Cooper County, Missouri

County History

Cooper County.—This County is situated on the south bank of the Missouri River, and is one of the central counties of the State. Originally its territory, with more than thirty of the present counties of the State, formed a part of Howard County, which was organized by the Territorial Legislature January 23, 1816. December 17, 1818, Cooper County was organized, its area comprising all the territory of Howard lying south of the Missouri River. Its boundaries at that time were the Missouri River on the north, the Osage River on the east and south, and what was then known as the western boundary of the Territory (and the present boundary line between Missouri and Kansas) was its western boundary. It included the territory of the present counties of Cooper, Saline, Lafayette, Jackson, Cass, Henry, Johnson, Pettis, Morgan, Moniteau and Cole, and parts of Bates, St. Clair, Benton, Camden and Miller Counties, eleven of the present counties and parts of five others. At different times since, the other counties were organized out of the territory of Cooper, the last being Moniteau, which was formed February 14, 1845, and reduced Cooper County to its present limits.

The county was called Cooper County in honor either of Colonel Benjamin Cooper or Captain Sarshel Cooper. The former, with his family, originally of Madison County, Kentucky, came to the present territory of Howard County from Loutre Island and settled in the Missouri Bottom, opposite Arrow Rock and near Boone's Salt Lick. Governor Lewis ordered this adventurous settler and his family back for better protection, but in 1810 he returned to the place which he had selected for his home and settled there permanently. Colonel Cooper was a member of the Senate in 1820. Sarshel Cooper was a great Indian-fighter, and built Cooper's Fort, near Boone's Lick.

On the night of December 14, 1814, he was shot through the "chinkin" of his cabin, by an Indian and killed. At the time of the shooting he was holding in his lap an infant son, who escaped injury. Cooper was the grandfather of Colonel Stephen Cooper, of Howard County, the present State Senator from that district. William Christy and John G. Heath are said to have been the first white men who remained long enough within the limits of the present county of Cooper to establish a business of any kind. In 1808 they ascended the river from St. Louis, and for a time engaged in the manufacture of salt at the Salt Springs, on Heath's Creek, in the present township of Blackwater, Cooper County. Kinsmen of Christy now reside in St. Louis, and descendants of Heath in Howard County.  

The first permanent white settlers in Cooper County were Stephen and Hannah Cole, the last named being the widow of Stephen's brother, Nathan Cole. Stephen Cole and his family lived about a mile and a half east of the present location of Boonville, and Hannah Cole lived with her family east of the site of the city also, on a bluff overlooking the river on the top of which was built Cole's Fort. Stephen Cole's family consisted of himself and his wife Phoebe, and their children, James, Rhoda, Mark, Nelly and Polly Cole. In Hannah Cole's family there were herself and her children, Jennie, Mattie, Dickie, Nellie, James, Holbert, Stephen, William and Samuel, and in the two families there were seventeen persons in all. The first circuit court held in Howard County, then embracing the present territory of Cooper, was held in Cole's Fort, July 8, 1816, it then being the county seat of Howard County. David Barton, afterward United States Senator, was the judge of the court; Gray Bynum, clerk; John B. Heath, circuit attorney, and Nicholas S. Burckhartt, sheriff. The attorneys present at that session of court were Edward Bates, Joshua Barton—brother of Judge Barton, and afterward killed in a duel by Thomas C. Rector on Bloody Island—Lucius Easton and Charles Lucas.

The first tavern was established within the present limits of Cooper County by William Bartlett, near the mouth of Roupe's Branch, and within the present limits of the city of Boonville. The first dance ever given within these limits by white people was given at Bartlett's tavern on the occasion of its opening.

The first courthouse of the county was completed in 1823, and was a small two-story brick. The second courthouse, also a two-story brick, but much larger than the first, was erected in 1840, and, although about sixty years old and shivering in the weather to be displaced by a new one, is still used as the courthouse of Cooper County.

The first newspaper established in the county was the "Boonville Herald," publication of which was begun by James O. Middleton, with Benjamin Emmons Ferry as editor, in 1834. There are now eleven weekly papers published in the county, five of which are printed at Boonville.

The first election was held in the county August 2, 1819, to choose a delegate to Congress, and 138 votes were cast, nearly all of which were for John Scott, of Ste. Genevieve.

The first circuit court held in Cooper County proper began its session at the house of William Bartlett, March 1819, with David Todd as judge; R. P. Clark, clerk; William McFarland, sheriff, and John S. Brickey as prosecuting attorney. Samuel Peters was foreman of the first grand jury.

The first indictment presented was against Stanley G. Morgan for assault and battery, and this was done at the second term of the court, which began July 5, 1819.

The first civil suit was instituted in the county July 5, 1819, by George Wilcox, against R. P. Clark and Samuel S. Williams.

The first account rendered against Cooper County was by William Bartlett, who presented a bill of $6.00 for the rent of his house for court purposes.

 July 19, 1819, Asa Morgan, one of the owners of the land on which Boonville is located, was licensed to keep a ferry at Boonville across the Missouri River.

