The History of St. Francois, County
Established: Dec. 19, 1821


A county in the southeastern part of the State, irregular in form and bounded on the north by Jefferson and Ste. Genevieve, east by Ste. Genevieve and Perry, south by Perry, Madison and Iron, and on the west by Iron and Washington Counties. Its area is 280,680 acres. The surface of the county is hilly and undulating. In the northern part near the Jefferson County line the ridge land is fairly productive. The soil, which is of a red or yellowish ferruginous clay, is excellent for fruit-growing and grazing purposes. The same conditions are found in the southern section, but in places it is exceedingly broken and hilly. In the valleys the soil is a fertile black loam and highly productive. In the central part around Farmington are the richest lands in the county. A watershed divides the county, the Big River flowing toward the north, and the St. Francis in a southerly direction. The tributaries of Big River are Terre Bleu, from the east, Flat River, Davis Creek, Koen Creek and Three Rivers. The tributaries of the St. Francois are Charter Creek, Wolf and Back Creeks and numerous smaller streams. Many springs abound, and the creeks are ample to furnish water power all the year around.

Only about 40 per cent of the land is under cultivation, the remainder mainly in timber, consisting of oak, ash, hickory, walnut, sycamore, pine and gum. The uplands and forests afford excellent pasturage for stock, the raising of which is a profitable industry in the county. The principal cereals grown are wheat, corn and oats. Tobacco grows well in parts of the county where it has been cultivated. Horticulture is receiving increased attention, as apples, pears, peaches, plums and smaller fruits grow abundantly. Included among the exports of the county in 1898 were 3,951 head cattle; 5,218 head hogs; 2,327 head of sheep, 1,899 bushels wheat; 2,670 pounds clover seed, 665 pounds of roots, 4,620,000 pounds of flour, 150,000 pounds feed, 155,000 pounds poultry, 19,980 dozen eggs, 2,518 pounds butter, 72,267 pounds hides, 1,400 pounds nursery stock, 1,023 bushels apples, 105 baskets and crates small fruit, 6,660 pounds vegetables, and 2,770 pounds

dried fruits. The prosperity of the county, while mainly resting upon its agricultural resources, is greatly augmented by the large output of the mines. In 1897 there were shipped 149,940 tons of lead and pig iron, 4,160 car loads of ore and 1,199 cars of granite.

The country in the vicinity of Big River Mill, on Big River, was the first section to be settled. In 1794 Andrew Baker, John Alley, John Andrews and Francis Starnator located claims. Baker was the only one of the party who built a house, the others lived in tents. Two years later they returned to their homes in Tennessee and removed their families to the new country. With them came other families and soon there was a thriving colony.

Among the arrivals in 1796 were William Patterson, Henry Fry and the Miller family. In the article on Ste. Genevieve County will be found an interesting account of Fry and his intended bride making a trip to Ste. Genevieve to be married and being attacked by Indians in the Terre Bleu.

In 1798 Rev. William Murphy, a Baptist minister, born in Ireland, but for years a missionary in Tennessee, accompanied by his son, William, and a friend, Silas George, visited the present site of Farmington and located on land a few miles south. While returning to Tennessee for their families the elder Murphy and George died of fever. In 1801, David, the son of Rev. William Murphy, located in what is known as the Murphy settlement and built a cabin. The following year he was joined by his brothers, Joseph, William and Richard, all of whom opened farms on land granted them by the Spanish government. In 1804 their mother, Sarah Murphy, was given the land granted her husband, and with her other sons, Isaac, Jesse, Dubart, a daughter and a grandson, William Evans, and a negro servant, she joined her sons Joseph and Richard.

A few years later she started the first Sunday school west of the Mississippi, which she taught for many years. Nathaniel Cook in 1800 located on a Spanish grant in the southeastern part of the county in what is called the Cook settlement. Soon after he was joined by James Caldwell, William Holmes, Jesse Blackwell, James Davis and Elliott Jackson. All made improvements, and the settlement became one of the most prosperous in the new territory.

