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Bates County

Bates County History

A county in the western part of the State, sixty miles south of Kansas City, bounded on the north by Cass County, on the east by Henry and St. Clair Counties, on the south by Vernon County, and on the west by Kansas. Its area is 874 square miles, of which about eighty-five per cent is under cultivation. The tilled land is mostly undulating prairie, a large proportion of which bears a rich loam; in places the soil is thin and poor.

The county is abundantly watered. The northeastern portion is drained by Deepwater Creek, Cove Creek, Peter Creek, Elk Fork, Mingo, the Deer Creeks and Mormon Creek, all flowing into Grand River, which in its meanderings forms the northern boundary of the eastern third of the county. In the central east Stewart's Creek and Deepwater Creek flow eastwardly into Henry and St. Clair Counties. A remarkably tortuous stream enters the county somewhat south of the center of the western boundary, flowing in a southeasterly course until it reaches a point near Papinsville, where it becomes the southern county boundary, and receives Camp Branch and Panther Creek. It rises in Kansas, where it is known as the Marais des Cygnes, meaning Marsh of the Swans, from the wild geese and ducks which habited its ponds. From midway in Bates County it is called Osage River, and with its affluents drains two thirds of the county.

From the north it receives Mulberry Creek, five miles from the Kansas line, and Miami Creek, five miles northeast of Rich Hill, both having numerous feeders. Miami Creek, rising in the extreme northwest of the county, has a length of about twenty-five miles; the most important of its tributaries are Knob Creek, Limestone Branch, Bone Creek and Mound Creek. In the southwest, Walnut Creek and Burnett's Creek flow northwardly into the Marais des Cygnes, and in the southeast Double Creek, Camp Branch and Panther Creek reach it from the north. Osage River has been navigated at times by small steamboats. In 1844 Captain William Waldo sailed the "Maid of the Osage" from Jefferson City to Harmony Mission, three miles above Papinsville, and other boats made the same trip later that year.

In 1847 Captain Waldo brought the "Wave," a side wheel steamboat, to Papinsville; and in 1868 or 1869 the "Tom Stevens," a stern wheel boat, reached the same place four times. In late years small boats have not been able to ascend higher than Osceola, in St. Clair County. Along the streams are large bodies of good timber, which yield a valuable market product; the varieties include hickory, oak, elm, honey locust, ash, linden and sycamore. Coal of excellent quality underlies the county, cropping out in places; considerable quantities are mined at Rich Hill, Butler and elsewhere. A good quality of building sandstone and limestone for kiln use is found in the broken lands. Fire clay exists in quantity. Iron ore has been found, but of inferior quality and small in quantity.

Railways traversing the county are the Lexington & Southern and the St. Louis & Emporia branches of the Missouri Pacific, the Missouri, Kansas & Texas, and the Kansas City, Pittsburg & Gulf. The principal towns are Butler the county seat; Rich Hill, Rockville, Adrian and Hume.

In 1898, according to the report of the Commissioner of Labor Statistics, the principal products of the county were: Wheat, 41,778 bushels; corn, 122,285 bushels; flax, 107,083 bushels; flour, 9,969,895 pounds; corn meal, 2,096,380 pounds; ship stuff, 15,766,000 pounds; grass seed, 219,140 pounds; poultry, 909,050 pounds; eggs, 413,370 dozen; butter, 93,432 pounds; cattle, 14,072 head; hags, 67463 head; sheep, 5,720 head; horses and mules, 1,596 head; coal, 364,254 tons; and large quantities of fruit, vegetables, farm produce and lumber.

Bates County was created January 29, 1841. Some annalists have asserted that it was named in honor of Edward Bates, of St. Louis, afterward Attorney General in the Cabinet of President Lincoln. This is an error. It was named for the elder brother of Edward Bates, Frederick Bates, who was territorial secretary in 1814, and Governor of the State of Missouri in 1824-25. As created, Bates County included all the territory constituting the present counties of Bates and Vernon. February 15, 1851, the county of Vernon was created, its territory being precisely that already constituting the county of Bates.

What remained to be known as Bates County was Vernon County as now constituted. It was provided, however, in the organic act, that the new county (Vernon) was not to organize until the people residing therein should ratify it at the polls in August following. It is asserted, but not of record, that the vote was adverse to the proposed organization.

