County History

History of Cole County


Cole County was named, in 1820, in honor of Capt. Stephen Cole, who erected Cole's Fort where the town of Boonville now stands, during the War of 1812, as a protection against the British Indians or allies.

Boundary and Area.—This county and Monitean form the center of the State, the east line of Cole being 15° 2' west of the longitude of Washington, and the county seat 38° 85' north latitude. The Osage River forms the eastern and southeastern boundary, the line of Miller County the southern and southwestern, the line of Moniteau the western, and the Missouri River the northern boundary. The area is estimated at about 400 square miles, and the population (1889) at 23,000.


The Moniteau Creek enters the Missouri one mile above the old town of Marion; Bock Creek, two miles below Marion; Gray's, three and one-half miles above Jefferson City; Wear's Creek, at Jefferson City; Moreau Creek, three miles below, and the Osage, seven miles below. The north, south and Clark's branches of the Moreau and Honey Creek water the central sections; Tavern Creek, Bois Brule and several unnamed feeders of the Osage, the southern sections.

The Osage was known to the French traders and trappers of the last century, who named the river, in honor of the tribe who dwelt here, Ouachage, or " The Strong." Gray's Creek was named by the pioneer, John Colgan, who lost an old gray mare there in the fall and found her the following spring in good condition.   The valleys of the Missouri and of the Osage bordering on Cole County are rarely picturesque, here narrowed by lime-stone bluffs, there widening out into the most fertile fields.


The second magnesium limestone is the native stone of the county. On Moreau Creek, two miles southwest of Jefferson, the second sandstone finds a home; while in the vicinity of Rook Creek and north to Marion encrinital and Chouteau lime-stone hold the leading place. Near the mouth of Rock Creek saccharoidal sandstone abounds, also on Clark's Fork, in Township 43, Range 13. Lead is found everywhere in Township 43, Range 14, or the southwest corner of the county north of Lohman and near the confluence of the Moreau Forks, as well as near Elston and Centre Town, at Locust Mound, and northward near the Missouri in Township 43, Range 13. The discovery dates back to 1820, but not until 1827 did the enterprising Chouteau build his furnace here. Round Pratt's Mills the lead mining and smelting industry has been carried on for sixty years, yielding, it is estimated, 15,000,000 pounds of leaden ore. The lead discoveries near Pratt's Mills, eleven miles south of Centre Town, in September, 1871, yielded 78 per cent of pure metal T. J. Scott, the owner of the land, sold it to the Osage Coal and Mining Company for $4,000.

Near Turner's Mill, on the Bois Brule, the sulphate of baryta deposits have been developed for years, and a stamp mill operated there, the product finding a ready sale. Coal exists north and south of the railroad, between Centre Town and Elston, near Hickory Hill and in the Brazito neighborhood. The old supply mines, however, were north of the Missouri, developed by Adams and Richardson years ago, while neglecting the richer deposits nearer home. Iron ore exists in Township 43, Range 11, Section 13, and south of Osage Bluff; but in what quantities is unknown, as there never was a thorough exploration made.


All the trees and shrubs common to Central Missouri find a genial home here, particularly fruit trees, vines and berry bushes The failure of the fruit trees in 1838 or 1839 has never been repeated in this section, and partial failure has only followed the husbandman's care a few times in a half century. The soil of the county is undeniably among the most productive in the State.   Corn and wheat attain the greatest perfection in the valleys of this county, and the hills seldom refuse to Buccor whatever seeds the agriculturist intrusts to them. Insect plagues are unheard of, if the visitors of 1870 are omitted. It is supposed that in the year named worms entered the county archives, and within a short time carried out the work of destruction which leaves the old records in their present condition. The worms were about one inch long, red in color, and unknown to local naturalists.


The reptile class is fairly represented through-out the county; but they are only remnants of the droves of wild animals which the pioneers found here seventy-six years ago. The beginnings of settlement in 1816, and the wholesale purchase and improvement of lands in 1820-24, were too pronounced for the Indian, wolf, deer, bear and elk, so that all had to retire before the advance of civilization's vanguard. Birds are found here as in the olden days, but feathered visitors from other climes monopolize attention.


In July, 1837, the Missouri and Osage floods occurred, the waters of the Osage being almost as high as in 1828, but not so high as during the great flood of June, 1844. During the year 1837,100 steamboats landed at Jefferson, where twelve years before only one steamboat had stopped.


