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Clinton County, Missouri

Clinton County History

By Edmond McWilliams, Plattsburg

Naming of County

The history of Clinton County begins with the year 1833. At the period of the organization of the county DeWitt Clinton, after whom it was named, had then been dead four years. He had not only distinguished himself as governor of the great State of New York, but his ability and influence had been felt and acknowledged in the council chambers of the nation. Thus a great county was named in honor of a great man.

Telephones and rural free delivery brings the county within intimate, immediate reach of the towns and cements closer the relations of farmer and business man. Our people live in modern homes, and transact business in convenient, well-arranged stores and business houses. The people of Clinton County are socially inclined, and the church, the school, the fraternal orders and other social influences of the town and country keep closely in touch each with the other. A wholesome, broadening sentiment prevails. We are happy, contented, and reasonably prosperous, and feel that in the distribution of His blessings God has been good to us, by casting our lives in pleasant places and by giving us as associates and friends some of the best people in the world.

Early Settlers

In the history of Clinton County we may trace many of its early settlers to their homes in Kentucky and Virginia. They came West "to grow up with the country," trusting only to their strong arms and willing hearts to work out their ambitions of a home for themselves and wives and a competence for their children. In those days the people took no care to preserve history—they were too busily engaged in making it. Historically speaking, these were the most important years of the county, for then were laid the foundation and cornerstones of all the county's history and prosperity. Yet, this history was not remarkable for stirring events. It was, however, a time of selfreliance and brave, persevering toil, of privations cheerfully endured through faith in a good time coming. The experience of one settler was just about the same as that of others. They were almost invariably poor; they faced the same hardships and stood generally on an equal footing. They had their privations and hardships, but they had also their own peculiar joys. They were free from pride and vanity. Other people's eyes cost them nothing. If they had few neighbors, they were on the best of terms with them. A common interest and a common sympathy bound them together with the strongest ties. They were a little world in themselves. Each man's protection was in the good will and friendship of those about him. Such were some of the characteristics of Clinton County.


Topographically the land is somewhat rolling. The soil is good, and of great agricultural capabilities. The producing qualities are of the richest, not even excelled by the prolific valley of the famous Nile. Clinton County is indeed the farmer's kingdom, where he always reaps an abundant harvest. It has a complete system of natural drainage and an abundant supply of pure, fresh water. Here Nature has generously bestowed her attractions of climate, soil, and scenery to please and gratify man while earning his bread in the sweat of his brow. Its soil is adapted to the growth of all kinds of small grain, corn, grass, and tobacco. Even the boasted soil of Kentucky does not produce finer blue grass than Clinton County, No doubt future developments will result in the discovery of permanent and valuable minerals. Experiments have been made, but by lack of perseverance have been abandoned. The climate is what is generally termed a healthful one, subject, however, to the sudden change from heat to cold.

Water Courses

Clinton County is well supplied with living streams of water, which are well distributed. The largest stream in the county is Smith's Fork of Platte River. It enters the county near the northeast corner and flows in a southwesterly direction, emptying into Platte River. Shoa'l Creek is in the estern part of the county and empties into Crooked River. Castile Creek runs through the M^estern part of the county and empties into the Platte. Other smaller streams are Horse Fork, Clear Creek, Robert's Branch, Deer Creek.

Clinton is a prairie county, with some timber along the water courses. There are many orchards, one commercial orchard of ninety acres in Clinton Township.

Clinton is one of the leading live-stock counties of Missouri. It is the home of some of the largest cattle feeders in the world, and within its borders is Lathrop, internationally known as the greatest mule market in the world. During the British-Boer war it was the center of the mule industry in the United States.


The newspapers of Clinton County are the Clinton County Democrat, Plattsburg Leader, Cameron Daily News, Cameron Observer, Cameron Sun, Lathrop Optimist, and Gower Enterprise.


