Drive west from Nixa, Missouri, on Highway 14, and right before crossing the James River you will encounter one of the earliest settlements in Southwest Missouri: Delaware Town.
Delaware Town was named for the Lenape or Delaware tribe, who were relocated to the west of the Mississippi River in 1817 as part of treaty negotiations in exchange for tribal lands in what is today Ohio.
Traditionally the James River valley had been part of the hunting grounds of the powerful Osage Nation, who ceded all land claims to the United States in an 1808 treaty which was negotiated by William Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame.
By the early 1820s, the Lenape had moved from Ohio to along the Current and Jacks Fork rivers to the James.
Accompanying them was Joseph Philibert from Kaskaskia, Illinois, and William Gillis, who was employed by the Ste. Genevieve fur-trading firm of Menard and Valle.
Ste. Genevieve is considered by many historians as the first permanent European settlement west of the Mississippi, part of the Illinois Country, or Upper Louisiana.
Many of its inhabitants, such as the Menard and Valle families, were originally from French Canada.
The firm controlled the commerce in the Ozarks, including the fur trading “factories” at Delaware Town.
With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, thousands of new American settlers rushed into the Louisiana Territory and soon became neighbors (sometimes unwelcome) of the Native American, French, and Spanish inhabitants of the area.
Delaware Town was composed of several smaller villages above and below the confluence of the James and Finley rivers.
Each village was led by a sub-chief known as “Captain” (Captain Pipe’s Village, etc.) The Chief of the Lenape was William Anderson, born of a Lenape mother and Swedish father in Pennsylvania.
The Lenape lived in log structures like their European neighbors, although some lived in small round huts manufactured from cedar boughs and covered with grass or animal skins.
They planted crops in fields along the James, but several floods washed away their crops, such as corn and pumpkins.
The Lenape wore European clothing, although they were frequently decorated with beads, metal bells, and glass.
They hunted with European guns and used metal tools like hoes and axes, illustrating their dependence on years of trade with Europeans.
Besides farming and hunting, the Lenape also engaged in recreational activities like horse races; a large racetrack was located upstream near the confluence of the James and Wilson’s Creek.
While the original location of Gillis’ trading post and residence is unknown, the late Senator and local historian Emory Melton stated that the main settlement was located on the east side of the James, almost due west of modern-day Nixa.
Gillis’ home was a traditional “dog-trot” structure, with two “pens” or rooms and a gallery in between under a common roof. Each room had a chimney, window, and door.
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