LOUIS LORIMER WAS NOT FIRST WHITE RESIDENT OF CAPE DISTRICT
By Edw. D. Hays
Although Louis Lorimer is generally understood to have been the first white man to locate in the Cape Girardeau District, the fact is that another had preceded him by many years. In 1757, 35 years before Lorimer established his settlement, the progenitor of the present Lail family became an inhabitant of the region which was finally to be known as Cape Girardeau County. In the spring of 1757 a band of Indians from a tribe in the Alleghany Mounts passed through a remote outpost on the western colonial frontier. They were headed for the middle of the continent. Beyond the last habitation they came upon two white boys who were playing in the forest. These children, both 9 years of age, were made captives and taken along by the Indians. One of the youthful prisoners was George Lail; the name of the other has been forgotten.
Fearing pursuit, the Indians traveled in haste until they reached the Ohio River, which they crossed on an improvised raft. Then proceeding leisurely through what is now Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, they reached the Mississippi just as summer was turning into autumn. Over this mighty river they ferried themselves on another raft to the foothills of the Ozarks.
THE FIRST CAMP
About two miles southwest from the present city of Jackson, they came to a hill from the foot of which ran a sparkling spring of clear water. On the crown of this hill they made their camp. The streams were alive with fish; buffaloes and bears were numerous, as well as deer and wild turkeys and other game, and the only white men within hundreds of miles were the far settlers of Ste. Genevieve and Kaskaskia.
Far from any likely enemies, either white or red, they settled down to a peaceful life of fishing and hunting, with the raising of such scanty crops as the squaws could cultivate. No effort has been made to guard the two captive white boys after the Ohio River was crossed. The boys had been kindly treated by their captors with the view to inducing a fondness for the Indian mode of life.
LAIL GETS STARTED
About six years after the Indians kidnaped them, when the boys were around 15 years of age, Lail's companion conceived the daring plan of stealing away from the Indian band and braving the dangers of a thousand miles of unknown country in an effort to reach his kinsman back on the slopes of the Alleghanies. He tried to persuade young Lail to make the venture with him but without success. Lail had become enamored of Indian life and had grown fond of his red skinned associates, so he preferred to stay and identify himself with them. Little effort was made by the Indians to pursue the fleeing fugitive and he was not recaptured. Whatever became of him, and whether he made a miraculous return to civilization, is not known.
Under the environment George Lail grew to maturity, becoming an Indian in his habits, his tastes, his dress, and his speech; but along with the white man's blood there lingered a latent memory of the white man's language. Strangely enough, Lail never married an Indian woman; in fact, he did not marry at all until 1800, when he was 52 years old. In the meantime Ste. Genevieve had grown to be a substantial village. St. Louis, St. Charles, new Madrid and Cape Girardeau had been settled. Somewhere between Ste. Genevieve and Cape Girardeau there had located a white family by the name of Wolff, with a daughter. Lail and this girl were married.
About that time the Indian band, not liking the encroachment of the white settlers, moved on the west; but Lail and his wife did not go with them, preferring to retain the site of the hill and the ground around the spring as their home. The going of the Indians he had known so long did not deprive him of Indian companionship however, for that vicinity had become rather thickly peopled with Shawnees and Delawares brought into the Louisiana country from the Ohio valley by Louis Lorimer. After their marriage, Lail and his wife built a new home on the hill where he had already lived for 43 years. He had seen the sovereignty of Louisiana pass from France to Spain in 1766. During the later days of Spanish control, John summers had obtained from the government an extensive grant of land which included the cabin site and the spring where Lail had spent so many years, but Lail and his wife were never disturbed in their occupancy of the pace. Being an industrious man of high character and good intelligence, as well as a shrewd trader, Lail made some money during the early part of the century, and on June 4, 1830 he bought 420 acres of land, including the house and spring, out of the old Spanish grant which had been made to John Summers.
A LARGE FAMILY
George Lail now had six children: Louisa, Elizabeth, Benjamin, Robert, John and Zenas P. Lail. In due time a larger house was built to replace the one he and his wife had occupied since their marriage. Association with an American wife, and later contact with white neighbors, brought back to George Lail a full recollection of the English language so long unused, although his children acquired a fluency in the Indian dialects and largely clung to Indian customs. All of the children married except Louisa and perhaps John. Zenas P. Lail, the youngest son, did not marry until late in life.
An interesting contract involving Zenas P. Lail, and reminiscent of the gold ruh days, is copied into the files of the Cape Girardeau County Recorder's office under the date March 20, 1850. He had a number of associates employed Wm. D. Harrington to transport them from Independence, Mo. To Suter's Fort in California.
A LONG SPAN
Zenas P. Lail was the father of three sons, Samuel G. Lail born in 1856, James Lail and Thomas M. Lail. The present county judge, Silas P. Lail, is a son of Thomas M. Lail. The original George Lail lived to the age of 110 years, dying in 1858. His will was probated at Jackson, Mo. On Feb. 17 of that year.
Successly houses were built on the same spot where the first campfire was lit in 1758, where George Lail grew up as a white Indian, and where he spent more than 100 years of his life. Succeeding generations of the Lail family lived on the same hill and drank from the same spot of ground, not even the older families of Ste. Genevieve, while Ste. Genevieve was established in 1735, the location of the original town was abandoned on account of the Mississippi flood in 1785, and the new town was built on a hill 3 miles away.
SOUTHEAST MISSOURIAN, Thursday, January 16, 1941
According to the SOUTHEAST MISSOURIAN newspaper, Edw. D. Hays, a former resident of this county, was "presently a resident of Washinton, D.C., where he lived and practiced law since he concluded his term as a congressman from this district." While preparing a history of the life of Louis Lorimer "he discovered that a white boy by the name of Lail was brought into this district by Indians several years before Lorimer came upon the scene."