Discovery of Fort McMahan

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MCMAHAN FORT

 

Background - Lamine Township was settled about 1810. The first settlers were David Jones, a Revolutionary War soldier; Thomas, Samuel and James McMahan; Stephen, Samuel and Jesse Turley; and Saunders Townsend. Other families soon followed and joined the settlement. The Jones’ settlement also known as McMahan’s settlement was located about midway between Arrow Rock and the Lamine River. During the War of 1812 two fortifications were built for the protection of the 15 families in the settlement. 

 

McMahan’s Fort was described as a “little stockade” and was located on the bluff.  McMahan’s Fort was also sometimes referred to as Anderson’s Fort. William Reed built a smaller blockhouse or fortified cabin that was probably in the nearby river bottoms.  McMahan’s Fort was burned by Sac & Fox Indians in September of 1814.  Reed’s Fort may have suffered the same fate but its location has almost certainly been washed away by the Missouri River.  The inhabitants of both forts had fled to the greater safety of Cooper’s Fort just before they were attacked in 1814.

[Settlers at McMahan Fort Area: Written by William D. Lay 1998.]

At the mouth of the Lamine River is a natural bedrock shoreline that made it easy for docking the flatboats and keel-boats. Workers could toil from the shore line, loading supplies for traveling up and down the river. Among some of these early settlers were the McMahans. The McMahans traveled from their Kentucky homes at the very beginning of organized settlement and became established in what is now the Lamine Township. According to history, these families lived along the south side of the Missouri River just west and north of the Lamine River. 

Samuel McMahan was attacked by hostile Indians and killed on December 24, 1814. One account says he was driving some cattle, another said he was chopping down a bee tree for honey, yet another family tradition said he was drawing water from a spring. This is an example of the difficulty of relying on reminisces made by old pioneers 40 or 50 years after the event occurred. One of Samuel’s sons, Samuel Woodson McMahan, became one of the largest landholders of Cooper County, owned a tract of 1,000 acres that was worked by many slaves.  

William McMahan’s Fort: [Written by William D. Lay 1998].

 

Constructed date - most likely 1812 or after.

 

Location:   On the Missouri, 2 miles North of Lamine River where it empties into the Missouri River, Samuel Cole (Son of Hannah Cole) said the fort was located on the south side of the Missouri River some 5 miles south from Cooper’s Fort. Judge Frederick Hyatt said the fort was located four miles below Arrow Rock on the south side of the Missouri. William Reed, a son-in-law of McMahan had his blockhouse in the east half of the northeast quarter of section 7 township 49 range 18. The fort was thought to be on the hill immediately to the south. Commonly referred to as the Jones Settlement.  (But in later years, no one was sure where the exact location of the fort was).

 

THE ATTACK BY THE INDIANS AS THE SETTLERS WERE ABANDONING THE FORT 

 

Written by William D. Lay 1998.

 

A few weeks before the Dodge force [a military unit to help guard these early forts] got to the Boonslick Area, the settlers learned that the Sauks and Miamis were assembling for an attack on the 14 families on the south bank of the Missouri, about two miles above the Lamine River, and about five miles below Cooper’s Fort. There were too many hostile Indians for those settlers, so they left their homes and started to Cooper’s Fort. They had planned to move the families on the first day then go back the next day to pick up their household goods and livestock. They had hardly gotten the last person on their canoes when the Indians crept up and attacked them as they were leaving. The Indians killed Thomas McMahan but the balance with their families escaped. They were still in their canoes when they looked back and saw the smoke curling up from the fires that the Indians had set to the stockade. This fire consumed all their household goods and clothing, and the Indian took all their horses and cattle.  This was probably done about July 20th of 1814.

Author’s Note:   Cooper’s Fort was a much larger and secured fort. It was located about one mile south of where the town of Petersburg is today, in The Howard County River Bottoms. 

[From History of Cooper County Missouri by W. F. Johnson – 1919]

 

Most of the settlers in the Boonslick Country came from Kentucky and Tennessee where they had earlier experienced conflict with American Indians. The attitude of the settlers towards any Indians whether they were friend or foe ranged from condescension to loathing, fear and outright hatred. 

 

The Indians with which our early settlers had to contend were idle, shiftless, vicious and treacherous. In the presence of the white settlers they were apparently frank, accommodating, and kind, yet they nursed the tradition that the white man was their natural enemy, and would eventually dispossess them of their "happy hunting grounds.