However, Governor King appointed officers for the new county. The act creating Vernon County was declared unconstitutional by Judge Russell Hicks, who fined Samuel Scott one cent for assuming to discharge the duties of sheriff in the new county.

Upon this decision, Bates County remained as originally constituted until February, 1855, when the present county of Vernon was legally created (February 27), the three southern tiers of townships in Cass County having previously (February 22) been added to Bates County, these two provisions giving to the latter its present dimensions.

In 1841 Thomas B. Arnott of VanBuren County, Robert M. White of Johnson County, and Cornelius Davy of Jackson County, commissioners to locate a permanent seat of justice, reported in favor of Harmony Mission. The history of this period is exceedingly meager on account of the destruction of records during the Civil War. No courthouse was built at Harmony Mission, and court sessions were held in the mission house erected for church and school purposes. In 1847 Papinsville was made the seat of justice, and a temporary building was provided for court purposes. In 1852 the county court appropriated $2,500 for the erection of a courthouse, and appointed Freeman Barrows building superintendent.

In February, 1853, the court increased the appropriation to $3,500, whereupon Barrows resigned and was succeeded by Abraham Redfield. The courthouse was completed in 1855, and cost $4,200.

In 1856, after the detachment of a portion of the county for the erection of the new county of Vernon, a more central point became necessary as a county seat, and W. L. Sutherland and Achilles Easley, as commissioners, designated Butler, where fifty-five acres of land were donated by John S. Wilkins, John W. Montgomery and John E. Morgan for public uses. The old courthouse property at Papinsville was sold to Philip Zeal.

After removal to Butler, the court occupied a school building until 1857, when a brick courthouse was erected at a cost of $5,000. This was destroyed by fire in 1861. In 1865 temporary buildings were erected at a cost of $!,000. In 1868 an appropriation of $25,000 was made by popular vote, and a new building was erected, of brick, three stories, the upper rooms being under a ninety-nine years lease to the Masons and Odd Fellows. This was at the time the handsomest public edifice in southwest Missouri, and cost about $15,000 in excess of the county appropriation.

A temporary jail was replaced with a brick structure containing cells, and rooms for the residence of the sheriff.

The organic act designated as the temporary seat of justice the house of Colonel Robert Allen, at Harmony Mission, where assembled in 1841 the first county court, Judges William Proffitt, George Douglass and George Manship. Freeman Barrows was county and circuit clerk; Charles English, sheriff; and Samuel A. Sawyer, prosecuting attorney.

No record of early proceedings exists. Under a general emergency act, the county and circuit courts held their sittings at Johnstown in 1864, and at Pleasant Gap in 1865. John F. R and was the first circuit judge, and was succeeded in later years by Judges Russell Hicks, David McGaughey, Foster P. Wright and James B. Gantt. D. A. W. Moorehouse and H. A. Thurman were early attorneys.

In 1851, Judge Hicks being on the bench, Dr. Samuel Nottingham, living on Clear Creek, now in Vernon County, was tried for uxoricide. He was defended by Waldo P. Johnson, and prosecuted by a member of the bar named Bryant. He was convicted and hung in Papinsville.

In 1869 Theophilus R. Freeman was convicted of the murder of James Westbrook, and sentenced to death, but made his escape from jail six days previous to the time set for the execution. In 1869 William H. and David J. Simmons, living three miles south of Butler, were hung by a mob as horse thieves. Since that time law has been administered in a dignified and orderly manner.

The county is now in the Twenty-ninth Judicial Circuit. The first representative from Bates County was John McHenry, a Kentuckian and a Democrat. He was defeated in election by Frederick Chotou —or Chouteau—a Whig, who received the votes of a number of unnaturalized Frenchmen. Chotou consented to a new election, in which McHenry was chosen. He was reelected in 1849 and died during the session.

The first settlement of Bates County by the whites is notable as having been made by a religious society, upon invitation of the Indians then occupying the land; in almost every other instance the original occupants were unwillingly dispossessed through sharp dealing or force.

About 1820 a number of Osage chiefs in Washington to transact business expressed a desire that missionaries should be sent to their people, whereupon a party of ministers and teachers, with their families, came from the East and settled at Harmony Mission (which see) in 1821.

