Cass County, Missouri Genealogy Trails
In 1835, this county was organized and named Van Buren, in honor of Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States. Following is a copy of the act under which the county was organized.
"Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Missouri, as follows:
1. All that portion of country included within the following limits, shall be and is hereby organized into a separate and distinct county, to be known as the County of Van Buren. All the rights and privileges granted to separate and distinct counties, be, and the same, are hereby extended to the said County of Van Buren; bounded as follows, to wit: Beginning at a point on the middle of range twenty-nine, where the same intersects the township line, between townships forty-six and forty-seven; thence west, with said township line to the state boundary; thence south, with said state boundary, to a point where the township line, between township thirty-nine and forty, intersects the same with said township line; east to the range line between ranges twenty-eight and twenty-nine; thence north along said range, to a point three miles east of the southwest corner of Johnson County; thence west to the southwest corner of Johnson County; thence north, along the middle of range twenty-nine, of Johnson County line to the point of beginning.
2. The northern boundary line of Van Buren, as constituted by the foregoing section, shall be the permanent southern boundary of Jackson County, and all the territory included in the County of Bates, shall be, for all civil and military purposes, attached to Van Buren, until the said County of Bates shall be organized into a separate and distinct county, by law.
3. The County of Van Buren shall be added to, and compose a part of, the Eighteenth Senatorial District, and shall in conjunction with the County of Jackson, elect one senator at the general election in the year eighteen hundred and thirty-eight; the said County of Van Buren shall form a part of the Fifth Judicial Circuit, and the courts to be holden in said county, shall be held at the house of James W. McClellan until the tribunal transacting county business shall fix on a temporary seat of justice. The county courts of said county shall be holden on the first Mondays of February, May, August and November.
4. David Ward, of Lafayette, Samuel Hink and William Brown, of Jackson County, are hereby appointed commissioners to select the permanent seat of justice for said county, and the same shall be selected as near the geographical center of said county as a suitable place can be obtained, not exceeding five miles from the center thereof, and the said commissioners shall be invested with all the powers granted to commissioners under the existing laws, in relation to the selection of seats of justice.
5. The governor is authorized to appoint three justices of the county court of said county, who shall hold their offices until the next general election' in the year 1836, and until their successors are duly elected, commissioned and qualified.
6. All taxes due the County of Jackson by persons residing within the County of Van Buren shall be collected, in all respects as if this act had not passed. And all suits which have been commenced against citizens residing within the County of Van Buren shall be prosecuted and decided as though this act had not passed.
This act to take effect and be in force from and after the passage thereof, May 3, 1835."
1. All that portion of country included in the limits of Van Buren County, as now established and defined by law, shall hereafter be known and called Cass County, instead of Van Buren County.
2. All laws in force relating to the County of Van Buren, shall be construed to apply in all respects to the County of Cass, and all acts and things done and performed, and contracts made, and all acts, things and . contracts which may be done, performed or made before the first day of July, 1849, in the name of the County of Van Buren, shall be as valid and binding in all places and on all parties concerned, as if done, performed or made in the name of Cass County; and all contracts or business made or entered into, or which may be made or entered into, prior to the first day of July, 1849 in the name of the County of Van Buren, may be continued and completed in the name of Van Buren County; provided, however, that this act shall not be construed to require any contracts made or business entered into after the passage of this act, to be made or entered into in the name of Van Buren County; but the same may be made, entered into and completed in the name of Cass County.
3. All rights which said county had under the name of Van Buren County, shall still remain in full force under the name of Cass County; and all claims, rights and demands of every kind, which any person or persons may have against said County of Van Buren, shall remain in full force against the County of Cass, and this act shall not be construed to effect the right of property in any manner whatever; but all contracts to which said County of Van Buren may be a party, or in which said County of Van Buren may be interested, shall be carried out and completed in the manner indicated in the second section of this act.
4. All officers, civil and military, appointed or elected, or to be appointed or elected, for said County of Van Buren, shall be deemed and taken to be appointed or elected for the County of Cass and are hereby authorized to act as such, and all courts heretofore established and
The following brief sketch of the life of the man whose name the county bears, is submitted as an item of interest:
The population of Cass county in 1840 was 4,693; in 1850, 6,090; in 1860, 9,794; in 1870, 19,296; in 1876,18,069; in 1880, 22,431; in 1900, 23,636.
The first deed of record in the recorder's office was filed October 23, 1836, and for a consideration of $100, conveys 37 1-4 acres of land in section 7, township 46 of range 29, from G. Christopher McKnight to William Gibson.
The first marriage license issued from the office was to William Shaply and Amanda Wilson of Mount Pleasant Township, on June 17, 1849, and the certificate that the marriage ceremony was performed is signed by Geo. Dickson, J. P.
The first meeting of the "Old Settlers Society" was held at Harrisonville September 20, of the same, year, and the principal event of the meeting was the delivery of the following address by the late Judge Noah M. Givan, of Harrisonville:
Besides, these annual reunions must be a source of much pleasure to those of you who came to the country in its early times, and who endured the hardships of a frontier life. They enable you to take each other by the hand and talk over the incidents of long ago. Though your pioneer lives were attended with many of the privations and few of the comforts of life now enjoyed by the people of the county, yet there was untold pleasure arising from your honest toil which might well excite the envy of those of us who follow you.
