Snelson-Brinker House
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State Highway 8, Steelville, Missouri 65559
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The Snelson-Brinker House derives its name from the home’s first two owners: Levi Lane Snelson and John B. Brinker. In October 1833, Levi purchased land from the federal government in Crawford County, Missouri, which included 40 acres in Meramec Township. He had a log house built on the 40-acre plot, known today as the Snelson-Brinker House. It was located only two miles from the newly established Maramec Iron Works where Levi was employed. In addition to providing a home for his expanding family, the log home served as the meeting place for the Crawford County Circuit Court in 1835 and 1836.

After about three years of residing in his log home, Levi sold it to John B. Brinker on February 21, 1837. John, his wife Sarah, and their first child, Vienna Jane, made the former Snelson home their own. Soon, Sarah welcomed a second daughter in April of 1837, but tragedy struck. Mary, an enslaved teenager owned by the Brinkers, was charged with murdering their eldest child, convicted, and executed on August 11, 1838. Mary was between thirteen and sixteen years old when she was tried for murder and remains the youngest known person ever put to death by the State of Missouri.

During Mary’s legal proceedings, a detachment of approximately 360 Cherokee led by U.S. Army Lieutenant B. B. Cannon voluntarily left from the Cherokee Agency located at present-day Charleston, Tennessee, on a journey to a new home in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). On December 5, 1837, they passed by the Brinker house before resting for the night at the Meramec River. Just over a year later, an additional ten detachments consisting of just under 10,000 Cherokee followed in Cannon’s footsteps, passing by Brinker’s property during their forced removal on what is now known as the Trail of Tears.

The journey was long, difficult, and not without painful loss. On February 27, 1839, physician William Isaac Irwin Morrow, who traveled with the Richard Taylor detachment, wrote the following account in his journal about the death of four Cherokees that occurred while encamped within the vicinity of Brinker’s property:

“clear and cold, traveled 10 miles to Brinker near Massy Iron Works – snowed some during the day a very cold night – four Indians died, and were buried viz – 2 of Mills family, Old Byrd, and Mary Fields.”

Thirteen years after the Cherokee detachments passed by the Brinker property, John sold his house and land to Horace Burton Houston in 1852, beginning an eighty-five-year ownership of the property by the Houston family. During this time, the family farmed the land and operated the home as a tavern and café for a number of years. Neighbor Waldridge Powell purchased the property in the 1930s and then deeded the house and 1.7 acres of land to the Phelps County Historical Society in 1959. By the late-1980s, the house fell into disrepair and the property was sold to the St. James Historic Preservation Society. The James K. Woods Foundation of Saint Louis provided a grant to fund the restoration of the Snelson-Brinker House and grounds, but over the last twenty years, they fell victim again to deferred maintenance and vandalism. On July 4, 2017, the house burned down as a result of suspected arson. Today, the property is cared for and maintained by the Snelson-Brinker Foundation.

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