Fort Pike sign

The former site of Fort Pike is now a recreation area along the Des Moines River at St. Francisville. Photo by Brent Engel

Fort Pike was the kind of deterrent that often gets overlooked by history, but the short-lived garrison briefly kept Missouri safe during the Black Hawk War.

The primitive block houses surrounded by a barrier made of honed trees was at what is now St. Francisville along the Des Moines River in Clark County. It was built by Pike County men starting on June 10, 1832.

Their leader was Adam Mase, a Kentucky native who came to Pike County in 1819. He was a tanner, turning raw animal hides into leather for a variety of uses.

The proximity of battles between federal troops and the Native leader known as Black Hawk forced Missouri Gov. John Miller to call up militia. Mase put together the 1st Company Pike County Missouri Volunteers.

After two weeks of back-breaking work battling heat and mosquitos, the men were tired and grumbling.

“A wagon laden with whiskey, salted beef, bacon and flour arrived fortuitously on July 3,” wrote author Mary Ellen Rowe. “Instead of a mutiny, the men rallied to celebrate the Fourth in grand style.”

The fort never fired a shot in anger. Miller soon ordered the men to return home. The volunteers offered to stay an additional month, but Miller “wanted the rowdy … Pike men replaced with more reliable companies,” according to Rowe.

Mase and his troops left on July 18. Black Hawk surrendered on Aug. 27 and Fort Pike was abandoned the following month.

Mase went on to serve as a Frankford postmaster and a state representative, and in 1848,  he ran unsuccessfully for Pike County sheriff. He died at age 67 on June 15, 1865.

The site of Fort Pike later was used as a ferry landing. Today, it is a recreational area maintained by the Missouri Department of Conservation near the old St. Francisville bridge.

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