Clay County, Missouri Genealogy Trails

County History


History of Clay County Missouri, by William H. Woodson.  Published by Historical Publishing Company, 1920 – Transcribed by Veneta McKinney


Clay County was organized. It extended north to the Iowa line. The same year Liberty was made the county seat. February 11th, the first county court was held at the house of John Owens in Liberty. This house was located about half way between Kansas and Mill streets, on the west side of Water street, and occupied for many years before the war between the states, and after said war by Peter B. Grant, cousin of Gen U. S. Grant. Part of the materials from this old house is now doing good service in a brick and stone building on the south half of lot 186, northwest corner of Water and Mill streets. Judges of the County Court were: John Thornton, Elisha Camron and James Gilmore; William L. Smith, county clerk, and John Harris, sheriff.



A wagon road was opened from Liberty by way of Smithville to Council Bluffs. An express was at times run on this trial by contractors, traders and trappers. Smithville being the last town a train left and the first to entertain the drivers on their return, became for a short time a resort for drunken whites and begging Indians. Smithville and the stream on which it is located were named for Humphrey Smith (Yankee), who had located there in 1822. Here Smith built a dam and constructed a mill of round, unhewn white-oak logs. A pair of 2 1/2 foot millstones were cut from what was called “lost rock” or boulders. The wheel was the old-style flutter wheel. This was the first water-mill built in the county, and its erection caused immense interest; half the people of the county attended the raising.



Commissioners are appointed to locate and open a road to Santa Fe.



General Lafayette is in St. Louis. Steamboats commence to make occasional trips up the Missouri; two reached Liberty Landing this season.



There is a great rise in the Missouri River, lacking about four feet of being as high as in


November 11—A company of 93 emigrants from Bourbon County, Kentucky, arrive in Clay County, after a long and -tedious overland journey and settle near Smithville. The heads of the families are Capt. James Duncan, Matthew Duncan. William Duncan, Rice Davenport, James Winn, Sarah Music (widow), James Gray (teacher). The caravan consisted of seven wagons, four cars, five dearborns, 150 sheep, seventy-five cattle, and a large number of horses. Their only neighbors were the families of Humphrey Smith, Cornelius Gilliam, John Gilliam, William Riggs and Samuel Croley.

November 20—The seat of government was removed from St. Charles to Jefferson City.



March 7, 1827—By order of Major-General Brown, Colonel Leavenworth, of the 3rd Infantry United States Army, was ordered to locate a permanent cantonment at a point near the mouth of the Little Platte River and within a range of twenty miles, above or below its confluence. Acting in obedience to his orders, Colonel Leavenworth could find no suitable place within this range on the left bank of the Missouri River, but recommended a site on the bank, or west side of the river, known as Rattlesnake Hills. In the meantime, Colonel Leavenworth erected temporary barracks and his men named the post “Cantonment Leavenworth! The name was adopted in General Orders. dated November 8, 1827. But the name was soon changed to “Fort”.



For ten years after Fort Leavenworth was established, Clay County was the base of supplies for the soldiers. All beef, bacon, lard, vegetables and other marketing were brought from Clay, as well as all horses, mules and cattle.



Bacon was sold to the quartermaster at Fort Leavenworth at one and one-fourth cents per pound; net pork sold for seventy-five cents per hundred pounds; horses brought fifteen dollars to twenty dollars; oxen per yoke, thirty dollars, and large steers, ten dollars. Beeswax sold for twenty-five cents per pound.

March 9—A town and post office are established to be called Barry, in honor of the then Postmaster-General, William T. Barry.



On account of the danger in navigation of the Missouri River, prior to 1830, only an occasional steamer ventured up this stream. The first regular steamboat was the Otoe, Capt. J. B. Hill. She was followed by the Hancock. The Globe, Captain Wineland, made a trip for the government in 1830.

September 24, 1830—Maj. John Dougherty, agent of the Pawnee Indians, held a council with this tribe at Fort Leavenworth.



The mails from Liberty to the Fort, at first carried weekly by horse, are now conveyed tri-weekly by hack.



