The Town Myth
Adair County’s town myth is relatively well documented in a few different sources. It was named “The Big Neck Affair” because of the Ioway Indian chief who was involved with the affair. Before this story starts a treaty was signed in 1824 by two Ioway chiefs, Mahoskah (White Cloud) and Moanahonga (Great Walker/Big Neck) and the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, William Clark. Moanahonga did not understand the terms of the treaty and stayed in the territory which caused the dispute with incoming settlers. This story can be found below.
In 1829, Chief Moanahonga (Big Neck or Great Walker) leads a group of Ioway Indians into the Chariton River area for a hunting expedition. A group of white pioneers had recently settled the area because of the treaties that the natives had signed giving up their land. The natives of the area had ceded the land in treaties in 1804 and 1824. There was some confusion about which lands had been ceded in the earlier treaty that led to the signing of the second treaty. Additionally, there is also some uncertainty which Native tribes actually signed the treaty. Some say that the Ioway, Sac, and Fox signed them while others claim it was only the Sac and Fox. Both of these events led to confusion among the Native Americans, and probably helped create this event.
In any event, the Ioway and the settlers were laying claim to this land which created a lot of tension. Some settlers claim to have been threatened by Ioway Indians and other accounts say that the Indians were falsely accused of stealing. The build-up of these events led to a confrontation between the Ioways and the white settlers on July 17, 1829. The settlers approached the Ioway encampment of men, women, and children and tried to force the Ioways to give up their weapons even though the Indians were willing to talk peacefully with them. The account becomes muddled at this point because some claim that the white men shot first while others believe the Indians were at fault. In the end, three of the Indians, Chief Moanahonga’s brother, sister-in-law, and their child, were killed as well as John Myers, James Winn, and Powell Owenby.
The Ioway Indians fled, but were eventually caught and brought to trial in St. Louis where they were proved innocent of any wrongdoing.
Some Background Information:
There are no accounts of any white pioneers settling in Adair County until the 1829 attempt by pioneers from Howard County, including: James Myers, Isaac Gross, Stephen Gross, Nathan Richardson, Reuben Myrtle, and Jacob Gupp. These pioneers created a small settlement that became known as “The Cabins.” This settlement was primarily focused on forestry because the land was not easily worked for agriculture at this time.
These settlers fled back to Howard County after the altercation with Chief Moanahonga, and they did not return. However, other settlers moved into the area in 1830.
Even though the first Ioway Reservation was created in 1836, the Ioway in this area continued to have contact with the white settlers between 1835 and 1845 with no other major altercations being recorded. After 1845, there are no other accounts of Native Americans in this (Chariton River/Adair County) area of Missouri.
These events happened within a thirty mile radius of Kirksville which is presently the largest town in this area and the host of Truman State University. After talking to some of the residents and workers at the Adair County Historical Society, this seems to be the only major event between Native Americans and white settlers in this area.
Additionally, some of the historical books that reference this account also mention the Black Hawk War of 1832 (named after Makataimeshekiakiak “Black Hawk”), but Adair County did not play a large role in the war.
The "Big Neck Affair" Story in Print
The common factor in all of these articles is their information on “The Big Neck War” and “the Cabins”. As time progresses, the information in the newspapers change from the people of the cabins did no wrong to an explanation of the information and the conflicts in the narrative. The tone of the article also changes as time progresses. In the first article, “First Settlement Broken Up 102 Years Ago This Month“, published on July 1st, 1931 in the Kirksville Daily Express and News has the tone of the article expressed in the slurs presented. The time frame of this text is consistent with historical texts such as, E.M. Violette’s History of Adair County which was written at around the same time frame and also includes similar slurs.
For More Information
Caldwell, Dorothy J. “The Big Neck Affair: Tragedy and Farce on the Missouri Frontier.” Missouri Historical Review, vol. 64, no. 4, 1970, pp. 391-412.
A Book of Adair County History. The Kirksville-Adair County Bicentennial Committee, 1976.
Violette, E. M. History of Adair County. 1911. Higgison Book Company, 1998.
Violete, E. M. A History of Missouri. 1918. Ramfre Press, 1951.