County Histories of Northeast Missouri
Part of the American History and Genealogy Project

Ralls County, Missouri
By Joe Burnett, New London

 

First American Settlers

The first white men to put foot on Balls county soil were Dr. Antoine Saugrain and Louis Bouvet, two Frenchmen who left Paris, France, in 1795. They landed in New Orleans, bought a boat and supplies, hired a crew and came up the Mississippi River to the mouth of Salt River. Going up Salt River to where New London is now located, they divided forces. Doctor Saugrain went to Saverton and built a fort. Bouvet went further up the river to Spalding, where he also built a fort and proceeded to make salt.

In 1807, Samuel Gilbert, a Kentuckian, came to Saverton, bringing his family with him, to seek a home in the new territory. He at once began to make salt from the spring there, shipping it to St. Louis. The place was then known as "Little Prairie." Upon his arrival there Mr. Gilbert found a French settlement. It consisted of a fort, three cabins and as many families. Victor La Gotra, one of the settlers, had some sort of claim to the spring and adjacent lands, and was the head or leader of the settlement. Gilbert bought his claim. Gilbert's family was composed of several daughters and a son. He also brought with him a number of slaves. Shared G. Swain, a son-in-law, soon arrived, followed by others. About this time the Indians had destroyed the fort at Spalding and Bouvet and his men had fled to St. Louis.

Then came the McDowells, the Tompkins, the McCormicks, the Ryans, the Foremans and other families. The white men pushed out along Salt River and began to build an empire upon the ashes of the wigwam.

The Indians were numerous but friendly and continued on good terms with the whites until the War of 1812.

About this time Mr. Foreman built a mill near New London and turned out com meal for the settlement. A Mr. Shepherd bought the mill, afterward selling it to Col. Dick Matson, who improved it, and for many years it was known as Matson's Mill. This was the first mill in Northeast Missouri.

Early Settlers

Ralls County
James Blair
Thomas Blankenship
Woodson Blankenship
Alexander Boarman
Silas Brocks
Aaron Bryce
Robert Burns
Henry Butler
Oney Carstophen
James Chitwood
Seth Chitwood
Jacob Clawson
James Cox
William Dabney
Stephen Dodd
Isaac Ely
Joshua Ely
Joseph Evans
John Fike
Alvan Foreman
Josiah Fugate
Rev. Christy Gentry
Asa Glascock
Francis Graham
Peter Grant
Conrad Grossman
William Hays
James Herrington
Chauncy Honey
Pleasant Hudson
William Jameson*
Robert Jeffries
R. W. Jones
Isaac Lord
Joshua Massey
William R. McAdams
William McCormack
John McFarland
Achilles McGinnis
John S. Miller
James Muldron
Thomas P. Norton
Morgan Paris
Yuby Paris
Absalom Phears
Page Portwood
John Priest
James W. See
Jacob Seeley
David Shepherd
Griffin D. Shillon
Radum Sims
William S. Sims
David Smallwood
Daniel Smith
Benjamin A. Spalding
G. W. Stubblefield
Green Tapley
John Tapley
Anthony Thomas
Hiram Thompson
Isham Thompson
Silas Thompson
James Turley
John Turley
James Voshel
Josh Voshel
Joseph Wright

*the founder of New London

Indian Troubles

From the time of the first settlement to the War of 1812, the pioneers were as happy and prosperous as could be wished. Bears, panther, wolves and other wild animals abounded, and made night hideous with their howlings and squalling, but the pioneers were not timid. Wild game and fish were plentiful and the table never lacked for supplies.

But when the war note sounded along the banks of Salt River, the change wrought was a sad one for them. Their Indian neighbors, ever treacherous by nature and instinctively cruel, were influenced by British emissaries and soon became their deadly enemies. Fiendish and blood-thirsty, they delighted to apply the torch to the rude dwellings of those whom they regarded as intruders, and shoot down and scalp without distinction of age and sex.

It soon became necessary for the settlers to abandon their houses and seek shelter in forts and block houses. Gilbert and his neighbors and the settlers along Salt River united for self-preservation and built a block house on the high ground a short distance northwest of the mill above mentioned and gathered their families into it. The war grew warm and they were compelled to seek protection at stronger posts. They went to Fort Buffalo, near Louisiana; then to Fort Howard; then to St. Charles, where Governor Clark called them to St. Louis.

The Balis county pioneers, under Captain Musick, returned to their homes and went on the warpath. They encountered a gang of Winnebagoes near Saverton and fought a bloody battle in which they were defeated, leaving a number of dead on the field. They then built a fort near Saverton and failed it Fort Mason. This fort afforded protection for a while, but was finally destroyed by fire.

After the War of 1812 the whites and Indians fought another battle on Spencer creek, south of New London, which resulted disastrously to the whites. The last battle took place near where Cincinnati now is in the southwest part of the county. The trees there are scarred with bullet marks and many bullets have been cut out of them. There are Indian pictures on the bluffs there, indicating an exodus. Thus the Redman left Ralls County and moved on west.

