Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Cooper brothers decided to stay and fight for home

Last Monday I misspelled Sarshall, the first name of Benjamin Cooper’s brother, but if you read Sarshall’s message to the territorial governor, it’s obvious that spelling in the 1800s on the Western frontier had little significance. His tombstone has the erroneous spelling: Sharshall.

At the outbreak of the War of 1812, Gov. Benjamin Howard warned the settlers at Cooper’s Bottom that they were in great peril and should move near St. Louis. Once-friendly American Indians had become belligerent and extremely dangerous. Capt. Sarshall Cooper, the middle one of three brothers, was in charge of the fort, and he wrote to Gov. Howard:

"We have maid our Hoams here and all we have is here ... it wud ruen us to Leave now. We all be good Americans, not a Tory or one of his Pups among us & we have 2 hundred Men and Boys that will fight to the last and we have 100 Women and Girls whut will tak their places wh. makes a good force. So we can Defend this Settlement wh. with God’s help we will do. So if we had a few barls" - barrels - "of Powder and a hundred Lead is all we ask."

News of the declaration of war with England reached St. Louis in July 1812. There were only 178 soldiers in the regular army in all of the area that would later be Missouri. "Alarms, rumors, fears and uncertainty spread throughout the territory." The savages were so bold and dangerous that the settlers in Cooper’s Bottom "betook themselves to means of defence," building four forts called Cooper, Hempstead - or McLane - Kincaid and Cole.

Widow Hannah Cole, with nine children, and her sister and brother-in-law Stephen and Phoebe Cole, with five children, elected to cross the river from the others and establish Cole’s Fort near present day Boonville. One reason for pioneer families spreading out was that if many were killed from one group, friends in another area could care for the wounded and surviving children.

Fort Cooper was the center of the Howard County military community, and the 112 men selected Sarshall Cooper as their captain. The most disastrous American Indian attacks of the period occurred in 1815, in the last six months of the war. The American Indians were free to surround them, but the settlers couldn’t leave the stockades. Historian Edwin Stephens wrote: "By vigilance, heroism and energy they succeeded in raising bread for their families." They crowded into the forts for what would be imprisonment - with inadequate food, water and other necessities. Some died, and about 20 were killed by American Indians in three years of scattered raids.

Milly Cooper, young daughter of Braxton, saved Fort Cooper from a destructive raid by volunteering to ride a horse six miles to Fort Hempstead for help. As she was ready to bound out of the stockade, her father asked, "Is there anything I can give you for risking this brave deed?" She said, "Only a spur, Father," and out she sped, dumbfounding the American Indians. She returned at the head of a large rescue party, frightening the American Indians, who hastily withdrew.

On April 6, 1815, as Sarshall Cooper sat in the fort, holding a little child on his lap, an American Indian sneaked an arrow through a gap in the vertical half-logs of the stockade and killed their beloved leader instantly, at age 52. No other death during the war elicited greater sorrow or excited more desire for vengeance than did the killing of Capt. Sarshall Cooper. Many Cooper relatives have contacted me, so I will soon list the various sources of the material I’ve presented.


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