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DeKalb County

DeKalb County History

DeKalb County.—A county in the northwestern part of the State, bounded on the north by Gentry; east by Daviess and Caldwell; south by Clinton, and west by Andrew and Buchanan Counties. It is nearly square and contains 411 7/8 square miles, or 263,608 acres. Its altitude is about 1,000 feet above the sea level, and its latitude about the same as that of Indianapolis and Philadelphia. The surface is generally undulating, no considerable part being too broken for cultivation. The greater portion is rolling prairie, the soil deep and fertile. The timber is found along the streams, in the most considerable bodies in the southern part, and consists of walnut, oak, elm, sycamore, hickory, linden, maple, ash, buckeye, cottonwood and dogwood. The streams are Grindstone Creek, a large tributary of Grand River; Lost Creek, Owen's Creek, Peach Creek, Irving's Branch, East Lost Creek, Muddy Creek, Morgan's Branch, Big Fork, Butler Creek, Big Third Fork, Crooked Creek, Little Third Fork and Evan's Branch. Springs abound and wells dug to the depth of thirty feet yield good water. Limestone of fine quality is found in nearly all parts of the county and sandstone abounds on Grindstone Creek. The extreme range of temperature is 101 degrees Fahrenheit in summer, to 26 degrees below zero in winter. The county is devoted to agriculture, the principal crops cultivated being wheat, corn, oats, barley, rye and grass, with cattle, hogs, sheep and horses as the product of feeding and pasturing. Wild fruit abounds, and apples and grapes yield abundantly. The average rainfall is about twenty-eight inches, and a destructive drouth was never known. Bluegrass, clover and timothy are the principal grasses, though other choice varieties thrive, and the rearing of animals is easy and profitable. In the first settlement of the county, game of the noblest kind was abundant. Deer were to be seen in herds, which sometimes numbered a hundred head; wild turkeys, geese, grouse, prairie chicken and duck were so plentiful that they hardly needed to be hunted, and the settler's trusty rifle kept his table bountifully supplied with meat. Mills for grinding were among the first urgent wants. One of the earliest was David Whittaker's mill on Grindstone Creek, in Grand River Township. William Hunter put up a horse mill and small distillery in the northeast corner of that township at an early day, and William Thornton and Adam Kerns put up a horse mill in Washington Township. The old military trail between Liberty, Clay County and Council Bluffs ran through the county, and the earliest bit of history of DeKalb County relates how three United States soldiers carrying the mail over this trail in the winter of 1824-5 were overtaken by a snow storm and bewildered. Two of them burrowed into a snow drift, near the present site of Maysville, while the third managed to return to Liberty and tell the story of their sufferings. Rescuers started out to succor the two in the snow drift, who were found with hands and feet frozen, and nearly dead from four days' starvation. "Lost Creek," near where the unfortunate men found a dreary shelter in the snow drift, perpetuates the memory of the disaster. Samuel Vesser, a French Canadian, who had a cabin north of the present site of Stewartsville, in 1824, is supposed to have been the first white resident of the county. He did not remain after other settlers began to come, and nothing more of him is known. Abraham Stanley located in what is now Washington Township, about 1830, but moved away two years later. Several settlers came into Washington Township in 1838 and 1839, but their names are not preserved. In 1842 Thomas Yallalee, from South Carolina, made a settlement a mile northeast of where Stewartsville now stands, and the same year a man named Tinney, from Tennessee, settled near him. Evan Evans about the same time settled in the western part of Washington Township. He was an enterprising man and built the first distillery. Isaac Agee and James Torrey located in Washington Township about 1839, and about the same time came Elder Jesse Todd, a Baptist preacher from Kentucky. He was the first resident clergyman in the county, and was highly esteemed. In 1840 William Thornton, a brother-in-law of Elder Todd, accompanied by his sons, Jeremiah, Jeptha, John and Thomas R. Thornton, all of whom became prominent citizens, located in Washington Township, and the same year John F. Doherty, of East Tennessee, settled in the county. When DeKalb County was organized Mr. Doherty was made the first county clerk, and was afterward elected to the Legislature for several terms. Sherman Township was settled first by persons who came from Kentucky and Tennessee, John Means, William Means, Nathan Morgan, with his six sons, and Greenup Gibson being among those who came in the early forties. The settlement of Adams Township began about the year 1840, when several families located on Grindstone Creek. Dallas and Grant Townships were settled in 1839, when James Green and Mason Cope built on Lost Creek. In 1840 James Sherard settled near the present site of Fairport. He came originally