The Mormons come to Jackson County. Liberty Arsenal was erected this year. David M. Bivens did the carpenter work and Riley and Dykes the brick-work.



The Mormons, many of them coming into Clay County, from Jackson County. Meetings were held in both counties to get rid of them.



A few persons from Clay County crossed the line and made improvements in Platte.



At a militia muster in the summer of 1835, on Weekly Dale’s farm, about four miles north of Liberty, Gen. Andrew S. Hughes, a noted lawyer of Liberty, but at the time agent of the Iowa tribe of Indians, presented the matter of the annexation of the Platte country to Col. A. W. Doniphan, Gen. D. R. Atchison, William T. Wood, Peter H. Burnett and Edward M. Samuel, as these parties were seated around one common table, partaking of the noon day repast. With but little discussion, it was then and there determined to memorialize Congress to extend the limits of the state so as to embrace the Platte country. Accordingly William T. Wood (afterwards judge) prepared the memorial, which was signed by the above named distinguished men and by many others. The document was sent direct to Dr. Lewis F. Linn, United States Senator from Missouri, who, with the aid of Hon. Thomas H. Benton, Congress gave its assent to this extension, conditioned upon the extinguishment of the Indian title, and the acceptance of the terms by the state. The Legislature of the state gave its acceptance December 16, 1836.



Large numbers of persons from Clay County crossed the line into Platte County and made improvements, crude although these improvements were. Among their number were William Woods, Eph. Gilliam, Handel Vance, Sol. Eads, Charles Cook, David Rupe, Ben. Cornelius, Leander Jones, James Rupe, Robert Chance, Felix Beauchamp, William Brown, Robert Asher, Nat Boydston, and William Asher. A short time thereafter, the authorities at Washington, being apprised of this invasion, dispatched an officer with troops and quietly, but firmly, required all these settlers to leave the territory of the Platte, destroyed the primitive improvements and gave notice that no settlements would be tolerated until further notice. Notwithstanding this action on the part of the government, late in the fall of this year, Nat Boydston and several others returned to this territory and were not molested.

Platte County was attached, by act of the Legislature, to Clay County for civil and military purposes.



Treaty with the Indians ratified.

From 1827 to 1837, practically all supplies of every kind, except clothing for the maintenance and support of the garrison of Fort Leavenworth, were obtained from Clay County. Thomas C. Gordon, John Dougherty, James T. V. Thompson and others, all residents of the county, furnished cattle, horses, mules, bacon, lard; in fact, the whole of all necessary commissory and quartermaster supplies. Liberty was a place of resort for the officers of the fort. The good people of Liberty prepared weekly functions, parties, dances, etc., for the elite of this garrison, and during these ten years Liberty had as guests many men, who in later years, became renowned in the country’s history; probably the most distinguished being Jefferson Davis.



All Mormons left Clay County and joined their brethren at Far West, in Caldwell County. October of this year the “Mormon War” occurred with results as detailed elsewhere.



Great flood, the greatest ever experienced by the people of Clay County. Waters of the Missouri extending from bluff to bluff.



The “Liberty Tribune” established; Robert H. Miller, editor and publisher. A cyclone passed over the central part of Clay County, from southwest to northeast, doing damage to houses, trees, fences, etc. December 26, 1846, the first railroad meeting in aid of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad was held. Capt. O. P. Moss’s company of soldiers for the war with Mexico organized.



The Masonic College was removed from Marion County and located in Lexington. A strong effort had been made to have the college located in Liberty. Col. John Thornton died October 24; born December 24, 1786.



In the winter and spring, a temperance wave struck the entire county. Henry L. Routt as H. P.; Benj. Hayes, W A.; H. M. Jones, R. S.; J. W. Ringo, F. S. and Isaac Palmer, treasurer. The vote of Clay County this year for governor: James S. Rollins, 745; Austin A. King, 531. For Congress, Edgar M. Samuel, 570; Willard P. Hall, 578. For Legislature, Thomas F. Swetnam, Whig, 739; Henry L. Routt, Democrat, 478. Sheriff, O. P. Moss, Whig, 654; Samuel Hadley, Democrat, 645.


George Lincoln died April 28; born April 15, 1792.