Cass County was, prior to its separate organization, a portion of Jackson. Indeed, in the still earlier times, Cass and Jackson were both a portion of Cooper County. In the winter of 1834 and 1835 the county of Van Buren was organized, which embraced all that is now Cass, and townships 40, 41 and 42, now a portion of Bates. In obtaining an account of the early events of the county I have been compelled to call upon yourselves and your compeers for information of matters not of record. The first settlements made in the county were along the streams, near the timber. Many came from timbered countries and did not dream of being able to live out on the bleak and barren prairies, far from timber and water. It may be truthfully said that the dreams of the most visionary of the very earliest settlers did not think that the prairies would ever be occupied. It is said that when the first government surveyors, in making the survey of lands in this county, reached the highest point on the prairie northwest of Harrisonville, and looked over the vast prairies south of them, stopped their work, returned to headquarters, and reported the land south of the survey, which would include the south half of the county, was not worth surveying! They so reported to the government, and it was some time after that that the balance of the county was surveyed. The first settlements were made along Big Creek and the headwaters of Grand River. The name of the first settler is not definitely known. Possibly, as is generally the case in new countries, two or more families came together for mutual aid and protection.
Martin Rice, Esq., who has given the matter considerable attention, and who still lives near Lone Jack, in Jackson County, furnishes the following:
Little did he think that he would ever become a grocery merchant at the capital of the best county in the state! Being from Tennessee, and not accustomed to prairie country, he settled in the timber and went to work and cleared off six or eight acres of timbered land for cultivation when there were hundreds of thousands of acres of such fertile prairie land at his disposal. He, in common with others, shared in the idea that the prairies were comparatively worthless except for pasture—that they never would be cultivated, but would afford those who should settle along the streams everlasting range for their stock. He had not been in the county long before he was appointed to office. The records show that on the eighth day of March, 1836, Thomas Holloway was appointed constable of Elk Fork Township, vice John Adams declined. He gave bond with William T. McClellan as security. It has been stated by some accounts published several years ago that Van Buren County, at its first organization, included all of Bates and part of Vernon counties; but the south boundary line of the county, as given in the statutes of 1835, is the line between townships 39 and 40. The county was named Van Buren in honor of Martin Van Buren, then vice president of the United States, and continued to bear the name until 18489 when he became the freesoil candidate for president against General Cass, Democrat, and General Taylor, Whig. This, which doubtless defeated General Cass, so offended his friends that at the session of the legislature in 1848-9 the name of the county was changed from Van Buren to Cass. The first county officers of Van Buren County were appointed to hold until the general election in 1836. The first county judges thus appointed who served were James W. McLellan and William Savage. If another was appointed I have been unable to learn the fact. If appointed, he declined to serve (which was more common than now) as the court was composed of two justices until after the election in 1836. William Lyon was appointed first clerk. He was both circuit and county clerk, and held until his successor was elected. An election for clerk was ordered by the county court, to be held May 21, 1836. At that election the candidates were William Lyon and Thomas B. Arnett. The latter, who was a prominent citizen of the county in those days, and whose life is intimately blended with the early history of the county, was elected clerk. John Jackson was the first appointed sheriff of the county, but being a minister of the gospel, he declined to serve, and the duties of the office were performed by the coroner, who, I think was William Butler.
The first meeting of the county court was held at the residence of James W. McLellan, about four miles northwest of Harrisonville, September 14, 1835. At that meeting the court divided the county into four townships, viz: Big Creek, Grand River, Elk Fork and Harmony. The following constables were appointed: James Williams, of Big Creek; William Y. Cook, of Grand River; John Adams, of Elk Fork, and Fuller, of Harmony. At the meeting, on the petition of David G. Butterfield and others, the court appointed William N. Butler, Hezekiah" Warden and James Lawrence commissioners to view a way for a road on that part of the Harmony Mission road running through this county from the Jackson county line to Crooked Branch.
At this term of court merchant's licenses were issued to M. Jerne and to Ferrel & Duncan. This firm, I am informed, was composed of Rev. Wm. Ferrel, father of Rev. Thomas J. Ferrel, and Mayor William H. Duncan, who died in 1878 at Pleasant Hill.
The first general election in the county after its organization was held in 1836. Although the county was very large, there were but three voting precincts. One was at the house of Joshua Adams, known as "Old Red Adams," who lived at what is now the Big Creek bridge, south of Pleasant Hill; another was west of Harrisonville and the other at Harmony Mission. At that election only about 150 votes were polled. Lilburn W. Boggs, of Independence, was elected governor of the state; Albert G. Harrison, (for whom Harrisonville was named), and John Miller, were elected members of congress. The entire vote of the state was less than 15,000. At that election Andrew Wilson and George Hudspeth were candidates for the legislature—Wilson was elected. John McCarty was elected sheriff over John Lyon and James Parsons. David G. Butterfield, who had been previously appointed by the county court, was elected assessor and Martin Rice was elected surveyor. Jamison D. Dickey, James W. McLellan and Henry Burris, cousin of Martin Burris, were elected county court justices.
