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Bates County

Settlement of County 1821 to 1860

In comparison with other sections of the state the settlement of the territory now included in Bates County was slow. We find much older settlements to the south, north and east of us, and even in the eastern part of Kansas many settlements, before this section was in any considerable measure brought under the dominion of the white man. The reason for this is found in the fact that this territory was set apart by the government as a reservation for the Indians, and the land was not open to homestead. So no title could be secured to the land until after the Indians were . removed (about 1887) and it was-then some time before the surveys could be completed and the land opened for the home-seeker. Previous to this time people came and built cabins, cultivated small tracts of laud along the streams, and hunted and trapped in the forests. Many of these people were of that roving class of adventurers who never remain in one place for any length of time, and when they heard of a more, promising field, or grew tired of the spot where they were staying, all they had to do was to "pull up stakes" .and travel. These conditions make it peculiarly difficult to attempt to give any definite record of "First Settlements," or "First Settlers." As there are no land entries to be consulted, or records of any kind to examine, it is only a matter of recollection or tradition as to the very first settlements. The oldest settlers now living have recollections of older settlers, and many remember abandoned settlements 'which had been the home, for a time at least, of some adventurous person, long since removed, and no trace left but a ruined cabin, and fields which were, in some instances, covered with a heavy growth of timber.

There are very good theories advanced to support the claim that some of these old settlements anti-date the establishment of Harmony Mission, on the Osage, commonly accepted as the first settlement made by whites within the present limits of the county, as it most surely is the first of which any authentic account can be given. For these reasons Harmony Mission is taken as the starting point in the settlement of this section, although it was in no sense a settlement in its self, but the fact that there was a little band of whites established there led others, who were to be permanent settlers, to rear homes near this Mission, thus forming a nucleus, or foundation for more extensive developments, radiating from this common center, and merely as such we shall treat it.


Up to the year 1837, the Osage Indians made their home in the southern part of Bates County and northern part of Vernon, and about 1820, having some business with the "Great Father," at Washington, they sent a delegation of Indians to that place to make known to him their desires, and, among other things, they preferred a request for missionaries to be sent out to their tribe, for the purpose of teaching them Christianity and interesting them in the arts of civilization.

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions having headquarters at Boston, Mass., being informed of the request of the Indians, immediately set about complying with it. Volunteers were not at all scarce, and in the spring of 1821, a party was organized for this purpose. Rev. N. B. Dodge was chosen Superintendent, and some twelve or fifteen persons, of various occupations, agreed to meet at Pittsburg, ready with supplies, tools, etc., for their long and arduous journey into the wilds of the far "West.

They embarked in two keel-boats, without sails, or other means of propulsion except than by oars, or "poling" as it was called. While their course led them down stream they floated with the current, and when up stream they were compelled to resort to the oars, or poles. The poling was done by the men taking a long pole and, standing in the bow of the boat, they would stick one end of the pole in the mud, holding to the other and pushing, walk to the stem, then repeat the operation, thereby slowly and laboriously working their way against the current. In this way they worked on until finally, on the 9th day of August, 1821, they reached a spot about 3 miles below the present site of Papinsville— formerly spelled Papinville—and there found a few French traders, probably from St. Louis, who were camped there for the purpose of trading with the Indians and not as permanent settlers.

Here the missionaries determined to establish their mission and pitched their camp near this place and named it Harmony Mission. Until they could erect log cabins, they were compelled to live in tents, and endure all of the hardships incident to this mode of life, and all this they were doing, not for money or expectation of worldly gain, but that they might carry the blessings of Christianity to the ignorant child of the prairie, for the organization which sent them out only paid their actual expenses and nothing more. They soon had rude cabins erected and moved into them, established a school for the Indian children and began their efforts for the betterment of these people. The Indians generally were not so anxious for advancement in civilization as their delegates had been, and they even demanded pay from the Mission for the privilege of using their children as pupils. For some time after their arrival here they were compelled to freight their goods from Jefferson City, but later they got them at Independence.

Although the Mission served as a beginning for the settlement of what is now Bates County, considered from the standpoint of the Missionary Society it was a practical failure, for after many of the younger Indians had embraced Christianity and received some degree of education, they would, as soon as released from school, return to their tribes and instead of teaching them, they returned to their old tribal customs and were as much savages as ever.