There are twelve banking institutions in Clinton County. The First National Bank and the Clay & Funkhouser Banking Company at Plattsburg; the First National Bank, the Farmers Bank, and the Cameron Trust Company at Cameron; the First National Bank and the Lathrop Bank at Lathrop ; the Gower Bank at Gower ; the Farmers Bank of Turney at Turney; the Perrin Bank at Perrin; the Hemple Bank at Hemple ; and the Trimble State Bank at Trimble. All these banks are gilt-edge and do a general banking business

Railroads The main line of the C, B, & Q. and the Kansas City branch, the St. Joseph branch of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, the Leavenworth branch of th^ Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific ; the Quincy, Omaha & Kansas City, and the Cower branch of the Q. 0. & K. C. aid rapid communication to any point.

County Fair

The county fair held at Plattsburg each year is an earnest enterprise. The people of Clinton County are trying to make the fair an exhibition of the county's resources and a mirror of agricultural progress and domestic endeavor. By way of variety, amusement features are necessary, but they are not in such number as to overbalance or overshadow the serious business of the fair. It is decidedly more important that the visitor should learn something that will be of permanent benefit than that he should carry home unmixed memories of high diving, fire-eating and freak dancing.


The corn belt is exceedingly limited, and destined to rule the commerce of the world; hence, if "he who makes two blades of grass to grow where only one has grown before" is a great benefactor, how much greater is the benefaction if two ears of corn can be grown where only one has grown before? We believe this can be done. The first requisite is good soil. Clinton County is noted for the character of its soil. The improvident farmer who constantly takes away and never adds to the soil, will soon have it so impoverished that it will have to be abandoned, just as many of the New England farms have been abandoned. Rotation of crops, with clover, cow peas, etc., interspersed, will maintain or keep up soil fertility, but where the impoverishment has gone so far that the life has gone out of the ground, then it must be restored by fertilization and rest. Even the laws of Moses prescribed this treatment, hence it is not new. All soil that is cultivated should be fertilized regularly, year after year. It should be regarded as just as essential as plowing. One of the requirements for conserving the soil and for good crops as well is proper cultivation. Conservation of the soil is humanity's hope. The nations are multiplying fast. Corn is king. The people cannot eat cotton nor live on tobacco. The time is rapidly approaching when he who has forty acres which will produce fifty bushels of corn to the acre will be a prince, and if 100 bushels he will be a king. One should not try to farm all out-of-doors, but farm less and better. Remember that, like everything else in this world, you get out of the ground just in proportion as you put into it. If you never put anything into it there will come a time when the ground will refuse to respond.

Clinton County has wide-awake men who appreciate the value of the soil and who are using every means to conserve it. They farm according to scientific methods. The farms range from 200 to 2,000 acres, and can rotate crops to good advantage.

The Clinton County farmer lives up to his opportunities. Everywhere one sees modern dwellings, furnished with water, furnace heat, and acetylene gas. Mail is brought to the door ; the telephone keeps the farmer in touch with all parts of the country; the automobile enables him to reach several large cities within two or three hours. In Clinton County alone are 392 automobiles. Clinton's farmers are among her men worthy to be remembered, and for comfort, luxury and advantages they surpass knights and princes.


No one needs good roads quite so badly as the progressive farmer. The mud tax falls heavily on him, and the longer the distance he must haul his products and his supplies the heavier is the burden. Better roads make a better country by determining the kind of business it will do and by determining the kind of citizens it will have. Good farming calls for quick and cheap transportation; up-to-date people demand schools and churches that are easily accessible and a social life in the country. The people of Clinton County realize that the road plays an important part in all of this. No scheme of rural uplift will ever be successful that does not contemplate the improvement of the roads. Better roads unquestionably make a better country. In fact, it is wellnigh impossible to improve a country without improving its roads. There is an awakening in Clinton County from a deep slumber on this road question. Massachusetts has the highest percentage of improved roads of any state in the Union, and the road development in Massachusetts is a big chapter in the country's vital progress. The basis of Massachusetts' success in road improvement is a thoroughly awakened public opinion. The legislative bodies are responsible to public sentiment, and they have made liberal appropriations and enacted good road laws. The contract system is in vogue and every piece of work is sized up before the contract is awarded. Missourians should study the Massachusetts system. It is worth studying. It has brought results. We want less haphazard road building. Clinton County wants good roads, and it will have them. Good roads agitation is confined to no section of the country, but is national in its scope. Plan after plan has been suggested to interest the people and arouse enthusiasm, and this agitation has erystalized into good works. The rural route carriers need good roads and must have them. The dragging system has been used in Clinton County for some time past, and as a consequence Clinton County roads compare favorably with the roads of adjoining counties.