“The Jackson Resolution” passed by the Missouri Legislature. The Whig representative from Clay County voting against them. ,



Increased excitement over the discoveries of gold in California. Population of Clay as follows: 10,332. Whites, 7,590; blacks, 2,732.



Cholera made its appearance in the county. Anderson Edwards and another man and three negroes died in Liberty with the disease in July.



The vote for governor: Winston, Whig, 732; Sterling Price, Democrat, 491. Congress, Mordecai Oliver, Whig, 840; James H. Birch, Democrat, 311; Austin A. King, Democrat, 73. Legislature, O. P. Moss, Whig, and Nathaniel Vincent, Whig, were elected without opposition.



Mordecai Oliver was elected this year to Congress over Leonard, Lowe and John E. Pitt, of Platte County.



The vote for governor was: R. C. Ewing, Know Nothing or American, 575; Trusten Polk, Democrat, 831; Thomas H. Benton, Independent, none. Congress, James H. Moss, Know Nothing, 802; James Craig, Democrat, 824; Joel Turnham, Democrat, 808.



The great race for governor between James S. Rollins and Robert M. Stewart. Stewart was declared elected, but the Whigs and Americans contended that Stewart was fraudulently counted in. The vote in the state stood: Stewart, 47,975; Rollins, 47,641; Stewart’s majority, 334.



The vote this year for Congress: James H. Adams, Whig and American, 993; James Craig, Democrat, 826. State Senator, J . H. Layton, Whig and American, 929; J. T. V. Thompson, Democrat, 837. Craig was elected to Congress and J. T. V. Thompson for State Senate.

September 1—Solomon Binswanger was killed in a drunken quarrel at Missouri City. Dr. George C. Tuley was indicted and tried at Liberty for the crime, convicted of manslaughter in the third degree and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment in the county jail and to pay a fine of $100. In April, 1859, George H. Wallis was tried, but the jury disagreed and he was allowed to plead guilty of manslaughter and received the same sentence as Doctor Tuley, but in October following he was pardoned by Governor Stewart. Wallis had been indicted with Tuley. September 7, 1858, two estimable citizens, J. A. S. Major and Samuel Trabue became involved in an altercation, which resulted in the death of Trabue.



In June, Richard Moore stabbed and killed Patrick Cusick in a saloon in Liberty. The contractors, Crump & Thompson, for building the court house completed the building and it was accepted, November 9, 1859, but it had been occupied by the courts and clerks for some time previously.



Not a vote in Clay County for Abraham Lincoln. Population, whites, 9,525; colored, 3,498. Total, 13,023.



April 12, Fort Sumpter was fired upon by the Confederates. When the news reached Clay, the county was ablaze. Liberty Arsenal was captured April 20th by Confederate sympathizers. Paradoxical as it may appear, many men who aided in sacking this arsenal became ultra Union men when it appeared the South was not likely to win. A number of companies leave the county to join the Missouri State Guards at Lexington.



Parker’s raid into Liberty. Constitutional Test Oath required and shortly thereafter the “Gamble Oath” was supplemented by one more binding, more exacting, harder to take and still harder to observe, a disgrace to civilization. This was called the “Ironclad Oath”.



Capt. Darius Sessions was killed, May 19, by bushwhackers. Raid on Missouri City was made by bushwhackers. Raid made on Lawrence, Kansas, in which several Clay countians are said to have participated. Up to the 31st day of December, there had been eighteen citizens of the county murdered by the military forces of both sides. Four Union men had been killed by the bushwhackers and the Federals had killed fourteen men of Confederate proclivities. Of the latter, Penick’s men killed six, enrolled and provisional militia six, and the Twenty-fifth Missouri Infantry two.



Bushwhackers continued operations in the county. “Fletch” Taylor and his men, the chief disturbers of the county’s peace, as well as the peace of the militia. Capt. B. W. Kemper, of Company C, Ninth M. S. M., was very seriously wounded by bushwhackers. Advent of Col. J . H. Ford and D. R. Anthony and their hordes from Colorado and Kansas. of whom special mention is made elsewhere in this history.



