Frontier and Pioneer Life Research Guide

The collections at the State Historical Society of Missouri include many personal accounts of pioneers who settled the state. Manuscript collections such as the William James Anderson, Jr. Papers and the George William Burke Papers include diaries and letters describing life in Missouri during the early 1800s and relating the experiences of pioneers traveling on the frontier. The Society’s large microfilm collection of newspapers from the nineteenth century document Missouri’s transformation from a frontier territory to a mature state with established cities and towns, thriving industry, distinctive culture, and wide-ranging educational opportunities. In addition to newspapers and manuscript collections, the State Historical Society of Missouri’s art collection contains various works depicting frontier life and western expansion, perhaps most notably by master Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham.

Articles from Missouri Historical Review and Missouri Times


Many of the State Historical Society’s holdings are included in the SHSMO online catalog. The State Historical Society holds numerous books on the frontier of Missouri and the Midwest. The broadest terms to search are “frontier” or “pioneer.” For a more specific search in Missouri, simply add the subject term “Missouri” to your search. You can also search specific Missouri pioneers or frontiersmen by name.

Digital Collections

The Westward Expansion of the United States Digital Collection consists of letters, diaries, and other papers associated with exploration, the westward movement, overland travel, the gold rush, homesteading and settlement, and daily life on the frontier in the United States.

View the Westward Expansion of the US Digital Collection

Historic Missourian Biographies

  • Moses Austin - Moses Austin was an American merchant and lead miner who brought national attention to America’s mineral wealth. He built communities on the frontiers of Virginia and Missouri, and laid plans for the colonization of Texas.

  • Senator Thomas Hart Benton - Senator Thomas Hart Benton was a prominent lawyer and political leader during the first half of the 1800s. During his five terms as a U.S. senator, Benton played a major role in many national debates. He was a strong supporter of the use of hard money and westward expansion. Benton also fought against the extension of slavery into the territories.

  • Daniel Boone - Daniel Boone is one of the most famous frontiersmen in US history. He was a skilled hunter, trapper, and trailblazer. During the early days of westward expansion, Boone’s explorations helped open the frontier to new settlements. In 1799, he led his family and other settlers across the Mississippi River into land populated by Native Americans but claimed by Spain. Boone spent the last twenty years of his life in what is now Missouri.

  • Daniel Morgan Boone - Just like his famed pioneer father, Daniel Morgan Boone enjoyed scouting and settling new frontiers. He was the first Boone to set foot in Missouri and one of the first settlers in Kansas.

  • Nathan Boone - Nathan Boone was the tenth and final child born to Daniel and Rebecca Boone. He grew up alongside his father, later following in his footsteps as a soldier and trailblazer. Just like his father, Nathan spent his childhood roaming the woods, only to return home with fresh game for the family’s dinner table.

  • The Chouteau Brothers - Auguste Chouteau helped his foster father, Pierre Laclède Liguest, found the city of St. Louis. Auguste and his half-brother, Pierre, became successful fur traders, businessmen, and government officials. During their lifetime, the Chouteaus were the most prominent and powerful family in St. Louis. They helped make St. Louis a thriving commercial center.

  • Sister Rose Duchesne - Rose Philippine Duchesne was a French Catholic missionary. In 1818, she and four other nuns traveled from France to St. Charles, Missouri, where they established the first free school west of the Mississippi. The school, The Academy of the Sacred Heart, is still in operation today.

  • Richard and Ann Hawkins Gentry - Richard and Ann Hawkins Gentry were early settlers in Missouri and played an important role in establishing Columbia, Missouri. Richard Gentry, a career military officer, served as the city’s first mayor. Ann Hawkins Gentry operated the family’s thriving tavern. Both Richard and Ann served as postmaster of Columbia. The city of Columbia would not be the same today without the influence of these Missouri pioneers.

  • Lewis and Clark - William Clark and Meriwether Lewis are the most famous explorers in U.S. history. In 1804, at the request of President Thomas Jefferson, the men led a two-year overland expedition from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean.

