The North American Frontiersmen



Editor - Staff Writer

   Smoke Signals

                   Jul./Aug. '09



Missouri River Travel


The question seems to come up when period trekking is mentioned, canoeing, anyone ever do a canoe trip correctly? Then someone will say something about the small group from Colorado that has done some pretty good things traveling by water. Here is my first experience at period correct canoeing that included everything from the clothes, food, weapons and canoes that look the part. This trip has been made many times, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1998 and as recently as 2000. The trip is very enjoyable and just plain fun for folks like us history buffs. Little did I know how much we would be on the water after the first adventurer and how far we will have traveled in years to come.


This was our first long canoe trip in uncharted waters (at least to us), one of our group has been there before and now we follow, plans are made at my store in Masonville, Colorado - Buckhorn Rendezvous. Many show for the planned meeting, some are questionable (modern canoer's just looking for another trip), they are history real fast. Bonnet's Mill, MO. to Ft. de Chartre ILL. is a big adventure for everyone, until the time frame is shown, several others leave the meeting. Equipage, food and personal items are next, more leave - hey we're starting to get to a workable size. "What else can we bring up" says Jed Smith, one of the organizers and only one in the group to have made the trip before. Plans for everything we can think of are made, we have one year to being prepared - Jan. 1986

Jan. 1987 Wallace, KS, another meat hunt - buffalo - running, shootin', guttin', packin', all this is for our needed first canoe trip of any distance, on big rivers with a large group, have more people interested from other parts of the country. Going to de Chartre with 35 plus paddlers, we have been working on this trip since the previous years trip. Making allot of long distance calls, letters back and forth planning every step of the way, moving equipment, men and vehicles entails a lot of work to be done in a timely manner.

Apr. 1987 We meet in Arvada at Jed Smith's house, this will be the place we will meet at and leave from within a few weeks. Meeting and looking over gear goes very well, everyone is excited.

May 21, 87 Leave Masonville for Jed's, will meet rest of group and leave from this dispatch point early the next day. Driving to Jefferson, MO and then on to Bonnet's Mill, MO, meeting others at this prerranged put in point, vehicles will be taken by friends to Ft. de Chartre. Everyone gets to Jed's, sleeping all over his house, some get very little sleep, that’s OK they're not doing the driving.

May 22, 87 We load and unload some items that some want to take along, to much stuff, packrats and we told them to go light! Total number from Colorado is 22, will meet Frenchy with 12 more for a total of 34 men and 16 canoes, have a 20 footer with 4 men in it.

May 23, 87 After 18 hours of hard driving with little sleep we arrive in Bonnet's Mill, park at camp grounds and wait for day light, get a little sleep when Frenchy shows with his group and the drivers for the vehicles. We load canoes and change clothes very fast and put in on the Osage River, which we travel only a few miles and come out onto the Missouri river and head south at mile marker #130, we really get a lot of attention from the locals. I notice that many are very quiet as we start our adventure, then someone says they can't swim, we soon find we have several that haven't been in the water since grade school, hell of a time to let us know at this point.

Around an hour before dark we find a place suitable for a camp and give the order to pull in, it’s a damn “Chinese Fire Drill”, canoes going every which way, finally end up with two camps about a 1/2 mile apart. With everyone setting up their camp sites and then the fun starts with each little group stealing each others firewood, boys will be boys. I figure it will be early to bed, wrong it becomes a large party with everyone moving around visiting with others they haven't seen for a number of years, we had a lot of fun but paid for it the next day with lack of sleep.

May 24, 87 All are up early and packed while others police the area and we're off in short order, its cloudy and a light shower welcomes us. We pass mile marker #112, all in good shape and spirits, a few still have a little pucker factor for the non-swimmers.

Ben Thompson (Capt. Hook) is still riding Mike Ailor and now starting on Dennis Cox, they need someone to make them think about other things, other than not being able to swim. Never a dull moment between Jed, Ben or Ken Klabon, always something going on, my sides are starting to hurt from all the laughing. Starting to see a few cranes and a few deer along the banks and back washes.

Find a great spot that everyone can get into for a evening camp, Fire Drill starts again, damn canoe race, everyone should see such an event, sure that the locals get tickled from such a thing. Camps are now setup in record time and the hell raisers are having fun at their trade. Jed is yelling as usual about someone took his poop shovel and didn't bring it back. As darkness sets in so do these voyagers, finally a long day has ended.

May 24, 25, 87 We stop at Washington, MO get water and move on down river to Crosby Brown's for our evening camp, right on time as planned. Jed is using his usual mother-hen approach for our business (makes be laugh), several new guys are talking behind his back about being so pushy. This sounds bad but someone has to take charge and by far Jed is the best and handles everything, he would have been one hell of a military DI, everyone agrees.

May 26, 87 Leave Crosby's and travel 12 miles down river and stop at the "Tavern Cave", same cave that Lewis & Clark stayed in recorded in 1804. We walk about 2 1/2 to 3 miles with mosquitoes working on us all the way, finally get back to canoes and travel 4-5 miles within the St. Charles, MO area and setup our camp, no Fire Drill getting better at our skills – thanks to Jed.

May 27, 87 Arrive in St. Charles at 8:30 am, good time for this large a group, make 30 miles to the Mississippi and you should see the whip lash from the puckered butts when the non- swimmers see the size of this body of water. Wait until they see the barges, bridges and their supports or all the traffic moving around on this water.

We do our portage in a fast 1 1/4 hours, pretty good for the number of canoes that have to be moved around this piece of land. The water is rough and several almost go under at the "Chain of Rocks", we camp on Mosenthine Island, good camp and the fellowship level has really improved.

May 28, 87 It was really warm last night with clear skies, today it is beautiful and everything and everyone is working as good as any team you have ever seen, nice, no problems and Jed gets a chance to be quiet for a change. Now passed St. Louis and about 20-21 miles from the Fort will give us the chance for an early camp and be able to relax a little.

May 29, 87 We get a late start to arrive at 11 am, as we had promised the year before, an easy 21 miles, now that we have become hardened to the paddling. Lots of people waiting to see us land, they came down from the Fort to help move equipment to the encampment.

May 30 through Jun 3, 1987 We are telling our stories of our journey and what a time we had, the people we met and their willingness to help, they gave without receiving. There are good people out there, no matter what the news media says. This trip like many to follow would have been much hardier, if at all possible, if it wasn't for the efforts of one Riley Cottingham, alas Jed Smith. The original Mr. J. Smith would be proud of the one that wears the name in the 21st century.

Near Washington, MO. visiting a cove while on the Missouri River 1986. revisited in 1989, 1990, 1992, 1998 and as recently as 2000. Probably my last long river trip do to health concerns at 68 years old per the saw-bones. If you have a chance to take a trip as described on this site, do everything possible to make it happen, it will be one you'll always remember.


Buck Conner



Page 10

updated  07/10/2009

This website may not be reproduced in part or in whole without the written permission of the North American Frontiersmen.

All Rights Reserved, Copyrighted 2005-2009.