Organization of the County

Ralls County was born on the 16th day of November, 1820. It was named for Daniel Ralls, a member of the legislature. Ralls was then a county of magnificent proportions, having an area larger than some of the states, stretching north to the Iowa line and west to the line between ranges 13 and 14 and comprising the territory now forming Audrain, Monroe, Shelby, Lewis, Clark, Clarion, Knox and Scotland as well as the Ralls County of today. Marion was taken from the northern part of Ralls in 1826. In 1829 Randolph was organized. Monroe in 1831, Audrain in 1836, when Ralls assumed its present shape and limits.

The act of the legislature of November, 1820, forming the county of Ralls, designated Dabney Jones, James Garnett, Richard Jones, Stephen Glascock and Francis Grant as commissioners to locate the county seat. Soon afterward they fixed upon New London and proceeded to build a court house and jail.

The first courthouse was built in 1822. It was a log structure, twenty feet long and eighteen feet wide, two stories high. The upper story was the court room and the lower story the county jail. One of the lower stories was called the dungeon, where rogues, felons and malefactors were imprisoned. In those days men were often imprisoned for debt. The next courthouse was of brick, two stories high, fifty feet square. It was built in 1835. It became unsafe and was torn down in 1858 and the present courthouse, built of cut stone, erected at a cost of $48,000. It is held today as one of the handsomest old courthouses in the state and will be standing for years to come, it is thought.

Daniel Ralls

Daniel Ralls, the man for whom the county was named, was the son of Nathaniel W. Ralls. He was a native of Virginia, but immigrated to the wilds of Kentucky in his youth. He became familiar with the frontier life, was schooled in the art of woodcraft and grew to stalwart young manhood. He learned to read and write and took every opportunity to improve his mind. He moved westward to Missouri in 1818 and settled on a tract of land four miles west of New London. He was a man of more than ordinary intelligence and force of character. In two years after his arrival here he was elected to the legislature from the then existing county of Pike. He was at that time about thirty-five years old. On August 4, 1820, the legislature met in St. Louis and soon afterward Ralls was taken very ill. Col. Thomas H. Benton was a candidate before the legislature for United States senator. The contest was close. One vote would decide it.

Mr. Ralls was a strong Benton adherent and although he was unable to go himself to the hall, he was carried there on his bed and cast the vote that elected Benton. This was his last act in public life. He was taken home weak and fainting and in a few days he died. He left a widow and five small children. One of his sons, John Ralls, was a lawyer in Ralls County and was active in political and military affairs.

Although the name of Daniel Ralls is remembered in history because Ralls County is named for him, it is unfortunate that his grave was not marked and that no one now knows where he was buried. It is supposed that he was buried in a small graveyard near his farm, but the grave stones have been scattered and time has wrecked the place.

First County and Circuit Courts

The first circuit court of Ralls County was held at the home of William Jameson on the 18th day of March, 1821, and the first county court on the 2nd day of March of that year at the same place. Col. Peter Journey, Peter Grant and William Ritchie were the first judges. They appointed Stephen Glascock clerk. Green DeWitt was appointed sheriff. They were all commissioned by Alexander McNair, governor of the state of Missouri. The first act of the court was to appoint John B. White and Joseph D. Gash administrators of the estate of William Mitchell, deceased. Then they appointed Lydia Young administratrix of the estate of James Young, her deceased husband, and Mary Ralls and Thomas Lewis to administer the estate of Daniel Ralls. Green DeWitt was appointed collector, fixing the penalty of his bond at $2,000. The present collector, Marshall Hulse, gives a bond of $110,000 and he collects annually in taxes, $100,584.17. He collects ninety-six per cent of the taxes levied.

The first attorney at law enrolled in the county was Ezra Hunt. He was the first prosecuting attorney and was later circuit judge for many years. Then came other attorneys, including:

A. B. Chambers
David Barton
William K. Vanarsdall
A. A. King
Thomas L. Anderson
Gilchrist Porter
John D. S. Dryden
Aylett H. Buckner
Carty Wells
James O. Broadhead
Samuel T. Glover
Richard P. Richmond
James S. Green
A. W. Lamb
R. F. Lakenan
T. J. C. Fagg

First County Officers

The first circuit judge of Ralls County was Rufus Pettibone, who presided in 1821.
Present circuit judge is W. T. Ragland. The first incumbents of other county offices were:
Prosecuting attorney, Edward Bates
State senator, William Biggs
Representative, Peter Journey
Sheriff, Green DeWitt
Circuit clerk, Stephen Glascock
Probate judge, Stephen Glascock
Assessor, Clement White
Treasurer, Thomas J. Rhodes
Surveyor, Thomas Marlin

