Gentry County Missouri
Gentry County Early Settlers & Pioneer Life
Source: History of Daviess and Gentry Counties Missouri – (Gentry County portion by R. M. McCammon and Mary McCammon Hillman)
Printed by Historical Publishing Company, 1922
Transcribed by Veneta McKinney
After 88 years, it is naturally impossible that any of the first settlers should still be living - The History of 1882 was prepared while Isaac Miller, one of the first four was still a resident of the county. At that time the leading facts could easily be verified. Logically the History of 1882 is the basis of authentic first things.
From the dawn of history, families, tribes, communities, and nations have taken keen delight in all facts and traditions concerning their origin, and early development.
In the larger sense the settlement and growth of Gentry County is part and parcel of that great immigration and conquest of the 19th century which followed as a natural result of the independence of the United States. The strong and resolute swarmed westward to subdue and occupy the Valley of the Mississippi and its tributaries. Gladstone declared it, "The greatest peaceful monument of Civilized Man, to the greatest tract of fertile land on the face of the Earth."
The present generation is close enough to this great beginning to have interests, many and varied and often personal, apart from that which is merely historical. It is possible to know whence we came, how we were derived, why we are what we are. It is possible, in considering the beginning of things less than 90 years ago in the wilds of Gentry County, to trace the influence of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Other influences are as easily and definitely traced. If the pioneers came with empty hands, they came with sound minds and strong hearts. They brought the experience of ages of struggle and progress and mental and moral attainments that go to explain their speedy and marvelous successes.
Each pioneer held one personal ambition - to win a home and the means of its maintenance, of this he was conscious. But in the mass the pioneers were part of something great, something racial and something national. They were empire builders.
The county is divided at the present time into eight municipal townships, as follows: Miller, Athens, Howard, Bogle, Wilson, Huggins, Cooper and Jackson. Settlement began in the spring of 1834, 11 years before the organization of the county. In this year came four men, Isaac and Tobias Miller, William Marton and John Roberts, natives of Kentucky and Tennessee, locating in what is now known as Miller Township at Greenwell Ford. With them this same year are associated the names of two others, David Henderson and Robert Ready. They raised a crop of corn on the north bank of Grand River.
In 1835 the second settlement was made, also in Miller Township near what is now known as Gentryville, when John Gulp, Benjamin Gulp and Elisha Gameron from Tennessee and Milton Foster from Kentucky, with some others from the same states located in the township.
In 1838, the first store was opened by a Mr. Stevenson, three miles northeast of Gentryville. Also in 1838, the first mill in the county was erected by Taylor McGully, four miles east of Gentryville.
In 1836 Daniel Saunders from North Carolina settled in Athens Township, two miles south of Albany, at Sandsville.
The first settlers usually selected timber land for homes and for cultivation. Most of them came from old forest regions, and all traditions were in favor of cleared land in preference to prairie.
As early as 1836, settlers began to arrive in ever increasing numbers, and by the time of county organization, in 1845, over two hundred prominent names - heads of families â€” were added to the few forerunners of 1834-35-36.
In 1838 the first school house was built, east of Gentryville, in the neighborhood of John D. Burbon and Jacob Jones. John Githius taught the first school during the winter of 1838-39. It was a log building 20 feet square with puncheon floor and roofed with clapboards ; in place of a window a log was left out on one side, and the space covered with greased paper.
In 1838 the first postoffice was established at Sandsville, two miles south of Albany. Daniel Saunders was postmaster and the mail was carried from Sandsville to Plattsburg, Clinton County by Levi Baldock, contractor.
In 1939 the first white child was born in the county, named Nancy M. Miller, daughter of Isaac Miller. She became the wife of W. P. Gartin.
In 1840 the first water mill was built at Gentryville by Charles Gay and John T. Hunter. It was a log house with one run of buhr stones. The mill stones were chipped from native "N---r Head" rocks by Joshua Potter, a pioneer citizen. This location was first called Gay's mill. The oldest town of the county grew up around it, and was for a time called Columbus. In 1850 the Legislature changed the name to the present name, Gentryville.
In 1842, four miles east of Gentryville, the first church house was built by James C. Patton and others. The denomination was New School Presbyterian (Mount Zion, or Brushy), but the building was free to all denominations, and was used by Methodists, Baptists and Christians.