General Lee’s army surrenders to General Grant. The last of the bushwhackers. John D. Hall died March 1; born April 23, 1800.



February 13th, the Clay County Savings Association was robbed and young Wymore killed by the bandits. Thomas C. Gordon died January 8th; born May 29, 1799.



On January 1, 1867, the Commercial Savings Bank of Liberty begins its operations in a brick building at the southwest corner of the public square, with Col. A. J Calhoun as president and David Roberts as cashier. the capital stock being $5,000.00 paid in. The following are further “landmarks” in the history of this bank:

January 1, 1870-—President Calhoun and Cashier Roberts resign. Darwin J Adkins is elected president and A. J . Calhoun, cashier.

September 26, 1870--William A. Hall succeeds A. J. Calhoun as cashier.

May 20, 1871--Lewis B. Dougherty assumes the cashiership; vice W. A. Hall resigned.

January 1, 1883—B. B. Corbin becomes associated with the bank as bookkeeper.

August 11, 1885—James M. Sandusky is elected director.

September 16, 1885—A. Cooper Davidson is chosen president; Darwin J. Adkins, deceased.

September 25, 1885—George Hughes is elected president.

December 22, 1893--James M. Sandusky becomes president.

April 4, 1895—Capital stock is increased to $50,000.00.

May 19, 1896--New charter, capital $75,000.00 January 7, 1898; John L. Dougherty, assistant cashier.

September 15, 1899—Name changed to The Commercial Bank of Liberty; April 25, 1902, absorbs Liberty Savings Association.

January 16, 1906-J. L. Dougherty, cashier, succeeding L.. B. Dougherty, elected vice—president.

November 16, 1907—Capital stock increased to $100,000.00. January 1, 1912, F. D. Hamilton associated with bank as assistant cashier. B. B. Corbin resigns as assistant cashier to which he was elected June 4, 1908.



B. Gratz Brown elected governor. Freedom of the people from Radical Republican government. Population of Clay County: Whites, 13,718; colored, 1,846. Total, 15,564.



Silas Woodson elected governor, the first Democrat governor since 1860. Contest between Thomas McCarty and William H. Woodson for State Senator. For President, Greeley, D. & L., 2,207 ; Grant, Republican, 528; Charles O’Conner, Democrat, 27.


Judge J. T. V. Thompson died; born, 1797. Peter C. Pixlee died June 15, born April 26, 1824.



A negro named Sam Walker, formerly a slave of Morgan Walker, of Jackson County, killed his wife, Katie, because she would no longer live with him. She was employed as a domestic by James M. Jones, who lived southwest of Liberty in two story brick house built before the Civil War by Col. James H. Moss.


Capt. Thomas McCarty died August 6; born July 23, 1822.



May 15th, the negro, Sam Walker, was hung for the killing of his wife. On the scaffold he made a rambling talk and just before the noose was placed around his neck he began to bid his colored friends goodbye. Observing old Uncle Harve, a noted colored man, looking at him, Sam cried out, “Good bye, Uncle Harve!” To which Uncle Harve replied, “Goodbye, Sam; take good keer of yourself”.



Long to be remembered as grasshopper year. “The Advance” established this year, George E. Patton, editor and publisher. E. H. Norton, of Platte and D. C. Allen were elected delegates to Con. Convention.



For President, Tilden, Democrat, 2,848; Hayes, Republican, 509; Cooper, Greenback, 57. Markets: Gold, ’$1.10; apples, $1.00; butter, twenty-five cents; coffee, twenty-five cents; corn, twenty-five cents; flour, $3.75; eggs, nine cents; hams, fourteen cents; hogs, six and one-half cents; hemp, $1.30; lard, fourteen cents; wheat. $1.15; wood, $2.50 a cord.



Barney Swinney was indicted and tried for the killing of John Fuller. About ten days were consumed in the investigation of the case before a court of inquiry and about two weeks in the final trial. Liberty had about fifteen resident lawyers, every one of whom were engaged, first and last, in the trial, with the exception of D. C. Allen. William H. Woodson was the prosecuting attorney. The evidence against the defendant was entirely circumstantial. Swinney was acquitted.



Abijah Withers died August 17, aged eighty-one years.



