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Christian County

County History

A county in the southwestern part of the State, 130 miles south and west of Jefferson City, bounded on the north by Greene and Webster Counties, on the east by Douglas County, on the south by Stone and Taney Counties, and on the west by Lawrence County. It lies on the elevated slope on the south side of the Ozark Range. Its area is 520 square miles, of which about forty-two per cent is under cultivation; July 1, 1899, there were 3,080 acres of government land open to entry. In surface it is a succession of timber hills, valleys and plains. Four-fifths of the county would be represented by a parallelogram slightly longer east and west than north and south, while the remainder is a northwestern projection called "the Leg," seventeen miles east and west, and four miles wide. The James Fork of White River flows southwardly through the northwest portion, and the main portion of the county is drained by Finley, Swan and Bull Creeks, flowing southwardly into White River. There are numerous natural caves, the most striking of which is Smallin's Cave, two miles northeast of Ozark, sixty feet high, with a width of 100 feet, from which issues a stream of sparkling water. The principal farm products are grain, cotton, fruit and poultry. There are large quantities of heavy oak, hickory, walnut and black jack timber, and the southern portion of the county abounds in pine. Lead and zinc underlie the entire region, and mines are worked profitably in some localities. Iron ore has been found, but remains undeveloped. The Springfield Branch of the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway extends to Chadwick, and the main line passes through the northwest part of the county.

The report of the commissioner of labor statistics shows that in 1898 the principal surplus products were: Wheat, 136,728 bushels; hay, 59,100 pounds; flour, 627,319 pounds; cotton, 153,200 pounds; poultry, 350,439 pounds; eggs, 206,940 dozen; strawberries, 1,317 crates; fresh fruit, 38,760 pounds; canned goods, 692,805 pounds; cattle, 3,346 head; hogs, 20,595 head; sheep, 7,267 head; hides, 15,612 pounds. In 1898 there were 70 public schools, 87 teachers, 5,328 pupils; and the permanent school fund was $10,033.73. In 1900 the population was 16,939.

The first white settlers were John and William Pettijohn, from Ohio, in 1822; they were soon followed by John Pettijohn senior, and Thomas Patterson, who located on the James River, near the present line between Greene and Christian Counties. In 1833 the first religious services were held, by a Methodist circuit rider named McMahon, at the house of William Friend, on Finley Creek. The same year, James Kimberlin set up a water mill at Ozark, and his son James set up another on Bull Creek. In 1834 a man named Sullivan had a blacksmith shop in Elk Valley, at the mouth of Finley Creek. In 1839 the public lands were opened to entry, and a large immigration set in, principally from Kentucky and Tennessee, among them being the Farmer, Kimberlin and Hoover families. In 1853 lead mines were opened by C. D. Bray, since known as the Bray Mines, which produced upwards of 100,000 pounds prior to 1861.

After the war, interest in mining was reawakened, and numerous small mines were opened in the Elk Valley, and in 1876 smelting works were erected. In 1860, in a test vote, 800 votes were cast against secession, and but 108 in its favor. In 1861 three companies of Union Home Guards were formed, and became part of an irregular regiment formed at Springfield by Colonel John S. Phelps. At a later day the county became almost depopulated, the greater number of the males entering one or the other army and after the restoration of peace the resettlement was long retarded for want of a railroad.

Christian County was organized March 8, 1859, and was named at the request of Mrs. Thomas Neeves, an aged woman, in honor of her native county in Kentucky. An attempt at organization was made in 1857, but was defeated on account of the existence of a Greene County railroad building debt of $80,000. The separation from Greene County, and the acquisition of portions of Webster and Taney Counties, to make the new county of Christian, was effected through the influence of James H. Gideon, then Representative from Taney County, who was impelled to his action in compliance with the desires of the people living in the northern part of his own county, whose journey to their old county seat of Forsyth lay over rugged and often impassable roads. Samuel D. Nelson, of Stone County; Archibald Payne, of Greene County, and John H. Hight, of Wright County, commissioners appointed by the Governor, selected Ozark as the county seat, in May, 1859.

The first appointive officers were Jesse A. Marley, C. L. Dickerman and William Chestnut as county justices, and J. K. Gibson, as sheriff; D. G. Morrow was appointed clerk. At the election in August, 1859, H. P. Greene was elected the first Representative. In 1860 the sale of public lots brought $4,000. A two-story frame courthouse was erected, which in 1865 was burned by incendiaries in order to remove evidence against wrongdoers in criminal cases. A brick structure was erected in its stead, at a cost of $7,775.

Christian County Caves.—Christian County abounds in caves. One of them, two and a half miles northeast from Ozark, has an arched entrance fifty feet wide and eighty feet high. At a distance of four hundred feet from the entrance, the avenue is so narrow that a person exploring it must crawl through on hands and knees. A beautiful stream of water flows through the cave, and it is a favorite resort for picnic parties. Twelve miles from Ozark, on the Forsyth road, there is an opening in the top of a high hill which forms the entrance to a chamber thirty feet high and one hundred feet long, with the ceiling and sides enriched with beautiful stalactites.

Christian Endeavor Union.—This organization, which has attained a wonderful growth throughout the world, was founded with the object of promoting "a Christian spirit among young people, to increase their mutual acquaintance, make them more useful in the service of God and more closely identified with the various activities of the Church." The first Christian Endeavor Society was organized and founded about 1882 at Williston, Maine, by Rev. F. E. Clarke, the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in that place, and from that start the Christian Endeavor Union has grown to what it now is, having a membership in the world of three and a half million and numbering forty thousand societies, with floating societies on battleships. Societies now exist in every civilized country of the world except Russia. The organization is strong in England, and in the year 1900 the International Convention of the World's Christian Endeavourers was held in London, at the time of the World's Fair in Paris. The headquarters are now in Boston, Massachusetts. The motto is, "For Christ and the Church." The St. Louis Christian Endeavor Union is composed of young people's societies in ninety Protestant Churches, having a membership of about 3,500. The Union was organized about 1885. They send out evangelical committees, who hold meetings at the workhouse, jail and various other places. The St. Louis Union is a part of the Missouri State Union.

Billings.—A city of the fourth class, in Christian County, on the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway, twenty miles northwest of Ozark, the county seat. It has a public school and a private school, seven churches, two newspapers, the "Times," Democratic, and the "Bee," Republican; a bank, a flourmill, fruit cannery, foundry, planing mill, and brick and tile works. In 1900 the estimated population was 1,200.

Chadwick.—A town in Christian County, the terminus of the Springfield branch of the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway, ten miles southwest of Ozark, the county seat. It has a public school and a Union Church. It is a shipping point for cattle, hard timber and fruit. In 1900 the estimated population was 100.
[Source: Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri Volume 1: Edited by Howard Louis Conard; Publ. 1901; Transcribed by Andrea Stawski Pack.]



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