Plattsburg, the county seat of Clinton County, is pleasantly located. It is situated near the center of the county, forty miles north of Kansas City, forty miles from Leavenworth and Atchison, Kansas, and thirty miles from St. Joseph, and has the benefit of three railroads, the St. Joseph branch of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, the Leavenworth branch of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, and the Quiney, Omaha & Kansas City. Plattsburg has a population of about two thousand. It has many pretty residences. The people are alive to the interests of education. Plattsburg has nine churches. Baptist, Presbyterian, Christiaii, jMethodist, South Methodist, Episcopalian, Catholic, Colored Baptist and Colored Methodist. It has a splendid public school building and St. Brendan's, a Catholic school, located on the St. Ann's Church grounds, and a two-story brick school building for the colored people. Plattsburg has beautiful Chautauqua grounds and conducts one of the best Chautauquas in the United States. Monthly stock sales are held on the first Monday in each month at Plattsburg.

Cameron is situated eighteen miles northeast of Plattsburg, at the junction of the Hannibal & St. Joseph, Cameron & Kansas City, and Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific railroads. It has a population of about three thousand and is surrounded by a rich and productive country. Its public buildings are good; the church buildings are first class, and almost every denomination is represented with a fine house for worship. The people are wide awake to their interests, industrious, and persevering and enterprising. It has two large hotels, and many smaller ones, three newspapers, two banks and a trust company, and about thirty-five stores, a mill, and a fair representation of preachers, doctors and lawyers. Cameron, one of the most important places on the line of the C, B. & Q. R. R., is well adapted to manufacturing interests, and a pleasant place in which to reside.

Lathrop is situated about seven miles east of Plattsburg, at the junction of the St. Joseph branch of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe with the Cameron & Kansas City branch of the C, B. & Q. Railroad, and has a population of about twelve hundred. It is well supplied with churches and schools. The public school building and its churches and other buildings compare favorably w'ith other towns. It has quite a number of stores, two hotels, one newspaper, two banks, one bonnet and petticoat factory, and is well represented in the various industries. The citizens are noted for their enterprise and industry and take great pride in their thrifty town and beautiful country surrounding.

Gower is situated ten miles northwest of Plattsburg, on the St. Joseph branch of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe and the Gower branch of the Quincy, Omaha & Kansas City. Gower has a good trade in various branches of business. It has one bank, one newspaper, several merchants and is surrounded by what is said to be the richest and best agricultural portion of the county. Its population is about four hundred.

Turney, a town of about three hundred, is situated on the C, B. & Q. Railroad, about ten miles northeast of Plattsburg, and was named in honor of Judge Thomas E. Turney. It has several churches and stores, one bank, and a blacksmith shop. Many trades and professions are represented there. Situated in the midst of a fine agricultural country, the town has a good trade.

Hemple is situated about sixteen miles northwest of Plattsburg, has a population of about eighty, is surrounded by a wealthy country, and is a good trading point. It has one bank and is represented in other lines of business. The people in and around Hemple are noted for their genuine hospitality and friendship.

Perrin is a progressive little town of about one hundred and fifteen inhabitants. It has one bank and is well represented in other lines for a town of its size. For railroad service it has the Leavenworth branch of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific. It is surrounded by a rich agricultural and stock-raising district.

Trimble is situated about ten miles southwest of Plattsburg and has a population of about two hundred and twenty-five. This little town is one in which the inhabitants are alive and energetic to a commendable degree. It is on the Q., 0. & K. C. and the Gower branch of the Q., 0. & K. C. Its surroundings are the very best. It has one bank, one lumber yard, and various stores. The citizens of Trimble are hospitable and generous.