from Vermont, and was accompanied by his five sons, all of whom became influential citizens. Levi Thatcher, Andrew Wood, James Davis and George Ward were among the earliest settlers. Camden Township was settled in 1844-5, James M. Arrington, from Tennessee, locating there in 1844. He afterward became county clerk and served in the Legislature. Other early settlers were Ephraim Porter, William Coen, William McClain, John McCall, George Ireland, Tompkins Jones, James M. Skidmore, Thomas and James Davis, George W. McPherson, and his brother, Hugh L. McPherson. Grand River Township was settled in 1839, the first settlers being Edward Smith, from Tennessee; William Hunter, Albert H. Owens, Samuel McCorkle, John Wright, James Shaw, Michael Moore, Daniel Parks, Dr. A. T. Downing, David Whittaker and Simon Hixson. Colfax was the latest settled township in the county. Its first settlers were Thompson Smith, Neville Stevens, Rev. Elijah Moore, Andrew Potter, Littleton Roberts, Ellis Coen, Mrs. Kibby, Dr. Smith and Thomas Edie. One of the first settlers in Polk Township was Samuel Livingston, from St. Louis, who located there in 1843. Not long after, James Robinson, with his sons, Edward, Thomas and Joseph, arrived. DeKalb County was originally a part of Ray County. In January, 1843, an act of the Legislature was passed establishing the boundaries of DeKalb County, and in February, 1845, an act was passed providing for the organization of the county. Henry Brown, of Andrew; Peter Price, of Daviess, and Martin M. Nagh, of Clinton County, were made commissioners to locate the permanent seat of justice, and the dwelling house of Henry Hunter, two miles southeast of Maysville, was designated as a place for holding the courts. The commissioners selected the northeast quarter of Section 34, Township 59, Range 31, near the geographical center of the county, for the county seat, and Thompson Smith entered it for the county in the land office at Plattsburg, and a patent was issued for it. The first county court met at the house of Thomas Hunter, May 25, 1845, the justices, Elias Parrott, James McMahan and Henry Ritchey, being present with Charles Allen, sheriff, and John F. Doherty, clerk, all being from Tennessee. Andrew Hainer, from Ohio, was treasurer; Charles H. Allen, who had been elected sheriff, refused to qualify, and Andrew H. Skidmore was appointed in his place; James McKowen was appointed assessor, and John F. Doherty was made clerk of both courts, serving until the following year, when he was succeeded by James M. Arrington. The report of the commissioners locating the seat of justice, and giving the name of Maysville to the place, was received and approved, and G. W. McPherson was appointed to lay the place off in lots. Five townships were organized, Camden, Dallas, Polk, Grand River and Washington. The first term of the circuit court was held in the log residence of John Buckingham, which stood a mile and three quarters from the present site of Maysville, Honorable Austin A. King presiding. The following year Walter Doak, by order of the county court, built a double log house with two fifteen-foot rooms on the east side of the public square in Maysville, and into it the county offices were moved in 1847. This served until 1852, when a new brick courthouse, two stories high, a court room and two offices below, and the other offices above, was built, at a cost of $3,750. This building was occupied until 1878, when it was burned down, many of the records being destroyed with it. In 1880 a proposition to build a new courthouse was submitted to the people, but defeated through the opposition of the citizens in the southern part of the county, who favored the removal of the county seat to Stewartsville. In 1881 the proposition was again submitted and again lost; and in 1882 it was submitted a third time, and a third time defeated. But in 1884 the county court submitted the proposition the fourth time, and it was carried by a vote of 1,960 for, to 983 against, and a new and capacious courthouse was erected, by contract, for $32,497. The first deed on record in the county is dated August 27, 1845, made by Charles Pryor and Catherine, his wife, of Gentry County, Missouri, to John Montgomery, of Jackson County, Missouri, conveying eighty acres, consideration $150. In 1872 the people of the county voted in favor of township organization, and their organization was accomplished the following year. In 1859 the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad was built through the southern part of the county. In 1886 the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific was built through the county, running north and south; and the same year the St. Joseph & Des Moines Narrow Gauge Road, passing through the northwest corner of the county, became part of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, and was changed to standard gauge. The first two of these roads have been of great advantage to the county. The earliest preachers in DeKalb County were Elders Jesse Todd and John M. Evans, from Kentucky, and the first church in the county was the Baptist, of twenty-two members, organized by them in what is now Washington Township in 1842.

