VIII. The Missouri Frontier

In May 1812, Congress declared war on Britain. Evans may well have supported the cause, judging by the anti-British views expressed by the Wythe County Democratic Society, of which he was a member. (Note 1.) It is not evident that any of his four sons enlisted or served in the army, although each of them was of military service age in 1812. (Note 2.)

The Treaty of Ghent, which concluded the War of 1812, was negotiated in December 1814 and ratified in Washington in February 1815. It was about that time that Evans must have begun preparations to leave Wythe County because, on May 19, 1815, he signed a contract to sell his New River ferry and adjacent lands to Thomas Jackson. (Note 3.)

Excerpt of May 19, 1815 sale contract for ferry and land (Wythe County, Va., Deed Book 6, p. 293)

Excerpt of May 19, 1815 sale contract for ferry and land (Wythe County, Va., Deed Book 6, p. 293)

That transaction took place at about the same time as the death of Evans’s wife Elizabeth, which has been reported to have happened on June 7, 1815. (Note 4.) In accordance with local custom, it is likely that she was buried on the family property in the vicinity of the New River ferry and nearby farmstead.

Now 56 years old, Jesse Evans was making preparations to move to the Missouri Territory. Whatever the reasons for his decision, the move may have been delayed by the War of 1812. Hostilities in Missouri between Indians allied with the British and the American army and settlers would have made relocation to that territory particularly risky prior to the end of the war.

In the first half of September 1815, Evans executed deeds to close the sale of his property to Jackson. (Note 5.) He also recorded his earlier sale of the eight-acre mill property to David Pierce and sold his last remaining Cove Creek property. (Note 6.) On September 12, he prevailed on the Wythe County court to formally record his public service with the following entry in the county’s order book:

On the motion of Jesse Evans Esquire who is about to remove out of this state, it is ordered to be certified, that the said Jesse Evans hath represented this County thrice in the Legislature of Virginia, that he hath filled the office of Sheriff, Coroner, and Major in the Militia of this Commonwealth, and hath acted as a Justice of the Peace for many years.

Sept. 12, 1815 entry certifying public service of Jesse Evans (Wythe County, Va., Order Book)

Sept. 12, 1815 entry certifying public service of Jesse Evans (Wythe County, Va., Order Book)

That fall, Evans moved his household to St. Charles County in the Missouri Territory. More than a century later, a cousin of the Evans family wrote that Evans kept a journal that contained the following entry: “September 28, 1815, this day, Jesse Evans moved from New River to Saint Charles on the Missouri.” (Note 7.) Evans’s destination was not the town of St. Charles (although he almost certainly passed through that place) but the settlement at Cote Sans Dessein on the north bank of the Missouri River a hundred miles further west.

Moving with him were about a dozen slaves and almost all of his children. Although his children and their own households may not have traveled with him or relocated the same year, all nine of them except Ann Evans McCampbell were in Missouri before long. (Note 8.)

Excerpt of Oct. 22, 1816 deed to Prospect K. Robbins and Joseph Evans (St. Charles Co., Mo., Deed Book D, p. 88)

Excerpt of Oct. 22, 1816 deed of lot in town of St. Charles to Prospect K. Robbins and Joseph Evans (St. Charles Co., Mo., Deed Book D, p. 88)

Also relocating to Missouri at about the same time was Evans’s friend Josiah Ramsey, a fellow veteran of the Virginia Illinois Regiment commanded by George Rogers Clark. In all, Evans’s move meant the relocation of more than 30 people from Virginia to Missouri.

His son Joseph Evans didn’t move to central Missouri with his father but instead established his home in the town of St. Charles where he entered into a business partnership with Prospect K. Robbins. On October 22, 1816, the two men purchased a lot on the east side of Main Street and extending 300 feet to the bank of the Missouri River. (Note 9.)

Marriage record, Elizabeth Evans to Prospect K. Robbins (St. Charles Co., Mo. Marriage Book 1807-1826, p. 48)

Marriage record, Elizabeth Evans to Prospect K. Robbins (St. Charles Co., Mo., Marriage Book 1807-1826, p. 48)

Jesse Evans’s daughter Elizabeth would also live in the town of St. Charles. She, too, had met Robbins very shortly after arriving in Missouri, and the two were married on March 17, 1816. (Note 10.) The meeting and marriage may have taken place at Cote Sans Dessein because Daniel Colgan, the justice of the peace who officiated, was recorded in the 1817 territorial census as residing in that village.

Robbins was an educated man who, at the time of his marriage, was engaged in performing surveying for the federal government. (Note 11.) The prior year, he had contracted to survey the Fifth Principal Meridian in Arkansas and Missouri, which is the north/south reference line for property descriptions in the states of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota, and much of Minnesota and North Dakota. (Note 12.) In 1816, he contracted to do more detailed surveying of the territory that included Cote Sans Dessein. (Note 13.)