The legislature, at its session which convened November 21, 1836, passed an act in relation to the location of the county seat of Van Buren County, Francis Prine, who was afterwards a member of the legislature, Welcome Scott and Enoch Rice, father of Martin Rice, were appointed commissioners to select the site for the location of the seat of justice. They met with Martin Rice, the county surveyor, at the house of John Cook, on Monday, the 3rd day of April 1837, and after spending several days viewing and comparing the different places recommended by interested parties, finally located the new town on the farm, or pre-emption claim, of James Lackey, who had built a small cabin and enclosed a small field near where Judge Daniel now lives. The site selected, including about 160 acres, was given to the county by the general government by an act of congress. The town was afterwards surveyed and laid out into lots and blocks with but four streets, two running east and west, and two running north and south, in the whole town and they a little less than forty feet wide. The blocks were separated by alleys, fifteen feet wide. It has been frequently remarked since, that land must have been scarce then as very little of it was used for streets. It was more than likely
The first merchant in Pleasant Hill was a Frenchman named Blois. He was there before Pleasant Hill had been thought of as a town. After he left, in 1834, Major Duncan and his brother-in-law, W. H. Taylor, put up a store and sold goods at the same place. Taylor sold out to Rev. William Ferrell, and afterwards Duncan sold out to Ferrel and he to W. W. Wright and N. E. Harrelson. Mr. Harrelson soon sold out to Wright, who continued the business, and who was successful. He laid out the old town of Pleasant Hill.
Cass County may well congratulate itself today on its educational advantages. lt is well supplied with school houses, has a good school fund, and its teachers rank among the first in the state. Our county may be said to be a land of schools; the schoolmaster is not abroad but is at home among us, and is well sustained. What is true of to-day has been true of the entire history of the county. There have not always been as many school houses, nor did they possess the same conveniences and comforts, nor were the school masters always so well paid; but in proportion to the population and the ability of the people to sustain schools, they have been kept up. They have always recognized the importance of educating the young. Not until 1842 were any benefits derived from the public school fund. Prior to that the schools were what were called subscription schools.
As early as 1833 school houses were built and school kept—not such houses as you now see in every part of the county, but of the smaller and ruder sort, and they were few and far between. At that date there were three in all of the county. One where the Union School now stands, three miles west of Pleasant Hill, on what is known as the Phillip's farm, and one near the northeast corner of the county. A description of one of these houses describes all of them. lt was 14x16 feet, built of scaly barked hickory logs, split so as to make two logs out of one, six feet high and covered with clap boards secured with weight poles. A door place cut out on one side and the house was finished. No floor, no windows except the space between the logs, no fireplace, stove or chimney. The furniture consisted solely of benches made of flat logs and the school master's rod. The first school teacher who taught in the house near the northeast corner of the county, in the summer of 1833, was a Mormon preacher named Peterson, one of the first five Mormon missionaries sent out by Joe Smith to spy out the land and select the site for the New Jerusalem of the West. He was succeeded as a school teacher by Martin Rice, who commenced a school there in the fall of 1834, but had to quit when cold weather came. He taught with seventeen scholars at two dollars per quarter per scholar, and boarded himself. He taught the first public school ever taught in the county, 1842, in a log house, where the Blevens school house now stands, at fifteen dollars per month and boarded himself. James Williams, father of Luke Williams, was the first teacher in the house on the Phillips farm. He was one of the most prominent citizens of that part of the county. Afterward represented the county in the legislature, and aided in making the first free school law ever enacted in Missouri, which was enacted in 1838-9. There may have been other school houses in other parts of the county, but I have been unable to get their history. In a very early day, prior to 1836, a school house was built in the neighborhood of where R. A. Brown now lives, but l am unable to give the name of the first teacher. As the country improved and was settled up, it improved the school privileges until it reached intelligence and learning, what it is to-day. The people of Cass county have always believed that taxes paid for the education of the youth has been money well expended, and the school tax has always been cheerfully paid.
This may also now be said to be a land of churches and church privileges, where men worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences. In the very early times there were no church houses in the county though there were church congregations and societies organized. The prevailing denominations were Methodist and Baptist, with a few of the Christian denomination. The first church house in the county was built in 1838, where the old Union Church house now stands, or did stand a few years ago, west of Pleasant Hill.
Notwithstanding the church houses were few, the people were a worshiping, church-going people. The preaching was not that of the most learned or profound theologian—there were no doctors of divinity—or graduates of theological seminaries; but it was well adapted to the demands of the age. It was earnest, honest and withal accompanied with good common sense. The clerical dress was then very different from now. There were no black cloth coats with double breasts, no white cravats with standing collars with silk hats; but the pioneer preacher, at least in soma instances, proclaimed the truth of the gospel in great simplicity and with power, clad in buckskin pants and hunting shirt—regardless of whether he had a coat of any kind.
Among the earliest of Methodist preachers was William Ferrel and a Mr. McKinnay, who ware local preachers in 1834-35-36. The first among the Baptist preachers were James Savage, John Jackson and Jacob Powell. In 1837 Jeremiah Farmer came to the county. He did not begin preaching until 1838, but has been in the ministry ever since—forty-one years. His father, John Farmer, who was also a Baptist minister, came in 1839, and was prominent in the denomination, and died in 1845. Other members of the family were ministers, and it may be truly said that no other family in all the history of the county has contributed more to the morality and religious sentiment of the people of the county than the Farmer family. Of all the pioneer preachers, the only surviving one that is still a citizen of this county, or that is living, is Jeremiah Farmer. He has kept pace with the advancement of the age, and has adapted himself to the wants of the people in the various conditions of life as they have progressed from a rude beginning to their present condition. He would not now be taken for a pioneer preacher. While our early pioneers were friends of education and worshipers of the holy shrine, they were also defenders of their rights and liberties—peaceably if they could, but forcibly if they must. I am unable to give a detailed account of the part taken by the early settlers of the county in the Indian and Mormon wars, which would, if it could be correctly given, form an interesting chapter in the history of the county. All have heard something of the expulsion of the Mormons from Jackson county in the fall of 1833. Cass county then formed a part of Jackson, and its citizens shared the dangers and glories of the conflict. It is not known that any of her citizens were actually engaged in the fights at Westport and Independence, in November, 1833; but in the following spring the Mormons, then in Clay county, having been reinforced from New York and Ohio, threatened to return into Jackson and regain the promised land. Our people were then called to arms. A war meeting was held at the residence of Hezekiah Wardina, three miles east of where Pleasant Hill now stands. Volunteers were then called for, to hold themselves ready at a minute's warning, to resist the expected invasion. It was responded to by nearly everybody. A company of about fifty men was organized. Rev. James Savage who had seen service in the war of 1812, and in the Indian wars under Colonel Cooper, was elected captain, Wm. English, lieutenant and Andy Wilson, ensign.