The first church was erected in the county in 1817, by the Baptist denomination. It was called Concord Church and was located about six miles south of the site of Boonville, with Rev. Luke Williams as its pastor. "Old Nebo Church," as it is now called, was erected in 1820, about one mile north of the present site of Bunceton, and was the second church built in the county.

The first school was taught in the county by William Anderson, near Concord Church, in 1817. The first Fourth of July celebration was held in the county at Boonville in 1820, and the orator of the day was Benjamin F. Hickox, father of Colonel Truman V. Hickox, an old and honored citizen, who yet lives near Boonville. It was for this occasion that a small wrought iron cannon was made by the pioneer village blacksmith, James Bruffee.

Cooper County has furnished two Governors of Missouri, John Miller, elected in 1825, and Lon V. Stephens, elected in 1896. Three of her citizens, John G. Miller, Theron M. Rice and John Cosgrove, have been Representatives in Congress, and one, Washington Adams, served as a member of the Supreme Court of Missouri.

It is conceded that it is legitimately a part of the history of a county to record its most important happenings and the progress, step by step, and year by year, of the development of its material, commercial, educational and moral interests; an account of the manners and customs of its people, its wars with Indians, and the participation of its inhabitants in other wars; the increase of its population, trade and production; and the organization and cultivation of the social forces which uplift human life to a higher plane.

But it is not the purpose of this paper to attempt all this, for to accomplish it, an exhaustive history far beyond the space to be occupied would be required. Therefore a sketch, or skeleton, is all that is possible under the circumstances, furnishing another, among many illustrations, of an oft quoted couplet from "David Everett's School of Declamation," written more than a century ago: "Large streams from little fountains flow, Tall oaks from little acorns grow."

We have noted the condition of Cooper County at, and for a few years after, its organization, more than three-quarters of a century ago. An answer to the question, "What are its conditions, environments and possibilities to-day?" will suggest, if it does not record, the history of the efforts and agencies employed to achieve the results.

An unusual, but very suggestive, incident will demonstrate not only the smallness of the population of the county in 1821—then only 3,483—but the insignificance of the taxable wealth of the people. During that year John V. Sharp, a Revolutionary soldier, who was a resident of the county, became paralyzed and wholly disqualified for making a living. Therefore he was a charge upon the county, and his board, clothing and care cost the county $2.00 per day. The county court, being unable to pay the bill, petitioned the Legislature, in 1822, to make an appropriation for his support, stating in the petition that the entire revenue of the county from taxes was not sufficient for his maintenance, the total taxes being only $718 per annum and the charge for Sharp $730. The Legislature did not respond and the court was compelled to make a special levy for the purpose from 1823 to 1828.

Cooper County has a long river frontage on its northern and northwestern boundaries. At the date of its organization it had a population of about 3,000. With its greatly reduced area, it now (1900) has a population of 22,532. The natural environments of both the county and its chief city, Boonville, assure them in large measure the advantages of natural drainage and consequent healthiness of topography. The surface of the county is rolling, and the lands are, as a rule, very fertile. While, of course, portions of the county are broken and the soil thin, there are many long and wide stretches, covering in the aggregate a large portion of the county's area, that are very sightly and attractive and as productive as any lands in the State.

The county now has many school and church edifices that are an honor to the Christian character, intelligence and enterprise of its people. Besides Boonville, there are in the county a number of beautiful and thrifty towns, chief among them being Bunceton, named for Harry Bunce; Otterville, Pilot Grove and Blackwater, with excellent schools, large churches, mills, banks, stores, newspapers, mechanical industries, improved streets, etc. Of lesser pretensions, and yet centers of activity and business, thrift and enterprise, are Pleasant Green, Clifton City, Sardine, Overton, Prairie Home and Pisgah.

No great interest in the county has shown more development than the breeding and improvement of horses, mules, cattle and hogs, and the stockmen of Cooper can justly claim as fine products in these lines as any in the State. Such streams as the Lamine, with its numerous confluents, Blackwater, Clear Creek, Petite Saline, Clark's Fork and others, which in earlier times were often unaffordable because of high water, are spanned by good bridges and are crossed by footmen, horsemen or wheeled vehicles, as if the streams did not exist.

Within the lifetime of a large proportion of the present population not a mile of railroad or telegraph existed in the county. Now two trunk lines of railroad, the Missouri, Kansas & Texas, and the Missouri Pacific, run through the county, the former from Boonville in a southwestern direction to Clifton City, near the Pettis County line, and the latter from Blackwater, near the Saline line, eastwardly and down the Missouri River to Boonville, thence south through the center of the county by way of Palestine, Bunceton and Vermont, to the northern boundary of Moniteau. In addition to all this, long-distance telephones connect many of the more important towns with Boonville. -Wm. F. Switzler.
[Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri: Edited by Howard Louis Conard; Publ. 1901; Pg. 121; Transcribed by Andrea Stawski Pack]

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