The present County Officers

Presiding judge of the county court, Henry J. Priest
Judge of the county court from the Western district. Thos. Evans
Judge of the county court from the Eastern district, W. T. Gore
Judge of probate, Thomas E. Allison
Clerk of the circuit court, Benton B. Megown
Clerk of the county court, Jesse W. Pitt
Recorder. J. Roy Rice
Prosecuting attorney, Joseph F. Barry
Sheriff, H, A. Pritchett
Collector, Marshall Hulse
Assessor, O. M. Fuqua
Treasurer. Miss Estelle Buchanan
Coroner, Dr. Harry Norton
Public administrator, James F. Brown
Surveyor, A. Victor Ely
Superintendent of schools, O. E. Hulse

The county has six banks, forty churches, sixty-six schools, four newspapers and the largest cement plant in the West. The towns are New London, Center, Perry, Hasco, Saverton, Rensselaer, Hassard, Sidney, Madisonville, Spalding, Hatch and Huntington.

Railroads

The county is touched by six railroads, the Missouri, Kansas & Texas; the Chicago & Alton; the St. Louis & Hannibal; the Hannibal Connecting Railroad; the St. Louis, Keokuk & Northwestern; and the Hannibal & St. Joseph. There are sixty-three miles of railway in the county.

The Chicago & Alton barely touches the southeast corner of the county, but the other roads run through it for some distance. The St. Louis & Hannibal has the largest mileage in the county. It runs through the county from north to south and has a branch running from Ralls Junction to Perry, in the western part of the county.

Cities, Towns and Villages

Center | Hasco | Hassard | Hatch | Huntington | Ilasco | Madisonville | New London | Perry | Rensselaer | Saverton | Sidney | Spalding

Resources

Coal is found in Ralls County near Spencer creek and a number of shafts have been sunk. Much cannel coal has been mined for home consumption. Mineral clay is used for paints and potter's clay of a fine quality is found in considerable deposits.

In different parts of the county plenty of stone for building purposes is found.

Cattle, hogs and sheep are raised in the county in large numbers and wheat, corn and oats are important grain crops. The county has always been noted for its wheat. The first premium for flour in the competition open to the world at the New York World's Fair in 1853 was awarded to a Ralls County man, Hiram Glascock, of four miles east of New London. The wheat was ground at Colonel RoBard's mill in Hannibal, which is near the northern boundary of the county.

Ralls County has one of the largest cement plants in the world. It is located at Hasco on the Mississippi River, nine miles northeast of New London. Its output of cement in 1910 was 2,013,137 barrels. The market value of its agricultural products in 1910 was $1,736,458.

Schools

There are high schools at New London and Perry and a private educational institution, Van Rensselaer College, located at Rensselaer, in the extreme northern part of the county.

While not model by any means, the schools of Ralls County are very good. The number of pupils enumerated has showed a slight decrease during the last ten years.

Statistical

Ralls County is divided into seven townships, Center, Clay, Jasper, Saline, Salt River, Saverton and Spencer.

The population of the county in 1910 was 12,913; in 1900 it was 12,287 and in 1890, 12,294. The Negro and foreign element comprise only a small part of the total population.

The county contains 313,600 acres of land, of which about 240,000 are in improved farms. The price of land varies greatly, the most valuable being near New London. Some of the bluff lands along the Mississippi river can be had for $25 an acre. This land is especially favorable to orcharding and livestock grazing.

There are four newspapers, the Ralls County Record and the Times, at New London; the Herald at Center; and the Enterprise at Perry.

In politics Ralls County is Democratic by a ratio of more than 2 to 1. All of the present county officers are Democrats. The vote in the county in 1908 for president was: Bryan, Democrat, 1,947; Taft, Republican, 900.

At the March term, 1869, of the county court, composed of Judges Nathan S. Dimmitt, Nimrod Waters and William E. Harris, and George E. May hall, clerk, the court tendered to the St. Louis and Keokuk Railroad a subscription of $275,000. Bonds were issued. Litigation followed. Interest piled up, the total debt reaching $325,000. Payment of the bonds was fought on the ground that they were illegal, as the people had voted against their issue on two separate occasions. After a long struggle, the Supreme Court finally decided that the bonds were ' legal and must be paid. The bonds, through the efforts of Judge J. M. Smith, were refunded and a tax of fifty cents on the $100 of valuation levied and the payment of the bonds began. In 1901, at the suggestion of Judge H. J. Priest, the court raised the assessment to sixty cents. Today the debt amounts to $34,000. It will be paid off in 1914. For forty-four years the taxpayers have labored under an unjust burden, money paid for a railroad that was never built. This debt has militated against the growth of the county, but now the outlook is better and people can come to Ralls County assured of fine land and low taxes.

  Northeast Missouri| Missouri Counties | Books on AHGP

Source: History of Northeast Missouri, edited by Walter Williams, Volume I, Lewis Publishing Company, 1913

 

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