In June, 1834, the company received marching orders, and at B o'clock of the evening of June 21st, set out for Independence. Arriving there late at night they found everybody sound asleep. After considerable effort they succeeded in awakening L. W. Boggs, afterwards governor, who informed them that the army was at the river guarding the ferry, but that the Commander-in-Chief, Gen. Samuel C. Owens, was at his home in Independence. The officers repaired to his residence for orders, but were only ordered not to disturb his slumbers as he was wearied and sleepy. It was said that there was some profanity among those veterans. The next day the Commander-in-Chief apologized to these troops for his treatment and gave them the post of honor, by having them guard the city, the new Jerusalem. In the afternoon of that day, however, the army stationed at the ferry returned and proclaimed that a treaty of peace had been made with the Mormons, and the war was over. The bloodless victory was celebrated by the firing of a four-pound cannon, brought up to the public square for that purpos3. The soldiers were discharged and returned to their homes, to again engage in the avocations of peace. My informant suggests that not one of these battle-scared, veterans has ever received a land warrant or a pension. If those who survived could have their names enrolled under the late back pension law, they would strike a bonanza. Of those who engaged in that memorable march, but two remain citizens of the county, viz: Jeremiah X. and Alfred Sloan.
In the fall of 1838, an independent military horse company, commanded by Captain William Farmer, of which Jeremiah Farmer was a member, was ordered by Governor Boggs, into the Mormon war, and had the honor of bringing the Smiths, Rigdon and others to the Independence jail. In the same fall they were ordered to Bates County, to remove the Osage Indians from the state, which they accomplished by strategy. They caught one burly Indian and gave him a severe whipping on his bare back, and threatened others, which so frightened them that they unceremoniously fled the country, leaving our heroes in sole possession of the land.
Leaving our war history unfinished for other writers, I now invite your attention for a short time to that portion of our county's history that is derived principally from its records. While our public records are open to the inspection of the public, yet very few ever think of examining them only on business. I have found it exceedingly interesting to read over the records of the first court ever held in the county, and I have no doubt but a few extracts from them will be of interest to you who were closely identified with the events there recorded.
At this term of court grocer's license was granted to James Lawrence.
Heretofore the records had been kept in a modest, unpretentious way, not as well perhaps, as they are now kept by Clerk Shephard, but as well as might be expected in that time. After the election, and in the beginning of Mr. Arnett's administration as clerk, a wonderful change took place in the manner of keeping them. They were now kept in a bold dashing hand, without any reference to the rules of orthography, etymology, syntax or prosody. The clerk's signature appears with a scroll attached and a heavy ink line above and below it, to every separate and distinct entry made. Here is a sample:
That may be clear, but I think it would puzzle our present efficient county clerk or any of his predecessors, except the one who drew it, to tell just what tax was levied, from that order or to make out the tax books from it.
May 1, 1837, John Cook was appointed to superintend the building of the court house. At the same time the above order for building the court house was rescinded and a new order made, but the clerk did not spread it upon the record.
Samuel Wilson was appointed superintendent of the building of the jail. Almost everybody has heard of the celebrated order made in reference to laying out a road in fly time. It was made June 18, 1838, and is on page 64 of book A. It is as follows:
James Williams was allowed $60 for assessing Van Buren and Bates Counties in 1838. The two counties then included all the territory between the Jackson County line and the Osage River. That salary now would somewhat dampen the aspirations of our candidates for assessor. And although officers are not accustomed to resigning these days, yet if his salary were reduced to that, doubtless Assessor Jackson would at once tender his resignation.
In book A, page 67—after the order adjourning the court is made and signed—we find the following entry, which is worth preserving:
From the records it would seem that the Mormon troubles existed here as late as 1839, as will appear from the following entry of record made February 4, 1839:
On the seventh of February, 1839, an order was made for the .building of a clerk's office, sixteen feet square, of brick and stone. The plan and specifications are of the same style as those of the court house above copied. The order is on page 78, book A. and concludes as follows:
"Said building is to be completed ready for the reception of the Co. Court at their Nov. term of 1839 or the undertaker being the def alter shall be at the mercy of the court to surrender what work he has done and lose his pay for the same."
On the same day we find the following entry:
The first entry in reference to the building of the present court house, which we to-day occupy, was made February 13, 1843, when Charles Sims was appointed to prepare and submit at the next term, the probable cost of a permanent court house. At the regular term, held on the 2d Monday in March, 1843, the following order was made:
At the second term which was held April 4, 1836, the following grand jury was empanelled: Thomas B. Arnett, foreman, David G. Butterfield, Jesse Hinshaw, William Warden, Hiram Wilburn, Andrew Wilson, William Lewis, Allen Yocum Watson, A. L. Lynch, Winston Adams, Samuel Porter, John Blithe, Eddy Comet, Andrew J. Peck, John Cook, Robert Malone, Hugh Parsons, Fleming Harris, James Parsons, James Blakely and William Moore. No indictments were returned. The commission of Judge Ryland, as judge of the fifth judicial circuit, dated January 2, 1836, and signed by Daniel Dunklin, governor, was recorded. No business was transacted except the allowance of bills. The proceedings of the whole term cover only three pages of a small record.