Throughout the county springs are numerous, the old spring, one mile south of the capital, being the first and best known, as there one of the first Fourth of July celebrations in Cole County was held.

In 1881 the Hickory Hill mineral springs were discovered, the waters analyzed, and, of course, found to contain the elixir of life.


The population of Cole County in 1831 was 1,028; in 1830, 3,006, and in 1840, 9,286; reduced to 6,696 in 1850, owing to the setting off of Moniteau County in 1845. The white population in 1840 included 856 males under 5 years, 683 between 5 and 10, 548 between 10 and 15, 437 between 15 and 20, 1,224 between 20 and 40, 535 between 40 and 70, 24 between 70 and 80, and 4 between 80 and 100 years of age. There were 1,493 females under 10 years, 900 between 10 and 20, 972 between 20 and 40, 385 between 40 and 70, 12 between 70 and 100. There were 28 free colored males, 6 colored free females and 1,179 slaves; the total population being 9,286, of whom 2,498 were engaged in agriculture, 877 in manufactures and trades, 55 in commerce, 12 in navigation, 52 in the learned professions, 5 pensioners of the Revolution, 34 in mining. There were 788 persons over 20 years old who could not read nor write, although there were 14 schools, attended by 314 pupils, and 2 academies, attended by 74 pupils.

The statistics of assessment for 1861 show 9,697 inhabitants; 1,770 town lots and 209,903 acres,valued at $1,515,494; 779 slaves, at $216,475; moneys and notes, $289,632; other property, $236,390, or a total of $2,257,991. The number of polls was 1,521, and the total tax levied, $14,649.11, as follows: Non-resident road tax, $253.58; poll tax, $1,140.75; State tax, $4,515.98; county tax, $5,644.98; lunatic asylum, $376.33; interest fund, $2,257.99; military tax, $459.50. Non-residents owned 575 town lots and 21,988 acres, valued at $126,790; valued at only $126,790 and taxed only $974.39.

The population by townships in 1870 was as follows: Clark, 800; Jefferson, 1,839; Jefferson City, 4,420; Liberty,901; Marion, 1,108; Moreau, 620; and Osage, 604, or a total of 10,292. The true valuation of real and personal property was estimated at $7,000,000, and the assessed valuation placed at $4,115,112. The bonded debt W68 $54,700 and current debt, $4,000.

The population in 1880by townships was: Clark, 1,646; Jefferson, 2,560; Liberty, 1,260; Marion, 1,846; Moreau, 1,736, and Osage, 1,196; Jefferson City's population was 5,271. There were 10,527 missionaries, 2,149 natives of other States, 1,572 Germans, 186 Irish, 60 English and Welsh, 47 Canadians, 18 Scotch, 22 French and 6 Swedes. There were 1,344 farms and 104,288 acres of improved lands. The figures included 868 colored residents, giving a total of 15,515, increased within the last nine years to at least 23,000.


Throughout the county, and particularly in the river valleys or on the bluffs, numerous artificial mounds exist   Their origin was unknown to the Osages, and remains unknown to our own civilization, although the country is full of speculations pertaining thereto. From Mr. Meagher's paper on this subject, published last year, the following account of ancient mounds and burial-grounds in Cole County is taken. Comparing it with accounts of explorations in Moniteau County, it will be seen that the same peoples were engaged in this work. Speaking of Cole County, Mr. Meagher says:

These remains of a vanished people consist of an earth-walled fort, at the Junction of the Osage and Missouri rivers, and of several hundred mounds of sepulture, or burial-mounds, which with the exception of one at the great bend of the Osage river, which is of stone, are constructed of earth. Han; of them occupy the tops of the most prominent bluffs along the Missouri, Osage and Moreau Rivers, though their prosecco in the bottoms and valleys is neither rare nor unusual, one of the largest in the county being thus situated. In form they are either circular or elliptical, generally the former. Their diameters vary from six to sixty feet, their height from three to fifteen feet. Occasionally one is found of much greater dimensions. They are always along or in the vicinity of some water-course, this being a rule of location never deviated from by their builders. This same rule was always followed in the location of camping-grounds and village sites. The number of these mounds within the county has never been ascertained, but there must be several hundred of them. Dr. N. DeWyl says there arc not less than fifty along the Missouri River between this city and the mouth of the Osage. A great many, a few being of rock, are to be found in the valleys and on the tops of the bluffs along the Osage River, as well as along the other streams of the county. The collections which have excited the greatest interest are to be found on the farm of Mrs, Eliza Ewing. near the mouth of the Osage River; on the farm of the late George Walthers, just east of the Moreau, near where it empties into the Missouri; on the Munger place, two miles east of Jefferson City; on Dr. A. O. Davison's farm, near the mouth of Gray's Greek, and on the place of the late Dr. James Mc. Workman, on the Missouri River, One or more of the mounds In each of these different collections have been explored imperfectly; as a consequence it is difficult to obtain accurate information concerning their Interior construction and contents. One of the eleven mounds on Mrs. Ewing's place was opened some years ago. In it was found a stone vault or tomb rectangular in shape, walled in at the sides and ends and covered over at the top with rough loose rock. This stone grave contained the bones of two human skeletons. In another mound human bones were found about two feet below the surface, but no stone grave, indicating that the bodies had been thrown together in a promiscuous heap and covered over with earth. In still another, charcoal and the charred remains of the dead were found at about the same distance from the surface.

George T. White, of Jefferson City, says the late Mr. Walthers told him some years since that when he built his farm residence on his place, just east of the Moreau, near its mouth, he located It at the foot of a large elliptical mound, about fifty feet in diameter, and ten or twelve feet high. Afterward, finding this mound shut off the air from his house, ho had it dug down, using the earth taken from It to terrace his dooryard. When, In removing this mound, the bottom was reached, it was found to contain two atone graves, in each of which were the skeleton remains of a single person, with some charcoal and fragments of coarse pottery of crude make. The position »f the bones indicated that the bodies to which they belonged had been buried head to bead, the feet of one pointing up the Missouri River and the feet of the other pointing down that stream. In some of the fragments of pottery were found a black, sooty sub-stance of a pasty character. It is supposed that the bodies were those of a man and his wife, though their sex is unknown. The walls of the stone graves were built of loose rock, taken from a place near by, where a pile of similar rock was then to be seen. This mound was leveled about nine years ago. This statement of Mr. White has been confirmed by George Walthers, now living on his father's place.

In April and May, 1879, Oscar W. Collet, of the Missouri Horticultural Society, spent several weeks in this county collecting Indian relics and curiosities. During his stay here a large mound on the Hunger place was opened, and in it was found a walled, vault-like chamber or tomb similar to those mentioned. This chamber was about eight feet in length by five in width, and between four and five feet in height. It was walled and covered over with coarse loose rock. The large stone grave was filled with human bones, and contained the skeletons of perhaps fifty persona. Neither charcoal nor pottery wore found. The bones, many of which were quite large, crumbled to dust upon being exposed to the air. They indicated, by the position in which they were found, that the bodies had been thrown into the grave in a promiscuous heap, except one, evidently a chief, who was placed in a sitting position as a mark of honor to his rank. Daring this visit Mr. Collet opened one of the mounds on Dr. A. C. Davison's place, just below the mouth of Gray's Creek. In this mound was also found a stone grave containing several skeletons. Dr. Davison excavated a cistern down through the center of another one. At a depth of three feet human bones were found, but no stone grave.

In the early part of December, 1887, Freeman Knife, a farmer and a native of Cole County, died, and his remains, in compliance with his ante-mortem request, were buried in a mound on a bluff above the Missouri, about midway between the Workman place and Marion. In digging the grave for tho reception of Knife's remains a number of human bones were disinterred and exposed to view. Their position when found indicated that the dead bodies of those to whom they belonged had been piled, one upon another, in a promiscuous heap and covered over with earth. On each Bide of this mound was a low wall of loose rock. Concerning such of these burial mounds as are within the limits of the city. Gen. James L. Minor says: " The capitol is built on one of such mounds, and in its excavation the workmen exposed a great number of bones and pieces of pottery." He adds, also, that he is " informed by Judge Kvekel that a mound was excavated on his beautiful place in our city in which were found the moldering skeleton of a large man and three or four smaller bodies." Besides the few fragments discovered in two or three of these mounds very little pottery has been found in the county. Dr. DeWyl says, however, that mussel shells and pieces of pottery are to be met with on the surface of the ground along Boggs' Creek, on the sites, evidently, of Indian camping-grounds,