But notwithstanding this disappointment the Missionaries continued their labors until 1837, when the Osages were removed farther west and, there being no longer occasion for maintaining it, the Mission was abandoned. The buildings were sold to the government for $8000 which went to the Society, and the Missionaries being left without support, scattered to various parts of the country and with one exception were lost track of. This exception was Dr. Jones, who settled on Deep-water near Montrose in Henry county, and whose daughter—Mrs. Austin—who recently resided in Montrose, was born at the Mission, being the first white child born in the county of which we have any knowledge.

The Requas, who lived for a time at the Mission, settled in Lone Oak township, and many of their descendants still reside there. There are, also, a number of people now living who settled in the county while the Mission was in existence and who had some chance to observe its workings, and who are still able to give interesting accounts of its members.

And, while the work of this brave and unselfish little band produced but very little perceptible results in as far as the Indians were concerned, we give them all honor for their untiring efforts for the good of their fellow beings.

After the Mission was abandoned a number of settlers remained, and in 1841 a post-office was established here under the name of Batesville, the first post-office in the county. Before this time the nearest post-office had been at Independence, Missouri, nearly one hundred miles distant, so we can surmise that the change was hailed with joy by the settlers who were separated from relatives and friends, whom they had left in older states and communities.

In the winter of 1840-41 an act was passed by the Legislature for, the purpose of organizing a number of counties in this state from territory until this time unorganized, and among, others was one to be known as Bates County—so named in honor of Edward Bates, a native of Virginia and a very eminent lawyer and statesman, his last public service being rendered as Attorney General in President Lincoln's Cabinet.

The following boundaries were fixed by this act for Bates County:

Beginning on the western boundary line of this state, at the south-west corner of Van Buren county; thence east to the south-east corner of said county; thence south on the range line dividing ranges 28 and 29, to the township line dividing townships 33 and 34; thence west on said township line to the western line of the state; thence north on said line to the place of beginning, is hereby created a separate and distinct county, to be called and known by the name of the county of Bates.

The boundaries of Bates County so remained until 1851 when the Legislature passed an act creating Vernon county, and including therein very nearly the same territory as this county now contains, but this act was declared unconstitutional and nothing more was done until 1855, when a strip of territory 25 miles wide and about 30 long was detached from the south side of Bates, and organized as the county of Vernon. At the same time a part of Cass was added to Bates, giving this county the boundaries which have so remained since.

The Legislature of 1840-41, which created the original County of Bates, also decreed that the Circuit and County Courts should be held at Harmony Mission until such time as a permanent county seat be selected, or the County Court order otherwise. The courts held their sessions in the school house as long as the county seat remained here.


Owing, possibly, to the removal of the Mission, and the fact that the new site offered better facilities for conducting the limited commerce of those days by being better suited for a boat-landing, a new town was laid out in 1847, about three miles from Harmony Mission, on the Marais des Cygnes River, and named in honor of a Mr. Papin, a French Indian trader. The town grew rapidly and, showing evidence of attaining to some importance, the county seat was located here in 1848, and Harmony Mission rapidly became merely a memory of by-gone days.

It will be remembered that at this time the county extended some twenty-five miles south of the Osage River and that the north line was some distance south of whore it now is aud, there being no other town of any size in the county, it was believed that the seat of county government would re-main at Papinsville.   This appeared all the more sure when it was considered that the river afforded almost the only, and by far the most feasible, route for the shipment in and out, of such commodities as constituted the articles of commerce of those days; an inland town was not expected to attain any great importance, as a town situated distant from a railroad is not expected to do any great volume of business at the present time.   But conditions change as time passes, especially during the period of settlement in new countries. Almost,every session of State Legislature changed county lines, and carved new counties out of the remains of old ones.  In a few years efforts were made to divide the county.. This division was bitterly fought by the friends of the old town, and was once defeated in the courts, but the attempt aroused the people of that part of the county into activity. Up to this time court had been held in a log building, but the County Court now proceeded to build a substantial brick court house. They also put a bridge across the river at that place, seeking thereby to avoid the complaint that the county seat was inconvenient of access to the citizens who resided south of the Osage.  But these measures did not long delay the inevitable change.

In 1855 the Legislature again divided the county, this time on the present lines, naming that part south of the river, Vernon county, and leaving Papiusville in Bates, but locating the county seat in the center of the county. This left an almost new court house on the hands of the County Court, which they sold to Philip Zeal, and removed the county seat from Papinsville in 1856-7.

