Boone County Bios and Citizens

James L. Stephens

One of the most successful merchants Boone County ever had was James L. Stephens, who died in 1902, at the age of eighty-seven. Mr. Stephens was a very generous man, and made numerous gifts to good causes. He gave five hundred dollars to found the Stephens Medal, a prize in oratory at the university, and thirty thousand dollars to endow Stephens College, at Columbia.

Mr. Stephens was a most resourceful man, and undertook something that was new in Boone County, and which seemed almost impossible, a cash store in 1843. He announced that he would sell exclusively for cash, and that he could and would therefore sell cheaper than he otherwise could. It is said that Mrs. Eli E. Bass, the wife of the richest man in the county, came to his store and made purchases amounting to about one hundred dollars, for which she paid. Then she saw a little cup, which was worth twenty cents, and she asked Mr. Stephens to charge that to her, but he told her he would have to decline, as he never sold to anyone on credit. This incident was told all over the county, and brought Mr. Stephens a great deal of business.

Mr. Stephens understood legitimate advertising better than any other man; and, among other things, concluded he would advertise his business in the bucket line. At that time, ordinary wooden buckets sold for fifty cents each; so Mr. Stephens bought a large quantity of them, more than had ever been brought to Columbia before. By purchasing so many, he got them at a reduced price. Then he began selling these buckets at twenty-five cents, which was a few cents less than they cost him. As quick as a flash the news went over the country that Mr. Stephens was selling buckets at just one-half the price asked by his competitors. So people came to his store for twenty-five miles around to buy buckets; and incidentally bought other articles. At that early day, Mr. Stephens understood people well enough to know that they wanted bargains, and would go where they could be obtained.

Mr. Stephens would buy goods in St. Louis and New York, and they would be shipped to him by boat up the Missouri to Providence. At one time, a boat loaded with his goods ran on a snag and sunk before it reached Providence. After Mr. Stephens settled with his insurance companies for this loss, he concluded he would have the boat raised and bring the goods ashore. He did so, and this was the first lot of damaged goods offered for sale in the county. He got a large quantity of dry goods and any number of ladies' hats, all of which he spread out on the bank of the river and all were soon dried. Of course, the news of this went like wildfire, and Mr. Stephens announced that he would sell these goods at one-third price, and the hats for ten cents each. It is said that he did not have half enough hats to supply the demand at his store the next week, and the ten-cent hats were seen the following Sunday in churches all over the county.

Mr. Stephens was the first merchant to accept of farm produce in payment for merchandise. Not only did he buy bacon, lard, butter and the like, but he purchased coon skins, hickory nuts and even calves and mule colts. On his farm just northeast of the old town limits, Mr. Stephens fed any number of cattle, mules and hogs, which he had obtained in exchange for goods. The result was that Mr. Stephens, who also operated a similar store in Mexico and Fulton, was soon recognized as one of Missouri's greatest merchants.

Mr. Stephens was the first man to lay off an addition to Columbia; this was done shortly after the Columbia branch railroad was built through the northern part of his farm. He laid off three additions, known as Stephens' First, Second and Third additions; but for a long time that part of Columbia was known as "Jim Town."

The Stephens' Cash Store was situated at the southeast comer of Broadway and Eighth streets, where C. B. Miller's three-story building now stands. In 1850, it was blown up by the accidental explosion of two kegs of gunpowder; the goods were scattered and badly damaged, and the building was a total wreck. A young man was sitting on the counter and smoking a cigar, when a spark from it fell onto one of the kegs of gunpowder which had a broken head, and in a moment the building was in ruins, several persons injured and two persons killed. But from the ruins, Stephens' store rose and its distinguished proprietor continued to succeed.

Geo. W. Smith, of Columbia, says that Mr. Stephens was the first merchant in the county to quit the practice of keeping whiskey for the use of his customers.

Col. Wm. F. Switzer

No man was better known in Boone County, and no man did more unselfish work for Boone County than Col. Wm. P. Switzler, who died in 1906, at the advanced age of eighty-seven. Colonel Switzler was editor of the Statesman for many years, and conducted a paper on a high plane. He took particular pains that each item be strictly correct, and few indeed were the errors in that paper, during his editorship. So careful was he in all that he printed that when the county court once had trouble ascertaining at what term of court a certain order had been made some one visited Colonel Switzler's office and procured a copy of the Statesman, which showed the term at which that order was said to have been made; the court declined to look any further, saying that paper, during the administration of Colonel Switzler, was always correct.

Colonel Switzler's name was being considered by President Cleveland in 1885 for the position of chief of the bureau of statistics, to which position he was afterwards appointed, and friends of Colonel Switzler urged the president to appoint him. It was jokingly told to the president that Colonel Switzler was a natural statistician, that he could take a half bushel of shelled corn, give each grain a name and a number, and then recognize the grain ever afterwards and call it by its name and number.