 

Warfare in the Boonslick was not just a matter of wanton “blood lust” by Indians as some have characterized it.  It represented a larger clash of cultures that sometimes manifested itself in bloodshed. The Indians for the most part saw white settlers as trespassers on land they possessed for generations, threatening their livelihood and culture.  For them, the attacks were acts of self-defense. The famous Sac warrior Black Hawk who led raids into Missouri Territory and the Boonslick expressed in 1833 a view many Indians long held towards Americans;

 

I had not discovered one good trait in the character of the Americans that had come to the country.  They made fair promises but never fulfilled them. Whilst the British made but few, but we could always rely on their word…Why did the Great Spirit ever send the whites to this island, to drive us from our homes, and introduce among us poisonous liquors, disease and death? They should have remained upon the island where the Great Spirit first placed them.

 

Casualties in the Boonslick were relatively light during the war.  Only about dozen or so whites were killed and possibly a similar number of Indians.  Numbers of wounded on both sides may have been the same. Lindsey Carson, the father of famed western scout Kit Carson, had both thumbs shot off in one skirmish with Indians.

 

After the war, John Mason Peck, a Baptist missionary, wrote of the hardship experienced by the Boonslick settlers: “With all their vigilance during the war, about three hundred horses were stolen; many cattle and nearly all their hogs were killed. Bear-meat and raccoon-bacon became a substitute…” Deerskin clothing became the daily attire, as neither cotton nor flax could be grown in any quantity to manufacture cloth.

 

A few days ago, a barge belonging to Messrs. M. Lisa & Co. which was ascending the Missouri to their trading establishment, were induced to stop at Mackay’s Saline, (commonly called Boon’s Lick) as the country was overrun by the Indians and all the inhabitants were in Forts. The crew which arrived here on Saturday night, last…reports that on the south side of the Missouri, the Indians had taken all the horses and were killing the cattle for food; that on their arrival at the Saline, the people of Coles’ fort were interring a man just shot by the Indians.  On the north side near Kincaid’s fort a man was killed in a flax field. 

                                                                                                    Missouri Gazette, August 13, 1814

 

Settlers at McMahan Fort Area: Written by William D. Lay 1998.  

“Claims for Indian Reparations from McMahan Fort” during June and July 1814, attacks on eleven members of the McMahan Fort: 

Author’s Note: The following information was prepared by Lyman Copeland Draper’s Notes, Roll 22S

 

March 30, 1815 Act of Congress. (The federal government took these depositions in 1825 - Mike Dickey)

 

RESULTS of the Attack - The McMahan Fort was burned to the ground in the Indian attack. The attacking Indians carried off anything that was of value to them, and destroyed what remained, so that there was nothing left for the former inhabitants to reclaim. 

 

INDIAN WAR REPARATIONS

 

[CHAPTER XIII.  (William D. Lay]

 

AN ACT TO REGULATE TRADE AND INTERCOURSE WITH THE INDIAN TRIBES.

 

SEC. 14 MEANS OF REDRESS PRESCRIBED FOR TRANSGRESSIONS OF INDIANS AGAINST WHITE SETTLERS.

 

Claims for losses by Indians during the June and July 1814 raids, (or transgressions) were filed by about 11 members of families at and around McMahan Fort, Lamine Township.

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  IN THE INTEREST OF BREVITY, OF THE 11 FAMILIES THAT HAD DAMAGE, I WILL ONLY LIST ONE OF THE FAMILIES BELOW.

 

NOTE: I tried to add papers from Wayne here, but could not get one and the others are crooked.

 

McMahan, Thomas, (June or July 1814): “Site of the McMahan Fort”

1 sorrel mare, about four years old, 14 1/2 hands high, appraised to, $50.00

10 Head of hogs, $45.00

1 Axe, $2.00

1 Bottle of the oil of vitriol, $2.00

4 Pair of stockings, $4.00

1 large bear skin, $1.50

1/2 bushel’s sowing of wheat, $30.00

1/2 acre of flax, $2.50

1 bed quilt, $3.00

Total $140.00

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE: At present, I’m inquiring to see if payments by the Federal Government to the white settlers were made. Seems this is going to be another rabbit hole that I need to travel down to get the rest of the story.

 

Where was the McMahan Fort Located?

 

[William McMahan’s Fort:  Written by William D. Lay 1998.]

