Before the coming of Europeans, Osage and Missouri tribes roamed the area of Columbia and Boone County. The "Missouri," meaning "people with dugout canoes," were originally from the Ohio River Valley, prehistoric evidence shows. The fierce and fierce-looking Osage were the predominant tribe of the area. They were a pierced and tattooed, jewelry bedecked, tall, robust, warlike people who dominated other tribes in the region. The men shaved their heads but for a strip at the crown, and wore loincloths and buckskin leggings; the women wore deerskin dresses, and leggings and moccasins as well. They were primarily migrating hunters and gatherers, although they also farmed corn, beans, and pumpkins. The Osage are considered a fringe Plains tribe even though they dwelled mostly in forested areas, because they spoke a Sioux branch of language and went on buffalo hunting excursions on the Great Plains twice annually.
The first Europeans to encounter the Osage were the French, led by Marquette's exploration down the Mississippi for New France in the 1670s. The French and the Osage soon became partners in the fur trade, and with guns and horses gained from this union, the Osage dominated other tribes even more than before. They helped the French defeat the British in 1755, but stayed out of the colonial war. More Europeans came to the area; the Spanish influence grew as that of the French waned. The Osage were pushed to reservations in Kansas and finally what is now Oklahoma by a series of "treaties" made through the 1800s.
The United States gained the Missouri Territory from France in 1803. The Lewis and Clark expedition passed nearby in that same year, and Daniel Boone and his sons started a settlement in 1806. They also established the Booneslick Trail which led all the way from Kentucky to the Columbia area. In 1818 the town of Smithton, named for its purchaser, the Smithton Land Company, was established. However, in need of a better water supply, the entire town of 20 residents was moved to its present site in 1821. The settlement of mud-daubed log huts, which was surrounded by wilderness, was renamed Columbia, a popular name at the time, and became the seat of Boone County. Although Columbia is in the Midwest it had a very Southern feel in the early days, as many of its settlers were from below the Mason-Dixon line.
From its beginnings, the economy of Columbia has rested on education. It also benefited from being a stagecoach stop of the Santa Fe and Oregon trails, and later from the Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad (nicknamed Katy). Columbia was incorporated in 1826, five years after Missouri became the 24th state. The city's progress can be traced through the development of its institutions. In 1824 Columbia was the site of a new courthouse; in 1830 its first newspaper began; in 1832 the first theater in the state was opened; and in 1834 a school system began to serve its by then 700 citizens. The state's first agricultural fair was held in Columbia in 1835. A school for girls was opened in 1833, and an institution called Columbia College (unrelated to the present school) was opened in 1834. Also in 1834, one of the country's finest portrait artists, George Caleb Bingham, opened a studio in Columbia. In 1841, the University of Missouri was built in Columbia after Boone County won out over several competing counties in raising money and setting aside land. In 1851, Christian Female College was established; it went coed in the 1970s and changed its name to Columbia College. In 1855, Baptist Female College was established; still a women's-only school, it is now known as Stephens College. By 1839, the population and wealth of Boone County, with 13,000 citizens, was exceeded only by that of St. Louis County.
Slavery was a largely accepted practice in Columbia in its early days, and the slave population had reached more than 5,000 by the beginning of the Civil War. In fact, the sale of slaves continued until 1864. Before the Civil War many Columbians were very nationalistic and supported the Missouri Compromise, which would admit Missouri into the Union as a slave state, but would placate northerners with the admission of Maine as a free state and the establishment of the rest of the Louisiana Purchase, north and west of Missouri's southern border, as free territory. Early in the Civil War, Union forces secured the area and enforced mandatory draft into the local militia; however, although the state was officially Union, people were in reality sharply divided, and supported both sides with supplies and men.
Since the turmoil of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Columbia's history is marked by steady and quiet growth and prosperity, based on its roots in education, as well as health care and insurance. The health care business can be said to have started in 1822 when Dr. William Jewell set up a hospital in his own home; today Columbia is among the top in the nation for medical facilities per capita. The insurance business has its roots in Columbia's early days as well, when pragmatic local businessmen started a fund to aid one another in case of fire.
Historical Information: State Historical Society of Missouri, Lowry Mall, University of Missouri, Columbia campus; telephone (573)882-7083. Boone County Historical Society, 3801 Ponderosa Street, Columbia, MO; telephone (573)443-8936
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