The total population of Clay County in this year according to the official census was 15,572, of which 8,132 were males and 7,440 were females. The whites numbered 14,059; the colored people 1,513. By townships the population was as follows:


Fishing River, including Missouri City  -  2,885
Gallatin  -  2,772
Kearney, including Kearney and Holt  -  2,667
Liberty, including the city of Liberty  -  3,714
Platte, including Smithville and Paradise  -  2,352
Washington  -  1,212

Total  - 1 5,572



In the spring the Missouri River was higher than it had been since 1844. The bottoms were overflowed and much damage resulted. Harlem was all under water and many buildings were destroyed. Some old settlers declared that the river was even higher in 1881 than it was in 1844. Certainly the damage was greater, for there was more to destroy.


Capt. Oliver P. Moss died June 7; born September 26, 1813. Col. Henry L. Routt died February 23. P. L. Moore died June 16, aged forty-five years.



Mrs. Julia Ann Lincoln died September 5; born February 16, 1802. John Berry died December 17; born April 5, 1796.


1883. John Chrisman died January 23rd.



James Lunsford Nutter died December 20th; born April 25, 1842. Anderson Turpin died November 26th; born December 22, 1804.


Darwin J. Adkins died July 20th; born October 19, 1821.


1887. Gen. Alexander William Doniphan died August 8th; born June 9, 1808.



Dr. Stephen Ritchey died March 6th; born March 21, 1824. Isaiah Sissom died February 25th ; born 1824.

On the 16th day of May, 1887, the First National Bank of Liberty was organized and began its operations in a brick building at the northwest comer of the public square, with Daniel Hughes as president and James T. Riley as cashier, the capital stock being $50,000. Directors: Daniel Hughes, James T. Riley, Witten McDonald, James E. Lincoln, John J. Stogdale. John T. Chandler and R. J. Stone. Of these officers and directors, all are deceased with the sole exception of Mr. Stogdale.

In 1897, John S. Major became president, James Costello vice-president, George S. Ritchey cashier, Miss Louise Riley bookkeeper, and later Henry H. Parrott, clerk. In April, 1919, Claude M. Donovan became vice-president.

Last statement made by the bank, September 8, 1920, shows as follows:

Capital ____________________________________ __$ 50.000

Surplus __________________________ __' _______ _ _ 50,000

Undivided profits ___________________________ __ 96,400

Total resources over ________________________ __$1,000,000


In the summer of 1906, The Citizens Bank, of Liberty, Missouri, was organized with L. A. Davidson as president, Dr. John M. Robinson, vice-president, and John M. Newlee, cashier, and opened for business in the old Farmers Bank Building on the northeast corner of the public square, with a capital stock of $25,000. In February, 1910, to keep abreast of its increased business, the bank doubled its capitalization and elected as its officers William F. Norton, president; L. A. Davidson, vice-president; John M. Newlee, cashier, and Elijah Hise Norton, assistant cashier. During the years 1912-1913, the bank caused an elegant brick bank building to be erected on the southwest corner of the public square and moved into this building March 18, 1914. In 1813, its capitalization was increased to $75,000, with a surplus and undivided profits of $18,000. In 1920, the officers, directors and employees of the bank are as follows: William F. Norton, president; John M. Newlee active vice-president; _E. S. Hunt, vice-president; E. H. Norton, cashier; John R. Smiley, assistant cashier; Jessie Norton, charge savings department; Ella M. Parrott, bookkeeper. Directors: E. C. Bell, J. S. Robb, Dr. E. H. Miller, W. P. Downing, E. S. Hunt, S. P. Boggess, Dr. F. H. Matthews, Theodore Emerson, E. H. Norton, W. F. Norton and John M. Newlee. Condensed statement of the financial condition of the bank at the close of business August 26, 1920, shows resources, a total of $700,782.11.



The Kansas City, Clay County and St. Joseph Electric Railroad was completed and commenced operation between Kansas City and St. Joseph, and between Kansas City via Liberty and Excelsior Springs, in January, to the great satisfaction of the people of Clay County.