As a historian, Colonel Switzler was ever accurate; and many articles did he write for publication, which were simply for the purpose of correcting mistakes which other writers had made. A suit was tried in the Boone circuit court in 1901 and the object sought was to set aside a deed on the ground that the grantor, an old man, was then said to be of unsound mind. It so happened that Colonel Switzler was a witness in the case, and remained in the courtroom during the arguments of counsel. The plaintiffs' attorneys insisted that the deed should be set aside because the grantor must have been of unsound mind, he then being seventy-five years old. Counsel for the defendants argued that his advanced age was no proof of unsoundness of mind; that Colonel Switzler had a good mind and memory, yet he was a very old man, in fact no one knew just how old he was, as he was the only survivor of those who sailed up the Mississippi river with DeSoto. Colonel Switzler spoke up and said, "That is a mistake, sir, DeSoto did not sail up the Mississippi; he simply sailed across the Mississippi." Prom that time on, Colonel Switzler was jokingly called "DeSoto."

Robert L. Todd

Robert L. Todd, who lived in Boone county from 1822 till 1898, and was circuit clerk and recorder for twenty-one years, and cashier of the Exchange National Bank of Columbia for thirty-one years, told this story of his boyhood days:

"It was customary for the small boys, in the summer time, to wear a single garment, and that garment was made of tow linen. But my mother thought that I was too good to dress that way, so I was denied the great privilege of wearing a shirt alone. As a result, the other boys used to make all manner of fun of me, saying that nobody but a girl would wear pants. One afternoon when I was with the boys, all of us hunting blackberries, they began teasing me again. So, in order to convince them that I could dress as they did, I took off my trousers and hung them on a blackberry bush. Now my shirt was not made to be worn by itself, and I soon found out that the blackberry patch was not the place to begin wearing such a costume. But I was determined, and worked on till my bucket was filled with large ripe berries, and I carried them home to my mother. Without stopping to commend my industry, she excitedly exclaimed, 'Bob, where on earth are your pants?' and when she learned that I had forgotten and left them hanging on a blackberry bush, she gave me such a paddling with her slipper that I really wished I was a girl.''

Mr. Todd Talks of Smoking

Mr. Todd was a great smoker and some of his friends thought that he smoked to excess; but he insisted that if tobacco was poison, it was a slow poison. One day, a Baptist friend asked him how long he had been smoking and Mr. Todd told him that he had been smoking for over fifty years. The Baptist gentleman was interested in foreign missions; and he remarked that these cigars cost Mr. Todd so much a day, which would amount to so much a year, which would amount to a large sum in fifty year, and that if he had not spent that sum on tobacco, he could have made a handsome donation to foreign missions. Mr. Todd took his cigar out of his mouth, blew a cloud of smoke across the room and said, "Well, sir, you don't smoke, have not smoked for the past fifty years; now how much have you given to foreign missions?"

Boyle Gordon

Judge Boyle Gordon, one of Boone County's best lawyers, was representative of the county in the legislature in 1865, and professor of law in the university from 1872 till 1882. During August, 1864, General Sterling Price was coming north to Missouri and reached as far as Jefferson City, and numerous bands of bushwhackers were in different parts of the county, so the banks and express companies declined to receive any money on deposit. Judge Gordon represented various Philadelphia wholesale houses and collected five thousand dollars from persons in Columbia, which he intended remitting to his clients. Owing to the refusal of the banks and express companies to receive money Judge Gordon was compelled to keep this sum and carry it around for about a month. He took it to his home, just east of Columbia, and every night slept out in the woods with his valuable package. Mr. Gordon was one of the happiest of men when he was able to send this money to Philadelphia, and perhaps his clients were as pleased at receiving it.

Moss Prewitt

The first bank ever started in Boone County was the banking house of Prewitt & Price. Mr. Prewitt was a hatter and a merchant, came from Kentucky to Franklin in early times, then to Columbia in 1821. He began by taking care of money for his customers in his store. His store was situated in a brick house on Broadway, one door east of the present Boone County National Bank. At first, he would take a man's money and place it in an envelope, and write the owner's name on it, and put it in his safe. He never had any vault. Then, he concluded that he would put the money in his safe, and write down on an account book the amount, and thus he began banking; this was in 1857. In 1867, this bank received its charter, which was the first national bank established west of the Mississippi River. In 1871, the bank acquired the name of Boone County National Bank, by which name it is still known.

While Mr. Prewitt was conducting his store, about 1830, there was a narrow passageway between his store and the building just west of it (now the bank), and a back door of Prewitt 's store opened into this passage. Although nearly all of the bears had been killed in the county, a few still remained, especially out north of Columbia. One day a number of men discovered a black bear near Bear creek, and with guns and dogs started a chase. The bear would fight the dogs, then run, and a new supply of dogs would be called to the rescue. Finally the frightened animal ran into town, down Eighth Street, and turned into the alley just north of the bank. Mr. Prewitt, hearing the terrible noise, stepped out of his side door to see what it was, when the bear turned into this passage, knocked him down, and bear and dogs all ran over him. The bear ran across Broadway, and to the southeast, and was killed on what is now the Marshall Gordon farm. While Mr. Prewitt lived in Franklin, he had a brother, who was not a success in business. As Mr. Prewitt was leaving for Columbia, the brother decided to go to Texas; and Mr. Prewitt fitted him out and gave him some money. He did not hear from the brother, and did not know that he had married till he heard of the brother's death. On his deathbed, this brother told his wife of the kindness and liberality of Moss Prewitt, and, as he had no children, he gave his wife all of his property, and asked her to give the same to Moss Prewitt at her death. When she died, Mr. Prewitt heard of their where about for the first time, and learned that she had willed him a league of land, four miles square, which Mr: Prewitt afterwards sold for twenty-five dollars an acre.

