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Saline Creek Wildlife Area Fun for Generations of Families

Updated on July 8, 2018
Vicki Martin Wood profile image

Vicki Wood is a self-employed mother of four grown children living in Mid-Missouri. She was formerly a nurse and is getting back to writing.

Saline Valley Conservation Area is a welcome retreat from the daily grind of our routine lives. This is a place that you can literally go off the grid, get lost, or just relax and refresh for an hour or a day. A local favorite for many years, Saline Valley Conservation Area, or "The Saline" as the kids call it, is a totally free area that is managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation and offers hiking, fishing, camping, and swimming. Did I mention that it is free, even the camping? Being the mother of four kids, I have enjoyed the freedom and safety of letting them play down there for years. My family is able to access it by four-wheeler, as we are lucky enough to be located close to the area by gravel roads. Safety was key in teaching them to use the area in their teenage years. My husband and I enjoyed the lush valleys and cool streams ourselves as teenagers. It was a party spot in high school in the 80s. Everybody would yell down the halls of school on Friday, "Let's meet at the Saline tonight." That would usually involve most of the high school, a keg of beer, and a lot of underage drinking until the police ran everyone out. Thank goodness as a parent, those days have changed. When my husband and I were dating, we spent a lot of hot summer nights "gravel roading" in his jacked up Ford truck, wading through the cool waters of the low running creek.

These days, my kids as adults and their friends take their children there on a hot summer day. The low water bridge in fair weather is literally only inches deep allowing toddlers with their parents to have cool clean water to play in. The camping area which is just across the road affords for free overnight tent camping.

There are deeper areas to the Saline Creek area, however, one must exercise caution when using these areas. It's hard to tell where a sinkhole can appear in the creek bed. Also, the creek beds can be extremely dangerous if heavy rains, are going to or just have occurred. Personally, my family was not allowed to use the area at these times.

These days, my kids and their friends take their children there on a hot summer day. My 10-month-old grandson Kendrick loves to splash in the shallow water that barely reaches his ankles. The low water bridge in fair weather is only inches deep allowing toddlers with their parents to have cool clean water to play in. The creekbed here is shady with dense foliage, providing a cool retreat from the hot weather. While strolling through the easily accessible creek beds, sweet winds blow gentle breezes fragranced with the many different varieties of wildflowers. At any given time, the scenery changes due to Mother Nature’s neurotic whims. New colors of wildflowers will be present that weren’t visible the week before. The pile of rocks or the leftover campfire that was a few feet from the water is now gone forever. This brings up the safety issue.

There are deeper areas to the Saline Creek, so one must exercise caution. It's hard to tell where a sinkhole can appear in the creek bed. Also, the creek beds can be extremely dangerous if heavy rains have just occurred or are on their way. Personally, my family was not allowed to use the area at these times. There is a sweet memorial in the parking lot that I am glad that the Department of Conservation has allowed remaining years later. There was a tragic drowning there of two young girls when our oldest daughter was in junior high school. Heavy rains came suddenly one night, claiming the lives of a family tent camping in that area.

The designated camping area which is just across the main gravel road affords for free overnight tent camping. There are almost a dozen free tent spots in a grassy, prairie-like area, complete with gravel parking. The camping area has always been freshly mowed and neatly kept. It has bathroom facilities which are a big plus for this former city girl. You can have a campfire and park your car right next to your campsite. It is a short walk across the main gravel road to the low water creek bed.

Fishing is very fun in this area, for kids and adults alike. The deeper runs of the creek bed house some pretty awesome schools of bass. There are literally millions of minnows running at lightning speed, which makes it fun to watch the bass give chase. The clarity of the water and the cleanliness of the creek beds allow a person to see what they are catching. It is great fun for kids to see that little bass chase their worm. Nicely sized catfish are also known to have been caught in some of the deep water holes of the creek farther on down the area.

