Gasconade County Missouri
Gasconade County is situated in the east central part of Missouri, and is bounded as follows: On the north by Montgomery and Warren Counties, separated from them by the Missouri River ; on the east by Franklin County ; on the south by Crawford and Phelps Counties, and on the west by Maries and Osage Counties. It is fifteen miles in width from east to west, extending from the middle of Range 4 west of the fifth principal meridian to the range line between Ranges 6 and 7 west; and it is in extreme length nearly thirty-six miles ; thus having an area of about 510 square miles or 326,400 acres of land.
This county has all the varieties of surface known in the State, except that the hills are not so high as in many portions, viz. : bluffs, ridges, prairie and bottom lands. The northern part of the county, for a little over one-third of the distance back from the Missouri River, is quite hilly and broken, and was, in the early day, covered with heavy timber ; but now the more gentle slopes have been cleared and are under cultivation. The southern portion forms a kind of plateau, and contains several small prairies, which are separated from the streams by steep hills, bluffs or gentle slopes.
The streams of the county are the Gasconade, which enters it from Osage County on the township line between Townships 43 and 44, and, soon turning north, runs in a general northwardly direction until it empties into the Missouri River, very near the middle of Range 6 west; the Bourbeuse* enters the county from the south from Phelps County, near the middle of Range 6 west, and flows in a northeastwardly direction into Frankland County. Frene Creek enters the Missouri at Hermann, and Little Berger, Boeuf, First Creek, Second Creek and Third Creek are the only other streams of note in the county.
The soil of the bottom lands is extremely fertile; then in degree of fertility come the gentler slopes, especially where covered with white oak, black and white walnut, shell bark hickory, etc. ; prairie lands and those covered with pin oak are next in fertility ; then come the lands covered with white and black oak and white hickory; the post oak table-lands belong to the fifth class, and the black jack with white clay subsoil to the sixth, the darker the subsoil the richer the soil. All along the tributaries of the Gasconade River the rock is limestone, but elsewhere it is sandstone or flint. The timber of the county, as indicated above, consists of oak, hickory, walnut, black jack and several other valuable varieties, and the grasses are the same, both wild and cultivated, as those in the neighboring counties.
Formerly there was a number of saltpeter caves* along the Gasconade River, and small quantities of saltpeter were made and shipped to St. Louis, but most of that made was used in other portions of the state in the manufacture of gunpowder. Some of the caves in the country are large and quite interesting, consisting frequently of a succession of rooms, connected with each other by arched halls and passage ways of various heights and sizes. The walls are of limestone, and in many cases present a beautiful appearance. Originally it was not an uncommon thing to find in these caves Indian axes and hammers, from which it was inferred by the discoverers that the saltpeter had been taken out by the savages themselves for some purpose which could not be conjectured. But as these tools may have been left there by an antecedent and more civilized race than the Indian, such conjectures with reference to the Indian are of not much value, and the supposition that they did belong to an anterior race is strengthened by the existence of the ruins of an ancient town, which were found near the Gasconade River, a short distance from the road leading to St. Louis. This ancient town was laid out with great regularity, and the dimensions of some of the squares and streets, and even of some of the houses, were discernible. Stone walls were found in different parts of the area covered by huge heaps of earth. Ten or twelve miles lower down the river a kind of stone work or fort or mound was found, which was about thirty feet square. It is on a high bluff, and thus commands a fine view of the surrounding country. From this stone work a small footpath leads to the cave, in which were found a number of axes. On Dry Fork are two natural curiosities of considerable interest Bear Cave, which has been penetrated to quite a distance, and Beaver Pond, whose margin is decorated by small islands supposed to have been the work of beavers.
* In the spring of 1810 James McDonald, of Bonhomme, and his two sons went to some caves on Gasconade River to make saltpeter, and in three weeks returned to St. Louis with 3,000 pounds. No doubt some of these caves were in Gasconade County.
[History of Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Crawford and Gasconade Counties Missouri; Published by Goodspeed Publishing Company 1888]
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