 

Constructed date:   April, 1810/11

 

Location:   On the Missouri, 2 miles North of Lamine River where it empties into the Missouri River, Samuel Cole (Son of Hannah Cole) said the fort was located on the south side of the Missouri River some 5 miles south from Cooper’s Fort. Judge Frederick Hyatt said the fort was located four miles below Arrow Rock on the south side of the Missouri. William Reed, a son-in-law of McMahan had his blockhouse in the east half of the northeast quarter of section 7 township 49 range 18. The fort was thought to be on the hill immediately to the south. Commonly referred to as the Jones Settlement.

 

Many attempts have been made to find the exact location of this fort.  However, two hundred years later it is believed that some eager historians, seeking the location with metal detectors, may have found the exact location.

 

Fast Forward over 200 years to March of 2018 - Exploration to Find the Lost Lamine Fort - McMahan Fort

 

[By Wayne Lammers - October, 2019]

 

I have two friends who called me one day in the winter of 2018, wanting to do some metal detecting to find some history in the City of Boonville. Knowing that Boonville has been searched for years, I wanted to find something virgin. Lamine was this virgin spot. As I have always known that the area around Lamine is full of history. My mother was born in that small town in 1919 along the tracks of the Missouri Pacific RR. I thought of some of the stories that she had told me living here in Boonville.  I knew that General William H. Ashley lived there and ran a fur trading company out west. General Ashley (1780-1838) was an entrepreneur in the Louisiana Territory in the early days of its existence. He made money in real estate and manufacturing in St. Louis, MO, and during the War of 1812, he joined the Missouri Militia where he earned the rank of Brigadier General.  At war’s end, he was elected the first Lieutenant Governor of the newly admitted state of Missouri in 1820. 

Ashley decided to try his luck in the fur trade business, which was quite lucrative at the time. Beaver hats were the height of fashion in Europe, driving massive demand for furs. Ashley decided to employ different methods of trade. The fur trade establishments on the upper Missouri did business by trading with local tribes of Indians. Ashley’s Company employed a few hunters/trappers directly, but most of their furs and skins were obtained through the trading with Indians. Ashley decided to send hundreds of men out to obtain furs directly by hunting and trapping. The men would be paid in furs, keeping half of what they collected as payment.

William Ashley famously advertised in St. Louis newspapers in the 1820s:  

 

To enterprising young men. “The subscriber wishes to engage one hundred young men to ascend the Missouri to its source, there to be employed for one, two, or three years. For particulars enquire of Major Andrew Henry who will ascend with, and command, the party; or of the subscriber near St. Louis.”

 

Thus, started his career in the fur trade business. He traveled with his company of men in keelboats up the Missouri River. He was very successful in trading with the Indians out west. He was buried inside an Indian mound overlooking the Missouri and Lamine Rivers in 1838. Many local people in the Lamine area have stated that General Ashley was buried in this Indian mound standing up right and that he wanted to watch over the Missouri and Lamine Rivers. This site is only two miles south of the site of the McMahan Fort.

 

I have friends living in the Lamine area who know the early history there. Another old friend, Bob Dyer, who passed away on April 11, 2007, called me about 21 years ago, and asked me to go with him in a search of a Lost Lamine Fort. I had never heard of this. He had an idea where the McMahan Fort might be located which be on a farm on a hillside overlooking the Missouri River on property owned by another friend who will remain anonymous. In respect to these friends, I will not name them. Bob Dyer and I searched the area but found nothing. At that time, we had no metal detectors.

 

On March 23, 2018, my two new friends and I went to this site again to see what we could find using a model Spectra VX3 made by White Metal Detectors, with a 13-inch coil. We were in high hopes to find something that would spur us on in our search of this lost early Lamine pioneer fort. Right away we started getting numerous metal hits in the grid that we laid out in this field overlooking the Missouri River.

 

A nail.  Another nail, and more square nails were the first finds of the day. Knowing that this type of nail would not have been used by early pioneers, we were disheartened. Over the years, a family must have built a home on this site resulting in our finding the square nails and other more modern artifacts like hinges, hand irons, meat cleaver, early wrenches, door knobs and so on.

 

This field was semi level, overlooking the Missouri River which was about 400 yards away to the north. We were high enough to see that the river, could have been closer to this field some 200 years earlier. The area we were searching was a field of harvested corn, so searching was rather easy.

 

LOOK What we found!

 

Then it happened…… “A SILVER COIN!” someone cried!!! That’s right, a Spanish Real, dated 1806, and it was in fine shape. See photo. In the early history of the expansion of the Far West, currency was in its infancy. No one bought things outright with cash. They bartered for things that they wanted.

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Artifacts found at the site of Fort McMahan

These are buttons, flint, arrowhead, and old coins.

