burkleo brings so vividly to life in
his narrative. To assist readers, I have inserted periods at the end of
sentences and broken the narrative into paragraphs. I have not tampered with
Mr. Van Burkleo's spelling or syntax.


A small sketch of my life and of anchent times from 1794, at which time I was
10 years old. I was born in the state of Dilawar, Kent Co., in June 11, 1784,
and when I was abought 4 years old my father moved to the Monanghalah where he
stayed two years and then moved to Kentucky in the hotest Indian times. 3
famileys of us imbarked in a flat boat for Limestone, which is now in Mason
county--Kantuky--when we arrived their I saw the first Indian barbarity--their
was three flat boats just landed which started a day before we did had bin
delayed by a large number of Indian konoes, the boats were well made, the atact
was mad in the night, the Indians atemted to land the boats but was bravely
resisted by all in the boats, men women and children, they fought with guns
axes knives and the Indians after a long fight and los of a grate meny men
retreated and boats floted on til they came to Limestone where they got help to
land--they had just landed when we got their, the scene was so alarming that I
never will forget it--I think there was about 60 soles big and little amungst
which their was but one man and two women that was not killed or wounded, my
father went onboard the boats and I went with him and of all the hored
(horrid) sits I have ever witnessed it was the worst, some dead and some dying
some crying some moaning, their was horses cattle and people laying dead all
over the boats.(1)

We then moved abought 12 miles on the waters of Licking to Miles
station where times was prity warm, the first night we got their the indians
stole all our horses from the wagons which was in a few steps of us and so
when the time while we stay in Kantuckey, on the first sunday morning after we
got to the station a young man went out to get his hors, the Indians had tied
the hors in the brush -- with he bell open, killed the young man and skelped
him in site of the block house, we stayed there and lived on wild meet and
homney or bread pound in a morter ontil the war was over, the year that wane
(Wayne) whipped the indians my father voluntiered and went to Ohio, and join
the armey as a spie and as soon as wane last battle (2) was over he returned
home which was the first indian skelp i ever saw, he brought 2 or 3 skelps and
a tomahauk, some other trinkets which was a grate lost in the station, he then
moved to Ohio.

