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Holt County


Benton Clay Hickory
Bigelow Forbes


With regard to the origin of dividing individual states into county and township organizations, which, in an important measure, should have the power and opportunity of transacting their own business and governing themselves, under the approval of, and subject to, the state and general government, of which they both form a part, we quote from Elijah M. Haines, who is considered good authority on the subject.

In his " Laws of Illinois, relative to Township Organizations," he says : "The county system originating with Virginia, whose early settlers soon became large landed proprietors, aristocratic in feeling, living apart in almost baronial magnificence, on their own estates, and owning the laboring part of the population. Thus the materials for a town were not at hand, the voters being thinly distributed over a great area.

"The county organization, where a few influential men managed the whole business of a community, retaining their places almost at their pleasure, scarcely responsible at all, except in name, and permitted to conduct the county concerns as their ideas or wishes might direct, was moreover consonant with their recollections or traditions of the judicial and social dignities of the landed aristocracy of England, in descent from whom the Virginia gentlemen felt so much pride. In 1834, eight counties were organized in Virginia, and the system extending throughout the state, spread into all the Southern States, and some of the Northern States ; unless we except the nearly similar division into 'districts' in South Carolina, and that into 'parishes ' in Louisiana, from the French laws.

"Illinois, which, with its vast additional territory, became a county of Virginia, on its conquest by General George Rogers Clark, retained the county organization, which was formerly extended over the state by the constitution of 1818, and continued in exclusive use under the constitution of 1848.

" Under this system, as in other states adopting it, most local business was transacted by those commissioners in each county who constituted a county court, with quarterly sessions.

"During the period ending with the constitution of 1847, a large portion of the state had become filled up with a population of New England birth or character, daily growing more and more compact and dissatisfied with the comparatively arbitrary and inefficient county system. It was maintained by the people that the heavy populated districts would always control the election of the commissioners to the disadvantage of the more thinly populated sections—in short, that under that system 'equal and exact justice' to all parts of the county could not be secured.

" The township system had its origin in Massachusetts, and dates back to 1635.

" The first legal enactment concerning this system provided that, whereas, ' particular townships have many things which concern only themseles, and the ordering of their own affairs, and disposing of business in their own town,' therefore, ' the freemen of every township, or a majority part of them, shall only have power to dispose of their own lands and woods, with all the appurtenances of said town, to grant lots, and to make such orders as may. concern the well-ordering of their own towns, not repugnant to the laws and orders established by the general court.

" They might, also, (says Mr. Haines) impose fines of not more than twenty shillings, and ' choose their own particular officers, as constables, surveyors for the highways and the like.'

"Evidently this enactment relieved the general court of a mass of municipal details, without any danger to the power of that body in controlling general measures of public policy.

" Probably, also, a demand from the freemen of the towns was felt for the control of their own home concerns.

" The New England colonies were first governed by a general court or legislature, composed of a governor and a small council, which court consisted of the most influential inhabitants and possessed and exercised both legislative and judicial powers, which were limited only by the wisdom of the holders.

" They made laws, ordered their execution by officers, tried and decided civil and criminal causes, enacted all manner of municipal regulations, and, in fact, did all the public business of the colony." Similar provisions for the incorporation of towns were made in the first constitution of Connecticut, adopted in 1639, and the plan of township organization, as experience proved its remarkable economy, efficiency and adaptation to the requirements of a free and intelligent people, became universal throughout New England, and went westward with the immigrants from New England into New York, Ohio and other Western States.

Thus we find that the vahaable system of county, township and town organizations had been thoroughly tried and proven long before there was need of adopting it in Missouri or any of the broad region west. of the Mississippi River. But as the new country began to be opened, and as eastern people began to move westward across the mighty river, and form thick settlements along its western bank, the territory, and state, and county and township organizations soon followed in quick succession, and those different systems became more or less improved, according as deemed necessary by the experience, and judgment and demands of the people, until they have arrived at the present stage and advancement and efficiency. In the settlement of the Territory of Missouri, the Legislature began by organizing counties on the Mississippi River. As each new county was formed it was made to include under legal jurisdiction all the country bordering west of it, and required to grant to the actual settlers electoral privileges and an equal share of the county government with those who properly lived in the geographioal limits of the county.

