“I was married on the 26th of September, 1799. On the first of October, without any company but my husband, I started to Missouri, or Upper Louisiana. We had two ponies and our packhorse. [We arrived] in St. Louis the last of October. We went to St. Charles County and located about twenty miles above St. Charles. We crossed the river at St. Charles by placing our goods on a skiff. My husband rowed and I steered and held the horse by the bridle. It was rather a perilous trip for so young a couple. I was just sixteen, my husband eighteen.”
Olive VanBibber was 16 when she left her family in Ohio and headed to Louisiana Territory (Spanish territory that would become Missouri). She was freshly married to Nathan Boone (yes of that Boone family). When they arrived in St. Charles County the newlyweds traded a horse, saddle and bridle for 640 acres and started life together. Nathan headed out further west doing whatever men did on the frontier, and Olive and a slave girl set up house in a little log cabin by a spring.
Nathan Boone: “In the spring of 1800 I built this cabin. It was small, without a floor, and as the spring rains began, water came in. Occasionally the puddles on the floor were several inches deep. My dear wife, Olive, and her Negro girl got poles to lay down for string pieces, then peeled elm bark and laid it down as a floor, the rough side up to prevent its warping or rolling up. That winter and spring she and her Negro girl cut all the wood and fed the cattle while my father and I were absent hunting.”
Olive’s experience hacking out a living in the wilderness isn’t that unique – hundreds of women did it- but we’ve no clue what most went through. Thanks to Lyman Draper (who was researching her father-in-law Daniel), we know a bit about what life was like for a woman in Missouri 200 years ago.
“When she wanted a sieve, she peeled a piece of bark from a hickory tree, bent it together to a proper size in circular shape, lapped the ends, and stitched them with bark strings. She then tanned a deer skin with ashes, stretched it tightly over the hoop, and fastened it securely. Then with a heated wire she burned holes through the skin and then had a sieve which answered a very good purpose.”
Olive Boone was a tough woman. She solved problems, managed the household and farm, had a baby every other year for most of her life (14 in all) and was primary caretaker for her family- all at a time when women had no legal rights.
“My wife, Olive Boone, had a loom but no convenient place to put it, so she took possession of the deserted shop while my father and I were away hunting. The weather was cold, and there was no fireplace in the old shop; the Negro girl was sent to the nearest neighbor a mile off to obtain the loan of a crosscut saw, with which Olive and the girl cut through several courses of logs until a suitable-sized aperture for a fireplace was made. Then with stones for the fireplace, sticks for the chimney and mud for mortar these lone women erected a chimney, the draft of which proved decidedly the best of any on the farm.”
Their little log cabin was eventually replaced with a large 4 story limestone house – and you can visit the home along Highway F between Defiance and New Melle. Quite a change from a mud filled log cabin, this home would have seen the births of several of her children, and the death of her father-in-law Daniel Boone.
When Olive and Nathan were in their 50’s, they sold their big stone house and moved to Greene County, Missouri. They built a log cabin and lived out their years around family. They are both buried near the cabin in what is today Nathan Boone Homestead State Historic Site.