We arrived at sensanata (Cincinnati) a few days after wanes trety
(treaty) with the Indiens, sensanata was a smawl village, we remained their
ontil the fawl 1798 when old david dust (3) of dust bottom returned hom from
this countrey on viset to se his brother who was taken prisner by the indiens
and brought such grate news abought the spanish cuntrey. my father fixt up and
we started with his familey in one smawl flat boat and his cattle in a larg
boat but the ohio was so that we could not get along, we then turnd the cattle
out on the Indien side and drove them along the bank and lay with the boat that
had the famely every night which was very bad, the bufalow and bar often skerd
the stock and gave us mutch troble, we got to the 6 mile iland which was 6
miles above Louisville last of november whare we put up for the winter, we
wintered finely, game was plenty as soon as the ice broke he bought a flat boat
and put the cattle abord and set out again and floted on finely tel we came to
Ft. Massac whare their was a garason of soldiers, their we had to stop and git
a passport, we then floated on til we got to the mouth of ohio whare we stoped
to kill bar meat to do us thru the summer intending to make a perogue to come
up in but axadently their was a keele boat come along going to the solen after
salt, we got the famley in that and crossed the cattle over the mississippi
into the flat boat and drove them up the mississippi through swamps and marshes
which was a seveir job I waded maney times to my wast through the sipers wees
(cypress weeds) and fawling over them in the water till i was half drounded
ontill we got to Cape Gerado (Cape Girardeau) which was the first settlement we
found their was laramore (4) which was an Indien chief and a spanish comident
(commandant), when we got their we had (not) eat aney thing for 2 days, he gave
us some homney and drey venison which was grate nurishment, we then drove on
through the shone (shawnee) and dilawar towns whare we found a grate deal of
freindship, they gave us dry venison to last us
misear (Missouri?) as was coled (called) then which is whare we found
the famley, father rented a hous for the summer, picked out his in bobveeta
(Bois Brule) bottom, move to it in the fawl and became nabors to the Indiens
for their own town was onley 4 miles from us, he became so dissatisfied that he
determined to leave the cuntry and sold out intending to git it all in salt and
take it to Nashville, salt was worth 4 dollars a bushel then in tenesee
(Tennessee) and intended buying cotten and taking it up the ohio, he moved
to the salenes (salines) to collect it, he their got his debts all turned over
to spencers and left, have books they was carying on the saltworks (5), he
stayed their a year trying to collect it and the brook and he lost it all but
abought hundred bushels
he then moved to St. Charles which was called petit coat (Petite Cotes)
(6) and stayed their 1 year, being still dissatisfied took what he had in salt
and went to tenesee sold it for cotten and started up the ohio, I was going on
14 years old, he gave me a chois to go with him or come back heir, I thought it
best to come back heir, I got back abought the last of September when I got to
St. Charles their was 2 men by the name of Gardner that was fiting out for an
expedition up the Missosuri traping, I joined them and went along, we went
abought 5 hundred miles up the misssouri and when we got amongst the hostil
Indiens their I larned my first lesson abought Indiens, we ware in a konoe and
had to dodg from side to side of the river to keep out of their way, sometimes
we would slip up some of the smawl rivers where he was afraid to shoot and then
we would live on bever meet, when their was plenty of buflow and dier all
around us, we was 7 monts that we saw no whit man nor had nether bread nor
salt--in the spring we come down to the river,...we met 2 hunters abought the
last of may, we come down to make arrangements to start up againe the next fawl
but when I got to St.Charles their was a man awaiting for me with tidings from
my mother that father was dead and she wished me to come to her assistence.
I started, the young man and myself, in a bark kono which I brought
down with me we went to the mouth of ohio in it then walked up the ohio killing
our meet as we went till we got to the volking cave on ohio where I found my
mother with 7 children, I then bought a large perouge and heired 2 young men
and started back and before we got to the mouth of the ohio 2 of my little
brothers died but we come on taking us pirty ni all sumer to git to Portage de
Soux. I stayed with her til (she) maried old Mr. Gatey and sens that time I
have bin strugling for myself
in 1811 I was maryed, I then bought 100 arpents of land at 1 dollar por
arpeent, it join hisen and Overall, on the point, I paid for it with 200
bushels of corn the next fawl, I was in debt to old James Mongon 25 dollars for
my wedding sute which consisted of a hat, coat shirt and pants of a cheap
quality which I paid for the same fawl in venson and peltry,then said I to my
wife we are out of debt and got a good peas of land, I ask no odds of the
I then worked on at home and abroad having good luck ontil the fawl
1812 when the Indien war broke out, when my good luck turned to bad luck. some
time abought the first of October in the night I was warned to be at Portage
de Soux the next morning by sun up armed and aquipt for their was a grate bodey
of indiens at the south of alinois (7), i started before day next morning and
was their by daylight, the company met and was mustered by Capt. Samuel Grifeth
(8) and was ordered up the mississippi near the mouth of alinois whare we stood
gard that day and night and the next day with thought aney thing to eate except
a few apples we got at portague (Portage des Sioux), in the evening we was
cawled in and sent home after provisions to return next morning
That was good luck for me, if it had not bin so my famley wold have all bin
murdered for the Indiens atacted my hous that night they fired a platoon in the
bed whare my wife and myself was asleep, broke my wife's leg and hit me with 7
buck shot in my thi which awoke me, I new what was up and sprung to my gun
which was hanging in the rack over the head of my bed but just as I got my gun
from the rack one stept into the house, my wife said, pointed his gun at me and
fired and sprung out of the hous, the powther burnt me and blinded me so that I
never got to see them for they doged round the hous, the bawl hit me in the hip
but I did not fawl, I got behind the foot of the bed that stood behind the dore
intending to mak the best fight I cold, I set waiting for them to brake in for
some time with my gun cocked in my hand and my bucher knife in my mouth, I
haled them but no answer, I spoke in french and in indien and told them to come
in but they made no answer. I told my little brother in law who was setting at
my back to shut the doer which he did, at that moment they attempted to burst
the back dore, I got their as soon as I cold but held it too til the boy
secured it, I then by help of the boy and a hand ladder that was in the house
got up in the loft where I opened holes that I could see out but never got site
of them, they found out I was there and left
I lay their all night and watched with grate difficulty, when I wold