The earliest preachers were John Udell and Hiram Wariner, Christians; Lorenzo D. Waugh, Methodist; and Timothy Morgan, Presbyterian.
In 1845 the county was organized and the first court house built.
April 3rd, 1845 - first marriage, Abraham Popples and Barbara Rhudy.
Pioneer life when fairly treated is of deepest interest to all who come after. Direct history records what they did and its results. This chapter, somewhat different, should tell how they did it. It should intimately and sympathetically enter into their daily life with its labor, patience, self-denial, handicaps, sufferings, its successes, its personal gladness, its neighborhood pleasures and its community achievements.
There is a sort of cumulative glamour attached to the reminiscences and traditions of the first year of pioneer experience. The personal triumphs are recalled and related, the anniversaries and various assemblings are in a manner relived again and again. All that was fine, joyous, successful, is preserved; much that was otherwise is dropped if not forgotten. It is therefore highly proper that the actual should be placed side by side with the more pleasurable traditional.
The pioneer, at his winter fireside, with his family about him is indeed a cheerful prospect. The cheeriness of the picture contrasts agreeably with the crudeness of his cabin and its meager furniture. However, but little of his life was spent at that cheerful fireside. His labor was heavy, and often vexatious. His days were slow and lonely. The immediate results were so slender that he was often discouraged. His implements were clumsy makeshifts, his motive power limited. He could only dream of the tools and teams he would like to have. The "good time coming" seemed very far off. If he had a journey to make, it was a serious matter. The imperfect trail would stretch itself, the hours would drag and the team would weary. He felt the discomfort of cold or heat, and the pangs of hunger. If a bridge were out, or a ford swollen, the delay would take his thoughts to the folks at home. Gloomy questionings would beset his mind and heart. When could he reach home? What were the folks thinking? Would they be afraid? Would they worry? Were they safe? Reaching home at last, he might be weather-worn and fatigued, until exhaustion rendered enjoyment impossible.
To many pioneers, it was an endless grind of toil, endurance, plain feeding and solid slumber. His brave, patient helpmeet, likewise, had much of loneliness. Perhaps she spent happy, hopeful hours helping with outside efforts, but in the cabin, alone or with infant children, how many hours of brooding solitude were hers. She too must dream of comforts for which her woman's soul was longing, so little that was convenient and encouraging, so little beauty, so much plainness. The wilderness without, frugality within. No neighbors within hailing distance, fewest of books, no magazines, a stray newspaper at odd times, perhaps twice a year tidings came from the old home, or from friends in other settlements. Little wonder that the dear old faces seem engraved with half a century of exile. There was sickness too, also death. Chills and fever, ague, that did not often kill, but always blighted, stealing energy, hope and happiness. It was often the woman's lot to watch the slow course of disappearing vitality, or with shrinking heart to behold the swift work of malignant disease. At times the able were so few and scattered they could but half attend the unable. At all such times the women, sensing what was lacking more clearly than the man, womankind suffered more.
Again and again in those early years there were lean seasons, spells of scarcity. Something had broken the ordinary run of things. Bad luck would bring the wolf to the door, and encourage him to wait and watch. The reason might be any one of many. The man of the house might be ailing and laid up, at a critical time in the crop season. He might meet with an accident and broken limbs. The sickness of wife and children might consume his whole time and energy. The straying of stock might greatly delay him. Sometimes the strayed stock was not recovered. The result would be tragic. The loss of only one cow, dead, strayed or stolen, would bring a sense of panic to the housewife, and deepest gloom to the children. During such seasons of privation, it is incredible how the craving for certain articles of food would grow in the thoughts of the family as they divided their meagre rations. This craving might be for salt side-meat, for cheese or for butter, or it might be a longing for pickles. But it would be very vivid and terribly persistent. It is related in the chronicles of De Soto's followers, after they had crossed the Mississippi and before they found the salt springs on White River, that a soldier one day cried out, "Oh, if I could only have just one slice of meat with salt, I could be patient." He voiced a longing that first, last or between times, has gripped every man, woman and child among the pioneers.