During the time the county seat was located at Papinsville the town grew rapidly and was, for some years, the metropolis of the county. Next to Harmony Mission, the history of the early days in Bates County centers around this place, which, in fact, was the offspring of the old Mission, and is so regarded in the fond recollections of our old settlers. Here many of the interesting and exciting events of the early times took place. Here the politicians and influential men of the community naturally congregated, and the public questions which came up for consideration in those days were just as momentous, and probably excited greater interest among the people of the sparsely settled country, than like matters now do. Here occurred the first murder trial ever held in the county, and the first and only execution by civil authorities. It was the landing place of a large majority of the first settlers of the county, and the distributing point for the supplies brought in for a great many of the early inhabitants. Even after the removal of the county seat it continued to prosper until the Civil War brought ruin to so many of Bates County's people, but from this blow Papinsville never recovered her one-time prestige and improtance.


 "While this section was still reserved by trie Government, the white men cast many a longing eye on its beautiful prairies, rich bottom lands and fine forests and;. as we have be-fore related, a number of the more mercenary had "squatted" on the forbidden territory. When the Indians were removed still farther west, and it was known that the land would soon be open for settlement, the tide of immigration set in, and from that time forward the settlement of the county progressed rapidly, and soon the cabin of the settler, surrounded by his ''clearing" could " be seen in all parts of the county, for such it soon became although the limits at first did not coincide with the present county boundaries. The largest settlement was along the Osage, in .the vicinity of the old Mission, which place was the temporary seat of county government.

And not till the early 40's were there any other considerable settlements made in Bates County. About this time, however, settlers began erecting homes along Deepwater Creek, selecting the timber lands, believing them better aiapted to the requirements of the farmer than the prairies and in a short time there was a considerable number of people in this part of the country, large numbers of them coming from the nearby counties where they had become crowded by neighbors settling within ten or fifteen miles of them. Although as far back as 1830 we tind a few  settlers occupying homes on Deepwater, and in what is now Mingo township there were some settlers as early as 1832, but no town was founded until 1845.


The first store was opened in Johnstown by Dan and Jim Johnson.   They were not able to secure a post-office until about 1849, until which time they had to go to Deepwater City, in Henry county, for their mail, but after the establishment of a post-office Johnstown made rapid strides toward becoming a town of no mean importance for those days. Being surrounded by a fertile and productive country, it afforded a place for the Indian trader to exchange his furs for more trinkets to barter to the Indians, and, being a considerable distance from any other settlement of importance, it soon was doing more business than any other place in the county, at one time having two wholesale houses, handling general merchandise, four or live general stores, two saloons, three blacksmith shops, cabinet shop, mill and harness shop.

This condition of prosperity continued uutil the breaking out of the border troubles between Missouri and Kansas, and during this time and the Civil War Johstown was almost ruined, and then just after the war the building of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway so near to it, rendered it impossible that it should ever again attain its old time prominence.


From 1830 to 1840 settlements were being rapidly made in various other parts of the county, a post-office being established at Pleasant Gap perhaps as early as 1842, and settlements made in Lone Oak, Hudson, Deer Greek, New Home, Walnut and Charlotte townships about this time also.

It appears that no settlements were made in other parts of the county prior to 1810, but during the forties numerous settlements sprang up with great rapidity in all parts of the county, there being a great influx, of home-seekers from the eastern states and this caused the founding of a number of towns in various parts of the county, only a few of which, however, reached any importance before the war. Two of these have been briefly mentioned, and we will now try to record something of the history of the others.

WEST POINT. West Point—founded in 1850. Situated in the north-west part of Bates County, is in West Point township, about one mile from the state line. The first store was opened by Arnett & Adams, and as they had located on the old cattle trail from Texas and the Southwest, over which thousands of head of cattle were driven annually to the market at Kansas City, it soon became an important trading point, and a place for "outfitting" by parties going into the Southwest—which rapidly pushed it forward to the position of metropolis of Bates County. And another thing which was of material benefit in its development, aside from the local business, was that the Pottowatomie Indians here received their periodical allowance of rations, etc., from the government agents, and made this, as a matter of course, their trading point.

In those days the great, clumsy, creaking freighting wagon, drawn by 8 to 10 yoke of oxen, crept slowly over the winding prairie trail, bearing its heavy load of freight from the river landing at Kansas City.   The "Noble Red Man," dressed in his wolf-skin vest, traded his government rations for "fire-water" or "baccy."  The picturesque squaw, in her, abbreviated gown of many colors, peddled her hand-woven baskets and bead-work trinkets, while the papoose, dressed in "most any old thing"—and not. much of that—turned his big, inquiring eyes on the many wonderful works of the "pale face" but was as dumb as was the ox which pulled the groaning wagon.   The trapper and hunter brought in their furs aud traded them for provisions, powder, etc.   And the homesteaders frjm many miles around bought their supplies here.