rase up to lock out I wold faint before I cold ly down, my wife lying below
bleeding but never moned (moaned), she told me that her leg was brook, when day
light came the boy tuck a hors and went for assistence which came as soon as
possible, we was taken to St.Louis County to her brother Doctor Fallises (9)
whare we stayed til the next spring, I got so that I cold walk with croches, I
then came back to The Point to Squier Ayrses for my house was burned down a few
nights after we was shot, they burned down my house with everything we had and
from that my fence tuck fire and burned one hole string of it and I los my hole
crop which was 30 acres of corn and all my truck, they shot one hors and stole
two, I then moved whare I now liv and was determined to see them out, I mad
strong dors and made port holes all around the house but they never tryed me
agane but then they had the fight at Sinque Hole (10) I cold heir the guns so
plane I expected it would be my turn next and when they killed Dreling (11) in
Gore Sealy's (12) yard standing talking to Sealy in the dore, they fired 21
guns at the dore, Saley shut the dore and got his gun, they come runing from
the brush, some stoped to skep Reling and the rest come runing to burst the
dore, when they got in a few feet of the dor George was at a port hole and let
the foremost one have it, he fell with his head aganst the dore step, several
of them gathered him and packed him off, and they left their....
2 rangers stayed their that night but had no guns, one of them had just
steped out on his buisness and had just returned and set down as he saw a
indien sliping on him, he sprung with his britches in his hand, at that moment
the guns all fired and indien tuck after him but soon lost site of him, Charley
run to Whits fort (13) which was 2 miles from their that gathered abought 10 or
12 men and put out for Sealy's. before they got their, they saw the indiens in
the prare careing the dead indien, they hirled (hurried) on to the hous, found
Saely unharmed but David Realing killed and skelped, they amediately persued to
the bank of Quiver whare the indiens tuck water.
Realing was a ranger, he had his gun brok in a battle and was to home
doctring it, the next was Elick Sensor near Kooks spring, he was a hors
hunting, the indiens was in ambush, shot him off of his hors and skelped him,
he was a fine young man
I never was able to do moliti (military) duty agane but had maney
skouts after them in the settlement, governer Clark sent me 3 men to stay with
me all the time and my brother in law stayed, all brave fellows, we made it a
rule to never open the dore til sun up then we wold skout round a little to see
if thare was aney sins (signs), one morning we found a trale in the weeds so
fresh that the dew wass nocked off the weeds, apeared to be 10 or 12 of them
abought a half mile back to a smawl prara, I went abought 50 yds ahed on the
trale, the rest followed each on abought 25 steps behind an nother so that they
cold not git mutch advantage of us, I went abought 100 yds and then I
discovered a smawl pach of trash, I bakned to the boys to stop when I got to
the little pach, I bakened to them to come on, the indiens had stoped thare and
had bin eating lying down, they had bent the rushes and vines together, mad a
sort of blind, we then followed them acrosss the little prara into the brush,
we then turned back, I rased some men and porsued them but they scattered and
we cold not find them, we had many such chases as that, have run them several
times til they tuk weater, for the river was all over the prara in 1815.
I will say something about the battles and defeats the time that Capt.
James Callaway rased a company and porsued them, he was a corages and
unexperenced fellow rushed along without a spy and whare they come near the
narrows on luter (Loutre Creek) whare the bluf come close to the bank, old
Capt. Wm. Ramsey (14) proposed to go up the bluf and go round, he said thar was
danger in following thru the pas, Callaway laaughed at him and told him he was
a coward, Ramsey was a old expranced indien fighter, said he you may cawl me
what you pleas, I shall go round and before he went near enough to ascertain
the hole fact they made their retreat with the nuse that Callaway was defeated,
they fought to the last but the indiens kiled, defeated them all
Capt.Ramsey's battle on the mississippe neaar the mouth of Salt River,
he com on a boddy of (indiens) camped on the bank the river, he sent his
brother Allen Ramsey and three other men as spies, they crawled so neare up
behind them, threw the glass sprung to his-- Allen Ramsey being fore most shot
him, the spies treed themselves and fought some time til their was several
killed and in both sides til at length the indiens retrated one by one slipping
under the bank of the river, Ramsey left at the same time knowing that their
was a large boddy of indiens neare on their way home near the buflow lick, the
indiens waylade the trace, fired on them and they had a hot battle there,
several kiled and on both sides so got in tuck more men went back to take care
of the dead and wounded
the time of the battle at the Sinque Hole the indiens attacted Fort
Houward by fiering on some men that went out of the fort to a old huse that was
near, they laying the brush by the road side as the men was on their return to
the fort over a slue of backwater whar the men had their conoe in site of the
fort, the indiens fired on the fort from a nother quarter, Capt. Crage leaving
a few men in the fort raleted on them whare the killing the boys but haveing to
go round the slue the indiens retrated to the brush, Crage soon over tuck them
abought the same number that atact the boys, they fired and run and in a short
distance their armey was placed they fired, kiled Capt. Crage as he was
foremost and wounded several more they retrated and fought back ontil they come
to the mout (mouth) of a holo (hollow) that heads near the sinque hole,
Leutenent Spere tuck commaand of the men, porsued them, the indiens got across
the holo on the hill side whare they had the advantage of the ground, their
they made a stand, Spears rushed on them, they kept retreating up the holow til
at length Spears got on the other hill side, their they fought for some 2 or 3
hours ontil Capt. D. Musac (15) got thare with a part of his men, after some
time the indiens began to scatter and finly retreated and the wounded and such
as cold not make their ascape run into the sink hole, Spears attempted to
charge on them but they were so well conceled that he found he cold do nothing
with them after making meney attempts and had several men kiled and wounded,
they sent and got a pare of cart wheels and made a battry on them aganst, they
got that done, it was getting dark, Musick tuck a part of them men and went
round the sink hole on one side and Spears on the other side and the battry was
to move down at the same time, Spears rushed to fast, was shot in the head, old
saint Scott shot the indien in the headd at the same moment, it was dark and
they left-- when they went back the next morning the indiens had put the dead
indien on Spears, had cut off sparer's head, from the sins (signs) the indiens
had fixt the sink hole for that perpose, had dug with their tomahaks so they
could hide, their was a great deal of blood their.

