top of page


Cooper County men have volunteered for service in many wars; however, only two have taken place on Cooper County soil: The War of 1812 and the Civil War. Both left both sad and bitter memories with relatives of those wounded or killed in battle.


Missourians were involved in three brief wars between 1837 and 1847.

These were: The Seminole War in Florida in 1837, the Mormon War in 1838-39, and the Mexican War in 1846-48. Many Cooper Countians volunteered for service in these wars. 


The War of 1812 in the Boonslick

By Michael Dickey


Many people associate the War of 1812 with the burning of the white House in 1812 by the British. But a lesser-known related War of 1812 also involved the early settlers in Missouri and various tribes of Indians.


On June 18, 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain. The War of 1812 is one of the least remembered wars of the United States, and Missouri’s involvement is even less known. Though forgotten, the war had significant consequences for the nation’s history.

  • On August 24, 1814 British troops occupied Washington DC burning the White House, the capitol building and several government buildings. 

  • Francis Scott Key wrote the National Anthem following the unsuccessful British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor on Sept. 13-14, 1814.

  • The British encouraged the Indians to fight on their side, promising the Indians that they would help them retain their land that was quickly being settled by Americans.

  • The Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815 resulted in a crushing defeat for British forces. In 1959, it gave us the number one hit song on the Billboard Hot 100, “The Battle of New Orleans” by singer Johnny Horton.

  • General Andrew Jackson defeated the Creek Indian Nation in August of 1814 and gained national notoriety for his victory at New Orleans. His war record propelled him to the presidency in 1828 and set the tone of the nation for decades to come. 


(1812) Forts are Built

Hannah Cole, Stephen Cole and their families came to the area of Cooper County that is now Boonville in 1810, nearly two years passed before the War of 1812 broke out. Before this time, the life of the settler was fairly quiet. Nature supplied them with nearly all that they wished to eat or drink. When a place of shelter for his family had been provided, the settler could spend his time hunting and fishing. These were pleasant pastimes for him and they also provided some of the necessities for life. This life of ease and rest was suddenly changed by the beginning of the war. Great Britain declared war in 1812 against the United States. The Indians wanted to keep their land, and joined the war on the side of Great Britain. The settlers immediately began to build forts for their protection.


A few months after the first Hannah Cole’s fort was built, a band of about four hundred Indians suddenly made their appearance in the neighborhood. When they came, there were two men by the name of Smith and Savage out hunting. As the hunters were returning, the Indians killed Smith and then scalped him. Savage was able to return to the fort. As the Indians were chasing Savage, they came in full view of the fort. Several of them could have been killed. Some of the people in the fort wanted to kill the Indians; however, Hannah Cole wisely told them not to shoot.


  • The following day some of the settlers captured a French boat, which came up the river loaded with powder and balls to trade with the Indians. The settlers immediately took possession of the twenty-five kegs of powder and five hundred pounds of balls which the boat contained. After the settlers had crossed their families and prisoners to the north shore, in the captured boat, the settlers let the Frenchmen return down the river in their empty boat. The settlers did not want the French to arm the Indians and have the Indians use those weapons against them.

  • As the dominant tribe in Missouri, the Osages had grown increasingly restless as more white settlers were moving West onto their lands. The once friendly American Indians had become belligerent and very dangerous as they did not want to lose their traditional hunting ground. The government was concerned about the safety of the settlers and warned them to move closer to St. Louis for protection. However, the settlers replied to Governor Howard that this area of Missouri was now their home and they were prepared to defend it. 

  • When the Declaration of War with England reached St. Louis in July, 1812 there were only 178 soldiers of the regular army in all of the area that would later be named Missouri.

  • Soon after the war broke out, Territorial Governor Benjamin Howard wrote to the settlers in the Boonslick area, urging them to move to the eastern part of Howard County for protection.


The settlers defiantly defended their choice to stay on the frontier, and replied to the Governor:

“We have maid our hoames here & all we hav is here & it wud ruen us to Leave now.We be all good Americans, not a Tory or one of his Pups among us. & we hav 2 hundred Men and Boys that will Fight to the last and we have 100 Wimen and Girls that will tak there places wh. makes a good force. So we can Defend this Settlement wh. With God’s help we will do.So if wehad a fiew barls of Powder and 2 hundred Lead is all we ask.”


It has been said that if it had not been for the lead mining in Cooper County, which provided ammunition for the war, we would have lost the War of 1812.


Fort Cooper had been built as a potential center of defense for the Howard county area in case of an Indian uprising. Sarshall Cooper was chosen by 112, including many prominent citizens, as their Captain. He was a natural leader and skilled woodsman, and his knowledge and judgement were trusted by all his men. Cooper’s Fort became the center of the Howard County military community.

  • The settlers who had crossed to the north side of the river returned to their homes in the spring of 1813, but the Indian troubles continued for another two years.

A Heroine of Cooper's Fort

  • The most dangerous time of the war were last six months in 1815. The settlers were crowded into the forts, had little food to eat, and it was too dangerous to go out of the fort to search for food.

  • The Death of Sarshall Cooper. A sad event of the war was the death of Sarshall Cooper after whom Cooper County was named. One evening, he was sitting at his fireside with his family holding his youngest child on his lap. Other children were playing around the room and his wife was sitting by his side sewing. It is thought that a single Indian warrior crawled up to the fort and made a hole just large enough for the muzzle of his gun to go through the clay between the logs. The noise of his work was drowned by the howling storm. The Indian fired his gun and killed Sarshall instantly. He fell to the floor amidst his horror-stricken family.