Grayson is situated about seven miles southwest of Plattsburg, on the Leavenworth branch of the C, R. I. & P. Railroad. Churches, schools, business houses and pleasant homes make it a pleasant place to live. It has a population of about sixty.

Mecca just now shows better on paper than in any other way. It is a new settlement about seven miles soutliwest of Plattsburg on the Q., 0. & K. C. Railroad. It has a population of about twenty-five. Yet for its size it is quite a lively town and has a real '' live wire '' merchant.

Converse is situated on the St. Joseph branch of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, about twelve miles southeast of Plattsburg. It has two stores, a postoffice, and fine country surroundings.

Starfield is situated on the Castile Creek, six miles northwest of Plattsburg. It is an old place, and at one time bade fair to make quite a town. It does good business for a one-store place.

Keystone is about twelve miles northeast of Plattsburg, on the Leavenworth branch of the C, R. I. & P. Railroad. The surrounding country is beautiful. It is a good trading point.

Lilly is six miles south of Plattsburg, has one store, and a school building in the neighborhood. It is surrounded by a fine farming country.

The Town of Osborn in reality is situated in DeKalb County, thirteen miles north of Plattsburg, yet the plat shows one-half of it in Clinton. In fact, the substance is in DeKalb County and the shadow in Clinton. Hence, we can only refer to the plat for our part of the town, and to the history of DeKalb County for the substance.

The Town of Holt in reality is in Clay County, about thirteen miles southeast of Plattsburg, only a small plot of the town being in Clinton County. Holt Annex is in the oldest settled portion of the county.

Braley is about nine miles north of Plattsburg, on the main line of the Quincy, Omaha & Kansas City Railroad. It has one store.


Missouri Wesleyan College, at Cameron, is a co-educational, academic institution, founded in 1883, now under the Missouri Conference of the Methodist Episcopal church.

Clinton County is especially well provided with high schools, having three first-class high schools, at Plattsburg, at Cameron, and at Lathrop. Three other towns give high school work, Gower, Turney and Trimble. In Plattsburg the teacher training course is given with great success and offers great advantages to those who wish to teach in the rural and elementary schools.

Clinton County is not resting on its educational achievements, but the campaign for education is constantly going on. There is much interest taken all over the county in school affairs, and that is a "living force that counts."


The population of Clinton County has decreased in recent years. According to the 1910 census, only a few counties in North Missouri made an increase over 1900, and they have growing cities. Many explanations are given—such as bad roads, unscientific farming and poorly attended farms. Fifteen years ago the best farms would sell for about seventy-five dollars per acre ; today these same farms sell from one hundred and twenty-five to one hundred and fifty dollars per acre. Bad roads, unscientific farming and poorly tended farms have not kept the price of land down nor have they been largely responsible for the decrease in population. On account of the high price of land, many of the smaller farmers have sold their farms to the large farmers and moved to Oklahoma and elsewhere and purchased homes for half the money. A good many have moved away who did not have the money to buy a good Clinton County farm. People go from the country towns to the city to get employment for their boys and girls and to be with them.


The people of Cameron and surrounding country have nobly appreciated, enjoyed and supported the Chautauqua. The organization has earnestly striven to meet all expectations and is confident of continued success.