(Written) The first day of June 1854

Historical notes:

1.) This incident occurred in 1792. Thirty seven men, women, and children died
in this attack. During the 1790's the Shawnees became masters at attacking
flatboats. One method was to dress a shawnee in the clothes of a captive and
have him hail the boats from shore. The decoy would cry out, "Help me, I'm
white, I escaped from the Indians!" If the boats came close enough, the shawnee
leaped from the bushes and swarmed them. If the settlers were suspicious, the
Indians kept 20 man canoes hidden in the bush ready to launch in seconds.
Hundreds of settllers were killed in such attacks.

2.) President Washington named Major General (Mad) Anthony Wayne Commandant of
the army and placed him in charge of the Indian wars. Wayne defeated the
Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers on August 20, 1794. Mr. Van Burkleo's
father was probably a member of the Kentucky Volunteers who were present at the

3.) David Darst was born in Shenandoah County, Virginia, on December 17, 1757
and died in St. Charles County, Misssouri December 2 1826. A veteran of the
Revolutionary War, Darst settled in Kentucky in 1784 with his wife and seven
children. He settled Darst's bottom, near Defiance, in 1798. Evidently Darst
returned briefly to Kentucky after locating his claim.

4.) Laramore was Louis Lorimore, a French Canadian, who settled Cape Girardeau
in 1793 with a band of Shawnee and Delaware Indians. The Spanish hoped to use
the group as protection against the hostile Osage. Lorimore had lived with the
Indians so long that he was easily mistaken for one. The settlement quickly
attracted American settlers and by 1796 it was the first predominantly American
settlement in Upper Louisiana.

5.) Parts of this passage are confusing. All sales in Upper Louisiana were
conducted by bartering goods, usually furs, because money was very scarce. Mr.
Van Burkleo's father accepted salt in payment for his land, intending to ship
it to the United States for sale. He went to the Salines to pick up the salt
but something happened to prevent it. It is difficult to determine exactly what
happened. It is possible that Mr. Van Burkleo's creditors attached the salt.

6.) Le Petite Cotes or Little Hills was the original name of St. Charles. The
tiny French village was built at the foot of several low hills.

7.) If Mr. Van Burkleo's estimate of the date is correct, his cabin was
attacked on September 23rd.

8.) Captain Samuel Griffith was a Revolutionary War veteran who settled near
Portage des Sioux in 1795.

9.) The Fallis family came from Virginia and settled in Upper Louisiana before
1798. Dr. George Fallis was a major land speculator as well as a physician.

10.) The Battle of the Sink Hole occurred on May 24, 1815 near Fort Howard. A
band of Black Hawk's men discovered a group of men from the fort in a boat near
shore and killed four of them on the first volley. Rangers from the fort heard
the shots and came to the support of the survivors. The Indians retreated to
the Sink Hole, a deep depression in the earth, and the battle continued until
dark. Altogether fourteen settlers and rangers were killed or wounded in this
engagement. Five dead indians were discovered in the hole; the rest escaped.

11.) Dreling was David Reeland.

12.) Gore Sealy was George Keely.

13.) White's Fort was on Dog or Big Prarie. Many of these forts were merely
isolated family homes strengthened to offer protection aggainst Indian raids.
If a number of families settled in an area, several cabins connected by
stockades were built. St. Charles built a stockade in 1808 enclosing two acres
at the foot of First Capital Street. It was built of split logs buried
vertically in the earth. Horses and domestic animals may have been driven into
the stocade at night to protect them from the Indians as livestock losses
became quite heavy as the war progressed. Needlesss to say, the stockade also
provided protection for settlers in the event of an attack on St. Charles.

14.) Captain William Ramsay and his brother Robert settled claims northwest of
Marthasville in 1800. William commanded one of the ranger companies patrolling
the county. On May 20 1815 an indian raiding party struck Robert Ramsay's farm
killing his wife and three of his children. Robert Ramsay and two of his sons
escaped and made their way to William's farm.

15.) Captain David Musick was a veteran of both the Revolutionary War and the
War of 1812. He was described "as a good officer, a tall, slim man, a
rawboner." He was present at the Battle of the Sink Hole.


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