No court was held the next term, the judge being absent.
The grand jury of this term returned no indictments. Sidney Adams is the only member of that grand jury now living. The case of Burris vs. Hayes, continued from the last term, was tried by a jury of six men, and judgment given for the plaintiff for forty-five dollars. This is the first trial of a civil case in court. The commission of Judge Ryland, as judge of the sixth judicial circuit, of date January 7, 1837, signed by Liburn W. Boggs, governor, was recorded. Henry Chiles was circuit attorney. The seventh term of court, which was held on Thursday after the fourth Monday in November, 1837, was the first term ever held at the court house in Harrisonville. James Reynolds and Benjamin Vincent were indicted for assault with intent to kill, and James Vincent and John Parsons for resisting process.
The first conviction for felony in this county was that of Rebecca Hawkins who was indicted in Jackson county for poisoning her husband. The case came to this county on change of venue and after several continuances was tried at the July term, 1841. She was found guilty and her punishment affixed at five years in the penitentiary. She appealed to the supreme court where the judgment was affirmed. The case is reported in the Seventh Missouri Reports, page 190. The jurors in this case were Miles Edwards, Presley Bryant, Perry Prettyman, Augustus Pulliam, William Rider, Richard B. Barker, Curtis Segraves, Franklin Sears, Benjamin Davis, Elisha Hendricks, John W. Porter and William P. Burney.
At the March term, 1839, charges of negligence and incompetency were preferred by the circuit attorney, Henderson Young, against the clerk of the court, Thomas B. Arnett. He entered his appearance and the case was set for trial at the next term. At that time they were withdrawn and the circuit attorney was directed by the court t,"* present them in the supreme court. Before a trial was had Mr. Arnett resigned, December 2, 1839. Thus closed the official career of one of the most remarkable men who took a prominent part in your country's early history. If he were not "first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen," he was first in a good many other things. He was the first man ever elected to office in the county, was foreman of the first grand jury, was the first man ever indicted in the county, was the first to be tried by a jury of his peers, and the first to be acquitted.
But, my friends, this address is already too long. As I was invited to deliver an historical address I have endeavored to make it such. It has principally been confined to the earlier times, because it was thought that an account of those times would be of sufficient interest to make one address. If those who address you in the future will continue the account of events from where this leaves off, you will in time be the means of collecting and preserving a history of the entire settlement of the county, which will always be a matter of interest to its citizens. Since your last meeting Joshua Flinn and Major William C. Burford, who then met with you, have passed to "that undiscovered country from whose borne no traveler ever returns." They were both Christian men of integrity, who had lived useful lives, and who died respected by all who knew them. They, with yourselves and your compeers who have gone before, lived to see and endure the hardships necessarily borne in pioneer life. You have seen Cass County grow from the small beginning which has been attempted to be described in this address, to what she is to-day, the twentieth in population and the fiftieth in taxable wealth in the state. Her inexhaustible resources, her fertile soil, her bountiful supply of timber and water, her natural advantages, have brought to Cass County a thrifty, enterprising and intelligent class of people. The character of a country is an infallible index to the character of its people. As certain as the needle points to the pole, so certain do the enterprising and intelligent seek and find a good country, and with equal certainty do the sluggard and sloven find the poorest and most barren place to live. The grand scenery of Cass County—her high, rolling prairies, her broad, fertile valleys, her rich groves of timber, all beautifully blended, are calculated to impress and educate the mind with ideas of enlarged and liberal views. Even from the place we now occupy, in whatever direction we turn our eyes, we meet a grandeur in the landscape that irresistibly impresses the mind with a nobleness of thought and liberality of views that must make those who look upon them better men and women, and inspire them with higher and nobler aims in life. Nature has been most lavish in bestowing her choicest blessings upon Cass County. It requires no spirit of prophecy to foretell that the day is not far distant when Cass County will be among the first, if not the very first, of agricultural counties in the great State of Missouri.
The following list of names was published in 1883 as that of old settlers who had attended the reunions at Harrisonville since 1879.
Cass County.—A county in the western part of the State, twenty-five miles south of Kansas City, bounded on the north by Jackson County, on the east by Johnson and Henry Counties, on the south by Bates County, and on the west by Kansas. Its area is six hundred and eighty-eight square miles, of which about three-fourths is under cultivation. The surface is mainly undulating high prairie, bearing a rich, black loam. North, south and west of Harrisonville, viewed from that point, the country appears almost unbroken, but it contains several narrow deep streams.
Numerous natural elevations are known as "the Knobs;" one, Brookhart's Hill, is one mile south of Harrisonville; another is Brushy Knob, eight miles east of Pleasant Hill; others are Belle Plains, and the mounds southwest of Harrisonville. All command views of a beautiful expanse of highly productive and well improved country. The county is abundantly watered. Grand River heads in the central west and flows southwardly, forming the eastern half of the southern boundary, and drains three-fourths of its territory. Among its many affluents, the most important are Lick Branch, the South, Middle and East Forks, in the eastern part; in the central north, Camp Branch, Big Creek and Crawford's Fork; in the west, Big Creek and Alexander Branch, and in the south, Pony Creek and other feeders of Grand River. In the extreme northeast, and the central south, are several small lakes. About one-sixth of the county, fringing the streams, is set with hard woods, principally hickory, oak, walnut and elm. Coal has been found in small quantities. Railways traversing the county are the Missouri Pacific, the Missouri, Kansas & Texas, the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Gulf, the. Kansas City, Pittsburg & Gulf, and the Kansas City, Osceola & Southern.