Mr. Prewitt, who died in 1871, was the father of a large family. One of his daughters married R. B. Price, who, although now eighty years old, claims to be the youngest man in Columbia.

Citizens of Boone County

Boone County has always been the home of useful and distinguished men, men of state as well as national fame:

James S. Rollins, lawyer, editor, congressman, senator, legislator and friend of education, stands at the head of the list
Wm. F. Switzler, editor, historian, and chief of the bureau of statistics, was one of the men who had much to do with making Boone County
W. Pope Yeaman, minister and orator
E. C. More, consul general to Mexico
Beverly T. Galloway, the plant expert
St. Clair McKelway, editor of the Brooklyn Eagle
James L. Stephens, state senator, merchant and philanthropist
Edwin W. Stephens, editor, publisher and public servant
Moss Prewitt, bankers and financiers
R. B. Price, bankers and financiers
Jas. H. Waugh, bankers and financiers
Robt. L. Todd, bankers and financiers
Jno. S. Clarkson, bankers and financiers
Jno. T. M. Johnston, bankers and financiers
Wm. S. Woods, bankers and financiers
H. H. Banks, bankers and financiers
Jno. T. Mitchell, bankers and financiers
Jonathan Kirkbride, active and successful merchants
Oliver Parker, active and successful merchants
R. H. Clinkscales, active and successful merchants
J. S. Moss, active and successful merchants
J. S. Dorsey, active and successful merchants
Victor Barth, active and successful merchants
B. Loeb, active and successful merchants
C. C. Newman, active and successful merchants
J. L. Matthews, active and successful merchants
C. B. Miller, active and successful merchants
S. H. Baker, active and successful merchants
W. B. Nowell, active and successful merchants
J. W. Strawn, active and successful merchants
B. F. Dimmitt, active and successful merchants
L. Grossman, active and successful merchants
Hulen & Hulett, active and successful merchants
Jas. M. Proctor, active and successful merchants
M. H. Harris & Son, active and successful merchants
John Parker, Bass & Johnston, active and successful merchants
John Wiseman, active and successful merchants,
John A. Stewart, farmer, real estate dealer and city beautifier
Attorney General Wm. A. Robards
Sinclair Kirtley
Judge P. H. McBride
Boyle Gordon
Gen. Odon Guitar
Col. Squire Turner, lawyers of state-wide reputation, one and all have added to Boone County's fame.

In the livestock business, Boone County farmers have been in the front rank:

A. H. Shepard, breeder of Holsteins,
I. C. Huntington, breeder of Galloways,
F. W. Smith, breeder of Herefords
R. W. Dorsey, breeder of Herefords
Parker Brothers, breeders of Shorthorns
Hickman Brothers, breeders of Shorthorns
Joseph Estes, Sr., breeders of Shorthorns
Wm. H. Bass, breeders of jacks
A. E. Limerick, breeders of jacks
D. K. Crocket, breeders of jacks
F. S. Sappington, breeders of jacks
Doctor McAlester, breeders of jacks
Doctor Keith, M. D., breeders of jacks
Brown and O. J. Moores, breeders of horses,
J. H. Sampson & Sons, breeders of sheep,
Geo. E. Thomson breeders of hogs
Allen Park breeders of hogs
Wm. E. Bradford, breeders of hogs
J. M. Stone, breeders of poultry
J. E. Bedford, breeders of poultry
W. H. Cochran, breeders of poultry
Miss Lizzie Hodge, breeders of poultry
Dr. W. P. Dysart, mule feeders
Jno. S. Chandler, mule feeders
W. L. Greene, mule feeders
Jas. T. Gibbs, mule feeders
R. L. Keene & Sons, mule feeders
Tilford Murray, mule feeders
Abram Ellis, mule feeders

These persons and such successful farmers as:

Jno. W. Harris
W. R. Wilhite
W. B. Hunt
Col. Eli E. Bass
Dr. H. M. Clarkson
A. J. Estes
Marshall Gordon
Tuckers, with their Boone County products, have many times "topped the market."
D. A. Robnett's apples,
Nathan King's butter and
T. C. McIntyre's vinegar each enjoys a national reputation.

Mention should also be made that Boone County has reason to be proud of the teachers, mechanics, manufacturers and skilled laborers in all lines of work, who have added so materially to the wealth and prosperity of our county.

It is to be hoped that in days to come Boone County, around whose memory clusters so much interesting history, will furnish even more and better citizens and even more and better farm and manufactured products than she has in days gone by.


© Missouri American History and Genealogy Project
Created August 16, 2017 by Judy White

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