It is right that these first great costs of our inheritance should be remembered. We are the heirs of a conquest that was truly fine in the elements of labor, patience, and heroic endurance. With a deep sense of the multiplied obligations thus created, we turn with gratitude to all that was pleasurable and prosperous in the experience of these honored fathers and mothers of the early days. When youth, vitality, and energy come face to face with opportunity, hope springs at once to fullgrown strength. Anticipation flushes the heart, and the mind puts the hands to work. The early settler found a wilderness. There was no house, but the family could build a home ; humble as it might be there was the hope of better ahead. There were no fields, but they could enclose and clear. If the labor was heavy, it was for themselves and their children they were working. Hope and faith were shining to cheer them onward.
The first homes were not the log cabin of usual build. They are best described as shelter, whatever the newcomer could devise, whatever he could throw together with his own hands, a place to stay, temporary quarters. The wagon cover might be part with poles and bark, picturesque but not permanent. In some cases there flimsy shelters were used much longer than was first intended. Soon, however, the typical, strong built, permanent log cabin appeared. This meant more than one or two men's work. The settler selected his trees, felled and cut them into lengths. Then a small boy, if one there was, and a yoke of oxen snaked them to the desired location, and all was ready for the "Raising." "The cabins were of round logs, notched together at the corners, ribbed with poles, and covered with boards split from a tree. A puncheon floor was then laid down, a hole cut in the end and a stick chimney run up. A clapboard door was made; a window was opened by cutting out a hole in the side or end, two feet square, finished without glass, often with greased paper for transparency. The chinking between the logs held the mud with which it was daubed. The roof might be clapboards, bark or thatch, and the house was ready."
Skill, as always, was at a premium. It was a proud day in the life of a stripling or youth when at a "raisin" he was first allowed to "carry a corner," as the notching was styled. At his first effort he was allowed one misfit, or renotching to make the fit. The second mistake disqualified him for that day. The writer, then under 17, carried his first corner to the top, renotching but once.
The one legged bedstead could only be made in a corner of the cabin, but the two legged table could be adjusted most any place. Shelves were easy and pegs abundant, while the cross poles which sustained the floor of the loft were made to do duty for whatever might be hung up. Peg-leg benches took the place of chairs. Pots, pans and skillets were hung about the fireplace, all without nails or bolts. The auger was mighty in those days. Thus was the home made ready.
The raising of the cabin was a social event for the entire neighborhood. Every man and boy wanted to be present. They gathered early and with much chaffing and up to date slang, they got busy. It was the aim of all that the "heft" of the work should be completed in time for a one or two o'clock dinner, at least the unskilled labor should be finished ; only the deft finishing touches were left for after dinner. The main body of the gathering must be free for play. Always there were wives and sisters in numbers sufficient to make the big dinner a matter of easy and merry achievement for the ladies assembled. The day recalled happy memories in the hearts of the older ones, while the younger were laying the foundation of future memories of their own. The bashful youth had his moment of supreme daring, and the clever damsel found her chance for sweet graciousness in a manner so casual as to deceive the very expert. If, in the main, human happiness is pretty evenly balanced, so is wisdom pretty evenly distributed. "Wisdom is justified of her children," measured by this standard, the generation that built log cabins, classes right along with almost any other.
The cabin raising was a typical occasion. It was just one phase of that community spirit which was more fully shared by all the inhabitants than is possible in the fuller development which follows pioneer life. They had so much in common. They were all poor together, all working for a similar purpose. Each one needed the support of all the rest. Only as they gave mutual assistance could any of them succeed. For peace, for protection, for happiness, for success, none of them lived, or could live, unto himself. This community of interest and of sentiment, produced a hospitality and a fellowship, which is the admiration of the generations that follow.
A writer forty years closer to these first things puts the case with great clearness. "It was a time of self reliance and brave, persevering toil, of privations cheerfully endured, and the experience of one settler was practically that of every other; all faced the same hardships. They stood on an equal footing. There were no castes. Aristocratic pretentions did not exist and would not have been tolerated. The only nobility was the nobility of generosity. The bond of sympathy was the consciousness of common hardships." They were sensitive to each others needs and misfortunes. They needed no urging to help in time of trouble. The victim of storm or fire was speedily and cheerfully restored to the general equality in all he had lost. The restoration was as prompt as if ties of blood were in force.