While enjoying time at the creek one begins to wonder about how old the area really is and how many wonders of history that these banks have witnessed. The Osage Indians used to inhabit Saline Creek as well as much of Miller County that borders the Osage River and its tributaries. Evidence can still be found, as many Indian arrowheads are found in the Saline Creek area to this day. In the 1820s, when the tribes of Miller County were relocated to Kansas by the government, the Osage Indians were replaced by pioneers that were attracted to the many advantages the area afforded to a homesteading family. After several years, mills of every kind started popping up on the Saline Creek. From the Big Saline Creek running from Tuscumbia to the Little Saline Creek which trickles into Aurora Springs, there were mills handling all kinds of products. The rushing, clean waters were perfect for this industry. Wright's Mill, located three miles north of Tuscumbia on the Little Saline Creek, was equipped with a carding machine that handled animal fibers for the making of textiles. A grist mill was also located here for handling grains. Harbison Mill on Big Saline Creek was a grist mill and distillery during the Civil War.

Matthew's Mill and Brockman's Saw Mill were located on the Saline Creek in 1837; followed by William Bennight's grist mill, Loveall's grist mill, Johnston's grist mill, William Brockman's grist mill, William Matthew's grist mill, and Robertson's sawmill near the same stream before 1850.

Distilleries were added on to milling operations at that time, producing snake-bite medicine in high quantity for locals and military.

Judge Jenkins’ History of Miller County is a fascinating read into the history of Saline Creek. Many references to it are found in the Miller County Museum at Tuscumbia. One interesting story that I came across in his writings is one of a militia skirmish at Saline Creek in the winter of 1844. A group of outlaws had been working its way through Miller County taking horses and other provisions as needed. This did not sit well with the militia. Near the Saline Creek, the militia was surrounded and ambushed by the outlaws. The militia Major was shot from his horse, and when eventually found barely alive, frozen to the ground by his own blood, he did survive and was promoted to Colonel.

Milling operations eventually gave way to industry, and the history of Saline Creek changes again, as the years go by. Becoming mostly farmland, the area was eventually taken over by the Missouri Department of Conservation and as is managed by them to this day.

So while you are enjoying a few hours, a day, or an overnight camp, keep an eye out for each other, and the other to the ground. You might find an arrowhead or an artillery shell, who knows?

1800s history

In Clyde Lee Jenkins’ History of Miller County VII p. 20 Clyde writes:

“The streams were filled with many kinds of fish. In 1835, Pinkney S. Miller, then only eight years of age, caught a fish weighing over 120 pounds. He was fishing in the Saline Creek due south from Pleasant Mount. Pinkney’s father being nearby, upon hearing his young son’s cries for help, rushed to his side, and together they landed the monster. William Miller and another man carried the fish home by thrusting a pole through its gills, shouldering the pole. The tail of the fish, even though both men were over six feet tall, dragged the ground

May 1, 1837, the county court opened its first session in the log house of William Miller, located near the mouth of Saline Creek. On the following day, the court divided the county into four civil townships. These were Saline, Osage, Richwoods, and Equality. The present-day townships of Jim Henry, Glaze, and Franklin were formed later. The Saline township was named for the creek which heads in it.

Wrights Mill

william powell dixon

When the Civil War moved into Missouri many Southern sympathizers were rounded up in the Mt. Pleasant area. William Dixon and Edmund Wilkes evidently were able to avoid capture for quite some time and hid out in a cave in the Saline Creek area. Nancy and her young daughter, Mary Louella, were able to keep in touch with the men and probably supplied them with food to survive. In 1864, William was arrested and sent to a military prison at Jefferson City. I do not know what happened to his father-in-law, Edmund Wilkes, at the time. I know that Edmund eventually lived at California, Moniteau County, MO where he died in 1869. Nancy Wilkes was quite a determined lady….after the arrest of William, she wrote a letter of protest to President Abraham Lincoln and the president issued an order to have William released from the prison. William, Nancy, and their family left

