Chapter 1
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Chapter 1 - History of Henry County Missouri 1883



Lift we the twilight curtains of the past

And turning from familiar sights and sounds,

Sad and full of reverence let us cast

A glance upon tradition's shadowy ground,

Led by the few pale lights, which, glimmering round

That dim, strange land of old, seen dying fast.


Geological Formation

      There is, perhaps, no portion of the temperate zone showing a more desirable climate than that which is found within the limits of Missouri, or one wherein the demands of an advanced and progressive civilization are so well met. While all portions of the state have their separate local advantages, in such comparison Henry and St. Clair Counties and Southwestern Missouri hold their full share. The geology of the state shows that the carboniferous period gave to Missouri much of that magic element of which the soil is composed, and at the age of man, or the quartenary age, developed her most valuable resources. The coal of the former period, and the soil, sand, marl, peat, clay and gravel of the latter formed the groundwork of the state of Missouri for the habitation of man. Much might be given from the geological history of the state that would interest the reader, but in this work would be of little practical value.

      When this continent rose from its waste of waters it left its rugged surface to be worn by the elements for ages before it became habitable for man; but with that we have little to do.

      The two leading factors in the problem of municipal growth are, location and character of first settlers. The location of Henry and St. Clair Counties was most favorable, and what is true of these two counties is true of the whole state. More than half of the state is surrounded by two of the most renowned water courses of the world, and one will readily see that it possesses advantages enjoyed by no other state in the Union. These conditions, so favorable to the past and future development of the country, are beautifully illustrated by an ingenious little poem, entitled "Two Ancient Misses," written by a gentleman who has won a widespread reputation at the bar. It is here quoted, as it well illustrates this point, and is of sufficient merit to be preserved:



Two Ancient Misses

I know two ancient misses

Who ever onward go,

From a cold and rigid northern clime,

Through a land of wheat, and corn, and wine,

To the southern sea, where the fig and the lime,

And the golden orange grow.


In graceful curves they wind about,

Upon their long and lonely route,

Among the beauteous hills;

They never cease their onward step,

Though day and night they're dripping wet,

And oft with sleet and snow beset,

And sometimes with the chills.


The one is a romping, dark brunette,

As fickle and gay as any coquette;

She glides along by the western plains,

And changes her bed each time it rains:

Witching as any dark-eyed houri,

This romping wild brunette, Missouri.


The other is placid, mild and fair,

With a gentle, sylph-like, quiet air,

And voice as sweet as soft guitar,

She moves along the vales and parks,

Where naiads play AEolian harps

Nor ever go by fits and starts

No fickle coquette of the city,

But gentle, constant Mississippi.


I love the wild and dark brunette,

Because she is a gay coquette;

Her, too, I love of quiet air,

Because she's gentle, true and fair;

Land of my birth! the east and west

Embraced by these is doubly blest

'Tis hard to tell which I love best.


      The compiler of a county history has somewhat of a task to perform, and though some of the facts which are recorded may seem at first commonplace when compared with national events, yet the narration of the peaceful events attending the conquests of industry and the work of progress as ...

"Westward the course of the empire takes its way,"


      While they may seem tame, uninteresting and unexciting to those who have indulged in the reading of the more exciting works of early conquests, of battles and sieges, are still not devoid of all interest. The faithful gathering and truthful narration of facts bearing upon the early settlement of this county, and the dangers and privations passed through by the early pioneers engaged in advancing the standard of civilization is a work of no small magnitude, and as such challenges the admiration and arouses the sympathy of the reader, though it has nothing to do with feats of arms or conquests.


Home of the Indians

      Missouri in her magnificent proportions and unlimited productive wealth, her mild and salubrious climate, and that part of her municipal corporation hounded by the lines forming Henry and St. Clair Counties is what for the present has to be recorded.