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We were jumping up and down, still screaming to high heavens. This was again, a big find. The date on the old coin was 1806. The same year Lewis & Clark’s Expedition returned from their voyage to find a pathway to the Pacific Ocean. This was unbelievable.

 

On the many trips to the site, we would stay as long as we could. After the finding of the 1806 silver coin, we again, hit the ground running. We started to find quite a few brass and metal buttons that we dated from the late 1700s and early 1800s. Some were made in England with eagles adorned on them which we felt were from an early military uniform. During the War of 1812 the Federal Government sent platoons of armed military units in to the established forts along the Missouri River to protect these early settlers. Forts like Cooper’s Fort, Fort Hempstead, Fort Kincaid, Hannah Cole’s Fort, Stephen Cole’s Fort and McMahan Fort were mostly situated each about 5 miles apart from one another. Many of the military must have stayed at the McMahan Fort for we found many of these military buttons at our site. We found a rusty broad ax that weighed about three pounds that may have been used to fell trees for the construction of the fort.

I was told by the owner of the property that a spring was in a ravine about 60 yards to the south of the site. A water spring was so necessary for the livelihood of the pioneers. They needed it for survival. Good clean water for cooking, bathing for watering of animals and so on. He also told me that years ago, it was covered by a land slide that had a large tree on the slid area and stopped the flow of water. With this in mind, we proceeded to see what we could find. As we arrived at the spot, we could see the area that had slid down the embankment. You could tell we were near this spot. We looked under a bunch of fallen branches and found this wonderful running water again, coming up out of the ground. See photo.

Back at the site we found a multitude of lead musket balls scattered all over the site. I found only one that was completely round and had not been fired. The rest were all deformed from impact. We began finding a large quantity of broken pieces of cast iron that were from two to four inches across and about one forth inch thick. Some had little feet and handles on them that looked like they were from a large pot or kettle. Why so many???? And why everywhere???? At one point, we were finding so many cast iron pieces that we started to throw them out of the target field. This puzzled me for months. And then it finally came to me. While the Indians were burning the fort, the Indian braves began destroying all the household articles in the fort, like large kettles, pans and lids, knives, forks and spoons, everything. We found a spoon and fork broken and both bent double. We also found large stones in the area that could have been used for breaking up the cast iron and then scattered the pieces so that the pioneers could no longer use them. The Indians wanted the pioneers to leave this area and be gone… Forever.  I consulted with another local historian who said Indians did this very thing when they destroyed a settlement or a fort.

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Discovered the spring

CHECKING MY FINDS WITH EXPERTS

On May 9th, 2019 I followed a lead from Michael Dickey who is the Administrator of the Arrow Rock Museum who has been helping me with my story. He advised me to contact Michael D. Harris who is an authority on the War of 1812. He is also a High School History teacher for some 29 years in St. James, MO.

Michael D. Harris - War of 1812 in Missouri researcher for 32 years. BS ED in History, Masters in History.  Michael Harris is very knowledgeable of the War of 1812 history. 

Mr. Harris stated “I think this MIGHT be the site. (McMahan Fort) I need to see all your artifacts and the site itself before I can give you my honest opinion. 

So far, everything looks good.” He visited the fort site in June of 2019 to view the artifacts that we found.

When I first called Michael Harris, I felt, he thought that I was pulling his leg. Right away he wanted facts and wanted to see artifacts. That same day, I sent him some clear photos that I had taken of the 1806 Spanish coin and what I thought were military buttons. He listened to my ideas on what we had discovered in the field overlooking the Missouri River. He was patient with me and I knew he was digesting my responses. He wasn’t satisfied with just some of the buttons. He wanted to see all of them, front and back.  It took some time to send about 30 or so images of buttons, coins, and shot musket balls and etc. to him.

Being a novice at this documentation, I had failed to place a scale or ruler by each object showing its size. My mother always told me “If you’re going to do something, do it right.” So, I proceeded to photograph them with ruler in hand. He also wanted to see the Early American Broad Axe that we found.

On June 15th, 2019 I met with Michael Harris, Michael Dickey and the metal detector friend, to show all artifacts from the site at Lamine. This is to establish if this is the McMahan Fort Site that we have read about in the early history books from Cooper and Howard Counties, for once and for all. On this date we all sat down to view the multitude of artifact from the site. I was very excited to see what Harris and Dickey had to say about our finds. We met at 10 am and studied the relics for some 2 hours. We wanted to make a bee line, only 4 miles to the fort site. This didn’t happen. The Flood of 2019 stopped us in our tracks. Literally. Two of the 3 roads to the site were flooded by the Missouri River. After about one hour, we walked through the rain and waist high field corn to the hill overlooking the Missouri and Lamine Rivers. While my friend with the metal detector was scanning the ground, I took Michael Harris to the spring near the site. We found the spring flowing a fine stream of water to the Missouri River which was very nearby because of the flooding. We made our way back and found my friend who had found some square nails, earthenware, pottery and some broken Indian points. But nothing to shout out about. It was getting late and Mr. Harris needed to travel a long way home so we said our good-byes and left.