Zebulon Pike expedition

July 31, 1806, Pike entered what is now Miller County and traveled 18 miles on the river that day. On August 1, only 6 miles was traveled because of heavy rain. The river had raised 6 inches. On August 2, they made only 2 miles because part of the day was used to dry out their provisions and to hunt. On August 3, his party of frontiersmen passed the mouth of the Saline Creek and went on past the present site of Tuscumbia

old description of the creek

The small creek that ran through the farm, one of the headwater branches of the Little Saline, was normally a trickle over the riffles with various pools that might be as much as two feet deep. Hard on the heels of one of these near cloudbursts, it could become a roaring torrent carrying logs, stumps and whatever else got in the way with water covering everything from one hillside to the other. In many places, huge sections of soil were ripped out and in others, huge gravel piles were deposited on what had been prime pasture or cropland.

sulfur springs

These Medicinal Springs, on a spur of the Ozark Mountains, high above sea level, are centrally located in Missouri, about 35 miles south of Jefferson City, on the Missouri Pacific Railway. They are called the Round, Bluff, Healing, and Bath Springs. Besides these, there are several others which have their special champions and admirers, for different diseases, included in which is a Sulphur Spring, located about seven miles further down the Saline Creek. They are situated on the southern slope of the watershed, between the Missouri and Osage Rivers, and are justly noted for their healthy location, surrounded as they are by pure air, a salubrious climate, and the most perfect natural sanitary conditions.


Adjoining the town of Aurora Springs on the East, is a beautiful tract of land for building purposes, the part along the Saline Creek being level and of sufficient width for Park and Garden purposes, while the land on either side of the creek rises in a gradual slope, forming little knolls and lookout points by being cut through at right angles to the creek with small ravines, which afford not only a perfect system of drainage but are lovely places for parks, public or private, having ample width for drives and walks to wind through them.

This tract has been purchased by a company composed mostly of St. Louisans, who contemplate in the near future the improvement of the property as a Family Resort and the building of a Hotel, the cut of which is on the opposite page (photo 16).


17 Klingers Cave - Ancient Grotto

This beautiful cave is situated on the right bank of the Saline Creek, one mile East of the Springs; on the southern slope of a thickly settled ridge. A picturesque road leads to it, along which the lofty oaks, silvery poplars and the elms with their long massive branches, shade the travelers on their pleasure trips to and from the cave, making it a most beautiful drive. The entrance of the cave is situated at an elevation of 100 feet above and 400 feet back from the creek. Passing through a beautiful miniature park, the visitor finds a large entrance or room, 30 X 50 feet, with a dark limestone ceiling 10 feet high. On the left of this mammoth room is a small receiving room, with natural seats, and weirdly shaped rocks. At the lower entrance is a subterranean passage about 18 feet wide, which is a grand miniature lake of sufficient depth of water to convey the tourists by means of a boat through the more beautiful portions of the cave. This boat will convey about ten persons with convenience. They pass through a number of small rooms, which tends to call forth words of astonishment and delight from the passengers. At or near the end of this long natural hall, with its marbled and artistic walls, you are carried into the room known as the butcher’s shop, where, in clusters, hang beautiful stelliform stalactites. Other curious formations adorn the walls in profusion casting in the shade the draperies and designs of the Eastern Palaces of old, and the visitor’s surprise and admiration is best stated in the language of Senator McGinnis, of St. Louis, when visiting this resort, he says: “Its grandeur can neither be written nor described.”

schools on saline creek

The first schoolhouse erected after the formation of Miller county was a log building, raised in June 1838, at Bilyeu’s Mill near Richwoods township. A summer term of school was taught here in 1838. The second schoolhouse in Miller county was raised at Sarter’s Mill on the Saline Creek. A fall term of school, beginning in October 1838, was taught here.

Becoming mostly farmland, the area was eventually taken over by the Missouri Department of Conservation and as is managed by them to this day.

So while you are enjoying a few hours, a day, or an overnight camp, keep an eye out for each other, and the other to the ground. You might find an arrowhead or an artillery shell, who knows?


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