      The present boundary of Henry County was first made the home of the paleface in the year 1830. That year the first white man gave to civilization a habitation and a name within its border. At that time it was a part of Lafayette, then called "Lillard" County, but it was still the home of the red men a home with which they were loth to part, and which for a few years after they continued to visit as a hunting ground. God had given them the beautiful valleys of the Osage and the Grand River as their home. It was a migratory field for the restless elk; the bear roamed its wooded hills; the deer and the wild turkey made it their home; the valleys, the upland and the rich and rolling prairies were filled with smaller game; fish sported in the cool and pellucid waters of her rivers and creeks, and in shadowy nooks, near bubbling springs and crystal fountains the aborigines built their wigwams. It was a paradise for the hunter, and the Indians had roamed lord of all. But when the white man came the red man had been dispossessed of his domain, and naught but friendly greetings passed between the whites and the Indians when this county assumed a place upon the pages of history. Then the valleys of the Osage and of Grand River, with their wealth of forest and streams, with their high and rolling prairies, their hold bluffs and nestling valleys, became the property of the pale faces, and that which had stood for centuries in its wild and rugged grandeur was, ere long, to assume a prominent place in the future of our state.


The Pioneer

      The early settlers are entitled to a high and honored place in the pages of history. Many, many days of toil have been devoted to gathering the facts which shall embalm the memory of this band of civil heroes who gave to Henry County its first step in the progress of civilization, and who, in all the phases of life, have proven themselves not only true sons of toil, but noble men and respected citizens. If the time spent in trying to secure facts and reliable information necessary to make this history complete has been one of incessant toil to the author, it has also been no less a work of love on his part, for in the record of the past, and when the light of the coming dawn first shed its rays upon this section of our common country, and in the early reminiscence which have been secured, he has found much which brought to mind many bright and glowing incidents of early days, and of those who taught him what life was and is, and what might be in the vista of the far off future, but who have now gone to the home beyond.

      Memory is oft times treacherous, and a confusion of dates has not been the least of the troubles which has fallen in the pathway of the author. Reliable dates of the early settlement of the county are all-important to those who take an interest in the progress of events, and who desire, of its early days, a correct and succinct history.

      Many of the old settlers have removed to other states and climes; very many have crossed the "dark river" to the impenetrable and mysterious beyond, while those who are left are weak in body, with memory sadly at fault on many facts of deep interest; nevertheless they have been willing, so far as health and memory would permit, to impart all the incidents and trials of early years, and with a spirit of cheerfulness that has made it a pleasure to record them. They are today, as in olden times, the same self-sacrificing people. It is well that in the sordid, grasping avariciousness which characterizes so many of the present generation, that they should have yet within them, by consanguinity, the leaven which made the grand old pioneer stand out so prominently in unselfish and heroic sacrifices as "God's noblest work."



      The land in the county, away from the streams, is undulating prairie. Rising to the higher points of ground, the eye commands views of exquisite loveliness, embracing the silvery course of the stream, the waving foliage of trees, the changing outlines of gentle elevations, and the undulating surface of flower-decked prairie, with cultivated farms, farm houses, including the log-hut of the first settler and the brick or painted houses and barns of the more advanced cultivator of the soil.

      Along the water courses there are hills and gentle slopes, as well as bottom lands. On Grand River the table lands are elevated in some localities from thirty to fifty feet above the water, and the country is somewhat hilly.

      The county has less land unfitted for cultivation than many of its neighbors, while there is not a section of country of equal extent in the state that possesses a better distributed drainage system than Henry County.


1830 - 1831

      It was in the fall of 1830 that the first white settlers trod the soil of Henry County. Hunters and trappers had plied their vocations through this, Osage and Grand River country as early as 1826, but no log cabin reared its front until the fall of the year above mentioned. It was a grand country for game. Upon the banks of the wooded creek was found wild honey, and venturesome spirits passed to and fro ere the Indians had ceased to be jealous of the encroachments of the white man. The Osages and Shawnee Indians occupied all this country as far east and along the river to the head waters of Buffalo and Gravois Creeks, and the old missionary trail, leading from Jefferson City to Harmony Mission, on the Osage River, passed through this county, which was a recognized line of travel before Henry County was organized. Upon these high, rolling and beautiful prairies, skirted by woodland, many Indian battles had been fought, and the wild war-whoop of the savages had rang out with shouts of defiance, mingled with the whiz of the arrow or the dull thud of the tomahawk in doing its murderous work. It was not to be, however, that the bounteous gifts nature had lavished upon this vast domain, in the richness of its soil and the wealth of minerals hidden in its bosom should remain forever undeveloped.