Excerpt of Jan. 2, 1817 contract to survey St. Charles County (Missouri Surveying Contracts, Vol. 1, Microfilm F1483, Missouri State Archives)

Excerpt of Jan. 2, 1817 contract to survey St. Charles County (Missouri Surveying Contracts, Vol. 1, Microfilm F1483, Missouri State Archives)

The business partnership between Joseph Evans and Prospect K. Robbins included performing surveying for the federal government. (Note 14.) In January 1817, the two entered into a contract to perform the first survey of territory that included present-day St. Charles County and the lands directly north up to the Mississippi River. (Note 15.)

The survey work excluded the villages of St. Charles and Portage des Sioux but otherwise required establishing corners for all quarter sections, that is, every half mile. The work also included surveying all land previously deeded to individuals, which would have included the properties of Daniel Boone and his family. The contract provided that Robbins and Evans would be paid three dollars per mile for work completed. They were ultimately paid a total of three hundred dollars. (Note 16.)

Location of original settlement at Cote Sans Dessein on modern map

Location of original settlement at Cote Sans Dessein on modern map

Cote Sans Dessein

The site of Cote Sans Dessein is on the north bank of the Missouri River, 10 miles downstream from present-day Jefferson City, shown with a red circle on the accompanying map. In 1815, when Jesse Evans relocated there, no town in the Missouri Territory was further west than the village at Cote Sans Dessein. At that time, there were only scattered settlers in the lands along the Missouri River further west, although beginning in 1805, salt production was intermittently carried out at Boone’s Lick (Boonslick) 60 miles upriver. (Note 17.)

An ongoing settlement had been established at Cote Sans Dessein by 1808, although some believe that people were residing there before 1800. (Note 18.) Most of the earliest residents were of French origin, as is the name, which literally means hill “without design” or “without purpose” but might have carried the colloquial meaning “silly,” “crazy,” or “stupid.”

Map showing the hill “Cote Sans Dessein” (Loose Creek Quadrangle, Mo., 7.5 Minute Series, United States Geological Survey (1975))

Map excerpt showing the hill “Cote Sans Dessein” (Loose Creek Quadrangle, Mo., 7.5 Minute Series, United States Geological Survey (1975))

The hill described by the name is a peculiar geological feature that is a mile long, only 300 to 400 feet wide, and rises about 150 feet above the river. On the north side of the river channel, it is the only hill within the mile-wide flood plain. No village remains today at this location because periodic river floods in the 1800s destroyed property and forced residents to relocate to higher ground.

Across the river from the hill is Dodds Island, which today exists as a four-mile-long peninsula. This land was a true island in the river when Cote Sans Dessein was settled, but twentieth century engineering connected the west end to Cole County, effectively relocating the junction of the Osage River and Missouri River four miles to the northeast. The shape of both the island and the north river bank where the village was located are much different today from the way they appeared in 1815.

Map of Cote Sans Dessein township, Callaway County, Mo., showing land use and property ownership patterns (Loose Creek Quadrangle, Mo., 7.5 Minute Series, United States Geological Survey (1975))

Map excerpt, Cote Sans Dessein township, Callaway County, Mo., showing land use and property ownership patterns (Loose Creek Quadrangle, Mo., 7.5 Minute Series, United States Geological Survey (1975))

This part of Missouri was not surveyed until about 1820, which means that property transactions before that time did not rely on the standard rectilinear section / township / range descriptions that otherwise prevail in the American midwest and west. The extent of the original Cote Sans Dessein settlement therefore remains visible today in land use patterns. The area that would otherwise be divided into mile-square sections within Township 44 North of Range 9 West is largely covered by more informal, traditional property boundaries that do not align with the compass points.

Although Evans may have waited for the War of 1812 to end before he moved to Missouri, violence between Indians and settlers there continued after the formal end of the war. A group of Sac and Fox Indians attacked at Cote Sans Dessein on April 4, 1815, resulting in an extended battle in which five residents and 14 Indians died. (Note 19.)

A description of the village of Cote Sans Dessein as it was in 1817 was written decades later by Thomas James Ferguson, who was eight years old when he moved there that year with his parents. (The complete text is included on the page “1817 – Ferguson’s Description of Cote Sans Dessein.”) In addition to listing names of residents at that time, Ferguson gave a physical description of the place. (Note 20.)

I remember that there were then bearing apple and peach trees in several gardens. The village at that time contained 300 or 400 inhabitants. There were two small dry goods stores, one grocery or dram shop, one tavern, and one blacksmith shop. This point was selected by Baptiste Roy and his brothers as a very suitable place for trapping and hunting. The Osage river valley was only three miles above and was at that time an excellent place for beaver, deer, and bear.