In 1845 the post-office was established and mails were secured two or three times per week.. A school house was erected, by public subscription, in '52, and the first teacher was a Mr. Kirkpatrick. The town had a large hotel and several well stocked stores.   In '56 the West Point Banner was established, with T. H. Sterens editor. This was a weekly paper, well filled with advertisements and gained a circulation over a-large scope of territory.

West Point was atypical border town, and experienced some lively scenes and incidents. A crowd made up of the average freighter, trapper and reservation Indian, made a combination that was hard to beat in raising the crop which Mrs. Lease advised the Kansas farmers to pay more attention to. Government troops were, at a number of times, stationed there to preserve order on the frontier. The town was at its height when the border troubles, over the Slavery question, broke out, and from its position, just over on the Missouri side of the line, was made a gathering place, or sort of head-quarters for the pro-slavery men. There were turbulent times, in West Point those days, but the town continued to grow until the breaking out of the war although several times raided by the Free State men, from over the Kansas line, and its citizens were kept in constant fear of the "torch," a mode of retaliation which became very popular a short time thereafter.

The West Point of history existed only from 1850 to I860, but we leave it at the close of Period I, a flourishing frontier town.


The first settler on the site now occupied by Butler was one John C. Kennett, who came there probably about 1845, at any rate, ho was well established there in 1849, and he was the first roan to establish any kind of mercantile business at the place, he having put in a stock, principally whiskey and tobacco, for which he found a ready and profitable sale, to the "forty-niners" who were about this time rushing in every conceivable manner, to the far West for the purpose of acquiring possession of their share of the "root of all evil," the glittering gold of California. . He seems to have prospered here for a time but finally falling a victim to the ''gold fever" himself he sold his business to John W. Montgomery, the second settler, and went to California in search of greater wealth in 1853. J. S. Wilkins and John E. Morgan next came and settled here in 1854, and the Legislature having passed an act in 1851, which ordered the County Court to remove the county seat from Papinsville to such other place as the people of the county should designate by a petition bearing the names of three-fifths of the qualified voters of Bates County, and this question of removal now being agitated, Morgan and some others conceiving the idea that the land on which they were living being near the center of the county and well suited by nature for a townsite would stand a good chance of securing the county seat, proceded, in 1854, to lay out a town, which they named Butler, and as an additional inducement to secure the county seat, Morgan, Wilkins and Montgomery offered to donate to the county a tract or tracts of land which aggregate 55 acres, which offer was soon accepted. But notwithstanding their laying out a town and making this offer, it seems no other business was attracted to Butler until after the location of the county seat had been fixed here in 1856 by commissioners, W. S. Sutherland and Achilles Easley, who were appointed by the Legislature for this purpose in accordance with the petition of the people.

The first business house, devoted to business, was erected by Couch & Smith in the spring of 1856, in which they conducted a general merchandising business. They came here from Platte county, Missouri, but were originally from Kentucky. The next business house was put up by McComb & Robison in the fall of 1856, their business being general merchandise also. McComb previously lived in Deepwater township, this county, and Robison in Platte county, this state. Dr. Joseph S. Harasbrough was the first physician to locate here for the practice of medicine.

The first school was taught in a building erected for both school and church purposes in 1856. The teacher was Mrs. Martha Morgan, wife of John E. Morgan. This building was used by all denominations for their services, people coming for fifteen or twenty miles to attend church, as the church houses were very scarce at that time.

The first hotel or tavern was kept by John E. Morgan, who was succeeded by Thomas Rice. This hotel was a log house, and the management were able to supply man and beast with the plain fare of the time, but without those luxuries and embellishments which our modern education lead us to expect and demand, and which our pioneer progenitors tell us is the cause of the physical and moral degeneration of the race and which will ultimately be the sure cause of our complete undoing.

When the county seat was removed from Papinsville to Butler, the latter place had no court house or other suitable place for the sessions of the courts to be held in and the first Grand Jury was compelled, for want of a better place, to meet out in the prairie on a knoll, at which place they remained in session one day, but no business coming before them, they then adjourned.   These conditions rendered it necessary to build a court house, and they decided that it should be a brick building two stories high.   The contract for building was let to "William Hurt and a Mr. Fritzpatrick. The brick used in the building were burned at Butler, where the Lake Park now is, and the building begun in 1857, and completed in 1858, but was destroyed by fire during the war. The building cost about $9,000, and was a credit to the progress and enterprise of the people of Bates County at that time, having' so many inconveniences and difficulties with which to contend. Nothing but native lumber, native clay and native stone as material for building, without going an unreasonable distance for them and then bringing them back by the laborious and tedious process of freighting by ox wagons. But the native push and indomitable will of those people who have made Bates County what it is to-day, overcame all difficulties, surmounted all obstacles, and their efforts were finally crowned with a degree of success, in the prosperity and progress of the county, which in their wildest imaginings they had never dreamed of attaining so soon. After the erection of the courthouse Butler grew rapidly until at the breaking out of hostilities between the states it was a considerable town, for its age, but here we will leave it for a titne, and follow its history through the war and later in the common history of all the towns in the county.


