Thinking Out Loud: David Sapp and the History of the Boone's Lick Trail

May 20, 2015

The Booneslick Trail was a pathway for westward migration in the years before Missouri statehood. In this episode of Thinking Out Loud, KBIA's Darren Hellwege talks with local historian David Sapp about the origins of the trail, how it helped form a boomtown and the local effort to keep the vestiges of the Booneslick Trail from disappearing under the plow or from being developed.

O Booneslick trail, where art thou? David Sapp takes us on a tour of the pre-statehood road that carried settlers to the west through what is now Central Missouri
Credit David Sapp


Starting in the late 1810s The Booneslick Trail was the route that westward migrants took when traveling from St. Charles to Franklin, Missouri. David Sapp is the president of the Boone' s Lick Road Association. Sapp explained the importance of road to the settlement of Boone County, the Missouri Territory and the Northwestern Territory.

The Boone's Lick Road plays an amazing role in the westward development of the entire United States. When Americans started crossing the Mississippi and heading west, for a number of years they were confined mostly to the west bank of the Mississippi River. Primarily after War of 1812 about 1815, there was a huge demand for additional land and for movement farther west inland and the Boone's Lick Road  provided that route for settlers and families to move westward and even became linked up with the Sante Fe and the Oregon and California trails, the great western trails that many people know about. It was the Boone's Lick Road  that fed all those people from the St. Louis and St. Charles area into Central Missouri and beyond.

The Boone's Lick Trail was named for the family of Daniel Boone who pushed the frontier of America. Boone County is also named for the legendary explorer who died a year before Missouri became a state. To honor his contributions to westward expansion, the State of Missouri named a county for Daniel Boone.

The lick is named for a saline spring located northwest of Boonville. "It was called a lick because so many of the wild animals came there to get their salt. Animals need salt just like humans do so they would come up and lick the soil to get the salt," said Sapp. "Daniel Boone's sons - Daniel and Nathan - made business arrangements at the land and the lick" located across the Missouri River from modern-day Arrow Rock. This salty water when it sprang up could be processed to make salt. "With their name attached to it it became very popular," noted Sapp about the Boone's early nineteenth century venture.

The trail that carried the name of the Boone's Lick helped create a boomtown. Old Franklin was a settlement located in the Missouri River floodplain north of modern-day Boonville. Travelers along the Boone's Lick Trail helped Franklin grow to 1,000 people by 1820 when Missouri became a state. Old Franklin was the point where the Boone's Lick Trail ended and a choice had to be made to continue southwest on the Santa Fe Trail or northwest on a number of alternate routes.

As a major terminus of the road "Franklin had the makings of a major, important town," said Sapp. "It was where all the intelligentsia were in that era. George Caleb Bingham was there... People were there hoping to make money there in the center of gorgeous land, places they knew was going to grow." Franklin's long-term prospects were not good however. "Within a number of years the bank of the Missouri River was literally eating away the banks of the land where Old Franklin sat. Eventually people moved away from the river to a town we now know as New Franklin," noted Sapp.

Franklin was just one important location on the Boone's Lick Trail. Thanks to the efforts of Sapp and others the Boone's Lick Road Association has created an interactive map showing stops or points of interest along the route where it ran between St. Charles and Old Franklin. The association of which Sapp is president is working to educate and preserve remnants of the Boone's Lick Trail.

Listen to new episodes of Thinking Out Loud each Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. on KBIA.