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History Early Settlers in Douglas County Settler Origins

The Earliest Settlers, 1812-1860

How the first settler, Owen Bell, encounters hostile Native Americans, then settles on Bryant Creek; names of other early settlers.

In the fall of 1812 Owen Bell, a captain in the American Army was carrying dispatches from New York to somewhere in the south. In what is now Indiana he was attacked by hostile Indians and forced to flee westward for his life. He fled until he reached the Mississippi river. He played hide and seek, with the war party that was chasing him, through the cane brakes and willow thickets for several hours. He finally found a canoe hidden in a willow thicket and pushed out on to the broad Mississippi. After embarking he found there was no paddle in the canoe. To make his position still more insecure the Indians discovered his escape and started shooting at him. Arrows fell all around him and some even fell in the canoe. By a miracle he was unhit. He threw himself face downward in the canoe and started paddling with his hands. He soon had the canoe in the current which carried him close to the shore on the opposite side and about one half mile below where he had embarked. The pursuing Indians were unable to find canoes so they had to abandon the chase. Captain Bell saw smoke signals ascending and knew a warm reception was being arranged for him to the south so he landed and turned westward. The country was alive with war parties and in dodging these he was forced far to the westward.

He had several narrow escapes from war parties. One time he had climbed a tree to view the surrounding country when a Cherokee war party filed underneath in single file as silently as ghosts. At another time he hid in a willow thicket beside a ford of a stream while another war party filed past. Once while crossing a stream he caught a glimpse of an approaching was party. He silently dived and came to the surface several yards down stream in the midst of thick overhanging brush. He remained there until this war party had passed. He finally came to a country that was free of war parties. Here he saw several Indian villages but they appeared to be peaceful and going stoically about their everyday pursuits. He continued westward until he had left the Indian villages far behind. He climbed a lone pine tree, which grew at the top of a high hill and surveyed the surrounding country. Everything was peaceful and serene with no sign of Indian war parties or human life of any kind. Now that the danger was past at least for a short time, Captain Bell drew a breath of relief and turned to the natural beauty of his surroundings. Some of the valleys were wide and fertile and Captain Bell visualized a home for himself and family in one of these wide, fertile valleys. Interview: Aug. 2, 1938, Pree Ferguson at her home one mile south of Bertha, Mo. on the Mountain Grove-Rockbridge road. Now deceased.

He returned in 1817, brought his family, and settled on what is now called Bryant Creek. As far as can be determined he was the first settler in what is now Douglas 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.

It was not until about 1844 that the next settlers came into this county. A trapper named Sutler and his Indian squaw were the next to come. In the next 10 years probably 15 or 20 more families moved in and by 1860 there were probably over one hundred families in Douglas County. Interview: Aug. 4, 1938, W. P. K. Lee, former County Judge, at his home on Brush Creek one mile south of Highway 14. Now deceased.

Most of the settlers came to this country from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. They were tall lank mountain men. They looked like weaklings on account of their height and thinness but on the trail or in a fight they proved themselves far superior to the majority of larger, burlier men numerous times. The mountain man proved himself so hardy and adaptable to any surroundings that it soon became a legend that a mountain man could take a gun and an axe and live anywhere in comfort. The first families to settle here were the Bells, the Suttlers, the Reynolds, the Rippees, the Ellisons, the Fleetwoods, the Alsups, the Sheltons, the Collins, Kendalls, Huffmans, Pease, Tetricks, and Dobbs. Part of the people came because this was a new country to pioneer, part to hunt and trap, and part because they were wanted by officers at home and they were safe from the law here. Interview: July 14, 1938, W. F. Reynolds, active in county changes and politics, at his home in Ava, Mo.

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.