Early St. Louis



I first read of John Ruland when I learned Joshua Pilcher had died at his mid-town St. Louis home in 1843.  Although he was a well-known clerk of the circuit court at the time of his death, and his name had appeared in numerous documents, I found little about his personal life.

As noted in a brief obituary, John Ruland was born on the banks of the River Raisin in 1789 making him less than a year older than his friend Pilcher who was a native of Virginia.

Unlike Pilcher who had become a hatter in Lexington and a fur trader with the Missouri Fur Company before taking the appointment of Superintendent of Indian Affairs, John Ruland had begun his government career with the military at an early age.  He was listed as a corporal in the 1812 muster-rolls of the "Raisin men" under Cornet Isaac Lee and was a lieutenant when Captain Lee commanded a large company of dragoons from October 1813 to April of 1814.  He then served as a lieutenant under General Henry Harrison in the Northwestern army.

In an 1816 peace treaty with the "Ottawas, Chipawas, and Pottowotomees, residing on the Illinois and Melwakee rivers, and their waters, and on the southwestern parts of Lake Michigan, of the other part", John’s name and title as sub-agent appears along with the commissioners plenipotentiary of the United States:  Ninian Edwards, William Clark, and Auguste Chouteau.

The converging of these personalities whose social and political prowess had already been carving the boundaries of the new nation, were as defined and unyielding as the land and rivers they were determined to possess.  Like Ruland and Pilcher, many of these influential men were Freemasons, including Stephen Austin, who was well-acquainted with both men.  Whereas Joshua and Austin had nearly dueled over a woman in 1817, Ruland later collaborated with him in the quest for Texas.  It is of interest to note here that Stephen and Joshua had most likely known each other in Lexington before their separate arrivals in the territory.  Also, Stephen’s father, Moses Austin, had been one of the directors of The Bank of St. Louis when it had commenced business in 1816 in the rear portion of a new downtown warehouse Joshua owned with his partner Thomas F. Riddick, both of whom were directly associated with The St. Louis Bank and the Bank of Missouri.

While Ruland served as secretary to Governor William Clark during the treaties between 1818 and 1820, Joshua had joined the Missouri Fur Company which had been organized ten years earlier by Manuel Lisa.  By time Ruland wrote to Clark in November of 1820 his desire to "go to Washington to pursue a claim on certificates in his favor and offered to travel as the bearer of presidential election returns" Manuel Lisa had died and Joshua had taken charge of the Missouri Fur Company.

At the end of 1818 (during the same year he was present at the Treaty of the Pawnees and Osage) John married Ann Farrar Wells in St. Charles, Missouri.  Ann's father, Samuel Wells, Jr. had served in the House of Representatives from Jefferson Co., Kentucky and was later a Court Judge.  His brother William Wells was the same who had been kidnapped by the Miami when about fourteen years old and had married Wakapanke or Sweet Breeze, the daughter of Little Turtle.

In the years of 1821 and 1822, Ruland served as Deputy Surveyor.  His 1821 letter to William Clark written in Troy on March 2nd explained that difficulty getting teams moved had prevented him from starting for St. Louis and that his daughter had died.  Perhaps he had the support and friendship of his Masonic brothers to assist him in these needs.  He had joined the Masonic Lodge No. 12 in St. Louis in 1821.  This was the same lodge Joshua Pilcher, Thomas Brady, and Joshua Norvell had chartered in 1815 with Pilcher serving as charter master.  This same lodge would later be renamed Missouri Lodge No. 1.

In the fall of 1824, around the time Joshua Pilcher had dissolved the Missouri Fur Company and shortly after he had been elected to the House of Representatives from Lincoln County, Ruland wrote a letter on behalf of Zadock Woods recommending him to Governor Alexander McNair and Stephen F. Austin.  He described him as “a Man of industrious habits and of enterprise.” In fact, Zadock had gone with Moses Austin on an earlier expedition and had been enticed by the land and the hopes of receiving a Spanish Land grant.  Of this pursuit, Zadock had been successful and died in 1842 defending his beloved Texas from Santa Anna.