When I got home all three of us exchanged emails about the day and our findings. Mr. Harris sent me photos of the washed pottery and earthenware. The metal detector operator did the same with what he and I found. In his bag of goodies, he found a black piece of flint about one inch long, about the size of my thumb nail. In studying it, we think he found a black flint from an early Flint Lock Rifle from the early 1800’s.

CONCLUSIONS; Michael Harris wrote me saying:

“I saw Mike’s [Mike Dickey] comment about the flint being English and I agree. The best flint came from England and was heavily imported before the war. [War of 1812].  The local flint in Missouri is gray and white as you know. The darker the flint, the better the spark. Yeah, the best flints came from England.”

Now, about the fort. Do you have a specific reference to the Fort being on Thomas’ place?  As you know, William McMahan had a blockhouse which was burned by the Indians. This was the only reference I have located about a McMahan Fort. We do know that Samuel had two houses on his property which does coincide with the areas you discovered in that field. Either one area is a trash pit or there was a structure there which matches the description.”

 

This was the clincher. This had to be the site of the Lost Lamine Fort that has been gone from our history books for over 200 years…… The McMahan Fort. 

 

I believe that this story needs to be told because the people of Lamine should be very proud and need to preserve the heritage and legacy that they possess… Forever.

 

Wayne Lammers - Boonville, MO

Settlement in Lamine Township REFERENCES

References: (Courtesy of Mike Dickey, Site Administrator, Arrow Rock Historic Site)

BALTIMORE KENTUCKY AXE HEAD

The axe came from Kentucky to settle this new land lived in this area. History also states they built a fort to keep the families safe from roving Indians that were not peaceful to the new invaders who wanted to steal their land. The Indians were supplied by the British to help prevent these settlers from taking a foothold in the land west of the Missouri River.  During the War of 1812, the settlers at Fort McMahan, located just 2 miles north of the Lamine River, were at peace. It wasn’t until June and July of 1815, that the Indians did attack this fort and drove all pioneers north across the Missouri River to a well established settlement called Coopers Fort, some six miles away.

 

During the summer of 2019, I decided to restore a fine old rusty axe that was found on a hillside of the Missouri River just north of the Lamine River. The summer before I, along with two of my friends, were searching for a lost fort in the Lamine area. History books told us that twelve to fourteen pioneer families that see the fires from their homes and Fort McMahan. They never returned. 

Fast forward 200 years.  I always wanted to fine a piece of history by digging in the earth. My friends felt the same, so I took them to where I thought this Lost McMahan Fort was located. Twenty five years ago my friend Bob Dyer took me to where he thought this fort was located. We had no metal detectors that day but felt it was a good location for an early pioneer fort. My friends and I returned to this site in 2018 looking for artifacts, using a fine metal detector that would indicate that the fort was here. While there, we found a very rusty old axe head that I researched and found that it was a Kentucky Baltimore Axe that dated back to the early 1800’s. I knew I needed to rejuvenate this 200 year old artifact from our early settlers of the Lamine area and the McMahan Fort.

I did my research and found the easiest way to rejuvenate it was for me was to soak the axe head in a solution of pure apple cider vinegar for about four days. I checking it every other day or so and used a hammer to chip away some of the hard rust that resisted to leave this early American relic. This took much work to remove the corrosion from the artifact. I used a steal brush to finish it off then put a coat of fine oil on it to preserve the metal.  When finished with the restoration of the axe head, I needed to mount it on a fine piece of wood that would complete the project. I had an old broken axe that was used beyond it’s time. I reshaped the handle to make a fine fit for the piece. When done, I feel that I did justice to this 200 year old piece of our early pioneer relic.

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Restoring Kentucky Axe Head

Below this flint was made and shipped from England. England had the best known gun flints that were used at the time. They were superior to what were found and used in the New Frontier. The British supplied the Indians with guns and ammo to fight the pioneers here, during the War of 1812.

 

This was also a major find, indicating that Indians were involved in the attack on Fort McMahan in June of 1816.