The counties first organized along the eastern borders of the state were given for a short time jurisdiction over the lands and settlements adjoining each on the west, until these localities became sufficiently settled to support organizations of their own.


No person can intelligently understand the history of a country without at the same time knowing its geography, and in order that a clear and correct idea of the geography of Holt County may be obtained from the language already used in defining different localities and pieces of land, we insert herewith the plan of Government surveys as given in Mr. E. A. Hickman'* Property Map of Jackson County, Missouri :

Previous to the formation of our present Government, the eastern portion of North America consisted of a number of British colonies, the territory of which was granted in large tracts to British noblemen. By treaty of 1783, these grants were acknowledged as valid by the colonies. After the Revolutionary war, when these colonies were acknowledged

" Independent States," all public domain within their boundaries was acknowledged to be the property of the colony within the bounds of which said domain was situated.

Virginia claimed all the northwest territory, including what is now known as Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. After a meeting of the representatives of the various states to form a Union, Virginia ceded the northwest territory to the United States Government. This took place in 1784; then all this northwest territorybecame Government land. It comprised all south of the lakes and east of the Mississippi River and north and west of the states having definite boundary lines. This territory had been known as New France, and had ben ceded by France to England in 1768. In the year 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte sold to the United States all territory west of the Mississippi River and north of Mexico, extending to the Rocky Mountains.

While the public domain was the property of the colonies, it was disposed of as follow : Each individual caused the tract he desired to purchase to be surveyed and platted. A copy of the survey was then filed with the register of lands, when, by paying into the state or colonial treasury an agreed price, the purchaser received a patent for the land. This method of disposing of public lands made lawsuits numerous, owing to different surveys often including the same ground. To avoid these difficulties, and effect a general measurement of the territories, the United States adopted the present mode or system of land surveys, a description of which we give as follows :

In an unsurveyed region a point of marked and changeless topographical features is selected as an initial point. The exact latitude and longitude of this point is ascertained by astronomical observation, and a suitable monument of iron or stone to perpetuate the position. Through this point a true north and south line is run, which is called a Principal Meridian. This principal meridian may be extended north and south any desired distance. Along this line are placed, at distances of onehalf mile from each other, posts of wood or stone, or mounds of earth. These posts are said to establish the line, and are called section and quarter-section posts. Principal meridians are numbered in the order in which they are established. Through the same initial point from which the principal meridian was surveyed, another line is now run and established by mile and half-mile posts, as before, in a true east and west direction. This line is called the Base Line, and like the principal meridian, may be extended indefinitely in either direction. These lines form the basis of the survey of the country into townships and ranges. Township lines extend east and west, parallel with the base line, at distances of six miles from the base line and from each other, dividing the country into strips six miles wide, which strips are called townships. Range lines run north and south, parallel to the principal meridian, dividing the country into strips six miles wide, which strips are called ranges. Township strips are numbered from the base line and range strips are numbered from the principal meridian. Townships lying north of the base line are " townships north," those on the south are " townships south." The strip lying next the base line is township one, the next one to that township two, and so on. The range strips are numbered in the same manner, counting from the principal meridian east or west, as the case may be.

The township and range lines thus divide the county into six-mile squares. Each of these squares is called a Congressional township. All north and south lines north of the equator approach each other as they extend north, finally meeting at the north pole ; therefore, north and south lines are not literally parallel. The east and west boundary lines of any range being six miles apart in the latitude of Missouri or Kansas, would, in thirty miles, approach each other 2.9 chains, or 190 feet. If, therefore, the width of the range when started from the base line is made exactly six miles, it would be 2.9 chains too narrow at the distance of thirty miles, or five townships north. To correct the width of ranges and keep them to the proper width, the range lines are not surveyed in a continuous straight line, like the principal meridian, entirely across the state, but only across a limited number of townships, usually five, where the width of the range is corrected hy beginning a new line on the side of the range most distant from the principal meridian, at such a point as will make the range its correct width. All range lines are corrected in the same manner. The last and west township line on which these corrections are made are called correction lines, or standard parallels. The surveys of the State of Missouri were made from the fifth principal meridian, which runs through the state, and its ranges are numbered from it. The State of Kansas is surveyed and numbered from the sixth. Congressional townships are divided into thirty-six square miles, called sections, and are known by numbers, according to their positions.

