Nathan H. Parker The Missouri Handbook, 1865

I've been digging through whatever early books I can find in the stacks at work. Partly I want to uncover old descriptions of the Ozarks, to see how well or poorly they square with what's on the ground now. And partly I just want an excuse to revisit old favorites (Schoolcraft, and Leonard Hall's Stars Upstream).

This was the oldest book on Missouri in the stacks. It was published in 1865 in St. Louis, I think by a firm called P.M. Pinkard and Co. But I'm not sure about the publisher, since the title page is almost all gone.

Half of the book is an overview of Missouri, with a considerable amount of attention paid to the state legislature's formal abolition of slavery. This act appears to be separate from the state's ratification of the 13th amendment, which is confusing, but which we'll let rest, since I don't want to get drawn off on a tangent.

The other half of the book consists of descriptions of each of the state's counties. I looked at the entries for the counties with which I am familiar, and I didn't really find them all that useful.

The overview, however, is a genuine howler. The second biggest is, "there are very rich and extensive mines of gold in southeast Missouri" (italics in the original). And it isn't like Parker just says this once, as if it is a mistake. He says it again and again.

The biggest howler is that sugar cane will grow in Missouri.

Parker is clearly engaged in pimping "The Queen of the West" to eastern audiences thinking about moving west. In fact, that's the whole point, made in both prose and verse. Missouri has every advantage, etc., so every last person of ambition should pack up and head here. Now!

He does, however, make an interesting point in passing.

The Ozarks, he says, should be viewed as an "elevated tableland" which originates in Colorado and extends to the Mississippi, and which divides the Missouri and Arkansas River basins. In other words, the Ozarks are the easten end of another continental divide, one that runs west-to-east, and that divides the upper plains from the lower plains.

This makes a kind of sense. I'm used to thinking about the eastern Ozarks as being divided into three big chunks: the part that drains south toward Arkansas via the Eleven Point, Current, Black and St. Francis Rivers; the part that drains into the Missouri via the Osage, the Gasconade, etc; and the Meremec, which would drain into the Missouri, except that the Crescent Hills force it east to the Mississippi.

Oh yeah: Parker also notes that there is (was) a lot of yellow pine in the state, and that "capitalists" (his word, not mine) would (and did) do well to hurry up and log it all off. He gets that part right too.

Update: Google Books has this book available here.