A monument, installed nearly 100 years ago and marking explorer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s journey in the 19th Century to the area that’s now Springfield, is now accessible to the public.
When explorer, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, arrived at what is now Springfield in early January, 1818, the land was yet unspoiled. He described prairie grass so tall that a man could ride a horse through it without being seen.
His descriptive journal of the excursion, which he took with Levi Pettibone into the Ozarks to look for lead, left an historical documentation of what the area was once like. Bears, wolves, turkey, deer, elk, prairie chickens and other wildlife abounded, including an occasional buffalo. The Osage Indians lived here then along with a handful of white settlers.
A monument was erected in 1921 near Pearson Creek in southeast Springfield to mark the spot where Schoolcraft built a primitive lead smelter. The stone had been on private land, but it’s now available for anyone to view.
It took several men recently to lift the 700 pound monument onto the back of a truck on a pallet and to lift it down onto a pre-poured concrete slab on a Greene County right of way along Farm Rd. 199, just off E. Sunshine.
After Matt Forir, staff geologist with Greene County, applied a sticky substance to the concrete, the monument was carefully moved onto its final resting spot.
The moving of the monument has been in the planning stages for a few years, according to University Club president, Dave Fulton, who said they wanted to get it off of private land.
'We wanted to find a public place to put this, and this is good because it's on county right-of-way," he said.
Michael Bowers, who works for Greene County’s Environmental Resource Division, said the landowners wanted the monument moved, and it wasn’t accessible to the public. Once approval of the site was granted by the Greene County Highway Department, it was time to clean up the area.
"We just had to spray the foliage. We had some poison ivy. We had to clean that out, remove that foliage and then prepare the pad--pour some concrete," he said.
The project took a lot of coordination by various groups, Dave Fulton said. He was happy to finally see it in its new home.
"Just a lot of relief. It really is," he said. "We're very pleased with the location. We think it's a real pretty setting, and maybe it's found a permanent home, and it's in a place where the public can come and see it."
Bowers shared Fulton’s sentiment. He said the hard work was worth it since the monument reminds the public of Schoolcraft’s contributions to helping us understand our past.
"Smallin Civil War Cave is one noted (in)...Henry Schoolcraft's book, and then here, at the confluence of Pearson Creek and the James River where he mined lead. We know he was here. That is almost 200 years ago. We're coming up on the anniversary," said Bowers.
Eric Fuller is staff archaeologist at Smallin Cave in Ozark where Schoolcraft stopped before he headed 12 miles to the site where the monument now stands.
He said Schoolcraft spent four wintry days camped where Springfield is today smelting lead in much the same way the Osage Indians did.
The monument, he said, serves as a reminder of how the Ozarks were before they were developed.
"And Schoolcraft gives us the clearest picture of what the Ozarks were like before a lot of people moved in, and, coming to a site like this, you can actually be in a place where Schoolcraft definitely camped, and, much like our cave, you can actually stand where he stood," he said. "And so, it gives, I think, people a deeper appreciation as that bicentennial approaches, you know, we're reflecting back on that history and what it tells us about our ecology, what it talks about our geology and what it talks about our Native American and Euro-American history, so I think it's really important elements."
Schoolcraft didn’t return to mine lead in the Ozarks. He received an offer from the federal government to do a survey of the Great Lakes region and to find the headwaters of the Mississippi River, according to Fuller. He said the copper up north was more appealing than the lead here, and Schoolcraft would have the chance to work amongst Native Americans, with which he had a fascination. He would eventually marry a Native American woman whose stories and legends he recorded. Those writings, Fuller said, were the inspiration for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s, 1855 poem, “The Song of Hiawatha.”