The principal towns are:
In 1898 the principal surplus products were: Wheat, 62,091 bushels; oats, 36,952 bushels; corn, 10,733 bushels; flax, 122,733 bushels; hay, 9,476,700 pounds; flour, 977-95° pounds; corn meal, 42,105 pounds; shipstuff, 273,400 pounds; grass seed, 459,600 pounds; lumber, logs and ties, 216,254 feet; wool, 28,727 pounds; poultry, 5,617,853 pounds; eggs, 442,745 dozen; butter and cheese, 157,949 pounds; hides, 64,570 pounds; apples, 3,792 barrels; fresh and dried fruit, 14,617 pounds; vegetables, 33,309 pounds; linseed oil, 5,846 gallons; oil meal, 67,335 pounds; cattle, 34,647 head; hogs, 108,054 head; sheep, 10,727 head; horses and mules, 1,674 head. In 1900 the population of the county was 23,636.
The early settlers located in the timber on the streams, principally on Grand River and its branches, Big Creek, north of the present Pleasant Hill, receiving the first. All authorities agree that David G. Butterfield came to that region in 1827, but most locate him across the line, in Jackson County (although he was elected assessor in 1836), and recognize as the first resident David Creek, an Indianian, in 1828. John Walker, a squatter, is also claimed by some as the first. In 1828 came Joel Walker, Charles Myers, William Johnson, the Farmer, Hooper, Lynch and Hanshaw families, and others. This settlement grew so rapidly that in 1830 a log schoolhouse was built, and William Crawford, a well educated man, shortly before that discharged from the United States Army, was engaged as teacher. The next year two Baptist ministers, James Savage and Joab Powell, held services at the house of Thomas Hamlin, and in 1832 Pleasant Garden Church was formed, with the first named as pastor. The same year, William Savage set up a horse mill on Big Creek, two miles west of Pleasant Hill, and William Burney built a sawmill about the same time. In 1830-31 a considerable settlement was made in the extreme northeast; among the settlers were William Worden and two sons, William Butler and three sons, and Thomas Riddle and two sons. About the same time John Parsons located in the extreme southwest. The following year Walker McLellan and John Jackson made homes a few miles northwest of Harrisonville.
Beginning in 1834, settlements were made on the various branches of Grand River, in the central part of the county. Among those who came were Mastin Burris, Fleming Harris, John Cook, Hugh Horton and the Davis brothers. James Blythe was living on the present site of Harrisonville, and it is said that his infant son, James, was the first white child born southeast of Harrisonville, but the date is not stated. The first marriage given is that of John Busley and Sallie Dunnevan. Between 1834 and 1836 a large immigration set in, principally from Kentucky and Tennessee; the most prominent of the settlers are named in connection with the various towns or as officials connected with the work of organization. One of the most interesting of these comers was Martin Rice, who came in 1836, and removed to Jackson County in 1856. He was the first surveyor, was skilled in tree culture, and many of the best orchards in Cass and adjoining counties were grafted by him.
He was a ready writer, and his contributions to the early press, in prose and verse, were marked by cheerful good humor, homely philosophy and quaint conceits. The educational history began with the school on Big Creek, before mentioned. In 1833 there was a school three miles west of Pleasant Hill, taught by James Williams, who was afterward elected to the Legislature, and aided in drafting the first free school law in Missouri; and one in the extreme northeast, taught by a Mormon preacher, named Peterson, who was succeeded by Martin Rice, teacher of the first public school in the county. In 1839 a school at Harrisonville was taught by Frank Love. In 1843 Miss Mollie Sears taught five miles northwest of Harrisonville, and in 1844-5, Archibald Campbell taught on Camp Branch, and Allen Matthews on Sugar Creek. In 1849 a small academy at Harrisonville was taught by Richard Massey. In 1853 B. C. Hawkins became county school commissioner, and considerable effort was made to establish schools. The war practically closed all in existence, and the work of restoration began in 1866, when William J. Terrell was elected county school commissioner. In 1867-8 a spacious building was erected at Pleasant Hill. In 1869 a board of education was elected in Harrisonville, and shortly afterward $20,000 was appropriated for building purposes. In 1898 there were in the county one hundred and thirty-three schools; two hundred and twelve teachers; 7.827 pupils, and the permanent school fund was $81.230.63.
The first religious effort is noted in connection with the first settlers. In 1830 John Jackson, a Baptist, and William Johnson, a Methodist, preached in the McLellan neighborhood. A Missionary Baptist Church was organized between 1834 and 1840, nearly two miles southwest of Harrisonville; from this has grown the church in that town. Elder John Jackson was its earliest pastor. At the old time camp meetings, several hundred Shawnee and Delaware Indians attended with the whites. Between 1834 and 1836 two Methodist itinerants, William Ferrel and one McKinney, preached throughout the county, and the same year, N. E. Harrelson, also a Methodist, preached at Mount Pleasant. Between 1837 and 1838 the Union Missionary Baptist Church, near the Kansas line, was organized; among its ministers were Jeremiah Farmer, who came in 1838, and his father, John Farmer, who came the following year. Joshua Page, a Christian preacher, held services in 1840 on Knob Creek, in the southeast part of the county. From the first, various disturbances impeded the material progress of the people.
