(An American Tragedy)

Donald K. Muschany


[Letter 11]

July 3, 1977

Dear Doc:

     I came across a 1969 news item from St. Charles in which one of my more-famous ancestors, my great-great grandfather, is mentioned as being the recipient, multi-posthumously of course, of a new grave marker and dedicatory American flag from the United States Daughters of 1812.
     He was Samuel Keithly, Sr., who was born in Pennsylvania in 1789, and came to St. Charles County in 1808, astride his faithful pony. He married Polly Burkett, a local girl, and his worldly goods consisted of an axe . . . Yes, one axe. In time, though, he became a very wealthy man who was lovingly called “Uncle Sam” for his benevolence and neighborly deeds.
     An interesting sidelight occurred during the Civil War, when the Union Army got horses from the local farmers, telling them that Uncle Sam would pay for them in full. The farmers were amazed when they presented their bills to “Uncle Sam,” only to find out that this was not one of Sam Keithly’s charities. What’s in a name?
     Another anecdote tells more about Sam’s character. Many of the slaveholders resorted to vile punishment for any slave infraction, but apparently not Sam. One time Sam came upon a Slave boy who was supposed to be plowing, but was fast asleep. Sam picked up a bushy twig and stroked the boy’s face until he woke up with a start. No other punishment was necessary, Sam figured.
     My grandmother Emma Doughty married Emory Holman Keithly, and he was the grandson of Samuel Keithly, Sr. Emory and Emma had four children: Nell, Beulah, Leora and Orland. Emory took his family to Oklahoma and upon his death there Grandmother Keithly returned to St. Charles County and lived on the John Stewart place on the old Howell Ferry Road.
     My mother, Nellie Keithly, happily, married my dad, Morris, as was the fashion in those days, which custom I hope will return to vogue before I inter myself.
     Her sister, Beulah, married Percy Stewart and they had one daughter, Ruth Holman Stewart. Another sister, Leora, married Robert Fulkerson, a railroader at Hamburg, Mo.
     To revert to my “quilt” theory, can you see what I mean about so many Howell families coming together to form one large family? Each brought certain characteristics to the “whole” which accounts for a pleasant variety of interests among our relatives. Also, North Carolina and Virginia loom as the embryonic states of the clan and this brings up a point: I have always had a real love for these two beautiful and historical spots, but could not account for the feeling of “being at home” when I was there. Now, I know . . . I think.
     To return to ancestor Samuel Keithly, he served under Captain Daniel Boone and Colonel Alexander McNair, both superstars in the American History books. Fort McNair is named after the latter, by the way.
     Enough for now. See you anon, says

[signed: Don]

     A memorial marker on the grave of one of St. Charles County pioneers will be dedicated Saturday, at Mount Zion Cemetery near O’Fallon, at 2:30 p.m.
     Samuel Keithly, Sr., one of five brothers, settled in St. Charles County in 1808. In May of 1813 he enlisted as a private in Captain Daniel Boone’s Company of Mounted Rangers, commanded by Colonel Alexander McNair. In honor of his military service during the War of 1812 the St. Louis Pioneer Chapter, United States Daughters of 1812 will honor Private Samuel Keithly, Sr., by dedicating an 1812 Memorial Marker at his grave. A worthy informative address will be given by the noted historian, Wilbur Morse Shandland, Ed. D.
     During the graveside ceremony, one of the great-granddaughters, Mrs. A. Ray Oliver, of St. Charles will pay tribute by the placement of the American Flag at his grave. There are numerous St. Charles County residents who are descendants of this great pioneer Keithly family.”

Grave marked October 11, 1969, Wentzville Union



In Service For
God and Country


October 11, 1969

An address presented to
St. Louis Pioneer Chapter
N. S. U. S. Daughters of 1812


Wilbur Morse Shandland, A.M., Ed.D.