Cook was an energetic man and became prominent in public affairs. He was one of the first judges of the court of quarter sessions in Ste. Genevieve District, and was a candidate for Lieutenant Governor when Missouri became a State, and later was nominated for the State Senate in Madison County. About the time that Cook settled in the county, Michael Hart and his son Charles located on land about two miles north of Farmington. Hart's son-in-law, David F. Marks, came later, and the same time Isaac Mitchel, Sr., Isaac Burnham, Jesse Cunningham and John Robinson settled in the neighborhood. Between the years 1800 and 1810 many settlements were made along Flat River, Doe Run Creek and on the St. Francis.

Among the settlers were Lemuel Halstead, Samuel Rhodes, Solomon Jones and Mark Dent. Some of their descendants still reside in the county. Previous to the permanent settlements and as early as 1720 the section now comprising St. Francois County was traversed and explored by Renault and La Motte and others who first made the discovery of minerals in the district. In a few places the mines had been worked, but not so extensively as in other sections. The first mines to receive any important development were Mine a Gerborre, which was one of the discoveries of Renault, and the Valle mines, which were opened up as early as 1800. Other lead mines in the county are Mine a Joe, on Flat Creek; Mine a Platte (Doggett mine), discovered in 1799, and the mines at Bonne Terre (good earth) and the mines on Doe Run Creek. Iron and zinc ore is found in the county in abundance. In the southwest corner is the noted "Iron Mountain," at one time supposed to be a solid mass of iron. This peculiar formation, which is mostly porphyry, is conical in form and rises 228 feet above the level of the valley. This is located on a grant of 20,000 arpens made to Joseph Pratte by the Spanish government and confirmed to him by Congress in 1834. Granite of excellent quality is found in different parts of the county, and near Knob Lick are extensive quarries. John Simpson opened the first quarry, and from this was taken the first granite block used for paving in St. Louis.

The county of St. Francois was established by legislative act of December 19, 1821, and formed of sections of Ste. Genevieve, Washington and Jefferson Counties. The members of the first county court were James Austin, George McGahan and James W. Smith. The first meeting of the court was held on the morning of February 25, 1822, at the house of Jesse Murphy, and after electing John D. Peers clerk, adjourned to meet in the afternoon at the home of David Murphy. The divisions of the county at that time were the townships of Perry, Pendleton, Liberty and St. Francois.

On April 1, 1822, the first circuit court for the county was held at the home of Jesse Murphy, N. B. Tucker presiding, John D. Peers, clerk, and Michael Hart, sheriff. Members of the first grand jury were D. F. Marks, Archibald McHenry, G. Estes, Thomas George, John Baker, Henry McCormick, George Taylor, William Gillespie, William Spradley, Dubart Murphy, Isaac Murphy, Isaac Mitchell, John Burnham, James Cunningham, Lemuel Halstead, Jesse McFarland, Eleazer Clay, Leroy Matkins, Samuel Kincaid and Vincent Simpson. The chief act of the court was the appointment of Henry Poston, John Andrews, William Alexander and James Hobart, commissioners to locate a permanent seat of justice.

September 22, 1822, David Murphy donated fifty three acres of land, which is now part of the site of Farmington, upon which to erect public buildings, and his offer was accepted by the county court February 27, 1823. The next year a log jail, built double, two stories, with a dungeon underneath, a brick courthouse and a stray pen were completed. The jail stood on the site of the present one and was burned in 1851 by a prisoner who wished to escape and who nearly lost his life by smothering before he was rescued. In 1856 a new jail was built at a cost of $4,400, and was used until 1870 when it was replaced by the present one.

Until the first courthouse was built, sessions of the court were held in the Methodist meeting house. In 1850 a second courthouse was built and the present one in 1886 at a cost of $15,560.

The first indictments returned by the circuit court for St. Francois County were at the session of April, 1828, Judge Alexander Stuart presiding. John Bequette was found guilty of selling liquor without a permit, and Jesse Blackwell, a slave, of stabbing another slave belonging to James Kerr. The first important case before the court was at the July term, 1825, Judge John D. Cook presiding, when John Patterson and George Wilson were tried for the murder of James Johnson at Bequette's store. Johnson was a quiet, peaceful man, and Patterson, a rough bully, forced him into a quarrel and beat him to death. Wilson, who was charged with being an accessory to the crime, was acquitted. Patterson was found guilty and sentenced to hang on the 31st of August following. He was assisted to escape from jail by friends and was never recaptured. January 23, 1880, Charles H. Hardin was hanged for the murder of one Ferguson, near Iron Mountain, in the fall of 1879. This was the only legal execution held in the county. St. Francois County has been peculiarly free from the commission of capital crimes.

