Cobwebbed Tales: Grit and Determination

Sandy Jordan
Guest Columnist

The second boat up the Missouri River was the Western Engineer. The boat made it almost up to the Yellowstone River – a journey of almost 3 months, one way. On May 19th, 1819 The Independence left St. Louis and one week later reached settlements on the Missouri river. Besides settlers it brought flour, whiskey, sugar and iron castings.   1

People pressing the frontier boundaries are depicted riding or walking beside wagons pulled by oxen. The frontier, however, was often opened up by waterways. The Erie Canal was built for this reason. Often people built rafts and went down rivers to create new homesteads. It was as dangerous, often more dangerous, than a wagon train. Rapids were deadly enemies. Often they had to carry their goods overland to the next assailable launch point.

By 1820 the steamboats were servicing Jefferson City, Boonville,  and old Franklin. By 1830 they were servicing Glasgow, Waverly, Lexington and West Port Landing...now Kansas City. People on these steamboats had two options. Pay for a cabin and meals or ride topside. Those topside lived amid the cargo stored on deck. They provided their own shelter, food and necessities. Can you imagine a week to three months living in the elements?

It took grit and determination to work on those boats. Of a flotilla of four steamboats, one would reach its destination. Those arriving on the steam boats would leave for the interior parts of Missouri, or head westward in covered wagons. Often they would have to work to earn the money to move on. These people did not stand still waiting to be encased in cobwebs, bewailing their fate. This is the source of  the Ozarkian backbone. We never quit until we have our dreams in hand. Nobody gave them anything, it was fought for and earned.

A good example of this tenacity is Matthias Splitlog. An uneducated dreamer known as “the millionaire Indian”. He was the founder of Splitlog, Missouri. Matthias Splitlog was born back east. He was Cayuga and half French, born in New York state in 1812. At the age of three he was taken to Ohio with the other members of his tribe. He lived among the Wyandotte near Sandusky, Ohio.   He married into the tribe, becoming a legal member.

The Wyandotte tribe emigrated to the Kansas Territory in 1845 near the Neosho River. They went on to buy 39 sections lying between the Kansas and Missouri rivers which is the current Kansas City, Missouri.

He built the first gristmill in Kansas, then built his own steamboat to carry his products.   Matthias enlisted in the Union Army as a ferryman carrying supplies in his boat until he was captured, paroled and released. In 1863 the Union Pacific made him a wealthy man by buying his land for the railroad.

Uneducated, never attending a school, he became a part of the Ozarkian history Grit and determination built his empire. The Mighty Mo. infused character, honor and pride into a people that never quits.