From 1820 to 1830

Lillard or Lafayette County

      When this part of Missouri was organized into a county it was, the greater part, a dense wilderness, and in Henry and St. Clair Counties no white man, except an occasional hunter and trapper, had ever trod its soil. The present Henry County, when first placed under municipal government, was a part of Lillard County, whose boundary lines were, on the north the Missouri River, on the east range line between ranges 24 and 23, south to the Osage River, its southern line the Osage River; from the above range line on the east to the Kansas state line, following the middle of the channel of Osage River, and the west line the state line to the middle of the channel of the Missouri River, where the state line crosses the river. Thus Lillard County included the present counties of Lafayette, Johnson, Henry, half of St. Clair, about four-fifths of Bates, and all of Cass and Jackson.

      It was organized as Lillard County, November 16, 1820, and its first county court was held at Mt. Vernon, on the Missouri River, about ten miles below Lexington, on the 8th day of December 1820. The county judges were James Lillard, Sr., John Whitsitt and John Stapp. They received their commissions from Governor Alex. McNair, the first governor of Missouri. The first clerk, and he was fifteen or sixteen years in office, was Young Ewing. This was the first organization of Henry County, the first time she was reclaimed from the wilderness. Civilization and progress from that day has marked her footsteps In 1823 the county seat of Lillard was removed from Mt. Vernon to Lexington, and that ancient, but somewhat dilapidated, town was platted the same year. The old county seat of Henry County, as it may be called, still stands on the banks of the "Big Muddy," somewhat decayed in spots, but with an eminently respectable, though somewhat seedy appearance.


Davis and Blackwater

      The first municipal division of which Henry, or Rives, became a part was called Lexington Township, which boundary line was the Osage River on the south. This was in May 1824. The first township, however, to boast of a constituency, or settlers as far south as this county, was Davis Township, and it was organized in May 1830. At the same session of the county court of Lillard, then changed to Lafayette County, was the township of Blackwater. The dividing line between these two townships was the range line between ranges 26 and 25, running south to the Osage River. Thus Davis Township took in Shawnee, Field's Creek, Clinton, Fairview and all west, while Blackwater took in the seven townships lying east of said range line. As some of the officers of these townships lived in Henry County, their boundary lines are here given.


Davis Township

      Beginning at the county line between Saline and Lafayette Counties, section corner between 2 and 3, township 50 of range 24; thence west to the middle of range 26 in township 50; thence south to the section corner of sections 12 and 13, township 48; thence east to the range line between 26 and 25; thence south to the southern boundary of Lafayette County, which is the middle of the main channel of the Osage River; thence down the middle of said river to the range line between 23 and 24; thence north to the place of beginning. Estimated there were forty-eight taxable inhabitants in said township.

      The voting precinct was at the house of Benj. Johnson, and the judges were all but one residents of Johnson County, both in the years 1830 and 1831, and the judges of election in 1832. But Thomas Collins, his daughter was Sarah Collins, born August 12, 1824 (afterward became Mrs. Young), was a justice of the peace for Davis Township in 1831 and the first in the county. Nathan Toms was appointed constable, but his residence was probably Johnson County, as he can not be found among the early settlers of Henry.

      Blackwater Township took in a part of Johnson and Henry Counties, as well as that portion of St. Clair north of the Osage River, but its dimensions were soon reduced to the limits of Johnson County.


Tebo Township

      This is the township more clearly identified in the memory of the early pioneers of Henry County than any other. All, nearly, remember Tebo Township. There are but few who ever heard of Davis Township. This, or Tebo Township, was organized May 21, 1832, with the following metes and bounds:

      "Ordered, that the following shall be the line and boundaries of Tebo Township, in Lafayette County, Missouri: Beginning where the main Blackwater crosses the eastern line of this county, it being the line between ranges 23 and 24; thence up the said creek opposite to Uriel Murray's; thence due west to the line between Lafayette and Jackson Counties; thence south with said line to the middle of Osage River; thence down the same to the line between ranges 23 and 24; thence north on said line to place of beginning; and the number of taxable inhabitants residing in said township are about 35 polls, which is ordered to be certified."

      Tebo, it will be seen, was something of a township. It really included all of Johnson and Henry Counties, and St. Clair north of the Osage River. In the meantime Jackson County had been divided into two townships and Cass one, the largest settlements being on Sni-E-Barre Creeks.

      At the same term of court, and following the township organization act, was the following order: "Upon the petition of twenty and more petitioners, it is ordered by the court, that Henry Avery be recommended to the governor of this state as a proper person to be appointed a justice of the peace for Tebo Township, Lafayette County."

      The Rev. Henry Avery received his commission, being the first, justice, his appointment dating from May 21, 1832.

