The Pinckney Bend Story
Remembering a place lost to an unpredictable river.
Pinckney Bend was a navigational hazard well-known to generations of Missouri River boatmen. Located at mile marker 83 above St. Louis, it is the site of a once-thriving town long since disappeared, and a stretch of river where at least five 19th century steamboats were wrecked, including the famous side-wheeler Spread Eagle.
Lewis & Clark Whiskey Stop
Returning from their Voyage of Discovery, on the afternoon of September 20, 1806, Lewis and Clark rowed past what would soon be named Pinckney Bend. The group over-nighted just downriver at small French village near the mouth of St. John’s Creek. Clark noted in his journal, “We purchased of a Citizen two gallons of Whiskey for our party for which we were obliged to give Eight dollars in Cash, an imposition on the part of the Citizen.“ Sergeant Ordway noted the exorbitant price in his journal as well. Both men chafed at the cost, but there were no complaints about the whiskey’s quality. This is the first historic reference to strong spirits at our bend in the river.
Town Springs Up
Despite its vulnerable location within the Missouri River’s vast flood plain, in 1818 the soon-to-be-platted town of Pinckney was designated Seat of Justice for the newly formed Montgomery County. The town was laid out one year later, a few log cabins were built and a store, which also served as post office. The first public building, a jail, was also built in 1820, along with the first frame house in the county which also served as the courthouse. The next building erected was a mill, completed by two Germans named Weaver and Duvil. Where there is grain and the means to process it, whiskey is never far behind.
Prominent Neighborhood Folks: The John Coulter ConnectionEarly settlers in the river bottoms around Pinckney were an interesting lot, with Daniel Boone and his extended family being the most prominent. Several nearby farmers were veterans of the War of 1812, and two were descendent from signers of the Declaration of Independence. The famous steamboat Captain William R. Massie also grew up on Massie’s Creek near Pinckney. It is not generally known that Charles Younger, grandfather to the notorious Younger Brothers Gang, which included Jesse James, was an early settler near Pinckney. Incidentally, Corporal John Coulter, perhaps the most famous and colorful member of the Lewis & Clark Expedition and arguably one of the group’s hardiest partiers (he was brought up on charges twice) eventually settled in the New Haven area, just across the river from Pinckney. He lived there until his death in 1813, and is believed buried only a few miles from the distillery.
Then It Was Gone
Just when everything was going so well, the promise that was Pinckney ended with a major flood in the spring of 1824. But for a brief period, from 1818 until 1824, Pinckney Bend was the last town on the upriver journey westward.
Distilled Spirits Return
Today its namesake, the Pinckney Bend Distillery in New Haven, Missouri, celebrates the legend and lore of this vanished town. The river has changed course since those early days, but standing on the levee not far from the distillery’s front door and looking westward, you can almost see where the town of Pinckney once stood. Founded by 3 long-time friends, today we celebrate the historic town and distillers that came before us. Our goal is simple; to produce premium quality, hand-crafted spirits worthy of their heritage, one small batch at a time.
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