Neighbors were on the best of terms; envy, jealousy and strife had no place among them. They were a little world, or a large family, far removed from the great world of the East. To quote again : "This general state of feeling among the pioneers was by no means peculiar to Gentry County, although it was strongly illustrated here. It prevailed generally throughout the West, during the time of early settlement. The very nature of things taught the settlers the necessity of dwelling together in all good will. It was their only protection. They had come far away from a well established reign of law, and entered a new country where the civil authority was still feeble and totally unable to afford protection and redress grievances. Here the settlers lived some little time before there was an officer of the law in the country. Each man's protection was in the good will and friendship of those about him, and the thing any man might well dread was the ill will of the community. It was more terrible than law. It was no uncommon thing in the early times for hardened men who had no fears of jails or penitentiaries to stand in great fear of the indignation of a pioneer community." This community spirit was intensely practical. If one neighbor killed a beef, a pig, or a deer, he shared with the rest. A writer of 1882 laments the speedy passing of this communal interest, and disparages the cold, selfish, calculating orderliness which had even then taken place. In 1922 his criticism is better understood. In the early times there was the occasional ne'er-do-well who failed to kill his beef, pig, or deer, in his turn, and it was a joke to be winked at. But progress and industry while tolerating such individuals, cannot encourage them. Such people make a visible difference between themselves and the general run of which they are usually the first to complain.
The common heart of Gentry County is as kind and generous today as it was in 1850. The unfortunate and afflicted, receive sincere sympathy and ready assistance, and the care of them is more effectual and continuous than was possible seventy years ago.
The pleasures of those early days were carried with a whole hearted enthusiasm, almost beyond our present comprehension. The shooting match when it occurred had the whole field to itself. The last quilting was over and gone, the nest fish fry was not yet dated. The same was true of each recreation in its turn. For the time being each was all in all. The question is often asked why we do not have such spelling schools and such religious revivals as in the early days. The answer is this. No one bit of knowledge can now enthuse the whole people. We are learning scores of things. Neither can any one sentiment, no matter how sacred, ever again dominate the emotions of an entire community. Progress implies an increasing number of interesting aims and purposes. In the nature of things they compete one with another. The result should be a well balanced civilization.
Physical well being no longer means a periodic abundance of good things after long periods of scant tables; but a sane and continuous enjoyment of sufficient food in comfortable homes. Education no longer means an occasional triumph of memory, but a universal distribution of useful and entertaining knowledge that sweetens and dignifies every day life. Religion no longer means a season of annual exalted emotion, but a settled conviction of endeavor after righteousness, with an abiding sense of God's power and goodness, and daily offerings of praise and gratitude.
Anything, which offered to break the monotony of pioneer isolation, was welcome, and the most was made of it. They even invented diversions which had no other purpose. One community had this annual custom, sometime during roasting ear season. The whole family would load up and drive for miles, until they found a corn field whose owner they did not know. There they would camp, gather corn for a roasting, carefully extract a rail or two without greatly harming the fence, and precede to feast. If the owner happened along, he "threw in" with them and got acquainted.
The settlers had game and fish in abundance and variety. Turkey, geese, duck, prairie chickens, pheasants, quails. Also butter, honey, and lard. Of what use are the latter without bread? Above many things, they wanted bread. As roasting ear season passed, they grated corn and made fritter cakes. Lard for the griddle, butter for the fritter cake, and honey for the trimming. They had hand mills, and hominy blocks and horse mills. All these meant bread more or less, before water grist mills came into use. No doubt it tasted fine and went well with flesh, fowl and fish. Beeswax, coonskins and other peltry were their first trade commodities. Money was not; trade was everything; even the postmaster accepted coonskins for postage.
Let no one imagine that pioneer life lacked established customs. The game, whether of work or of play, had its rules, and those who took part must mind the rules. The Anglo-Saxon spirit of fair play pervaded all activity. At quilting bees, each man must pay a dollar in money, or split a hundred rails. As dollars were scarce, the men usually worked on the logs while the ladies quilted. The party in the evening would be full of life and zest. Music and dancing might last till day break. Then came the hazardous task of seeing the ladies "safe home." The "mitten," a pet among some of the young ladies, was dreaded by the young men as a most vicious varmit. Strange to say, if a youth caught one, he never boasted.