      Following this, the judges of the first election of the township were appointed, and an election ordered. They read: "Ordered, that the election in Tebo Township be held at the house of John Brummet. Ordered, that James Warren, Chesley Jones and Francis Nixon be appointed judges of the election in Tebo Township for two years."

      The two former named judges were living in Henry County and the last in Johnson. John Brummet's house was in Johnson County, about one-half mile north of the Henry County line.

      James McWilliams was the first constable appointed within the limits of Henry County. He lived in what is now Windsor Township. He received his appointment in November 1832, and he handed over to the county court one dollar for a fine he had collected of Drury Palmer. Drury unfortunately had a horse who committed a trespass, and he was assessed one dollar for damages. This was probably Henry Avery's first case, as he was the only justice at that time in those "neck of woods." Anyway, here is the record of Lafayette County Court. They got the dollar:

      "James McWilliams, constable of Tebo Township, made report of a fine of $1.00 collected of Drury Palmer, which he paid to Young Ewing, clerk, in open court, which is ordered to be applied to county purposes."

      Mr. Robert L. Avery reports that Mr. Palmer cut up a twenty-five-cent deer skin to make a rope to tie that horse. At all events there is no record that he was assessed any more for trespass.

      It was such little items as the above, showing where the people's money was going to-supporting the aristocrats on the banks of the "Big Muddy," that convinced them that they had better organize a county of their own and keep their money for home use.


Jackson and Clay

      There was only one election at John Brummet's house, and that was of a local or township affair. The election for president in the fall of 1832 was held at the house of Alfred Askins, on section 18, the farm being now owned by Price Askins. This was a memorable election. Jackson and Clay were the opposing candidates. Jackson received twenty-four votes and Henry Clay six votes, which would go to show that Henry County was born in the Democratic fold, and its godfather was Andrew Jackson. The late election giving a Democratic majority of nearly 1,200, also shows that the leaven of the Jackson vote of 1832, just a half century later, had born rich fruit.

      Quite a number of the incidents here given were received from Mr. R. L. Avery, who gave many pleasant stories of pioneer life.

      The table upon which the votes of that election were counted was made by Henry Avery, cut out with a whipsaw, and the legs of good old hickory. This table is now in possession of R. L. Avery, son of Henry Avery. Drury Palmer and Henry Avery were the clerks of this election. On the way to the polls Mr. Avery lost his quill pen, and the matter was remedied by Drury Palmer's toothpick, with a stick extension for a handle. Francis Parazette, Thomas Arbuckle and Chesley Jones were the judges at this election.


The First Cabin

      Thomas Arbuckle has been credited with putting up the first cabin within the limits of Henry County. He settled on section 5 of what is now Windsor Township, in the year and spring of 1830. John Brummet and Benjamin Kimsey came in 1828, and they both settled within a mile of each other, and not over a half mile from the Henry County line. Thomas Kimsey, the son of Old Ben Kimsey, as he was called, left the old man and staked a claim some two miles south, also in the spring of 1830, and some claim in the winter of 1829-30. To these two pioneers may be given the honor of being the advanced guard of civilization, who blazed the way for future generations to follow. Matthew Arbuckle and James Arbuckle came with him and settled south of Thomas. Isom Burnett also came in 1830, during the summer, and settled on section 5, Windsor Township. Cyrus P. Arbuckle settled on section 32, township 44, range 24. Thomas Collins was one of those who came either in 1829 or 1830. He was a justice of the peace in 1831 of Davis Township, and lived in Big Creek. P. D. Wade came October 1830; and this list comprises nearly all, if not absolutely all, who lived in this county at that date. The records of Lafayette County were searched from 1825 to 1836, as well as the record of Henry County from the date of its organization, old settlers have been interviewed, and the above is the result.



      This year marked a decided advance; the county actually more than doubled its population. Thomas Anderson, the first blacksmith in the county, settled on section 2, Windsor Township; Henry Avery, on section 10, now Tebo; William Ogan settled on section 1, Windsor; P. W. Sissel, on section 4, Windsor; Drury Palmer and his wife, Mary A., settled on section 7, Tebo - the latter still living on the old place; William Gladden and William Crowley, section 4; Mr. Mesic, section 5, Tebo, and Alfred Askin on section 18, on the banks of Tebo Creek. James and Jesse McWilliams, and their father, David McWilliams, and Jesse Hill, settled - the McW.'s on section 9, Windsor Township, and Hill on section 16. William Simpson and Fielding A. Pinnell, county and circuit clerk for seventeen years, all came in 1831 and settled in Windsor Township. So, also, did Mason Fewell, who settled on section 8; James Warren, on the same section. Then Chesley Jones located on section 12, and Valentine Bell on section 21, Tebo Township; George W. Lake in Fields Creek, and Zekiel Blevins on section 16, Shawnee, and in 1833 removed to Honey Creek. This comprises most of the settlers who made this county their home in 1831.