The first newspaper published in DeKalb County was the "Stewartsville Telegraph," established about the year 1858 by Alstott & Williams. It suspended in 1861. In 1865 the DeKalb County "Register" was established at Maysville by Day & Howe. In 1878 the Stewartsville "News," which had been published since 1870, was removed to Maysville and consolidated with the "Register," the new paper being called the "Register News." Its name was afterward changed to the "Maysville Register." In 1877 the "Stewartsville Independent" was started, and the same year the "DeKalb County Republican," both these papers continuing and becoming prosperous. In 1884 the "Investigator"' was established at Osborne, and in 1886 the "Comet" was first published in Union Star; and about the same time the "Weekly News" was started at Stewartsville. The papers of the county exhibit intelligence and local spirit and are a credit to the State.

In 1899 there were eighty-one white schools and one colored school in DeKalb County; 132 teachers; estimated value of school property, $65,412; enrollment of pupils, 4,715; number of volumes in the libraries of the county, 447, valued at $383; receipts for school purposes, $31,693; school fund, $45,946. In the year 1898 there was shipped from the county 17,100 head of cattle, 63,200 head of hogs, 1,120 head of sheep, 680 head of horses and mules, 2,548 bushels of wheat, 1,938 bushels of oats, 74,500 bushels of corn, 20 tons of hay, 18,074 pounds of flour, 109,470 pounds of corn meal, 14,300 pounds of shipstuff, 69,315 pounds of timothy seed, 10,300 feet of lumber, 12,000 feet of walnut logs, 4,198 pounds of wool, 338,700 pounds of poultry, 320,900 dozens of eggs, 121,340 pounds of butter, 17,000 pounds of cheese, 1,934 pounds of dressed meat, 2,640 pounds of game and fish, 4,132 pounds of peltries, 2,255 pounds of fresh fruit, 10,820 pounds of nursery stock, 22,010 gallons of milk, and other produce in smaller quantities. The State auditor's report for 1898 shows for DeKalb County, 266,070 acres of land, valued for tax purposes at $1,034,616; town lots, 285, valued at $115,445; total real estate, $1,150,061; 6,618 horses, valued at $115,497; 1,538 mules, valued at $30,447; 45 asses and jennets, valued at $1,199; 9>5°4 head of neat cattle, valued at $106,313; 8,070 head of sheep, valued at $9,702; 27,528 head of hogs, valued at $36,070; money, bonds and notes, $161,537; corporate companies, $25,615; all other personal property, $122,420; total personal property, $608,835total real estate and personal, $1,758,896. The railroad and telegraph property in the county was assessed at $583,557. The total taxable property of the county was $4,296,425, and the taxes levied were, for State revenue, $6,455;for State interest, $4,303; for all county purposes, $23,796. DeKalb County has no county nor township bonded debt. At the present time there are nine townships in DeKalb County, named respectively, Adams, Camden, Colfax, Dallas, Grand River, Grant, Polk, Sherman and Washington. The population of DeKalb County in 1900 was 14,418
(Source: Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri, Vol. II, by Howard L. Conard, Pub. 1901)


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