By 1825, Ruland was well established.  He owned a home in St. Louis and another in Troy where, along with Joshua Robbins, Elijah Collard and Samuel Wells, he donated land which expanded the township of Troy which originally had been deeded ten years earlier by the parents of Zadock Wood’s wife.  It also included Wood’s Fort which Zadock had built and had served as headquarters for Daniel Boone.  This area of Lincoln County had also been home to the Sac and Fox tribes who, encouraged by the British, had attacked the Missouri River settlements during the War of 1812.

The following year John Ruland served as sub-agent at St. Louis and was also a French and English interpreter.  Some of the documents bearing his name include the Treaty of Pawnee, on the 20th of June 1818, in St. Louis with William Clark and Auguste Chouteau, Commissioners; R. Walsh,Secretary of the Commission; and John Ruland Sub-Agent and Translator.  He was sub-agent at the Treaty of the Kickapoo on the 19th of July 1820 which was made by Auguste Chouteau and Benjamin Stephenson, Commissioners of the United States of America which was made and concluded at Edwardsville and signed at St. Louis.  He was also present at the Treaty with the Sauk and Foxes at Prairie du Chien in 1830 serving as Secretary to the Commissioners and continued as sub-agent until at least 1832.

Palmyra (MO) Weekly Whig news clipping
After retiring as General William Clark’s chief clerk of the office of Superintendent Indian affairs in St. Louis in 1835, Ruland was elected Clerk of the Circuit Court and Recorder of Deeds of St. Louis County.  After his six-year term, he was re-elected and was serving in this capacity at the time of his death.

John Ruland died on the first day of January 1849.   The notice of his death appeared in the Palmyra Weekly Whig on Thursday, January 11th and reads as follows:  "Gen. John Ruland, of St. Louis, died on the 1st instant, from an attack of apoplexy.  Gen. R. has been a citizen of Missouri for more than thirty years and has held several important public stations, and was, at the time of his death, Clerk of the Circuit Court of St. Louis county."

To the public, his death might have seemed sudden, but documents contained in his probate indicate he had been ill.  Frederick R. Gallaher, who was then a practitioner of medicine in St. Charles, Missouri, had accompanied Dr. Edwin D. Beritt to visit Ruland "in consultation, across the Missouri River" on the night of December 28th, 1848 bleeding and administering medicine through the night, attending same the 29th and 30th and from these services had received $7.00 from the estate of John Ruland.

A George Johnson who also visited "in last illness at the ferry house opposite St. Charles, Mo" on the 29th of December, was paid by the estate twenty dollars.  Additionally, William Beaumont received for "medical aid, advice & attendance from 1st January 1848 to 1st January 1849 per self, Eliza & servants" a sum of thirty-five dollars.

Source: Missouri Judicial Records Historical Database
Among the most interesting documents of the probate was a January 3rd billing from Geo. N. & Wm Lynch, "for fine velvet coffin over case & drayage & trip to Chauvin's' ferry; fine shroud, stock & gloves" as well as glove, drapes, brick vault and the digging of same, in which fee came to and estate paid $76.00.

The probate records duly name his children: Samuel Ruland, Eliza Clark Ruland, and Susan R., wife of John Freligh, all who were residents of St. Louis county.  His wife Ann had died four years earlier on January 24, 1845, and unfortunately, nothing in the records give his or her place of burial.

In spite of locating a single documentation in the scant and sometimes inconsistent details to tie Ruland and Pilcher together, the mere fact that Joshua had chosen Ruland and his home to breathe his last, is evidence enough that their friendship had been true and certain.

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  25. Scharf, John Thomas, "History of Saint Louis City and County: From the Earliest  Periods ..., Volume 2, L. H. Everts, 1883, p.1480.
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  29. Sunder, John E., Joshua Pilcher, Fur Trader, and Indian Agent, University of Oklahoma Press, 1968.
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