  • Sarshall Cooper - small picture of the framed fabric from the vest he was wearing when he was shot. Family heirloom of Joyce Cooper Campbell.

Cooper's Fabric.png
Cooper's Tombstone.png
Sharhall Cooper story (3).jpg
Cooper's Tombstone pt. 3.png

  • A treaty of peace between England and the United States was signed on December 24, 1814. The Indians were advised of the peace treaty; however, they continued to carry on independent warfare, without the help of the British, to try to keep their land. It was not until 1833 that every Indian claim to land titles in the state of Missouri were eliminated.

  • THE WAR OF 1812 IS OVER. Once the War of 1812 was over, and the threat of Indian hostilities gone, the population began to increase quickly.  Like most settlers, those who came in the 1820’s to 1830’s, chose to settle close to the Missouri River, but soon started to venture into the heartland of Missouri. Many of the native Americans came from Kentucky, Tennessee and the Carolinas, seeking cheap land.  The two countries that contributed greatly to the population increase were Germany and Ireland. In the year 1820, only about 12% of Missouri’s population was foreign born.

Below are photos of a flintlock rifle located in the Arrow Rock Museum and two of many musket balls found at the site.

Bottom left photo is at the Museum at Arrow Rock with Museum Administrator, Mike Dickey along with my friend Gene Smith.


Mike Dickey and Jean Smith viewing long rifle used during War of 1812

Wayne Lammers Collection

IMG_8791 - Version 2.JPG

Flint Lock Rifle used during War of 1812

Wayne Lammers Collection

War of 1812 Thoughts

It is hard for most of us today to imagine what life was like living in a fort during the the War of 1812 to 1815. We live in a time of ease when we can heat and cool our homes at a touch of a finger and order anything we desire on line and have it delivered.

Try to step back in thought to the period of 1810 to 1815, when the early Missouri settlers were living in forts for protection from large bands of Indians who wanted their ancient hunting grounds back, and were being encouraged to believe that the English would get it back for them IF the Indians helped to defeat (eliminate) the Americans.

Early settlers traveled to central Missouri, at that time Howard County, on the North side of the Missouri River, most likely in covered (Conestoga) wagons. When they arrived, Fort Cooper already contained some single men, a few military and frontiersmen and a few families.

Imagine that you are part of a family of two adults and five children. You have brought with you only the most basic cooking utensils, quilts and bedding, tools, guns and ammunition, food for the trip and anything else that you can stuff into the wagon. You probably have no money with you, as there is nothing to buy, but you will probably have some barter items.

You settle into a small cabin in the fort, usually just one room. You heat the log cabin and cook your food with heat from the fireplace. It is hot in the summer and probably drafty in the winter.

Some of the problems you will encounter:

  1. There are many different personalities in a small enclosure. Cooperation and harmony must prevail, especially in times of attack. Everyone must perform the duties assigned to them, even when fear and panic set in.

  2. When under attack, which could last for a few days or a week or more, all the animals must be kept inside the fort or they would be killed by the Indians. Feeding the animals for a long period of time, cleaning up after them, and removing their waste is not a pleasant or easy task. Human waste was a problem during times of attack.

  3. Other sanitation problems must be considered: how to get clean water for drinking for people and animals, clean water for cooking, cleaning people – especially children, and for cleaning wounds when someone is injured or shot.

  4. There would not be a doctor at the fort so someone would hopefully have some knowledge of herbal remedies, and have dried herbs set aside for emergencies, sickness and for tea. Bandages were often made from rags, old clothing and/or fluff from cattails or even milkweed.

  5. Forts were usually in the center of a cleared area so enemies could be easily seen. Unfortunately, the pioneers could also be easily seen by the Indians.

  6. Large forts, sometimes with 200 or more people, require a lot of food. Wild game normally furnished a majority of their food, but being unable to get out and hunt safely, sometimes meant that the animals inside had to be sacrificed to feed the people. Wild animals were not accustomed to the noise of constant gun fire and would leave the area if frightened, reducing food sources. Nuts, dried tree fruit and berries could be gathered, dried and stored during safe times for emergencies.

  7. Some grain crops such as corn, wheat and oats were grown, but during peaceful times the deer, birds and other animals would often feast on the almost ripe grain and the Indians could also set fire to it and it would be destroyed. Sometimes, harvesting the grain could be hazardous if an attack might occur. Corn bread and sourdough bread were probably made, but the choice of what to use for flour could be problematic, although certain types of acorns and nuts could be made edible and used for flour.

  8. Even sturdy clothing and shoes tend to wear out. Often men’s and some women’s clothing were made from deer skin, as that was the only material available. If native flax or nettles were available near the river bank, they could be soaked and pounded into workable fiber and eventually be made into a type of cloth. But, without a loom or spinning wheel, it would be hard to make the fibers into cloth.

  9. Elderly, or widowed women with small children, also had a hard time doing their share of work without a husband.

  10. In many cases there was no official at a fort who was licensed to marry people, but marriages were still performed.

Life was a challenge, but those early settlers survived and thrived, and we all owe then a great debt of gratitude for their courage. These hardy pioneers truly were the “salt of the earth.”  


Barbara Dahl, Editor

bottom of page