lead mining | KBIA

lead mining

Frank Vess Portell family. The woman with the guitar is Nellie Hopkins Portell. She is wearing button shoes, and has the Gibson Girl hairstyle. The man with the fiddle is Francis "Brazz" Politte. His descendants are known as the Brazz Polittes.
Courtesy of Kent Bone.

French settlers colonized southeast Missouri over 200 years ago. And with them came the French language and culture.

They mined the lead belt region and created an insular community in Old Mines revolving around house parties, music and church.

Over time they developed their very own dialect called “Paw Paw” French that was used well into the 20th century. But then it started to disappear.

Kristofor Husted / KBIA

With a tackle box and a fishing pole, Gary Sanders baits his hook with a worm and casts his line into the river outside of Desloge, Missouri.


“I caught a couple little bass,” he says. ”I think they were small mouth. They weren’t very big. They were only about that big -- only 6 inches long.”

Sanders is posted up at the Big River. He moved here from St. Louis a few years ago to live a more outdoors lifestyle. You won’t see him or many other fishermen in this area take home their catch for a fish fry though. That’s because these waters are still dealing with lingering contamination from lead mining.