Dedication of War of 1812 Memorial Marker
Mount Zion Cemetery
O’Fallon, Missouri

     “1869—1969, a century’s span! Today, 1969, we are honoring Samuel Keithly, a veteran of the War of 1812. One hundred years ago last April, a year before his death, his many friends and neighbors along the “Old Salt Lick Road” were meeting “Uncle Sam” Keithly in the flesh in a joyful celebration of his fifty-one years of honorable residence among them.
     Riding his pony, the hardy pioneer had arrived in the Territory of Louisiana in 1808 with little worldly goods but plenty of “soul” as some people today would call it. It is said he had only $10 in his pocket when he came and hardly more than an axe for his worldly possessions when a few years later he married Peter Burkett’s sprightly daughter, Polly.
     The first home of rude logs and half a puncheon floor, by the exercise of good common sense and hard work, gave way to a several hundred acre plantation in old Survey No. 731, a short distance west of St. Peters. Here, too, stood his large brick home, south of old Highway 40, reminding the passer-by that Samuel Keithly had become a wealthy man for his time and the richest of his several brothers.
     Before the close of his earthly career he was married three times, and, as was sometimes the case, one of his wives (the second) brought as part of her dowry, a large number of slaves.
     Jacob Carter Keithly, a relative visiting the Samuel Keithly household in 1849, has written that the old Patriot lived like a patriarch, surrounded by some 18 children and orphan children of relatives and assorted dependents and slaves. In appearance he was somewhat like his brothers, rather stout weighing two hundred pounds—that in manner he was unassuming and genial in his ways and conversation and that he was a consistent member of the Methodist Church, fond of going to camp-meetings and liberal in its support.
     A year following this visit, Samuel Keithly appeared before his neighbors, John Orrick, Justice of the Peace, and Benjamin Emmons, Jr., Clerk of the Court, and made out his application for Bounty Land as so entitled for services in the War of 1812, dated 1850. Alexander King of St. Charles, Samuel’s attorney, processed the application and in due time it was approved and he received an allowance for 160 acres.
     It is altogether fitting that we gather this afternoon in the old Mount Zion Methodist Community of St. Charles County to honor the patriot, Samuel Keithly. No family was earlier nor more devoted to the saddle-bag ministry, sent to serve pioneer Methodists north of the Missouri River, than the Keithly family, nor more numerous to be found in the origins and support of the Mount Zion parish.
     Of this historic and extensive family, Samuel Keithly was one of the longer-lived of the clan—living from his birth March 31, 1789 until his death October 7, 1870, on his farm along the Old Salt Lick Road. He was the son of Jacob and Barbara (Roland) Keithly, migrants to Missouri from Pennsylvania via Kentucky, coming to St. Charles County to join a venturesome vanguard of hardy pioneers and to add their names to a list of the founders of the community that included Pitman, Darst, Griffin, Boone, Howell, Callaway, Castlio and the more local Dorsey, Sanford, McCluer, Yates, Heald, Dunlop, Bramlett, Woods, Boyd, Williams and Zumwalt.
     Of these, neighbor Jacob Zumwalt, is significant. Likewise, a hard-riding, loud shouting and long-praying Methodist, his fortified home became the place of protection as well as a center of Methodist fellowship. It is said that camp-meetings and communion services were held at his cabin even before the Methodist Conference for this part of Missouri was organized in 1807. The Keithlys were welcomed into this association and became active participants.
     Assuredly, the Mount Zion Society, as it was called, erected the first little church of logs a short distance away from the Zumwalt “fort” and assuredly, from the first, young Samuel attended the frequent prayer meetings, “in gatherings,” “love feasts” and camp-meetings of its historic fellowship.
     But first, peace and tranquility on the Missouri frontier had to be established, especially as regards the increasingly threatening attacks and outrages from the Indians, encouraged in their offensive movements by the nation’s second war with Great Britain.
     When the war was officially declared in June, 1812, it was soon apparent that young Keithly would soon be joining youthful companions, now grown to sturdy manhood and enrolled in the outfits largely appealing to their adventuresome spirits, the Missouri Mounted Rangers, led by the great Daniel Boone’s son, Captain Daniel Boone and commanded by Colonel Alexander McNair.
     Samuel Keithly enrolled May 17, 1813 in this courageous band and considerable of the action on the local frontier became part of his personal experiences.
     It is recorded that to strengthen the regular but inadequate army forces, companies of volunteers and rangers were authorized to be raised on the frontiers. In February of 1813, Congress authorized ten companies of Missouri and Illinois Rangers to be enrolled for one year to supplement those already in service. In May of that same year the nation was divided into nine military districts. The Eighth consisted of Kentucky, Ohio, and the Territories of Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Missouri with Illinois and Missouri as a sub-district under General Benjamin Howard.
     So it was in the Eighth Military District that Samuel Keithly served and one of his officers was the ill-fated James Callaway, Captain from the neighboring Femme Osage Community.