"The smith, a mighty man is he," was not written of any pioneer and for some reason earlier histories have neglected him. There can be no doubt that the blacksmith's shop was an early fact, ranking with grist mills and trading posts. The implements of the early farmers in their many imperfections must often have gone to the smith. Happy was that neighborhood when the mill, the store, and the shop were grouped. Such was not always the case, and the pioneer less favored had before him the possible necessity of a journey in two or three directions. Going to mill or the store might be postponed during spells of bad weather. When it could no longer be put off, the weather might even turn worse. Many are the tales told of long waiting at the mill or the smithy, of high water, and lost bridges, and of all-night drives.
As time passed "Old Settlers Day," came into vogue, specially designed to cherish these memories. They were also preserved in many other ways. As the number of pioneers diminished, the survivors became notable persons at all picnics and community gatherings. Each one representing something particular and personal. As more time elapsed the sons and daughters of first settlers had their place in helping to perpetuate these lovable traditions of early experience.
Gentry County Missouri Pioneer Settlers
Seven years before the State Legislature authorized the organization of the County of Gentry and eleven years before the organization was accomplished, four brave and hardy sons of Kentucky and Tennessee pushed their way beyond the outskirts of the frontier posts to explore the regions of the unknown land. In 1834 four young men, Isaac and Tobias Miller, William Martin and John Roberts, who afterward became the pioneer settlers of Gentry County, pushed their way ahead of their countrymen and came as far as a point on a stream of water which has since become one of the best known rivers in the county. They settled near what is now known as Greenwell Ford on Grand River.
These hardy pioneers have long since passed to their reward, but one of their number, Isaac Miller, is known to and honored by posterity, one of the two largest townships in the county, Miller, being named for him. When the four pioneers arrived at the river they found that a large band of Sac and Fox Indians had spent the winter near where they had expected to homestead. They built a log cabin on the north bank of what is now known as Grand River, near the present site of Greenwell Ford. The four men continued to make the log hut their home for almost a year.
The spring following their arrival, Tobias Miller, Roberts and Martin each took a homestead. Tobias Miller settled on the east side of the river southeast of the ford; Martin took a claim east of the ford; Roberts lived in that locality for a few months, then journeyed farther to the north and located on the quarter section which was afterwards selected as the original site of the county seat, Albany.
Isaac Miller later entered a quarter section two miles south of the ford, where he continued to make his home until 1881, when he sold it to his son, William, and since the latter's death it has remained in the Miller family.
Of the first four settlers who braved the frontier life to found a home, only one has left descendants as citizens of the county. William Martin died here; John Roberts, after a few years' residence here, went to Illinois, where trace of him was lost; Tobias Miller removed to Daviess County and died there in 1857. Isaac Miller remained and reared a family and his descendants now reach to the fifth generation.
The first white child born in Gentry County was William Miller's daughter Nancy, the date of whose birth was October, 1839. She was married to W. P. Gartin and her descendants still live in the county. She died about the year 1866. The first white male child was also born to William Miller and was christened William. The date of his birth was April 26, 1841. He lived his entire life in Gentry county, in the neighborhood of the place of his birth, dying June 5, 1901. He left numerous descendants.
Within the year, during 1835, other stalwart pioneers followed the trail of the four earliest settlers and made settlement near the present town of Gentryville. Other people were soon attracted by the opportunity of founding homes in so inviting a location and it was not long until the commercial needs became apparent. As the wants and necessities became more numerous and the demands were created, one by one the needs were met in the pioneer community.
The first advance in the progress of the settlement of the new community was the opening of a store.. if the modest outlay of the pioneer merchant could be called by that name. Shortly after the establishment of the store a mill was erected and in the advancement of the times a postoffice was established, with the Government mails. As the community grew, and with the advent of children in the homes, within a few years there was established a school ..... that forerunner of civilization.
[Source: A History of Northwest Missouri; Edited by: Walter Williams Assisted by Advisory and Contributing Editors Volume: 1; 1915; transcribed by: Melody Beery]
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