In 1833 Governor Boggs called for volunteers for the so-called "Mormon War," and a company was organized at the house of Hezekiah Wardine, three miles east of the present Pleasant Hill. Fifty men were enrolled, with James Savage as captain, William English as lieutenant and Andrew Wilson as ensign. Savage was a minister; he had been a soldier in the War of 1812, and served in the Indian troubles under Colonel Cooper. The company marched to Independence, but there was no necessity for their services, and they returned. In 1838 Captain William Farmer organized a mounted company, which took part in the new campaign against the Mormons, and conveyed to jail at Independence, Rigdon, Smith, and other leaders of that people. Later the same year, the company, under orders from the Governor, assisted in the removal of the Osage Indians from Bates County. About the same time the settlers were annoyed by the depredations of an organized band of horse thieves, whose place of concealment for their stolen animals was on a branch of Grand River, which took the name of Pony Creek for this reason. Among the thieves were settlers, and the members of the band were so numerous and well disciplined that, in 1840, they lacked only fourteen votes of electing one of their number as sheriff. John M. Clark, who was elected, entered upon such a determined effort against them that the band was broken up.
During the Civil War a majority of the men capable of bearing arms entered the Confederate service, and under the operations of General Ewing's order of expulsion, the county was practically depopulated. Upon the restoration of peace, many of the former residents failed to return, and the county was occupied by almost a new people. In the effort to restore fortune, encouragement was given to railroad building, and this afforded opportunity for the accomplishment of a gigantic swindle costing the people about $200,000, and leading to death, at the hands of a mob, of three of the conspirators, among them one of the county judges, and to the suicide of another. The misappropriated railroad building aid paper was known as the "Bloody Bonds." After this indebtedness was put in the course of settlement, economy and retrenchment were practiced, the county was placed upon a substantial financial basis, and its magnificent natural resources were brought to high development.
Cass County was originally Van Buren County, created May 3, 1835, by detachment from Jackson County. It was named for President Van Buren, who afterward gained the ill will of the Democrats of Missouri by his alliance with the Free-Soil Party, and the General Assembly, February 19. 1849 changed the name of the county to Cass, in honor of General Lewis Cass, of Michigan, Democratic candidate for President in the previous year. Its territory under the organic act was that of the present county of Cass and the three northern tiers of townships in the present county of Bates. The townships described were detached from Cass County, and became a part of Bates County, February 2, 1855.
The first county judges were James W. McLellan and William Savage. William Lyon was first county and circuit clerk. John Jackson was appointed sheriff, but being a minister, declined to serve, and the duties of the office were performed by the coroner, William Butler. The first meeting of the county court was held at the house of Judge McLellan, four miles northwest of Harrisonville, September 14, 1835. At the election in 1836, one hundred and fifty votes were cast in the county. James W. McLellan, Jamison D. Dickey and Henry Burris were elected county judges; John McCarty, sheriff; David G. Butterfield, assessor, and Martin Rice, surveyor. Thomas B. Arnett was elected county and circuit clerk at a special election. In April, 1837, Francis Prine, Welcome Scott and Enoch Rice, commissioners, located the permanent seat of justice on the present site of Harrisonville. The first circuit court was held December 7, 1835, at the house of James W. McLellan, by Judge John F. Ryland, afterward one of the Supreme Court judges. No business was transacted beyond admitting Richard R. Rees and Russell Hicks to practice. At the next term a grand jury was impaneled, but no indictments were returned.
The first conviction for felony was that of Rebecca Hawkins, indicted for poisoning her husband. The case came to Cass County on change of venue from Jackson County. The accused was found guilty, and her punishment was five years' imprisonment in the penitentiary. In 1839 Thomas B. Arnett, county clerk, was presented for neglect of duty and incompetency, but resigned before trial. He was the first man elected to office, foreman of the first grand jury, the first man to be indicted, and the first to be tried by a jury; he was acquitted. He was known to administer the oath thus: "You do solemnly swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, according to the best of your skill and ability." Record made by him, March 17, 1840, contains entry of a petition for a writ of "ad god damum."
Several important criminal trials appear upon the court records. In 1848 Judge Ryland called a special term of court for the trial of a negro man, "Bill," charged with the murder of Dr. John Hubble, but there was not evidence to justify an indictment. In 1851 Joel Elliott and James E. Gillespie were indicted for the murder of William Smith; the case was tried in Lafayette County on change of venue, when both were convicted; Elliott was executed at Lexington, and Gillespie was sent to the penitentiary. In 1875 James E. Sprague was brought to trial on change of venue from Johnson County, charged with the murder of James Dwyre. He was convicted, and Judge Foster P. Wright passed the sentence of death, but the criminal escaped from jail the night previous to the day appointed for his execution. He was the first person sentenced to death in the county.
The first person executed was Richard T. Isaacs, convicted of the murder of Henderson B. Clark, August 26, 1878. When brought to trial, he appeared without counsel, and insisted upon pleading guilty. Judge N. M. Givan refused to entertain the plea, and appointed H. C. Daniel as counsel for the prisoner. He was executed on the gallows, at Harrisonville, October 25th following, in the presence of about five thousand people. The most prominent lawyers in the early days were Charles Sims and R. L. Y. Peyton. Sims was accomplished in his profession; he served in both branches of the General Assembly, and in 1856 was nominated on the anti-Benton Democratic ticket for Lieutenant Governor, but declined. He afterward engaged in Wall Street speculation and amassed a large fortune. He eventually died by his own hand. Peyton was a Virginian, and highly educated; he became distinguished in his profession throughout western Missouri. He served one term in the State Senate, became colonel of a regiment of State Guards in 1861, and died in Alabama in 1863. Andrew Wilson was the first Representative, elected in 1836, and was elected afterward at intervals to the same position.