The people of Plattsburg and Clinton County are proud of the Plattsburg Chautauqua. The college grounds on which the Chautauqua is located were first bought by Thomas Jefferson from Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803, being included in what is known as the Louisiana Territory. It was afterwards included in the boundaries of the State of Missouri when she was admitted into the Union in 1820. In 1833 it was incorporated by the Legislature and named Clinton County. The commissioners appointed to locate the county seat chose the eighty acres of land, on which the Chautauqua grounds are located, for the permanent county seat of Clinton County. John P. Smith found it out, beat the commissioners to the land office, then at Lexington, Missouri, and entered it. He then wanted to sell his bargain for $100 profit, but the commissioners refused to pay it and located the county seat on the eighty acres just east of it. In 1851 the heirs of John P. Smith had it sold at public auction under partition suit, and Col. Nathan M. Vance bought it. Under the action of the Southern Methodist Conference, the college was built and the brick church just south of it. The college was opened for school purposes under the superintendency of the Rev. Levian M. Lewis, who was wounded on the battlefield, carrying the stars of a brigadier-general of the Confederate Army. He was succeeded by the Rev. Jesse Bird, one of the most prominent educators of the church. During the war the North jMethodists bought the brick church for $300. This was in the days when the republicans were in favor of low prices and downward revision. The college property was transferred into the hands of J. H. Thomas in 1868. It again changed ownership and went into the hands of Dr. J. W. Ellis in 1880, who established an institution familiarly known to us as the Plattsburg College. The grounds, which are now used as a receptive for an educational program and general social amusements, were once the playgrounds of the college boys and girls. Many a game of marbles, ball and "fox and geese" have been played on the same playgrounds the tent now covers.

Circuit Judges

The history of Clinton County covers a period of eighty-one years. Originally it embraced the counties of DeKalb, Gentry, and Worth, and was practically an unexplored wilderness, except to the hunters of those days. This vast territory in the year 1842 cast but 132 votes, but is now covered from north to south with princely dwellings and splendid farms, embracing at least ten thousand votes. Among the cherished history of our county life is the fact of the sobriety and good government of our people. We owe much of this to the fact that our judiciary set us examples from which we never departed. Our first circuit judge was David R. Atchison, afterwards senator, vice president, and, by a peculiar combination of circumstances, was President of the United States for one day. His body lies in the Plattsburg cemetery. He was succeeded on the bench by Austin A. King, afterwards governor of Missouri. He in turn was succeeded by George W. Dunn, the "noblest Roman of them all." Probably no man ever sat on the bench who gathered the affections of the people as did Judge Dunn. Refusing to take the oath prescribed by the Gamble Convention, he was succeeded by Governor King, who was in turn succeeded by Col. Walter King, his son. The latter was impeached because he would not enforce the drastic laws of the Drake Constitution. Under the disfranchising laws of those days. Philander Lucas was elected judge. The disfranchisement being abolished. Judge Dunn was again called to the bench, and he served until old age disqualified him. He was succeeded by the election of Judge James M. Sandusky, and but few men ever acquitted themselves with rarer ability than he. He was succeeded by our fellow townsman, Judge William S. Herndon, who left a bright judicial history behind him. Judge Herndon was succeeded by our present judge, Alonzo D. Burnes, who is serving his third term. The last three named judges are native born Missourians, sons of the early pioneers, and the reins of judicial authority are being held by men bred among the people of this state—who, with rare ability and still rarer courage, enforce the rights of the citizens to the last degree. I point to these men and the records they made with the pride of one who has grown up to manhood under their leadership.

Location and Area

The location of Clinton County is most favorable. It is bound on the north by DeKalb County, on the east by Caldwell and Ray counties, on the south by Clay County, and on the west by Buchanan and Platte counties. It contains about four hundred and twenty square miles. Clinton is the smallest county in Missouri in area excepting Clay, Cole, DeKalb, Dunklin, Grundy, Hickory, Mississippi, Moniteau, New Madrid, Schuyler, Scott, Warren, and Worth. It is divided into nine townships, Jackson, Lathrop, Shoal, Clinton, Concord, Platte, Hardin, Atchison, and Lafayette.

Some Firsts

Gov. Daniel Dunklin appointed John P. Smith, Archibald Elliott, and Stephen Jones judges of the County Court, and these gentlemen held their first court of March 11, 1833, at the house of Laban Ganet. Other first officers of the county were : Richard R. Rees, county and circuit clerk; Elijah Fry, assessor; Washington Huffaker, collector; Levi Thatcher, surveyor, and John Biggerstaif, treasurer.

All the first settlements were made near a water course or spring, and universally in the timber, more regard being had for wood and water than for the high rolling prairies, which have since been a source of so much wealth and profit to the people of the county.

For some time previous to the organization of the county there were trading posts, stores, mills or blacksmith shops, and the early settler was compelled to secure his supplies from the Missouri River. For several years Smith's, in Clay County (now Smithville), was the nearest mill for the whole settlement in the north part of Clay and all of Clinton County.

