Historic cabin along Trail of Tears NHT burns down

By Deloris Gray Wood, President of the Missouri Chapter Trail of Tears Association, Board Member of the Trail of Tears Association

Adapted from the article, “Oldest building in old Crawford county, Snelson Brinker Cabin, burns July 4,” in TheSalemNewsOnline.com.

A historic structure along the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail in Missouri burned down July 4, 2017.

The Snelson-Brinker Cabin after a fire destroyed it.
(Photo courtesy Deloris Gray Wood)

The Snelson-Brinker Cabin before a fire destroyed it.
(Photo courtesy Deloris Gray Wood)

Very little remains of the Snelson-Brinker Cabin, the oldest building in old Crawford County. Located near Steelville along Hwy. 8 about two miles east of Maramec Spring Park-Massey Iron Works, it was built for Levi Lane Snelson in 1824, served as the Old Crawford County Courthouse in 1834, and was later purchased by John B. Brinker in 1837.

The character of the property has drastically changed with the rubble around the chimney, where the hearths of both sides of the chimney are now exposed to the sun. The shake roof is gone, the doors and windows are gone, and most of the logs are charred, with the east and west walls leaning. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

More than 10,000 Cherokees were removed across old Crawford County in 1838-39, and they passed Snelson-Brinker Cabin as a witness house or camped on the Brinker property or in the valley on both sides of Meramec River. The B. B. Cannon Detachment, which camped at the Meramec River on December 5, 1937, is the group that established the Northern Route of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. They were also removed by the military before the Cherokees started removing their own people in 1937-38 in what became known as the Cherokee Trail of Tears.

Steelville native Erin N. Whitson, a doctoral student in archaeology at Binghamton University, points out a burned out area of the cabin to Dr. Steve J. Dasovich, anthropology professor at Lindenwood University, and Dr. Steve Belko, executive director of the Missouri Humanities Council.
(Photo courtesy Deloris Gray Wood)

Deloris Gray Wood, President Missouri Chapter Trail of Tears Association; Tom Botkins, Board Member Dent County Historical Society; The Mountain Man Pete Vanetti; and Aaron Mahr, Superintendent, National Park Service, Santa Fe, NM, Oct 10, 2006. (Photo courtesy Trail of Tears Association)

Until recently, the Pete and Patti Vanetta family were volunteer cabin and property keepers for over a quarter of a century. Pete, called “The Mountain Man,” had his heart and soul in the property; protecting it from vandals and parties, especially on holidays like Halloween, Christmas and the Fourth of July. The Vanettas made a showplace of the property, and people visited from all over the world. Bikers would take a break; school buses would pull in with school kids and unload; weddings and family picnics were held; people met in secret. One could always visit 24/7/365 without having to pay a cent to take a walk or visit inside the cabin or take a photo of the cultural resources on the property, like the smokehouse above the fruit cellar, toilet, or cemetery.

In October 2006, the National Park Service certified the Snelson-Brinker Cabin and the Maramec Spring Park-Massey Iron Works as part of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. But before it burned this year, the beautiful site had grown up in weeds and was essentially abandoned. A week after the fire, a group came to study the charred remains of the Snelson-Brinker Cabin to gather preliminary ideas on how to salvage the history and place. They plan to discuss their needs assessment with a NPS National Historic Trail Cultural Resources Specialist and a team from the Middle Tennessee State University Center for Historic Preservation.

To learn more about the Trail of Tears NHT, visit www.nps.gov/trte.

Unless otherwise indicated, all material in Pathways Across America is public domain. All views expressed herein are perspectives of individuals working on behalf of the National Trails System and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the Federal agencies.