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Atchison County
Missouri


County History

Atchison County.—A county in the northwestern part of the State, being one of the six counties carved out of the Platte Purchase, and named after David R. Atchison, a United States Senator from Missouri. It is bounded on the north by the Iowa line; east, by Nodaway County; south, by Holt County, and west, by the Missouri River and the State of Nebraska. It is in the same latitude with Philadelphia, and in the same longitude with Lake Itasca and Galveston. It has an area of 521 7-8 square miles, or 334,000 acres. The surface is mainly undulating prairie and river bottom, the rich alluvial land of the Missouri River bottom extending eastward for a distance of four to eight miles, and constituting more than a fourth of the area of the county.

The Missouri bluffs are steep and broken into peaks, presenting a picturesque appearance, and from the summit of these a fine view is obtained of a great part of the county. The soil is black, deep and very productive, yielding large crops of all the grains that grow in the latitude of northern Missouri, including corn, wheat, oats, rye and barley, and being equally adapted to grass.

About one-fifth of the county is prairie, and there was at the first an abundance of good timber along the streams— black walnut, oak of several kinds, maple, ash, elm and wild cherry—and this made house building to the first settler a simple and easy task. There was a line of timber along every stream, and occasionally an isolated grove. The county is abundantly watered. The Nishnebotna River, Big and Little Tarkio Creeks and Rock Creek flow through it, and, with their affluents, give an ample supply of running water; and, in addition to this, springs are found all over the county, and wells sunk to the depth of thirty feet strike underground streams. The Missouri River borders the county for fifty miles.

Atchison County was set apart by act of the Legislature passed in 1844, which defined the limits of the new county, gave its name, and appointed Alexander McElroy, David Hunsaker and Elijah Needles commissioners to organize the county. These commissioners met, in obedience to this law, at the house of Conrad Cliffield, on April 14, 1845, and chose Alex. McElroy president of the court, Alex. A. Bradford clerk, and L. T. Tate sheriff. Five townships were named and defined, Clark, Nishnebotna, Polk, Tarkio and Bluff. The first meeting of the circuit court of the new county took place September 1st , 1895, Honorable Solomon L. Leonard presiding. A. A. Bradford, who had already been appointed county clerk, was appointed circuit clerk also; Willard P. Hall was made circuit attorney, and L. T. Tate was recognized as sheriff. John Wilson, James B. Gardenhire, T. D. Wheaton, Levi Carr, John C. Morris, D. G. Price, P. L. Hudgens, James Foster, John W. Kelly, James Craig, F. M. Warmcastle and Willard P. Hall were enrolled as attorneys.

H. B. Roberts and Thomas Wilson, both single men, the former from Illinois and the latter from Clay County, Missouri, put up a cabin and made a crop, on ground which afterward became the site of Sonora, on the Missouri River, in the year 1839, and they were the first settlers in Atchison County. There were two other men, Hughes and Alley, already in the county, trading with the Indians, but they were not settlers, and soon disappeared. Roberts, after living in the county several years, moved to Nebraska, and thence to Hamburg, Iowa. November n, 1839, Callaway Millsaps, coming from Saline County, Missouri, but originally from Cocke County, Tennessee, came in and settled near Roberts and Wilson. Along with Millsaps came Charles Beauchamp and Archibald and Alexander Handley, from Clay County, all three in Millsaps' employ. Roberts had a wood yard on the river, and Mr. Millsaps was accustomed to tell how cheerful a sight it was in the spring of 1840, after a long and severe winter, to see a steamboat land and take on a supply of wood. In the spring of 1840 John Matthews, an Englishman, settled at a place afterward called English Grove, in honor of him, eight miles southeast of Rockport; and the following year a colony of Irish people, under Martin Murphy, from Canada, settled in the same township, in a place which was afterward called Irish Grove. In the fall of 1842 John Bender, from Platte County, Missouri, located on the east bank of the Missouri, about a mile above the place where Brownville, Nebraska, now stands; and shortly afterward George Harmon, from Illinois, located at Sonora. A little later in the same year E. D. Scammon, from Lafayette County, Missouri, settled two miles southeast of Rockport; and William Hunter, from Clinton County, Missouri, settled on Rock Creek, three miles southwest from Rockport, at a place afterward called "Hunter's Ridge." In 1843 Elijah S. Needles, from Indiana, located near him, at a place afterward called "Needles Bridge." Both Hunter and Needles became judges of the county court and prominent citizens. Another early settler was Richard Rupe, from Lafayette County, whose neighborhood was afterward called "Rupe's Grove," about six miles southeast from Rockport. Mr. Rupe afterward became county judge also. About 1843 John Fowler put up a sawmill on Rock Creek, two and a half miles south of where Rockport now stands. The same year Nathan Meek began the building of a gristmill on the ground where Rockport stands. All these early settlers were in the territory before Atchison County was organized.

In the year 1846 a colony of Germans, ten in number, established themselves a mile and a half north of Rockport, and attempted to form a socialistic community; but a heavy rainfall swept away their mill, their first crop turned out poorly and the colony broke up, some of the members locating claims, each for himself in the county, and others seeking homes elsewhere. The early settlers in Atchison County did not need to bring a supply of provisions with them, for there was never, probably, a place on earth where forest, prairie and stream afforded finer game, or more of it. The buffalo had disappeared, indeed—crossed the Missouri River and were then roaming in vast herds on the plains beyond—but deer and turkey were so plentiful that one could not go amiss for them. An old resident used to tell that in 1841, while going a distance of six miles, he counted as many as seventy-three deer in herds of six and ten. Wild ducks and geese were still more abundant, and squirrels were not worth killing. The streams were full of fish, and both forest and stream afforded beaver, otter, mink, muskrat, raccoon, fox, wolf and wild-cat in such numbers that a little trapping and hunting yielded a stock of furs which were as good as gold and silver at the nearest town. A settler who was handy with his rifle generally managed to pay his taxes in wolf scalps and have the skins of the animals over. Wild honey was so abundant in the hollow trees along the streams that the taking of it was a common business, and both honey and beeswax always commanded a good price at the neighboring store.