Sections are divided into quarters, eighths and sixteenths, and are described by their position in the section. The full section contains 640 acres, the quarter 160, the eighth 80, and the sixteenth 40. In the following diagram of a section the position designated by a is known as the northwest quarter ; i is the northeast quarter of the northeast quarter ; it would be the south half of the southeast quarter, and would contain 80 acres.

Congressional townships, as we have seen, are six mile squares of land, made by the township and range lines, while civil or municipal townships are civil divisions, made for purposes of government, the one having no reference to the other, though similar in name. On the county map we see both kinds of townships—the congressional, usually designated by numbers and in squares ; the municipal or civil township, by name and in various forms.

By the measurement thus made by the Government the courses and distances are defined between any two points. St. Louis is in township 44 north, range 8 east, and Independence is in township 49 north, range 32 west ; how far, then, are Kansas City and St. Louis apart on a direct line - St. Louis is forty townships east—240 miles—and five townships south—thirty miles ; the base and perpendicular of a right-angled triangle, the hypothenuse being the required distance.


The " townships," as the term is used in common phraseology, in many instances, is widely distinguished from that of " town," though many persons persist in confounding the two. " In the United States, many of the states are divided into townships of five, six, seven, or perhaps ten miles square, and the inhabitants of such townships are vested with certain powers for regulating their own affairs, such as repairing roads and providing for the poor. The township is subordinate to the county." A "town" is simply a collection of houses, either large or small, and opposed to " country."

The most important features connected with this system of township surveys should be thoroughly understood by every intelligent farmer and business man ; still there are some points connected with the understanding of it, which need close and careful attention. The law which established this system required that the north and south lines should correspond exactly with the meridian passing through that point ; also, that each township should be six miles square. To do this would be an utter impossibility, since the figure of the earth causes the meridians to converge toward the pole, making the north line of each township shorter than the south line of the same township. To obviate the errors which are, on this account, constantly occurring, correction lines are established. They are parallels bounding a line of townships on the north, when lying north of the principal base ; on the south line of townships when lying south of the principal base, from which the surveys, as they are continued, are laid out anew ; the range lines again starting at correct distances from the principal meridian. In Michigan these correction lines are repeated at the end of every tenth township, but in Oregon they have been repeated with every fifth township. The instructions to the surveyors have been that each range of townships should be made as much over six miles in width on each base and correction line as it will fall short of the same width where it closes on to the next correction line north ; and it is further provided that in all cases where the exterior lines of the township shall exceed or shall not extend six miles, the excess of deficiency shall be specially noted, and added to or deducted from the western or northern sections or half sections in such township, according as the error may be in running the lines Irom east to west, or from south to north. In order to throw the excess of deficiencies on the north and on the west sides of the township, it is necessary to survey the section lines from south to north, on a true meridian, leaving the result in the north line of the township to be governed by the convexity of the earth, and the convergency of the meridians.

Navigable rivers, lakes and islands are " meandered " or surveyed by the compass and chain along the banks. "The instruments employed on these surveys, besides the solar compass, are a surveying chain thirty-feet long, of fifty links, and another of smaller wire, as a standard to be used for correcting the former as often at least as every other day, also eleven tally pins, made of steel, telescope, targets, tape measure, and tools for marking the lines upon trees or stones. In surveying through the woods, trees intercepted by the line are marked with two •chips or notches, one on each side; these are called sight or line trees. Sometimes other trees in the vicinity are blazed on two sides quartering toward the line ; but if some distance from the line the two blazes should be near together on the side facing the line. These are found to. be permanent marks, not only recognizable for many years, but carrying with them their own age by the rings of growth around the blaze which may at any subsequent time be cut out and counted as years ; and the same are recognized in courts of law as evidence of the date of the survey. They cannot be obliterated by cutting down the trees or otherwise, without leaving evidence of the act. Corners are marked upon trees if found at the right spots, or else upon posts set in the ground, and sometimes a monument of stones is used for a township corner, and a single stone for section corner ; mounds of earth are made where there are no stones nor timber. At the corners the four adjacent sections are designated by distinct marks cut into a tree, one in each section. These trees, facing the corner, are plainly marked with the letters B. T. (bearing tree) cut into the wood. Notches cut upon the corner posts or trees indicate the number of miles to the out lines of the township, or if on the boundaries of the township, to the township corners.

History of Atchinson and Holt County Missouri


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