Early members of the bar who made their residence at Farmington were Ignatius G. Beale, who came from Kentucky early in the forties; William D. McCracken, who was also much of a politician, Secretary of the State Senate a number of years, presidential elector in 1856 and a consul to some of the South American countries, and died off the Cuban coast, and Walter A. B. Brady, a native of Tennessee, who died in 1859.

The first sermon by a Methodist minister preached west of the Mississippi River was preached by Rev. Joseph Oglesby in the house of Mrs. Sarah Murphy, near the site of Farmington in 1804, and a meeting house, the first west of the Mississippi, was built about two years later. In 1825 a church was organized by Rev. James Halbert, about six miles west of Farmington, with a membership of seven. A log church was built, the first of the Baptist denomination in the section now St. Francois County. In 1830 Rev. Joseph M. Sadd, a Presbyterian minister, visited Farmington and held a series of meetings in the courthouse and organized a congregation, and a few years later a church was built. In 1854 the first Christian Church in southeast Missouri was organized by Elder S. S. Church, of St. Louis, and soon a brick church was erected. While there were many Catholics among the early settlers, those in St. Francois district attended the church at Ste. Genevieve. Services were held in the houses of members at times. It was not until 1870 that a church was erected at Farmington. Now there are in the county thirty nine churches of different denominations.

The first schools of the county were run on the subscription plan. For some years Mrs. Sarah Murphy taught the children who resided near her home, and as the settlements increased additional schools were started. The public schools were not instituted in the county until 1870, when a two-story frame building was erected in Farmington. In 1884 another schoolhouse was built at a cost of $8,000. In 1842 a school called Elmwood Academy was started by M. P. Cayce and was successfully conducted for some years. This was the nucleus of Elmwood Seminary, one of the successful private schools of Farmington. The school population of the county in 1899 was 7,131; the number of public schools 61; teachers, 90; total school fund, $37,828.81.

The first paper in the county was established in 1860 at Farmington, the "Southern Missouri Argus," published by Nicol, Crowell & Shuck. The papers in the county now are the "Times," "Herald" and "News," at Farmington; the "Democrat-Register" and "Star," at Bonne Terre, and the "Flat River Interest" at Flat River.

The principal business of the county is agriculture and mining. There are nine steam flouring mills and three water-power mills. A few have sawmills attached.

The assessed value of real estate in the county is $2,416,285; the full value $6,000,000; assessed value of personal property $975,788; assessed value of stock, bonds, etc., $555,257.69.; assessed value of railroads and telegraph lines in the county $625,931.63. The number of miles of railroad is 59.61.

The population of the county in 1900 was 24,051. The townships of the county are Big River, Iron, Liberty, Marion, Pendleton, Perry, Randolph and St. Francois.

The chief towns and villages are:


Bonne Terre;

Iron Mountain Village;


Flat River;



Knob Lick;

De Lassus Village;

Doe Run.

[Source: Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri Volume 5: Edited by Howard Louis Conard; Publ. 1901; Pgs. 430-432; Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack]

FARMINGTON —A city of the fourth class, the seat of justice of St. Francois County, situated in St. Francois Township, two and one-half miles from Delassus, its shipping point on the Belmont branch of the St. Louis & Iron Mountain Railroad. It is pleasantly located in the center of the richest farming section of the county. The town was laid out in 1822 on fifty-three acres of land donated to the county, for the locating of a seat of justice, by David Murphy, and was surveyed and platted by Henry Poston. In 1823 a courthouse and jail was built. The same year the first store was opened by John D. Peers, who was first clerk of courts in the county, in a small log building on the west side of the public square. A few years later he moved to the east side, and in 1826 his old stand was occupied by Joseph Bogy, Jr., who had moved to the town from Ste. Genevieve.