William Millsaps, who was born December 14, 1839, was the first white child born in Atchison County, and his sister, Elizabeth Millsaps, in December, 1842, when she was ten years old, accidentally burned to death, was the first white person to die in the county.
In 1841 Mr. Millsaps built a boat of boards, hewed out with his axe, and established a ferry across the Nishnebotna the first in the county.

Dr. Richard Buckham, one of the first physicians in the county, was an early settler in Clay Township.

William Sickler, who settled in the limits of what is now the town of Rockport, about 1841, made the first plow manufactured in the county.

The first distillery in the county was put up in Clay Township by Samuel King in 1843.

The first mill in the county was in Clay Township, on Rock Creek, put up by John Fowler in 1842. King's Mill, a water-power gristmill, was afterward erected on the same site.

The first postoffice in the present limits of Atchison County, was Fugitt's Mill, and the first postmaster was named Booth. Before this there was a postoffice at High Creek, and another at Austin, both supposed to be in Atchison County, but afterward found to be in the State of Iowa.

The seat of justice in Atchison County was first established in 1846, at the town of Linden, in what is now Polk Township, about five miles north of the present town of Rockport, and there the first courthouse was built, a frame edifice, twenty by thirty feet and two stories high, costing $475. At the time of the selection of Linden for the county seat it was near the center of the county, but when the Iowa boundary was afterward remarked, a ten mile strip of Atchison County was transferred to Iowa. This left the county seat too close to the northern line of the county, and on the 2ist of June, 1856, on petition of three-fifths of the taxpayers of the county, an election was held on the proposition to remove the county seat. The proposition was carried, and commissioners appointed for the purpose selected Rockport for the permanent seat of justice, and on the 19th of August the county court met at Rockport for the first time. In August of the following year the court appropriated $9,500 for a new courthouse, and a building of brick, two stories high and containing seven rooms, was built at a cost of $15,000.

According to the report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the exports shipped from the county in 1898 were: 49,600 head of cattle, 61,706 head of hogs, 770 head of sheep, 333 head of horses and mules, 112,121 bushels of wheat, 20,636 bushels of oats, 885,000 bushels of corn, 20 tons of hay, 108,000 pounds of flour, 473.800 net of lumber, 336 cords of wood, 41,000 brick, 420 barrels of lime, 4,510 pounds of wool, 399,206 pounds of poultry, 70,170 dozen eggs, 19.753 pounds of butter, 800 pounds of lard, 34,090 pounds of tallow, 121,845 pounds of hides and pelts, 4,398 barrels of apples, 9,823 pounds of fresh fruit, 4.430 pounds of nursery stock, 405 pounds of furs, and other products in smaller quantities.

The first sermon delivered in the county is said to have been preached by Rev. Richard Baxter, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, to a small congregation at the house of Callaway Millsaps, in Clay Township, in the summer of 1841. Rev. Isaac Odell, a Baptist minister, held several meetings about the same time in a new schoolhouse just built on Mr. Millsaps' farm. In 1846 Rev. Jesse Allen, from Howard County, held a protracted meeting near Hunter's Bridge. Rev. Richard Buckham and John Mullins and a minister named Foreman were among the pioneer preachers of the county.

The first school in the county was kept in a dugout by Cornelius Schubert, a member of the unfortunate German colony that settled near Rockport in 1846; it did not last long, but shared the fate of the colony. In the year 1898 there were 118 public schools in operation in the county, employing 118 teachers; estimated value of the school property, $99,500; children enumerated, 5,042; total receipts for school purposes, $84,844; permanent county school fund, $111,288.

The first newspaper published in Atchison County was the "Weekly Banner," begun at Rockport in July, 1857, by L. C. Kulp & Co., who kept it up until 1859. In November of that year the "Rockport Herald" was started by George W. Reed, and after a time suspended. December 16, 1870, the "Rockport Sentinel" was first published. In 1872 it changed hands and was called the " Missouri Express," and two years later changed hands again, and was then called the "Rockport News." A short time after it was named "Grangers'Advocate," and in July, 1874, it suspended. In August, 1876, the "Atchison Democrat" was founded, and in i88i the name was changed to"The Sun." In August, 1878, the first issue of the "Democratic Mail" was made, and in 1880 the name was changed to the "Atchison County Mail." It is the Democratic organ of the county, and the "Atchison County Journal," first published in September, 1863, is the recognized Republican organ, both of them spirited, enterprising and valuable journals. The "Tarkio Blade" was started in 1881, and after a few months its name was changed to the "Tarkio Republican." The "Fairfax Independent" was established in February, 1882. The "Phelps City Record" was published for a few months in 1868, and the "Watson Times" for a few months in 1876.

The first railroad built in the county was the Kansas City, St. Joseph & Council Bluffs, running through the western part of the county, a distance of nearly twenty five miles, built in 1868. The Tarkio Valley Railroad, a branch of this first road, was built in 1881. It has about twenty-four miles of track in the county. The other roads in the county are the Omaha & St. Louis, and the Rockport, Langdon & Northern. The taxable property in 1898 of Atchison County consisted of real estate, valued at $5,111,825 Personal property, $2,648,665; railroad, bridge and telegraph property, $497,621; total taxable wealth, $8,258,111. Atchison County has no county or township bonded debt. The population in 1900 was 16,501.
[Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri: Edited by Howard Louis Conard; Publ. 1901; Transcribed by Andrea Stawski Pack]

 

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