  • Manuel Lisa - Manuel Lisa was a merchant and fur trader. In 1807 Lisa led the first trading expedition to the upper Missouri River in what is now Montana in search of new trading and fur-trapping opportunities.

  • John S. Sappington - Dr. John S. Sappington, a physician, farmer, and medical pioneer, developed an anti-malaria pill that helped save the lives of countless individuals who lived along rivers and in swampy areas. He is buried in Sappington Cemetery outside of Arrow Rock. The cemetery is a state historic site.

  • Henry Rowe Schoolcraft - Henry Rowe Schoolcraft wrote the first published account of the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks. He introduced the region to the world, but his writing helped establish enduring negative stereotypes of the Ozarks and its inhabitants.

  • John Hardeman Walker - Missouri’s “Bootheel,” the area in the state’s southeast corner composed of Dunklin, Pemiscot, and New Madrid Counties, can be attributed largely to the persistent lobbying of one man, John Hardeman Walker. Walker used his connections and influence to include the area within Missouri’s borders, persevering in the aftermath of the 1811–1812 New Madrid earthquakes. Walker is also known for laying out the town of Caruthersville in 1857.

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder - One of the most influential children’s authors in American history, Wilder’s vibrant Little House series, based on episodes from her childhood, helped shape the popular idea of the American frontier.


The State Historical Society of Missouri's manuscript collections provide access to journals, photographs, newspapers, and oral histories telling the story of Missouri’s history, people, and culture.

View All Frontier and Pioneer Life Manuscript Collections


The Society’s large collection of newspapers on microfilm from the nineteenth century document Missouri’s transformation from a frontier community to an established collection of cities and towns with industry, culture, and educational opportunity.

For a list of newspapers on microfilm at the State Historical Society of Missouri, visit the newspaper catalog.

County City Title Also Available On Date Range
Boone Columbia Missouri Intelligencer Microfilm 1830-1835
Boone Columbia Patriot Microfilm 1835, 1841-1851
Boone Columbia Missouri Statesman Microfilm 1843-1869
Cape Girardeau Jackson Missouri Herald Microfilm 1819-1820
Cape Girardeau Jackson Independent Patriot Microfilm 1820-1828
Cape Girardeau Cape Girardeau Southern Advocate Microfilm 1836-1844
Cole Jefferson City Jeffersonian Republican Microfilm 1831-1844
Cole Jefferson City Inquirer Microfilm 1840-1852
Greene Springfield Advertiser Microfilm 1844-1850
Greene Springfield South-Western Flag Microfilm 1849-1851
Greene Springfield Springfield Mirror Microfilm 1856-1861
Greene Springfield Weekly Springfield Advertiser Microfilm 1858-1876
Howard Franklin Missouri Intelligencer Microfilm 1819-1830
Howard Fayette Western Monitor Microfilm 1829-1830
Howard Fayette Boon's Lick Times Microfilm 1840-1848
Jackson Kansas City Western Journal of Commerce Microfilm 1857-1865
Jackson Kansas City Journal of Commerce Microfilm 1861-1878
Jackson Kansas City Missouri Whig Microfilm 1839-1856
Jackson Kansas City Messenger Microfilm 1856-1861
Marion Palmyra Missouri Whig Microfilm 1841-1856
Marion Hannibal Hannibal Gazette Microfilm 1846-1859
Scott Commerce Commerce Dispatch Microfilm 1869-1880
St. Louis St. Louis Missouri Gazette Microfilm 1815-1818
St. Louis St. Louis Missouri Republican Microfilm 1838-1869
St. Louis St. Louis Beacon Microfilm 1829-1832
St. Louis St. Louis Missouri Argus Microfilm 1835-1841
St. Louis St. Louis Intelligencer Microfilm 1850-1859
St. Louis St. Louis Missouri Gazette and Illinois Advertiser Microfilm 1808, 1809, 1812, 1814, 1818
St. Louis St. Louis Missouri Gazette and Public Advertiser Microfilm 1818-1822