Merchants engaged in business in buildings around the public square in Liberty, December, 1920: South side, Joseph H. Barnes, druggist; Lee Clark, clothing; Trimble & Trimble, hardware, machinery and automobiles; Elston Gentury, druggist; Boggess & Sons, hardware, machinery and automobiles; S. D. Church & Sons, furniture. Southwest corner, Trigg Nutter & Son, restaurant; Mrs. McArthur, 5, 10 and 25 cents store. West side, A. W. Land, clothier; Myall & Myall, furnishings for women and children; Clarence Smith, groceries; J. H. Whiteside, jeweler; Philip Fraher & Son, boots and shoes (business being conducted by Mrs. Thomas Fraher, daughter and son) ; Joseph C. Simmons, druggist; Holcomb (Jack) Petty, boots and shoes. North side, L. T. Dorsett, groceries; J. J. Stogdale & Co., clothiers; H. F. Simrall, Jr., dry goods; Frank Hughes, dry goods; Charles Ward, boots and shoes; W. W. Whiteside, jeweler; Laipple & Hummel, groceries; Stephens Furniture Co. Northeast comer, Mrs. Minnie Duncan, millinery. East side, Peace Clothing Company; Herbert H. Hill, undertaker; Perkins & McGinniss, druggists; Liberty Book Store; L. P. Camden, meats and groceries; C. H. Sevier, druggist; Pitts & Hamilton, groceries; George G. Hall, meats and groceries; J. S. Conway, groceries.


Sunday night, December 12th, William D. Badgley was killed by auto thieves in front of his store in Liberty. After disarming a deputy sheriff, the two thieves made their escape. The Liberty Tribune of December 17th, has the following concerning sums of money found in the store of “Billy” Badgley:

            “Had the two motor thieves who killed William Badgley in front of his store, Sunday night, when they stopped there for gasoline, known his house was a treasure house—money secreted in all parts of it—they no doubt would have got busy and made a big haul, for over $2,100 has been found hidden in the store and home of Badgley. Tin cans, tobacco sacks, socks, cigar boxes, etc., have been discovered full of coins, from pennies to quarters mostly. In the money were about 3,000, 5,000 nickels and 2,500 pennies and over $800 in paper money was found in an old kitchen cabinet. It was in pocket books. No gold, so far, has been discovered. Badgley’s sales were mostly in small amounts and the small change, with his saving habit and economical way of living thus accumulated. “The search of the house for the money is being conducted by Coroner Wysong, who has charge of the effects until the administrator is given charge. Doctor Wysong is assisted in the search by constable Willis Grimes and J. A. Land, the brother-in-law of Badgley’s, who came here from Illinois. The search the first day, Tuesday, resulted in $1,001.10 being found in the small coins. A peck of nickels was in a 50-pound flour sack, and there was half a sack of pennies. Wednesday, $1,082.24 was found. The currency was part of this amount. Two hundred dollars was in cigar boxes. The total found up to Wednesday evening was $2,186.40. The search will be kept up and the walls and attic and the ground underneath the floors be examined. Badgley had about $150 deposited in a bank. The money was taken to the Citizens Bank, where it is counted. The coins are rapidly run through a counting machine.

            “Since so much money has been found, some people think that the motor thieves had heard reports he kept a great deal of money about the place and may have intended robbing him, but Kennedy coming up frustrated their plans. Anyhow, they knew where Badgley’s store was and that gasoline could be had. They located it before. Badgley always had plenty of change when customers were buying from him, but it was never talked around that he probably kept so much money hid in his store.

            “The post mortem was held Tuesday by Coroner Wysong and the bullet was found “floating” in the lower part of the body. It was a 38caliber automatic revolver.

            “The body was shipped to Illinois, Wednesday night and accompanied by Mr. Land, the brother-in-law, who came here. The funeral will be held at Belleville, Illinois, and the burial be near there.

            “C C. Moore, whose Essex car was stolen at the Springs, resulting in the murder, sent a nice floral offering. The car has been kept here since recovered by officer Kennedy until after the inquest.

            “Mr. Land will return here to look after the business affairs of the estate. The inquest was held Thursday afternoon. The house Badgley occupied was rented of Mrs. Myall.”






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