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History Early Settlers in Douglas County Defence and Housing

First Settlers: Defense and Housing

Life lived in fear of Native Americans; the lure of California gold; raising simple houses built for defense; what houses were like.

Early settlers in front of their cabinLife was real and life was ernest (sic) in those days and also life was very insecure. Most of the Indians in this part of the country were friendly but Indians were nomads and a settler never knew when some hostile band would move in and attempt to kill him and his home. Men wore rifles strapped to their backs while working in the fields. All the stock was driven in and fastened up at night because even a friendly Indian would steal livestock. As more settlers came in and the country became more thickly populated, these raids became fewer because retribution was swift. Wolves, bears, and panthers were abundant and all livestock had to be closely watched or these beasts would kill them. Interview: June 6, 1938, John Tompkins, son of the first postmaster in this county, at his home two miles northeast of Ava, Mo.

As the country became more thickly settled many of the more adventurous settlers moved on to pioneer new country. The farming class of people stayed, however, to build homes, raise families and build up a new country. Captain Bell was among those who stayed. His two youngest sons and several grandchildren still live in this county. Interview: Aug. 3, 1938, Owen Bell, youngest son of the first settler at his home on Brush Creek four miles south of Highway 14.

When a new settler came to this country all the neighboring settlers would meet at his chosen homesite and help him build his house. The neighbor women would bring dinner which they spread altogether on cloths in the shade of trees. After the house was built it was customary for the new settler to give a dance for all who helped in the "House Raising." The homes of these settlers were built mainly for protection and defense measures with few conveniences. The houses were built of logs or native limestone, usually two rooms with a roofed areaway between. Many of the houses had a second story over the areaway and the two lower rooms.

In some of the houses the second story extended out over the first as a defense measure. The barn was built as a part of the house or very near where it could be defended in case of Indian raids. The houses and barns had sod roofs so they could not be fired by blazing arrows. The houses had windows made of oiled paper in frames. These were covered at night or during an Indian attack by heavy hand hewn wooden shutters. There were cleverly concealed loopholes in the walls which could be opened to shoot through. The floors were either dirt or puncheon as hand hewn lumber floors were then called. These were fastened to the sills with wooden pegs. The doors were made of heavy, hand hewn lumber with three heavy wooden cross bars fastened by iron staples to prevent them from being forced open by attacking Indians.

In 1850 many of the men from this section went to California to seek their fortunes, these men would meet at a spring in what is now the central subdivision of Ava, Missouri to form their wagon trains before starting westward across the prairies. This meeting place became known as California Springs. People came from two hundred miles away to join these wagon trains. Most of the men who went to the goldfields left their families behind to manage their herds and make what crops they could. Some of these men were gone for years and their wives and children carried on until they became adept at all farm work. This period was probably responsible largely for the development of the sturdy stalwart type of hill women which are so fast disappearing. Interview: Aug. 16, 1938, Marion Potter, one of the oldest of the remaining old settlers, at his home eight miles southeast of Ava, Mo on the Ava-Girdner road.

More on Pioneer Log Building

Courtesy of the Douglas County Genealogical and Historical Society Journal, December 1984 and December 1986. The text is from “First White Settlers” in the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection, U.S. Work Projects Administration, 1935-42, Missouri Historical Records Survey-Douglas County.