Rankin Family History Project
Weekly Perryville Union
Perryville, Missouri, Friday, 12 September 1873
EARLY HISTORY OF PERRY COUNTY
Perry County, Mo., Walnut Grove, one-half mile northwest of Perryville
September 6th, 1873.
MR. EDITOR: Some time since I wrote a short letter on the early reminiscences of Perry county, which you kindly published, and as your valuable paper has a wide circulation, not only in Perry and surrounding counties, but in adjoining States, I desire now to write you another on the same subject.
I then said I came here in the year 1818, when this was Louisiana Territory, and when this summer has closed, I will have heard it thunder fifty-five summers, and seen fifty-five snowy, dreary winters in this county. I wish to say something about the wild horses.
When I first came here they were scattered over the county, and could be found on all the creek and branches, and were called French or Indian ponies. They generally went in herds of ten or twelve mares and one stallion. The stallions were often so old they were gray. They were very jealous, and would keep their gangs away from each other. Then the snort or neigh of the wild horse could be heard almost any where in the woods. They were the only horses in the country except what few were brought here by the emigrants.
Then on all the creeks and branches there were cane brakes, often so thick that a man could only pass through them by parting his way with his hands. It was generally five feet high on the creeks and on the branches three feet high. Stock of nearly all kinds could live in the woods almost all the year round.
When an emigrant came here and wanted a horse, he would either buy or get some expert hands to go in the woods and catch one. If there were any among the wild ones unbranded, they were considered unclaimed and belonged to the first person who captured and branded them. They were very small, and a good span of our horses would pull as much as a dozen of them. If one of them ever got away it had to be ran down and recaptured.
I must say something about the wild horse pen, and the manner of capturing them. The only pen I knew of in this section of the county, was in Ste. Genevieve county, in what is now Dr. Byrne’s farm, near his big gate, on the road leading from Perryville to Ste. Genevieve. It contained about one-quarter of an acre. The place was selected where a large number of trees had been fallen. These trees were staked and ridered and restaked and ridered, so that the horses, when once in, could not escape. Then two wings were erected and extended, which diverged like two arms, right and left, from the pound to the distance of about one-half mile, the extreme ends being one mile apart. When a horse was to be captured, several persons would go out on their fleetest horses, and when they had found a herd of these animals, which was generally on the big Saline, they would start them and one would chase them and the others go back to the pen. They would often chase them in sight of New Bourbon and Ste. Genevieve, then south to little Saline, then down the same to big Saline, making a circle of about twenty miles. Then a new man would start in and would generally make the same circuit. This would be repeated several times until the horses would be so worn out, they cold no longer gallop, then the man chasing would give the signal to the rest, and they would all spread out and drive them into the pen. Then the next thing was to strike a fire, which was generally done with punk, flint and steel, (Lucifer matches being unknown) and the branding irons heated to brand the ones unclaimed. -- The lariat was then thrown around their necks and they were choked down and branded. If they were fit for service they were taken home, if colts, they were turned loose.
One of the best chasers I ever knew was Jeff. Tucker. I shall never forget his lofty bearing on his old stallion Diomedes. He was a half brother to Jas. F. and Frank K. Tucker, who now lives in the western part of this county, and was afterward the husband of Mrs. Herald, who now lives near Chester Landing in Bois Brule Bottom. I have often heard him say he could go any place, on old Diomede[s], a wild horse could. I have known him to follow them up cliff and down cliff, and across the big Saline when he had to swim from bank to bank, and drive them back. He was a fine looking man, large and robust, weighing about 185 pounds. He was very popular, and was sheriff about the years 1835 and 1836.
In my previous letter I spoke some thing of Henry Dodge, who was a manufacturer of salt at the salt works on the big Saline. I wish, in this place, to mention a circumstance that took place with Tom Dodge, a half brother of Henry, if rightly told, would make a sick man laugh.
Tom carried on the business of making salt also, though on a small scale. On one occasion they got out of provisions and the hands had nothing to eat for breakfast. Tom got up early and started out to hunt up some beef cattle, in order to have one butchered for breakfast. After several hours hunting he came back without success, weary, hungry and mad, as a hungry man would be.
