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Dr. Jim Foster will be a contributing writer for the Shelby County Herald.
Foster said he is currently working on multiple articles for multiple papers to help celebrate Missouri’s Bicentennial this year.
“A part of the joy that I take away from writing is surprising the reader.
“I have close to 50 stories that I am currently researching and have started to write,” Foster said.
By Dr. Jim Foster
“Mr. Edwards, on leave called up a Senate Bill to authorize The County Court of Shelby County, Missouri to construct a graded road from Shelbyville to the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. It passed.” Tri-Weekly Messenger (Hannibal, Missouri) Sat. Jan. 31, 1857
The destination of the graded road was eight miles south of Shelbyville, Missouri to the train depot that became the center of a new town called Shelbina. For the citizens of Paris, Missouri, located in Monroe County, it would be a seventeen-mile trip north for them by stage-coaches or horse and buggy or wagons. What manner of grading occurred could only be deemed primitive by today’s standards as cement and gravel were things of the future. The path from Shelbyville to Shelbina crossed the Black Creek and Salt River by constructed bridges which were considered the smoothest part of the journey as this graded trail was often at times a muddy impassable gauntlet deemed “The Chilcoot Pass” after the treacherous mountain pass through The State of Alaska to British Columbia, Canada. Chilcoot Pass took the lives of several a human traveler during the Klondike gold rush years of the late 1800s.
In the early histories of both Shelby and Monroe Counties, there are many common stories that connect our early pioneers together not only as neighbors but in many accounts as relatives that traveled from the east to the new State of Missouri that was entered into statehood in 1821. They brought with them their skills for survival that included fishing and hunting. The wheels of covered wagons forged the first trails in the earth through the tall prairie grasses that served as a habitat for the native wildlife which included one unique animal that still today has a world- wide distribution second only to humans.
Reynard the Fox is one of the earliest known fables to exist in literature. It is believed to have its earliest mention in a Latin poem written in the year 1148. The fox is an indigenous animal to the State of Missouri as well as throughout the country and world. It has been for many years a fascination to our human species in that it is a clever creature in its actions. Some call it “sly.” Its heightened senses allow it to use the earth’s magnetic field to sense the digging vibrations of smaller mammals so that they might pounce on them for the kill. They have a high-pitched vocal range of five octaves that allow them to sound an alarm to their mates and offspring that are called “kits.”
The early settlers who came from Virginia brought with them an old English custom called the “fox hunt.” The fur of the fox was sought after for the creation of garments and the hunt was an important social event as well.
The years of the fox hunts contain their own unique stories. In the March 3, 1920 edition of The Shelbina Democrat, editor/owner W.O.L. Jewett reflected on the demise of the fox hunt in the northern part of Shelby County as Judge Elgin claimed his liberties of fox hunting had been “abridged” as his neighbor John Lair had put up barbed wire around his farm which cut up Judge Elgin’s fox hounds as they tried to chase a fox through the Lair property. The Judge began a petition which failed in The Court of Shelby County.
The French so loved the story of Reynard the Fox that they changed the name they used for fox to “Reynard.” Throughout many a news story in the vintage newspapers in our country, you may also see Reynard used frequently in stories about fox hunts. Old Reynard found his way into the newspapers of Monroe and Shelby County throughout the years. The Shelby County Herald located in Shelbyville featured a story in its April 26, 1893 edition. A fox hound’s dead body had been found by a group of young men that were exploring a forty-foot bluff along Black Creek near Chilcoot Pass. The hound had made his way into a ten-foot-long hole that had been dug by foxes. It appeared that it had collapsed on the hound killing it instantly.
In the history of Shelby County, Missouri there are the stories of those skilled fox hunters like Polk Connaway who lived south of Shelbyville near a large catalpa tree grove where he captured a red fox that most surely had traveled by way of The Chilcoot Pass. Many of these able hunters participated in the annual fox hunts that took place in the western part of Shelby County two miles north of Clarence, Mo. Old Reynard is still here today in Shelby County as are the tales if you can find them.