By Peggy Smith Hake

The Osage River has played a very important part in the history and development of Miller County. When the first pioneers came into the area there were only old trails that had been used by the Indian tribes who lived and roamed the hills, valleys, and prairies of the county. The river was navigated by canoes and flatboats and eventually riverboats, which carried people, animals, supplies, and equipment up and down its waters. As settlers began to move into the area, these rivers had to be forded to settle outward in all directions. Everyone who came into Miller County could not settle along the riverbanks. The expansion had to go both north and south of the river.

Small settlements were established along the banks of the Osage and ferryboats were used to get the people from one side to the other. According to the county's recorded history, the first ferry was built in the early 1830s just above where Bagnell Dam is now located in Franklin township. The second ferry was established at Brockman Ford, downriver from the first one. The third ferry was located at the "the western ending of the Old Blue Tail trail, owned by T. O. and T. G. Witten". I am not sure where the 'old Blue Tail trail' was located in Miller County.

The fourth ferry was established at Harrison's Landing (today's Tuscumbia) in the mid 1830s. This old settlement was a trading post built and operated by John B. and James P. Harrison, brothers who came from Phelps County, Missouri. The fifth ferry was established in Jim Henry Township about 1839 on the west side of the Osage on land owned by John S. Witten. It was given the name Fair Play and was a frontier settlement with a storehouse and a ferry crossing.

I have been asked to write something about Fair Play. Some inquiries about the early settlement appeared on the Internet and I was contacted to see if I had any information about Fair Play. Actually, I did not know anything about its history other than knowing it had been an early-day river settlement. I always enjoy researching new material for a story.

On December 8, 1839, J.H.C. Branham and Jarrett Medlin formed a mercantile firm called "JHC Branham and Company" and they opened a store at a place eventually known as Fair Play. It lay on the west side of the Osage River in Jim Henry Township. Today the location would be east of Mary's Home and west of St. Elizabeth. There was an old pioneer road/trail that led from Iberia in Richwoods Township northward to the Osage River with a crossing near the old Fair Play landing. It ran on north through Jim Henry Township and entered Cole County.

Some of the early settlers who lived in the area were the families of Witten, Jenkins, McCarty, Denton, Coggburn, Hoskins, Farley, Allen, Berry, Williams, Robbins, and Riggs. In 1850, John F. Atkisson, a merchant from Warsaw, Benton Co., Missouri, opened a store at Fair Play. Others who operated stores at the old river town were Wilburn Robbins, Green B. Coggburn, John G. Witten, Dr. Charles Otto Curtman, James Z. Williams and Charles Ingram. In 1853, John Witten was fined $20 by the Miller County Court for operating an unlicensed ferry at the Fair Play river crossing.

In the spring of 1857, James Z. Williams and Charles Ingram entered into a partnership back in Livingston County, Kentucky and by June that year, they had come to Miller County to "Witten's Ferry" at Fair Play. They bought a one-acre plot of land near the river and built a storehouse and three small houses for their families. Some trouble arose between the partners and by 1860, their mercantile business went broke. Everything on the one-acre lot was sold by the Miller County sheriff to settle their debts. It was stated by folks living near the old river settlement that "all merchants at Fair Play went broke!"

Dr. Charles Otto Curtman, a German immigrant from Giessen, Hesse Darmstadt, Germany, came to Miller County in the early 1850s and settled east of the river, across from Fair Play. He built a storehouse on the east side of the Osage and also began a medical practice. Dr. Curtman had graduated from the Berlin University with credentials of a physician and a chemist. In 1852, Dr. Curtman married Sarah Boyd, daughter of James and Ruth (Clark) Boyd, natives of Greenup County, Kentucky. They were early settlers of the Big Tavern Creek country, south of the Osage River. Sarah died in 1857 and in 1858 Dr. Curtman married Elizabeth Jane Wilson of Maries County. At the beginning of the Civil War, the Curtmans moved to St. Louis where they remained the rest of their lives. Evidently his storehouse, across the river from Fair Play, was never used again after he left the county.

On an old map of Miller County, dated 1862, Fair Play is still shown as a town on the Osage, but I imagine by that time it had begun its demise as a flourishing river settlement. In 1862, Jacob Capps began a ferry service at the site where an old road led to the river. It began at Iberia and went northward to Hickory Hill in Cole County. I imagine this was the beginning of Capps Landing near the mouth of Humphrey's Creek where its waters emptied into the Osage.

The Old St. Elizabeth ferry was begun in 1872 by David Jenkins and began operation at that site. Fair Play was located between Capps Landing and Old St. Elizabeth, so I believe with the bad luck that seemed to hound merchants at Fair Play and two new ferry services established in the same area, the old, historical river settlement known as Fair Play, just disappeared and never was rebuilt.

NOTE: One source states there was mail service at Fair Play but according to the book, MISSOURI POST OFFICES 1804-1981 by Robert G. Schultz, there is no mention given of a post office ever existing at Fair Play during the 3 decades it was in existence.

Miller County Museum and Historical Society
P.O. Box 57
Tuscumbia, MO 65082
2007 - Miller County Historical Society

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