Cass County Bond Tragedy.—In August, 1860, Cass County subscribed $100,000 to the capital stock of the Missouri Pacific Railway Company to aid in constructing the road into the county. The bonds were to be issued as work progressed, and but $1,500 had been so issued when work was suspended on account of the war. The unissued bonds were taken from the county agent having them in possession, by a Federal officer, were sent to Washington, and turned over to the Missouri Pacific Railway officials. In 1869 the Cass County Court made an order validating the bonds held by that company, providing they should be expended in the construction of the St. Louis & Santa Fe Railway, such validation to be effected by taking up the $98,500 Missouri Pacific bonds outstanding and issuing in their stead bonds to the amount of $229.000, this including the accumulated interest.
Subsequently the St. Louis & Santa Fe Railway Company assigned all its construction bonds to the Land Grant Railway & Trust Company, of New York, which agreed to build such roads as were so aided, and did so. In September, 1870, the Missouri Pacific Railway Company proposed to surrender the bonds to the county, provided it was released from issuing stock; the proposal was accepted, and the bonds were returned to an agent for the county, and were by him turned over to the Land Grant & Trust Company. The county court refused to fund the bonds, and in July, 1871, the Land Grant & Trust Company procured a writ of mandamus. A large portion of the people of Cass County were opposed to the bond issue, and entertained a suspicion that the county court was not sincere in its refusal to fund, and only awaited a favorable opportunity to make the issue.
All known court processes were brought into use by the Land Grant Railway & Trust Company, and by the people of Cass County opposed to the bond issue. In August the county court ordered J. D. Hines, county attorney, to make return to the writ of mandamus, and to contest the case. In October return was made, and the case was to be disposed of at the April term, 1872. In February, 1872, N. E. Harrelson, et al., procured from Judge Townsley a writ of injunction restraining the issue of bonds. Hines was aware of this writ, and before it could be served, as county attorney he procured another writ restraining the court from obeying the mandamus. Hines procured the clerk's certificate showing that his own injunction had been filed first in the office of the clerk, and upon this obtained from Judge Townsley an order dismissing the Harrelson injunction. Late in the evening of March 1, J. R. Cline, law partner of Hines, filed in the circuit clerk's office Judge Townsley's order of dismissal, and about the same time A. D. LaDue, claiming to be attorney for the Land Grant & Trust Company, filed an order dismissing the mandamus case. A deputy in the clerk's office issued certificates showing dismissal in both cases. LaDue was not the attorney of record in the case, the lawyer in charge being absent. Cline took the orders of dismissal, presented them to the county court, which ordered the bond issue, the order being in Cline's handwriting.
The members of the court present were Judges Stephenson and Forsythe. Another member of the court, Judge Givan, and Mr. Dore, the clerk, were absent. As soon as the deed was consummated court adjourned, when Cline, Stephenson and R. B. Higgins left the city by train, and Forsythe went to his farm. Next day it became known that the bonds had been signed, and March 2nd an indignation meeting was held, at which a committee of seventy was organized to bring the offenders to justice. A day or two later, at a further meeting, O. P. Yelton, the deputy clerk, appeared before the committee, and divulged the fact that the bonds had been issued prior to the order made by the court, and that he had signed them as deputy clerk, in the absence of his chief, and had affixed the county seal thereto. He claimed that he acted under duress; that Higgins threatened to kill him if he exposed the matter, and that the entire bond-signing transaction took place in the back office of Hines & Cline, with door locked. Meantime Cline was jailed at Parsons, was released under habeas corpus proceedings, was rearrested, gave bail and disappeared.
Judge Stephenson, J. R. Cline and T. E. Dutroe were on an eastbound train on the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway, when a body of fifty armed men stopped the train at Gunn City. Seeing the crowd, Cline drew a revolver and fired, wounding two men, then jumped from the car, and attempted to escape, but fell pierced by three bullets, one entering his skull. Stephenson took refuge in the baggage car, where he met his death, a shot severing the jugular vein, and a blow from some sharp instrument penetrating his skull. Dutroe was shot in the back of the head, and died four hours afterward. It is not believed that Dutroe was one of the conspirators, but was killed because of his intimate association with them, after the crime was divulged. Later, Higgins came to death by his own hand. Forty-four men, including some of the most prominent, were indicted for the killing; twenty-nine were brought to trial; a nolle prosequi was entered in several cases, and all others were acquitted. Several of the indicted men were sued for damages by the families of those killed, but the suits were finally dismissed. At a later day suits were brought by the county, the bonds were recovered, and most of them were destroyed by order of court. One is in existence, at Gunn City, where it is framed, with an explanatory note, under the caption, "The Bloody Bonds." In the suits brought in St. Louis for the recovery of the bonds, the conspiracy was made plain, although it did not appear how the booty was to be divided. It was shown, however, that R. S. Stevens received $35,000 in bonds, J. R. Cline $50,000 or $55,000 in bonds. Judge Stephenson or his son $12,000, and that Higgins' share was about $3,000.
[Source: Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri Volume I; Edited by Howard Louis Conard; Publ. 1901; Transcribed by Andrea Stawski Pack.]
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