The first blacksmith shop in Clinton County was opened about three miles south of Plattsburg on what is known as the G. M. Hiett farm, by John Vassar.

The first store in the county was opened by E. M. Samuel, in a log house situated on the south side of the public square in the Town of Plattsburg ; the building was erected by Solomon Fry, at a cost of $150. This, it appears, was the first building erected in the Town of Plattsburg, except a small house, about ten feet square, built of logs and poles by Richard R. Rees, near a point where the railroad crosses Main Street and which was occupied by him as a law office.

The first mill was erected by Benjamin and Elijah Fry, on Smith's Fork of Platte, near the old site of Bainbridge. About the same time one of the Vassars erected an old-fashioned horse mill, about three miles southwest of Plattsburg.

On the 5th of November, 1833, Washington Huffaker made the first settlement as collector ever made in Clinton County, which was in words and figures as follows: To amount of tax list, $82.98%; by delinquent list, $5.77%; by commission, $5.40i/^ ; by amount paid in county warrants, $38.25 ; by amount paid in current money, $33.56 ; total amount accounted for, $82.98%.

The first election of county officers was held on the first Monday in August, 1834.

In 1835 the name of the seat of justice was changed from Springfield to Plattsburg.

The first preachers who ventured into the wilds of Clinton County were William Caples, of the M. E. Church South, and Duke Young, of the Christian Church.

It is said that David Hughes was the first physician in the county, and Richard R. Rees the first lawyer.

The first road petitioned for and established was the Plattsburg and Richmond road.

The first bridge erected in Clinton County was across Horse Fork of Platte River, at a place where the railroad bridge now spans said stream, just east of Plattsburg.

The following is the writ issued by the clerk to the sheriff of the county, commanding him to summon the first grand jury:

"State of Missouri, County of Clinton,

The State of Missouri to the Sheriff of Said County, Greeting

We command you to summon a grand jury for the body of the County of Clinton, to meet at the house of John Biggerstaff, on the first Thursday after the second Monday in June next, to consist of a number not exceeding twenty-three, nor less than sixteen, to be good and lawful housekeepers, in the county aforesaid, who are then and there to serve as a grand jury, for the body of the County of Clinton aforesaid, and have you then and there this writ, with the names of the grand jurors.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and affixed my private seal—there being yet no seal of office prepared—this, the 6th day of May, A. D. 1833. Richard R. Rees, (Seal.) Clerk County Court."

On the reverse side of the writ is the following certificate made by the sheriff:

"I do hereby certify, that I executed the within, by summoning the following persons to attend, as grand jurymen, viz: James McKown, CoUett Haynes, Bartholomew Thatcher, Jolm L. Owens, John McKown, William Livingston, Armstrong McClintock, Samuel H. Vassar, Joseph Castile, Samuel G. Biggerstaff, John Holman, William Allen, Benjamin F. Wilkerson, John Elliott, Joseph Elliott, Lorenzo J. Froman, Hiram Ferrel, Joseph Buckridge, John Livingston, John F. Cox, Jonithan Ligget, and Thomas Stanton.

This 13th day of June, 1833. Thompson Smith, Sheriff of Clinton County

All of the above named persons, who constituted the first grand jury of the county, are dead.

The first case on the docket was Henry Green vs. Benjamin B. Becket, bearing date June 13, 1833. The attorneys present were Amos Rees, W. T. Wood, D. R. Atchison and A. W. Doniphan.


The Clinton County of yesterday, while rich in history and wonderful in the accomplishment of her citizens, is but a spring of hope for the Clinton County of tomorrow.

We will build still to a higher eminence our schools, improve our towns, build highways which can be used at all seasons of the year. No difference how swift the stream, the people will cross. No difference how great the difficulties, they will be overcome. Clinton County faces the future with confidence, and is hopeful and unafraid. It requires no prophet to foresee continued advancement.

A History Of Northwest Missouri by Walter Williams Volume 1 of 3 - 1915

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