The bodies that ore simply covered over with earth, and which are found near the surface, are later and more recent burials than those in the stone tombs, which ore never found except at the bottoms of the mounds. In some mounds skeletons have been found near the surface, and the atone graves, containing other skeletons, many feet below them. An exception to this seems to be the mound through which Dr. Davison dug his cistern. It was a custom of many Indian tribes to appropriate these mounds for the burial of their own dead. An instance of this kind occurred in this county some fourteen or fifteen years ago. A squaw, belonging to a party of Indians who were passing through this section, died, and her companions buried her remains in the mound afterward opened on the Hunger place.

Mention has been made of rock mounds. So far as known, there is but one of this class in the county. It is on the top of a high bluff in the great bend of the Osage, a cone-shaped pile of loose rock.

The only walled fort or inclosure within the county is situated on the bluff at the junction of the Osage and Missouri Rivers. It is situated in an angle the apex of which is at the point where those two streams unite. Across the base of this angle, extending from the edge of the bluff over the Missouri to the edge of the bluff over the Osage, is an earthen wall five or six feet in height and at least 100 feet long. In the center of the wall is an opening used as the entrance to the fort. The steep bluffs along the Osage and the Missouri Rivers protect the sides of this fort. Outside of this wall is a fosse or ditch, from which the earth was taken to construct the fortification. Inside are three mounds. One of these, and the larger one, is near the center of the inclosed space. The others are close to the wall, one near the Osage, and the other near the Missouri River side. Whether this fortification is the work of the mound builders or was erected by the early French traders, cannot be determined. The presumption is that the inclosure and the mounds are the work of one people. A curious relic is to be found on the Osage County side of the Osage River, near Castle Rock, known as the "Painted Rock." The ledge of rock on which appears the painting which gives it its name begins about twenty feet above the edge of the river. About twenty-five feet up the side of the ledge, which is perpendicular, is found painted in red pigment, which rubbing will not efface, a well-defined picture of a buffalo, and a number of hieroglyphics, the meaning of which none have been able to make out. The picture of the buffalo is about the size of a small dog. This painting has been on these rocks since before the first settlement of the county, and has attracted much attention. Who painted them can only be conjectured.

Mr. Collet thinks the mounds in Cole County are not more than three hundred years old. Other writers give eight hundred years as the age of like mounds elsewhere, while still others claim for them the greatest antiquity. It was the opinion of the late Dr. Davison that the mounds of this county are not more than two centuries old. He believed they contain the remains of Indians slain in battle and of prisoners burned at the stake. The mounds in which stone graves are found, and which are always farthest east, are the ones in which the builders buried their own dead. The mounds in which no stone graves are found contain the dead of their foes. These are in the middle. The mounds in which charcoal and calcined bones are found contain the charred remains of prisoners burned at the stake. These mounds are the smallest and the farthest west. Gen. Minor says he frequently heard, during the earlier years of his residence in the county, that when the Indians passed one of these mounds they would stop, uncover and repeat something like a prayer as a mark of reverence for the dead. They would also throw stones upon the mound, evidently to keep it built up, so that it might not be entirely obliterated by the Mirages of time, while the act of reference mast be attributed to the lessons taught years before by the Jeeult fathers of the West.

Beck. In his Gazette of Missouri. mentions a large mound on the Osage River. which had been erected in the early part of the present century, by the Osages. in honor of one of their dead chiefs. This is probably the same mound referred to by Ut. Sibley, who derived his Information from a chief of the Osages. "He stated that the mound was built when he was a boy, over the body of a chief called Jean Defoe, by the French, who unexpectedly died while his warriors were absent on a hunting expedition. Upon their return they heaped s mound over his remains, enlarging it at intervals for a long period until it reached its present height."—Featherstonaugh's Travels, p. 70.

The mounds of Cole County should claim from the historical society and from the State marked attention. A few more years and they will have disappeared under the ravages of progress, and for thousands of years the world will look in vain for actual testimonials of a people who were here before us. Preserve these precious monuments of an age gone by, so that those who are to come will not charge the present with vandalism and ignorance.

Original data: History of Cole, Moniteau, Morgan, Benton, Miller, Maries, and Osage Counties, Missouri. Chicago, IL, USA: Goodspeed Publishing, 1889

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