Best Pioneer Letter

Monroe County Appeal

August 13, 1931

Centennial edition

Here is the Best Pioneer Letter

Dr. George R. Poage comments as follows on the letter Richard D. Powers wrote from Monroe county in 1931:

  Probably the most comprehensive account of Monroe County at the time of its organization is contained in the following letter of Richard D. Powers to his father, James Power, of Greenup County, Kentucky.  The original is in the property of O. G. Powers.  The persons referred to, besides the writer, are his wife, Harriet; her brother Thomas Poage; Poage’s wife, Polly, who was also Power’s sister; John Stewart and Edmund Damrell, brothers-in-law of Poage and Mrs. Powers, the latter being the grandfather of the late M.A. Violette and one of the first elected county judges; Simon and George, apparently slaves and father and son.  Damrell and another brother, Cyrus Poage, were in St. Louis at the time of writing, held up by the closing of navigation on the upper river, joining their relatives in the spring.  The whole group settled about midway between Paris and Florida.  As written the letter is entirely without punctuation, which has been supplied to facilitate reading.

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        It was as follows:

                        January the 1st, 1831

Dear parents,

  By the time your patience has been wearied with the expectation of a letter from us; but the time being taken up with other concerns, we have not before taken an opportunity.  We through mercy are all at this time enjoying good health. As to our travels and what happened to us on the road, you have been informed by Polly’s letter; though it is enough to say such scenes is seldom witnessed.  The last time the teams ran away, I was driving for Thomas, whose team ran, upset the wagon, and threw my right elbow out of joint, since which time I have been but little better than a cripple.  It mends very slow, but I am in hopes it will get tolerably strong again.  Harriet and Polly, I believe, complains but little now of their hurts.

We reached (New) London, which is about thirty miles from where we are now, in thirty-two days from the time we started; and staid there ten days, during which time I purchased and got to the place where we are now—I may say, home—one the eighteenth of November.  So much for our travels.

I bought one half quarter section for three hundred dollars with a good cabin on it, a loom house, stable, good cribs, and about eighteen acres cleared and under a good fence.  I also purchased another piece of the same size adjoining for two hundred and fifty dollars; and have since entered one hundred and sixty acres adjoining at one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre, making it all three hundred and twenty acres, sixty or eighty of which is prairie.  All the other is woodland and the greater part of a good quality, being composed of oak, black walnut, honeylocust, elm and cherry, sugartree, blueash, hackberry—and of each of these a large quantity.  As for the quality of the land, you nor no other person, I think, would ask land any richer.  The soil is very black, loose and strong, and generally of a considerable depth.

There is yet large portions of land of this description here yet to enter, besides many places offered for sale second handed at about the same rate that I purchased for.  I would particularly speak of one piece of a hundred and sixty acres belonging to a Mr. Smith of this neighborhood, which he offers for four hundred dollars, which in point of soil nothing can exceed.  The reason why so many are willing to sell, is that they may get money enough to enter two or three times as much as they sell.  They frequently have other land in view of the neighborhood, and as soon as they pocket the money they are off to Palmyra to the landoffice.

The best land is lighter timbered; therefore a farm is very easy made.  How much the land will produce per acre, I am not prepared to say, but I am well assured the different kinds of grain will grow here abundantly.  As for grass, I do not expect there is a tame grass meadow in this neighborhood; but some miles from where I staid all night at the house of a gentleman who told me that he had sown about four acres of prairie in timothy, and at one mowing he believed he mowed from it twelve tons of good hay.

In all that I say about the country, I wish to avoid speaking extravagantly; therefore, I hope you will do me the justice to believe me sincere in all, as I am well aware to whom I am writing.  Then let me candidly tell you this country, with what I already possess in it, with its future prospects and advantages, I believe fully repays me for all the trouble and expense I have been at in getting to it.

This country is not very well watered.  There is some good springs, but water can generally be got by digging fifteen or twenty feet.  Tis a limestone country.  The chance for milling here is already better than you have in Greenup.  The mill is about five miles from me by a very good road.  Another is building and expects to grind this winter within each well fixt for business.

As for health, we have every reason, from the looks of the people here and from the situation of the country, from our own observation besides the information we get from the oldest settlers here, to believe it to be as healthy no doubt as Greenup or perhaps any other country.  I suppose within the compass of five miles around me there is no doubt forty families, actual settlers; and on inquiring I have been informed that amongst them there has not been more than four or five deaths this year, which is said by the oldest settlers to be the sickliest year of the last ten years.

This is said to be, and I believe is, a fine country for wheat, which is about four miles, with a sawmill to worth fifty cents per bushel.  Corn is worth one dollar per barrel.  Pork sells for two dollars per hundred.  There are cash articles.  Salt is one dollar per bushel.  Horses are worth so little here that I would advise any person coming to this country to come by water and buy their horses here for farming use.  A horse that will sell for sixty dollars with you, will not here bring more than thirty in cash.

As for society, we cannot complain; and there is Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists, a few of each, but of the latter I believe considerably the greatest number.  There is a Presbyterian Church constituted, I am told, within a few miles of us, consisting of eight or ten members.  Indeed most of the people here seem to be sober, moral, and orderly.  We are all pleased with them.

Thomas lives about one mile and a half from here.  He bought a place improved and has as much land as I have.  J. Stewart, about two miles off, also bough an improved place and has two hundred and forty acres.  Each farm is partly prairie and all excellent land, though before we got it we had to experience some of what is called ups and downs for the want of someone to show us land and give us the numbers.  Myself and Thomas road at least one-hundred miles before we got any satisfaction about it for want of some acquaintance who would show us.  On the night of the twenty-first November, on my way home from Palmyra, in one arm of the Grand Prairie, I got lost and lay out all night.  I believe it was five miles from my house, and cold.  Thomas on the night of the twelfth December lay out also in a prairie.

But we are here ready to assist you or any of our old neighbors and friends who may think proper to put it in our power to do so.  Harriet sends her best respects to both of you, also to Salley, Mrs. Ward, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Adams, Mr. Fufts, Mrs. Hernbuckle, and without distinction all and every one of her old neighbors, and desires to be the same to them again here in Masoura.

Harriet is quite hearty and is several pounds heavier than when we started.  My piece of paper is too small, or I should write to you much more.  We all live in Ralls County, between the north and middle forks of Salt River, and about thirty miles from Palmyra, which is ten miles from Hannibal, the nearest public landing to us.  When you write to us, direct to the Mount Prairie post office, Ralls County, Masoura.  I shall write to Mr. Gholson; please let him read this letter, and I will request the same of him for you.  And with due respect must remain, yours.

                                        R.D. Powers

Tell Simon that his wife and children are well, and that George has got him a wife.

If this should reach you before Edmund starts, tell him I want him to bring my old dog and two or three more good ones.  If he should stay until fall, tell him to write soon, as I shall want him to bring me several articles, such as farming tools, etc--.