The Missouri Compromise, as the act which admitted this state was called, provided that Slavery should be prohibited north of 86 degrees 30 min. north latitude, but when the territory of Kansas applied for admission, the Slavery men determined to force her in as a slave state. The antagonists of Slavery were just as determined that it should go in as a free state. Both sides rushed in men in their endeavor to control elections and carry their respective points. In this manner a great many reckless characters were gathered along the Kansas—Missouri line, and as a result lawlessness became rampant. These troubles commenced in 1855 and '6, and while the bone-fide settlers of Bates County took no part in them, and perhaps were not very deeply interested at first, regarding the matter as one in which they had no part, they were too close to the scene of action to escape the effects of these disturbing conditions for any considerable time. The leader of the Free State men was John Brown, who for a time made his headquarters just over the Kansas line from Bates County, the farm generally known as the "Old John Brown Place," lying at the foot of a mound sixteen miles west of Butler, and adjoining the Missouri line.   Brown recognized no law in his operations against the institution of Slavery, and no more did the leaders of the opposition in their attempts to crush him and his followers, and the struggle soon took the form of plunder, arson and murder. While the greater part of this sanguinary conflict was waged on Kansas soil, the settlers on this side of the line suffered severely from raids by the Free State men.   Small parties came over the border and threatened, and in some instances committed serious depredations.   In May, 1858, a meeting was called at the place of Jerry Jackson, on Mulberry Creek, to consider the difficulties and try to find some means by which those troubles might be settled, or the settlers and their property protected.   The predominant sentiment at this meeting which was attended by about 200 people, was favorable to an attempt at a peaceable settlement of the troubles, but the radical element under lead of one, Hamilton, refused to join in this decision and adjourned to the home of Mc Henry, where plans were laid for a raid on the Free State settlers over the Kansas line.   This raid they carried out, and after gathering up about one dozen of these men, opened fire on them, killing five and wounding five more. The only resistance the party encountered was at the John Brown place, where Eli Snyder, a blacksmith, claims to have killed two of the party and wounded the leader, Hamilton, and escaped from the band. The men who took part in this raid were not settlers of Bates County, but were the people who had gathered, as the crows do around a carrion, where they could indulge in lawless practices to the content of their vicious natures.

The Free State men vowed vengeance on the perpetrators of this outrage, and several bands crossed the border in search of Hamilton and his followers.   The settlers, especially in the western part of the county, were kept in constant terror of retaliatory measures, and even Butler, the county seat, was expecting a raid by the Free State men. John Brown, himself, headed several raiding parties into this state and carried away a number of slaves, killed one, possibly more, owners, and also took other property.

Both the State and National Governments declared Brown an outlaw, and offered rewards for his apprehension. Brown, as a return of the compliment, offered a reward for the Governor of Missouri, and the President. Gathering up the slaves he had liberated, Brown took them by way of Nebraska and Iowa, to Canada, and the "border" knew him no more.

Hamilton escaped the Free State men at that time, but according to Eli Snyder, in an account published about two years since, he was killed, in the Indian Nation, June 17, 1877, (supposedly by Snyder) thus at last suffering death at the hands of one of his intended victims. These raids, as a matter of course, created great excitement along the border, and the feeling between the partisans of the Free State leaders and the Pro-slavery men ran high.

In 1858 and '9 began an exodus from ithe 'western part of the county, which movement although at first it was not general enough to produce any great change, gathered momentum as the situation continued to grow darker. As one of our Old Settlers expressed it: "It seemed like a great black cloud was hanging over the country, and everyone was waiting, breathlessly, for the breaking out of the storm."

Every man began to suspect his neighbor, and no one knew just who his friends or enemies were. At the close of 1859 there came a lull in the border troubles, but it was only the calm before the storm, the prelude to the great Civil War.

Source: The Old Settler's History of Bates County Missouri
Published by Tathwell & Maxey 1897



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