Wilford Hagan, a good old farmer, who lived up near the Bishop mill, had a heifer that ran down in the range near the salt works. He got another good old farmer, Clem. Cissell, to go with him to hunt said yearling. They found it, and tied a rope around its head, and was leading it home. --
When they arrived at the salt works, which they had to pass, they halted to rest, and perhaps, for the purpose of getting some salt to take home, and hitched, the yearling to a tree. When Dodge came home and saw the yearling tied, without saying a word, he took his gun and shot it down and told his hands to skin it d----d quick, which they did. Hagan and Cissell were setting near by on a log, but never said a word.
After he got his breakfast, being then in a better humor, he approached Hagan, who lisped in his speech, and said, " Hagan, was that your calf?" He quickly answered, "Yeth, ther." He said, "Hagan do you want some salt?" He said "Yeth ther." "Have you got a sack?" "Yeth ther." -- "Get it." They went in the salt house and Hagan held the sack till Dodge shoveled it full. Dodge said "Have you got another sack?" Hagan said "No, ther, but Clement Thithell has." "Get it!" He shoveled it full also.
Dodge said "Have you got another sack?" "No, ther". Dodge said "Then get home d--n quick and let me hear no more from you. Salt was selling at $1.50 per bushel, and he got $20 worth for his calf, worth $3 or $4. Dodge was a blunt, honest man.
I have often been asked if there were any Buffalo, bears or panthers here when I came. There were no buffalo, but there were places on the Saline creek, about the salty springs, beat and worn down, and I was told by the old settlers it had been done by the buffalo. There were a considerable sprinkle of bears through the country, and they often made depredations on the hogs, and occasionally they were killed by the citizens. There were very few panthers.
There is one circumstance I will mention within my recollection of one of those wild monsters. When I was a boy about fifty years ago, there lived on Cinque Homme creek a good old man by the name of Joseph French whom everybody familiarly called "Uncle Joe." He was the great grandfather of Marion and Charles French who live in the northwest part of the county, and grandfather of Lewis French who lives across the street from your office. He lived near the present residence of Mrs. Callier, the mother of your townsmen, Delphien and Arsan Callier, in the middle of the French settlement where it is nearly as thickly settled as a village for miles around.
Then it was a wild country. Uncle Joe had two coon dogs that almost every night would to out and tree a coon and remain by it till Uncle Joe would to next morning and shoot it. One Sunday morning he heard, as usual, his dogs baying, as he thought, a con. He took his gun, though it was the Sabbath and started to shoot it. When he arrived near the spot he discried [sic] something up in a tree of a red color, which looked as large as a yearling.
On a nearer approach he discovered it was a huge panther. He took deliberate aim and fired. At the crack of the gun it gave a terrific scream and sprang twenty yards backwards out of the tree and fell dead. It is said they never spring forward out of a tree, but always backwards.
He came to Ste. Marys church and related what he had one, and several persons went out to see it. It was seven feet from the tip of its note to the end of its tail. I think old man Jos. Cissell, Sr., Josiah Tucker, Sr., Tom Brewer, Jos. and John Hagan and Jon Brewer remember the circumstances.
I have said the range was very good and stock of all kinds except hogs, could winter in the woods. It was said a man could stand on his door and shoot enough game for his family. It was customary to smoke venison, hams and turkey breasts and use it instead of bacon.
Then our axes were all made by the country blacksmiths, and when an axe or other tools wore out, the owner would go to Ste. Genevieve and buy a piece of steel and take it to the shop and get the smith to re-steel it, and if any was left he would carry it home. When cast steel ax were first introduced, they were considered a wonderful piece of machinery, and created as much talk and comment as the blowing up of a steamboat would in those days.
Mr. Editor, having trespassed already too far, I fear on you columns, I will conclude this letter -- I have been speaking of the animals mostly in this letter; but in my next I will say something of the early settlers and their characters.
Yours, &c. PETER DEAN.
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