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The Dirt on Menfro

Perry County was organized May 21, 1821 and named after the naval war hero of 1812, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. But it was before that when some of our earliest settlers were already laying down farming roots in Perry County soil.

Levi Wiggins was one of many people to request a land grant in Perry County’s Bios Brule Bottoms. On November 30, 1803, by his agent; Robert Anderson, he claimed a one-mile square of land, 640 acres situated on the Mississippi River at the mouth of the Cape St. Come Creek. Wiggins’ sworn to have inhabited and cultivated the land since 1801 by Daniel Thorn and continued to work the property until 1804. Part of the one square mile of land Levi Wiggins owned was referred to as land grant #1328 which eventually became known as the Town of Menfro. The Bois Brule Bottoms of Perry County was known early as one of the most fertile pieces of territory in the district of Ste. Genevieve. It was the fertility of this soil which attracted the early settlers. People that came to the Bois Brule area had great hopes for their futures. The “Bottoms” were wooded heavily with Oak, Pine, Walnut, Ash and of course Pecan and once the timber was cleared it had promised results for crop growers. The Mississippi River which borders the Bottom area is a vital resource to the rich and fertile soil. But the partnership between the land and river was often muddied by the seasonal “overflows” as the old timers called it. Nevertheless, farmland was cleared, homes were built and the bottoms became a sea of corn, wheat, alfalfa, milo, soybeans and fescue.

Every town, village or settlement has a reason for being and Menfro was no different. But in spite the active and ever growing farm community it wasn’t until March 3, 1902 that an application was made by the St. Louis, Memphis and Southeastern Railroad Company to lay a track to provide transportation between Memphis and St. Louis. The Town of Menfro would eventually be given a name and St. Louis would have a source of rail transportation needed to the 1904 World’s Fair. The town soon boasted a depot, general store, tavern, hotel, bank, post office, school and several other businesses to provide and supply the community with its needs. Menfro was incorporated May 9, 1914 and with a board of Trustees they set down town ordinances and appointed a town clerk. Menfro continued to thrive until the devastating flood of 1943 when the Mississippi River overflowed its banks flooding the entire Bios Brule Bottoms and the Town of Menfro. Driving the farmers from their homes in the bottoms and out of Menfro most sought safety on higher ground surrounding their once sought after rich farm ground. For those who chose to return with the receding waters ousting would come again in 1973 and 1993. This was considered the final blow for the town driving out the last of the businesses and the low lying residents.

Today, the rich fertile soil of the Bios Brule Bottoms has been identified by United States Department of Agriculture’s NCRS as a loess soil and has been named Menfro after the small town in Perry County where the soil series originates. Over a million acres of Menfro soils have been identified in Missouri in more than 40 counties and it is the official state soil of Missouri. It is not surprising that the major land use of Menfro soil is agriculture and woodland but I’m sure Levi Wiggins already knew that.

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