In 1833 a partnership was formed by Peers and M. P. Cayce, who, with Bogy, were the only storekeepers in the town for some years. The first hotel was run by John Boyce in a building erected by Isaac Mitchell. In 1836 the town was incorporated, but made little progress until 1852, when the plank road from Ste. Genevieve to Pilot Knob was built. It ran through the town and brought it increased trade.

In 1856 the first flouring mill was built by M. P. Cayce and C. E. Douthitt, and in connection with it a carding machine was run. The mill was later remodeled and enlarged, and in time became one of the flourishing business enterprises of the town. Other small business places were established, but up to 1860 the town did not have a population of more than 500.

St. Francois County refused to issue bonds for the building of the Belmont branch of the St. Louis & Iron Mountain Railroad, and its projectors built it two and one-half miles west of Farmington. This, instead of injuring the town, assisted in its prosperity, and there was an activity in trade that stimulated the growth of the place.

M. P. Cayce, who was a man of considerable energy, about 1842 started the Elmwood" Academy. Later this was controlled by the Presbyterian Church, and from it evolved Elmwood Seminary. During the war, owing to the active working of the mines in the county, the town prospered. It contains about 125 business houses, including two banks, opera house, two flouring mills, five carriage and wagon shops, a machine shop, electric light and ice works, three hotels, several general stores and miscellaneous concerns.

There are eight churches; three Methodist (one of which is for colored people), one each of Christian, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Catholic.

There is a large public school and three colleges—Farmington Baptist College, Carleton Institute, under the direction of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and Elmwood Seminary.

The town has a telephone system and connections with surrounding villages.

The first paper published in the town was the "Southern Missouri Argus," started by Nicol, Crowell & Shuck, in 1880. After changing ownership a few times, in 1869, it was changed to the "Herald," and in 1872 moved to De Soto. In 1871 "The New Era," started at Libertyville, was removed to Farmington, and in 1876 to Marble Hill. In 1872 the "Times" was started by C. E. Ware and J. H. Rodehaver. This is one of the leading papers of St. Francois County, and is published by Theodore D. Fisher. The "News" was established in 1884 by P. T. Pigg, who still conducts it as a Republican paper. The "Herald" was started in 1886 by Isaac Rodehaver, and is now published by Charles Pratt.

Population, in 1899 (estimated), 2,500.

[Source: Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri Volume 2: Edited by Howard Louis Conard; Publ. 1901; Pgs. 416-417; Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack]


Farmington College.—An educational institution established at Farmington, St. Francois County, in 1886. It is conducted under the auspices of the Baptist Church.

[Source: Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri Volume 2: Edited by Howard Louis Conard; Publ. 1901; Pg. 417; Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack]

St. Francis River.—One of the largest rivers of southeast Missouri, having its beginning in St. Francois County, and flowing south 100 miles through Madison, Wayne and Butler Counties, Missouri, and through Arkansas counties to the Mississippi twenty miles above Helena. It is a sluggish stream, abounding in obstructions of growing trees and logs. It flows through forests of enormous trees.

[Source: Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri Volume 5: Edited by Howard Louis Conard; Publ. 1901; Pg. 432; Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack]

St. Francis River Fight.—In General Marmaduke's retreat to Arkansas, after his unsuccessful attack on Cape Girardeau, in April, 1863, ne was compelled to cross the St. Francis River, swollen and rapid with spring rains, at a point forty miles south of Bloomfield. A bridge so frail and crazy that it could be crossed only in single file was hastily constructed, under the protection of Shelby's brigade stationed two miles in the rear of the road along which General Vandiver's Federal Army was pursuing. The position of the Confederates was one of great peril, for it was certain that General Vandiver's pursuing army would attack them in force next day, and probably drive them into the river. There was no alternative but to cross at night, and this was done, the troops going across one at a time, with an interval between the men. The horses were driven into the stream and made to swim, and the artillery was carried over on a huge raft, piece by piece, slowly and with great labor. It took the whole night to affect the crossing, a detachment being left to hold the Federals in check. In the morning the Federals advanced in force, and the last Confederate detachment had to plunge in and make its way through the water as they best could, with the loss of many of their number. This ended the pursuit, and the Confederates continued their retreat unmolested into Arkansas.

[Source: Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri Volume 5: Edited by Howard Louis Conard; Publ. 1901; Pg. 432; Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack]

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