Unearthed documents shed new light on Missouri history

Friday, October 14, 2005

ST. CHARLES, Mo. -- The elaborate cursive penmanship has a distinct early 1800s look, but the signature on a brown, crumbling document is clear: Daniel Boone Sr.

St. Charles County director of administration Steve Ehlmann, also a local historian, was bored one day a couple of years ago and decided to dig through some old boxes in the basement of the administration building.

What he found sheds new light on life here in the early 19th century: About 1,650 court documents, ranging from property disputes to slave dealings and involving Boone and other noted figures from the days when Missouri was still a territory into early statehood.

"As Missourians, we can take pride in the rich history of our state -- from its role in westward expansion to its legacy as a center of commerce and industry," Secretary of State Robin Carnahan said Thursday in announcing the find.

The documents, long believed to have been destroyed, were written before St. Charles County even had a courthouse, then survived moves to the first building in 1848, a second courthouse that opened in 1903, and the new building that opened about a decade ago.

Ehlmann used information from them for a book he wrote on the county's history, then called the state archivist in January. Now, the documents will be preserved, placed on microfilm, and made available to historians and the public, including through the secretary of state's Web site.

"They're in remarkably good shape," state archivist Kenneth Winn said. "Considering the migration from place to place, it's really stunning."

Bob Sanford, a St. Charles County historian, said information found in the documents will alter the understanding of early history in this part of the state. St. Charles was a prominent port on the Missouri River, served as a starting point for the Lewis and Clark expedition, and housed Missouri's first state capitol.

St. Charles in the early 1800s was a rowdy town, many of its residents French-speaking. In fact, some of the documents are written in French on one side, English on the other.

Winn said the most significant finds are probably documents signed by Boone, who added the senior tag at the end of his signature to differentiate himself from his son with the same name.

"There are a lot of Abraham Lincoln signatures, as lawyer, as president," Winn said. "Daniel Boone by comparison is a much rarer signature."

Carnahan said archivists are still reading through the more than 7,000 pages.

"There are many, many hidden treasures," she said.

On the Net:

Missouri Secretary of State: http://www.sos.mo.gov.

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