The residents of Cote Sans Dessein, including Evans and his son George, played a bit part in the disputed 1816 election for the Missouri Territory’s delegate to Congress. In the June 16 election, John Scott (1785-1861), a lawyer practicing in Ste. Genevieve, ran against the sitting delegate, Rufus Easton. Claiming that he had won a majority of votes, Scott presented his credentials to the House of Representatives on August 6, 1816. Easton successfully challenged the election results, and the seat became vacant on January 13, 1817. (Note 21.)

Among other things, Easton claimed that the voting from Cote Sans Dessein was improper. The 24 votes, which were 23 to 1 in favor of Scott, had been submitted on an irregular ballot. (Note 22.) Among the 23 votes for Scott were “Jesse Avans” and “George Avans,” which spelling may give an idea of the way the surname was pronounced at the time. A more detailed statement by Easton published several months later confirms that the name “Avans” referred to “Evans” and gave other reasons for challenging the two Evans votes. (Note 23.)

[T]he depositions of Peter Powell and Asa Williams, prove, “that George Evans, alias Avans, and Jesse Avans, whose names appear on the list as voting for Mr. Scott, had not been in the territory eight months prior to the day of elections; and that the votes were given by word of mouth.”

In 1817 and 1818, Jesse Evans bought the following properties (or rights to them) at Cote Sans Dessein.

  • October 7, 1817: from Baptist (Baptiste) Bellou, a parcel that had previously been inhabited by Catherine Chartran, for $60. (Note 24.)
  • March 18, 1818: from John Mary (Jean Marie) Cardinal, a parcel for $50. (Note 25.)
  • April 24, 1818: from Baptiste Graza (Grayson), a parcel one acre (208 feet) in width fronting the Missouri River and 7 acres (1456 feet) in depth, for $135.25. (Note 26.)
  • May 22, 1818: from Collease Montergee (Cellease Monteagee), a parcel on the “Island opposite the Cote” (hill), for $100. (Note 27.)
Map showing Missouri River at Cote Sans Dessein as it existed in 1894 (___ Quadrangle, Mo. 15 Minute Series, United States Geological Survey (1894))

Map excerpt showing Missouri River at Cote Sans Dessein as it existed in 1894 (Fulton (Chamois) Quadrangle, Mo., 30 Minute Series, United States Geological Survey (1894))

The recorded deeds for these properties give no further information about their location or size. As a result, it may not be possible to place them on a map.

Changes in the Missouri River since that time make it even more challenging to interpret nineteenth century descriptions of land in the vicinity. The accompanying USGS map from 1894 shows a much different river bank—particularly where the village was located northeast of the hill. The property described in the May 22, 1818 deed may have been on Dodds Island, the island further northeast, or even another island that no longer exists. (The town of Dauphine shown on the 1894 map, which didn’t exist in 1818, was later renamed Bonnots Mill.)

Photo looking east down Missouri River from Clark's Hill at original confluence with Osage River

Photo looking east down Missouri River from Clark’s Hill above original confluence with Osage River

Below is another map of Cote Sans Dessein from the same period that details the river and its flood plain. (Note 28.) The map notes (not pictured) state that the shore line shown is from an 1890 survey and that the topography is mainly from an 1879 survey. This map suggests that the site of the original village was at least partly on land that is now under the flowing water of the river.

Excerpt of Plate VI, 1894 Missouri River Commission map series (United States Geological Survey)

Excerpt of Plate VI, 1894 Missouri River Commission map series (United States Geological Survey)

Excerpt of March 18, 1818 deed from John Mary (Jean Marie) Cardinal to Jesse Evans, Sr. with acknowledgement taken by Jesse Evans, Jr. (St. Charles County, Mo., Deed Book E, p. 52)

Excerpt of March 18, 1818 deed from John Mary (Jean Marie) Cardinal to Jesse Evans, Sr. with acknowledgement taken by Jesse Evans, Jr. (St. Charles County, Mo., Deed Book E, p. 52)

Evans’s March 18, 1818 deed listed above is one of the few records that documents the presence of his son Jesse Evans, Jr., in Missouri. The younger Jesse had been appointed a justice of the peace and served in that capacity for the seller’s acknowledgement. (Note 29.) Also appearing on the deed, as a witness, was Josiah Ramsey.

During the time that Jesse Evans was establishing himself at Cote Sans Dessein, his youngest son George Washington Evans married Hannah Chribbs. (Note 30.) The marriage likely occurred in late 1817 or early 1818 because George and his new father-in-law Drury R. Prichard jointly purchased a small property (120 feet by 246 feet) at Cote Sans Dessein on August 20, 1818. (Note 31.) Like Jesse Evans’s properties, this one may be impossible to place exactly on a map but adjoined Jesse Evans’s April 24, 1818 property acquisition and fronted the Missouri River. Jesse’s son John Evans served as a witness for the August 20 deed and documents John’s presence in Missouri.