There was little immigration until 1832, when settlements were made in various parts of the county. William R. Marshall and Barton Holderman came to Mormon Creek, so named from a Mormon colony located there for a short time after the expulsion of that people from northwestern Missouri; Elisha Evans and Lindsey T. Burke located on Elk Creek; James Stewart on the creek known by his name, and about the same time Reuben Herrell settled on the Deepwater.

In 1834 Mark West settled northeast of the present Rich Hill; his first wife was a daughter of Colonel James Allen, and his second a daughter of John McHenry. Samuel Scott located about the same time on the Deepwater. In 1837 William C. Requa, who had been a member of the Indian mission in Arkansas, settled north of Rich Hill, and served as physician and minister. About the same time Judge Joseph Wix, Abraham Towner and Daniel Francis located on the Deepwater; the latter two were Mormons, and exemplary people.

The first school was that at Harmony Mission, where during their stay the missionaries taught and provided homes for about four hundred Indian children. Most of these, on returning to their own people, soon forgot their teaching. The next school was on the Decpwater, taught by S. D. Cockrell. About 1840 James H. Requa taught in the Requa neighborhood. In 1842 there was a school on Elk Fork, and the next year Cynthia Tousley taught on Panther Creek. In 1844 school townships were organized; A. H. Urie taught a school on Deer Creek, some of his pupils being from the north side of Grand River. In 1852 Edgar C. Kirkpatrick taught in West Point, then a thrifty town. In 1856 Mrs. John E. Morgan taught the first school in Butler, in a building also used for church purposes. Schools were soon established in nearly all neighborhoods, but disappeared during war times.

The county was practically depopulated under the operation of General Ewing's "Order No. 11" and most of the schoolhouses were destroyed. But five of the former teachers returned after peace was restored, to resume school duties; these were William Requa, R. J. Reed, A. E. Page, Mrs. Sarah Requa and Miss Josephine Bartlett. In 1866 David McGaughey became superintendent of schools, and under his administration school districts were reorganized, new schoolhouses were erected, teachers' institutes were organized, and the present educational system was substantially founded. In 1898 there were 136 public schools; 200 teachers; 10,202 pupils; and the permanent school fund was $65,266.09.

Church establishment, as well as that of schools, began with Harmony Mission, in 1821. There is no record of other religious effort until 1837, when the real immigration set in. About that time or soon afterward, "Uncle Dicky" preached occasionally on the Deepwater; he was a Negro, a Presbyterian, and afterward went to Liberia under the auspices of the Colonization Society.

Among the earliest assemblages was that at the house of Dr. William C. Requa, in 1837, ministered to by the Rev. Amasa Jones, of Harmony Mission ; out of this grew the Old School Presbyterian Church near Dr. Requa's residence, of which he was the minister. In 1840 or 1841 a Methodist preacher named Love formed a class on the Deepwater. In 1843 the Rev. Israel Robards, a Missionary Baptist, settled in the Camp Branch neighborhood, and until 1850 held revival meetings, at intervals, in the southern and eastern parts of the county, with marked success. During the same years, services were held in schoolhouses and cabins by two Methodist itinerants named Towner and Morris. During the following ten years, all the leading denominations established churches in various parts of the county, but practically all disappeared in 1861-62, owing to the dispersion of the people and the destruction of church buildings. The work of restoration began in 1866, and religious bodies are now numerous and prosperous.

The material prosperity of the county dates from the same time. In 1866 effort was begun to secure railroad facilities, and was continued through succeeding years until 1870, when the Tebo & Neosho Railway was completed through the southeastern part of the county, and other roads followed, all liberally aided by the people. These enterprises led to the building of Rich Hill, and the development of its mining interests. In 1869 an Agricultural and Mechanical Association was organized and gave a fair which attracted much attention, and led to a large immigration. The organization was afterward abandoned, but accomplished a good work, and from it has grown much of the present material prosperity of the county.

In January, 1900, the county was entirely free from debt, and had $40,000 in the treasury. In March following was submitted to vote of the people a proposition to levy a special tax of $60,000, payable in three annual installments, this sum, in addition to the fund in the treasury, to be expended in the erection of a new courthouse, the old building having been condemned as insecure in December preceding. In 1900 the population of the county was 30,141.
[Source: Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri: Edited by Howard Louis Conard; Publ. 1901; Pgs. 177-180; Transcribed by Andrea Stawski Pack.]



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