Pike County pioneers and their descendants would have significant influence on a growing country whose model of freedom endures.

Editor’s note: Pike County celebrates its bicentennial in 2018. Following is the first in a series of monthly articles that will examine 200 years of local history.

Pike County was founded by brave, dauntless people at a turning point in American history.

In the early 1800s, the nation was adding immense territory to its borders and would soon win lasting independence from England. Ahead were new struggles and old disputes that would shape decisions and destinies.

Navigators fording the Father of Waters and scouts following the paths of native peoples were unlike their ancestors who had migrated from Europe. For the most part, they weren’t fleeing persecution, famine or tribulation. Instead, they saw opportunity in what seemed a boundless frontier.

Pike County pioneers and their descendants would have significant influence on a growing country whose model of freedom endures.

Even before Lewis and Clark made their historic exploration of the Louisiana Purchase, settlers had moved into what would become Pike County. Their names included James Burns, Frederick Dixon, Samuel Ewing and Joe Scott.

They came mostly from Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and the Carolinas. The 1883 publication “The History of Pike County, Missouri” offered a description.

“The early settlers…were intellectually and morally the equals of any class of men that have ever planted human habitation within the domain of state or territory upon this western continent,” it said. “There were among them no single one who was fleeing from the terrors of the law or who had been driven out by social ostracism.”

They had been “reared for the most part in happy homes, surrounded by the comforts of life, with the advantages of the best social relations and with that character of education furnished by the best facilities of the times,” the publication continued.

However, the book made clear that “few of the early settlers were very rich and none were very poor.” Most “recognized duty a privilege and right a law” while making “the interest of their neighbor paramount to the aggrandizement of self.”

“They had come seeking homes and with money to buy them,” the book indicates. “They had left the older states, not because they could no longer live there, but because they felt they could do better here.”

While it was “impossible to tell with perfect accuracy who were the earliest settlers or the exact order in which they came,” the book says, the explorers “sought lands, with woods, and rocks, and springs, such as they had learned to prize at home, but not enough to stay forever with them.”

It wasn’t all a “gathering of grave men, or convivial old bachelors from the ranches” because “there came also the women and the girls,” the book relates, although “the lines were closely drawn as to woman’s rights or woman’s sphere” and “their duties even then…differed from those of the sterner sex.”

“While it seemed to devolve upon the men to hunt the bear, and shoot the turkey and deer, and lift the heavy logs at the raisings, it fell to the lot of the women and the girls to cook the bear’s meat, the fowls and the venison,” according to the publication. “While rough, brawny hands felled the large bee-trees, it remained for dainty fingers to sweeten with the honey the viands which they prepared.”

A century later, a Pike County lawmaker whose daughter later run for Congress herself, offered his support to women’s voting rights.

“History of Pike County” notes that because of their origins, many early inhabitants “brought with them a greater or less number of slaves” whose unpaid labor was “in large measure” responsible for the “rapid clearing away of the heavy forests and the preparation of the ground for the earliest crops.”

The book says Pike County would eventually become “one of the very largest slave-holding counties” in Missouri, which itself would come into official existence in 1821 amid battles over human bondage.

Within a few decades, a Pike County legislator would draft and introduce a Constitutional amendment freeing the slaves.

The frontier wasn’t all bad. There was an abundance of spring water in Pike County. In the absence of coffee or tea with which to use it, locals made whiskey that was “pure and unadulterated,” the history book says.

And they “did not confine their drinking to house-raisings or log-rollings, but regarded whisky as a household necessity.”

“Even at the close of religious services, it was the custom for the good brother at whose home the preaching occurred to pass around something to drink, and it would have been considered, in some places, very impolite not to ask the minister to ‘take a horn,’” the author relayed. “I say horn not for the sake of indulging in slang, but because a historian must observe what are termed the ‘unities of time and place.’ The reader may not be aware that at this time there were no glasses and, as a substitute, horns were used for drinking purposes. It was, therefore, no slang at this time to say ‘Will you take a horn?’”

As the War of 1812 drew to a close, a Kentucky native was preparing to move to the golden hills of Pike County. The apple scions brought by James Hart Stark would be the start of a nursery that’s still in business today.