Headings of 1817 census record for township of Cote Sans Dessein, St. Charles Co., Mo.

Headings of 1817 census record for township of Cote Sans Dessein, St. Charles Co., Mo. (St. Charles County Historical Society)

A census was taken in 1817 for St. Charles County. (Note 32.) The enumeration contains the following categories:

  • White free males 45 years and upwards
  • White free males of 18 and under 45 years
  • White free males under 18 years
  • White females of 14 years and upwards
  • White females under 14 years
  • Free coloured and black people: Males
  • Free coloured and black people: Females
  • Slaves of 45 years and upwards
  • Slaves of 16 and under 45
  • Slaves of 10 and under 16

Jesse Evans appears on the second page of the list for the township of Cote Sans Dessein, as shown here, in a household otherwise only including 11 slaves: two 45 or older, seven between 16 and 45, and two between 10 and 16. The next entry is for his 27-year-old son George along with eight slaves and, inexplicably, two white females at least 14 years old and five white males under 18.

Excerpt of 1817 census record for township of Cote Sans Dessein, St. Charles Co., Mo., listing households of Jesse Evans, Sr., and son George

Excerpt of 1817 census record for township of Cote Sans Dessein, St. Charles Co., Mo., listing households of Jesse Evans, Sr., and son George (St. Charles County Historical Society)

Also appearing on the 1817 list was Jesse Jr., listed with only one white female 14 years and upwards, presumably his wife Joanna.

Excerpt of 1817 census record for township of Cote Sans Dessein, St. Charles Co., Mo., listing household of Jesse Evans, Jr.

Excerpt of 1817 census record for township of Cote Sans Dessein, St. Charles Co., Mo., listing household of Jesse Evans, Jr. (St. Charles County Historical Society)

Notice of stray horse appraised by Jesse Evans and Jabez Hubbard (Missouri Gazette, April 20, 1816, Missouri Historical Society)

Notice of stray horse appraised by Jesse Evans and Jabez Hubbard (Missouri Gazette, April 20, 1816, Missouri History Museum)

At the end of that year, the elder Jesse purchased from his son John two slaves: Peter, about 26 years old, and Nanna, about 24. (Note 33.)

Also during 1817, the elder Jesse was appointed by St. Charles County to serve as the administrator of the estate of John King. (Note 34.) Although the records don’t disclose a family relationship, it is possible that the decedent was related to him through the marriage of his daughter Nancy to George King. (Note 35.)

Newspaper article describing post office at Cote Sans Dessein (Missouri Gazette, May 1, 1818, Missouri Historical Society)

Newspaper article describing post office at Cote Sans Dessein (Missouri Gazette, May 1, 1818, Missouri History Museum)

As noted above, his son Jesse Jr. had been appointed to serve as a justice of the peace. A series of notices appeared in the St. Louis newspaper, the Missouri Gazette, during this time that involved stray horses and referred to a Jesse Evans as either the appraiser or a justice of the peace. (Note 36.) The references may refer to either the younger Jesse or the elder one, who may also have served as a justice of the peace in the Missouri Territory.

As will be described in the next part, the elder Jesse became actively involved in the life of his new frontier community. Permanent settlement of the region was solidified by the establishment of a post office at Cote Sans Dessein in 1818, and Evans’s son Jesse Jr. was appointed to serve as the first postmaster there. (Note 37.)

On July 5, 1819, a scientific expedition under the command of Major Stephen Long arrived at Cote Sans Dessein. (Note 38.) The group of scientists and military men was travelling on the steamboat Western Engineer as part of a larger effort, sometimes called the Atkinson-Long Expedition or Yellowstone Expedition, to explore and establish forts along the upper Missouri River. The group’s observations as well as their daily activities were compiled and published by Edwin James in 1823. (The portion concerning Cote Sans Dessein and surrounding area is included on the page “1819 – Long Expedition in Central Missouri.”)

James’s account, which includes a retelling of the 1815 Indian battle at Cote Sans Dessein, notes that the “place contains about thirty families mostly French, occupying as many small log cabins, scattered remotely along the left bank of the river.”

In 1821, Jesse Evans facilitated a delivery of corn from the federal government to Indians who had come to the village. The transaction is recorded in a letter that Evans sent to William Clark, who was by that time the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, as well as territorial governor. (Note 39.)

Cote Sans Dessein
May 14th 1821

Dr Sir
I have given due attention and fulfilled all your commands. 300 or 400 Indians with 3 chiefs called here a few days since and received the balance of the corn. If you have any further commands for me please to write them and they will be attended to with pleasure.

I have the honor to be with great esteem your most obt srvt
Jesse Evans

Notes on the reverse of the document show that it was received by Clark on May 22, 1821, having been delivered by George Evans, and was answered the same day.

Later that year would come statehood for Missouri and the question of where the state’s capital city would be located.

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