      The conveniences in those days were few and far between. Going to mills was a job that took days to perform, and even then it was accompanied at times by serious danger. Wolves would gather around the benighted traveler, and only by keeping up a bright fire all night and around them would keep the ravenous beasts away. Then high water would stop them, and a few days would be lost waiting for the water to subside. There was very little fun in all this. The family at home might suffer, while delay thus hampered them on every side. A post office twenty to forty miles away was another luxury of the early pioneer, and twenty five cents was the postage rate. When you got a letter it was as likely to be a month or two old as one is now a day old. With the exception of a little silver in circulation, wild game, honey, beeswax, skins of all kinds, secured by the unerring skill of the hunter, was the currency of the country. Yet with this there was little credit given, cash or barter being the standard of trade. This, however, lasted but a few years. The demon of credit took possession of the people, and the merchants who taught the people this manner of doing business became in the end the greatest sufferers. Not but what many farmers succumb to the evil, but the merchant also practiced what he preached, and he too failed when the day of payment came. But in the early thirties cash and barter was the rule, credit the exception. It was not until the wild cat banks of 1835-6 and the memorable crash of the year 1837 that tell the deplorable story of the credit system.

      This year the Rev. Henry Avery built his cabin on section 10, and his house was the first one known to have had window glass in it. He put in two sash with four lights each. Before this magnificent residence was finished, a wagon box served as a sleeping place for the children, but it was in July, and it was not cold. There was not any first-class chimneys in those days, the first brick chimney not appearing until the year 1837. Good sticks, with a pure article of Henry County mud mixed to the required thickness, was the general rule. That old cabin, which served as the first courthouse in Henry County, is still standing, a monument of honest work and of the primitive style of the old pioneer.


The First Plowing

      One of the curious incidents of those days was the fact that in 1830 a plow could not be found in St. Louis, but Henry Avery went nine miles below that point to purchase one in the year 1830. He took it to Morgan County, and there broke twenty acres of prairie land, to see if that kind of land would raise corn. That plow and the wagon which brought them to Henry County was the first plow and four-wheel wagon brought to the county, and the breaking of the prairie in the spring of 1832 with that plow and four yoke of cattle was the first attempt to work that kind of land in the county. The pioneers all settled on the streams and in the timber, and would go to work and clear a patch for corn, cutting the trees and clearing the underbrush, when right before them was the land ready for the plow, with a soil of surprising richness. A few years, however, dispelled this illusion, and the prairies were sought for, not shunned, although it was not much before a decade had passed.



      The growth of the county in population was very gratifying for the year 1832, and it brought many persons who afterwards became prominent in the affairs of the county in its official life and material progress. This year brought John Nave, who settled on section 4, Clinton Township. William Swife, from Kentucky, settled on section 33, what is now Fields' Creek Township, as did also his brother Isaac. Samuel Cox settled on section 34, Shawnee Township. George W. and Pleasant Walker, at that time believed to be the richest men in the county, settled on section 16, Fields' Creek Township. George and his brother prospected through the country in 1831, but located as above. They, however, took a decided fancy to old man Ezekiel Blevin's place, five miles north, also on section 16, but in Shawnee Township, the result of which was that they purchased Ezekiel's claim and improvement for $150, paying in stock and things, or paying in trade, no money being used, and they took possession of the place late in the fall of 1833.


He Was Born There

      And right there, on section 16, in the old log cabin, was born the first white male child in Henry County, and the well known and honored citizen of this county today, Preston Blevins, was that child. His lungs were sound, and his father says he made the old cabin ring with his music at times, and that the sharp ears of his neighbors would recognize the family voice when young Blevins sought to reach the upper notes. But as the nearest neighbor was between three and four miles away, a little allowance can be made for the old man, who may have thought from the racket in the cabin that the neighbors could hear him five miles away.