Sunday, December 6, 2015

History of The Land

In the beginning is usually how it starts. 

I won’t go that far back, but I would like to share a small amount of the local lore concerning the land on which the World Bird Sanctuary sits today. 

Some stories were passed on to me by people whose grandparents lived in the area; other information came from research; and, as with all historical research, some could just be out and out fabrications.

The World Bird Sanctuary exhibit line as it looks today—this ridge may have been host to Native American hunters at one time (photo: Gay Schroer)

The hills around the World Bird Sanctuary were said to have been a summer hunting ground for the builders of the Cahokia mounds.  The chert and other stones found here were important materials for the tools and weapons the early Native American cultures needed.  The Osage tribes inhabited the area in later years and were relocated to reservations in Oklahoma. 

Missouri also had a history of European settlers living alongside and fighting for native rights.  Both Lewis and Clark worked throughout their lives to find equitable solutions for any disputes in the territory.  Many of the hills in the area were filled with homesteaders. 

A former WBS employee’s grandparents had a cabin across Interstate 44 from our property.  I spoke to a gentleman when he was in his 90s and he told me numerous stories of his grandfather seeing bison along the river and of the lone elk which he would later help capture within the county park bearing its name. 

The forest was a haven for southern sympathizers or confederate guerrillas during the civil war.  Directly across the Meramec River from our property there is said to be a cave or tunnel, which was used to hide slaves escaping captivity.  Later, this same tunnel was said to have been used to sneak illegal alcohol into nearby taverns.

Shortly after the civil war these hills were almost entirely bare due to lumbering for the railroad and the country’s expansion.  One family owned most of the land and leased small plots for homes or vacation retreats. 

During prohibition Al Capone and his enforcer Frank Nitte were known to supply and be honored guests at the local speakeasies.  Pretty boy Floyd, a depression era bank robber and member of a super gang, which listed among its members Baby Face Nelson and John Dillinger, was known to have stayed in local flophouses.  One home nearby still exists and has a register which he signed. 

An old map showing the site of the World Bird Sanctuary and surrounding areas (photo: Joe Hoffmann) 

The summer homes were very popular and the town of Morschels was known for great weekend parties call “The Chicken Fry’s”.  Some nearby land was used as a military base during World War 2 and the Korean War. 

The highlighted area shows the approximate location of WBS today 

In the seventies the state of Missouri approached the landowners and obtained the property to be a future park.  Much of the land was developed into Castlewood State Park. 

On the south side of the river the town remnants remained, slowly decaying until the World Bird Sanctuary moved onto the land.  We would like you to come visit our center and enjoy this history.  Signs can be found on the World Bird Sanctuary trails throughout our site detailing some of the fascinating history of our site.

Submitted by Joe Hoffmann, Rehabilitation Hospital Manager

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