     For the most part, Keithly’s unit served as scouts and frontier guards, first patrolling the countryside northwest of St. Charles, working out of Stout’s Fort near the site of Auburn in Lincoln County, and Camp Pleasant on the Cuiver River.
     Samuel’s most memorable experience of the war was probably his participation in the Howard Expedition to the Peoria River Indian villages of the Kickapoos and Potawatomi in September and October of 1813. This was largely a Territorial Militia operation involving companies of Indiana and Kentucky militia, Illinois Units and Missouri Rangers.
     The Missouri Historical Society Collections tells the story:
     The Missouri troops crossed the Mississippi at Fort Mason on September 17 and joined the Illinois forces, making a total of fourteen hundred. General Howard was in command, assisted by Col. Alexander McNair, and Majors William Christy and Nathan Boone for the Missouri regiment and Col. Benjamin Stephenson, and Majors W. B. Whiteside and John Murdoch for the Illinois regiment. The army marched along the Mississippi to a point near the site of Quincy and then turned eastward toward the Peoria town where it arrived September 29.
     In the meantime Col. Robert Carter Nicholas with two hundred regulars ascended the Illinois in armed boats. They explored the region, began the erection of the fort at Peoria, and repelled an Indian attack before the arrival of Howard and the main body of troops. After Howard’s arrival he sent out detachments to pursue the Indians, but the men found the villages deserted. After destroying what provisions were found, they returned to camp. Howard then sent Major Christy up the river in two armed boats. Christy ascended the river to within seventy-five miles of Chicago but found no Indians. Major Boone with one hundred men was sent in the direction of Rock river, and he also reported that the country was deserted.
     The main body of troops labored at the building of Fort Clark, at Peoria, from the second to the fifteenth of October, bringing the timber from across the lake. The weather was unusually cold, and the officers decided that nothing more could be done; so upon the completion of the fort the troops returned to Camp Russell where they were disbanded on October 22.
     But not all of the campaigners were free to return to their homes. Samuel Keithly’s unit was one. Following the Peoria expedition, it was moved west along the Missouri River to Loutre Island near the north bank of the river and divided by Montgomery and Warren Counties. About 12 miles long, very fertile and amply wooded, Loutre had become a flourishing settlement by 1807, before the mainland was even occupied. It was the location of two outpost forts, Fort Talbot and Fort Clemson, both erected by the troops for its defense.
     This was to be the base of operations for patrolling this area of the river country for the remainder of Samuel Keithly’s period of enlistment. For the most part the company gave service here as scouts.
     In May, 1814, with his enlistment period concluded, Samuel Keithly left the service. He was soon followed by his original commander, Daniel Morgan Boone, who resigned June 21, 1814 to be succeeded as Captain by the unfortunate and dashing James Callaway.
     Unlike many of the Mounted Rangers, Samuel Keithly was a family man when he had volunteered for service. Youth was hardy in those days. True, they probably wore long haircuts, but what a difference! Danger was accepted as a way of life, boys reached man’s estate early and married young. In March of 1811, his marriage to Polly Burkett took place in St. Charles County and to this union their first child, Simon, was born a year later, to be followed by Obadiah who arrived apparently during his father’s period of enlistment. Then followed eleven other children before the faithful Polly passed away in October of 1835.
     Samuel married twice thereafter—first to Mrs. Polly (Gilbert) Stone, and lastly, to Mrs. Nancy (Sanders) Pulliam. From these unions four more children graced the Keithly household, making Samuel indeed a patriarch almost to match the tribes of Israel.
     Meanwhile, the spot where we are assembled today holds the concluding lines of tribute to Samuel Keithly. Saved from the ravages of Indian hostilities, the Mount Zion church grew in numbers and influence. In the 1850’s a new edifice was erected, it is said, of stone, here on this commanding hill-top to become known as Mount Zion Hill. Alongside was the spot hallowed for its honored dead. Although Mount Zion church was later moved into O’Fallon, this quiet God’s acre remains and it includes the well preserved Keithly markers we see today. Samuel and two of his wives are here, also certain of his numerous children, some of whom he outlived—also later generations.
     As I close this brief recall to the patriot scene, I am reminded of the lines of an old, stout-hearted Methodist missionary hymn, one that often resounded o’er the woods and rills of Mount Zion Hill. It begins:

                    O Zion haste, thy mission high fulfilling
                    To tell to all the world that God is Light
                    He who made all nations is not willing
                    One soul should perish lost in shades of night.

     Samuel Keithly, one of the foundations of Mount Zion, had such a mission—and in the dark days of 1812 and through the many years of four-square citizenry that followed, he fulfilled his mission faithfully.
     May we—the living—do as much—and as well!”