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

Callaway County, Missouri
by Ovid Bell, Fulton


"The Kingdom"

The Kingdom of Callaway, as Callaway County has been called since the Civil war, boasts of the patriotism and moral and mental fiber of its citizens. Whenever duty has called, whether to war, or statecraft, or hard and earnest labor, the men and women of Callaway have responded willingly and gladly. The first settlers came principally from Virginia and Kentucky, descendants of the band who

Barely hating ease,
Yet rode with Spotswood 'round the land,
And Raleigh 'round the seas.

Their sons and daughters have inherited the land they settled, and though born with the pioneer instinct, have remained in the county of their birth and given its citizenship stability and worth. The manners, customs and traditions of the pioneers have been handed down through succeeding generations, and though there have been several periods of extensive immigration into the county from other sections, life in the county remains true to the kindly, helpful, neighborly ways of the fathers from the Old Dominion and the Blue Grass State.

Cote Sans Dessein

The first settlement of white men in the county was at Cote Sans Dessein, where in 1808 a few French traders established a village and built a fort. The historian Rose, who was not always accurate, says the settlement was founded before 1800, but cites nothing to prove his statement, while Henry M. Brackenridge, who visited it in 1811, says the village was about three years old at the time of his visit. The history of Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-06) does not speak of Cote Sans Dessein, presumably because it did not exist at that time, while the Rev. John Mason Peck, positively fixes the date as 1808.

Grants of land in the county were made as early as 1800, however, for in that year Baptiste Duchoquette, of the city of St. Louis, obtained a grant of four thousand arpens from Spain, the cession being known even now as Survey No. 1837. Cote Sans Dessein was built on the land granted to Duchoquette.

Cote Sans Dessein has ceased to exist, even the post office having been discontinued. The hill on which it was located remains, but the river has encroached on the surrounding ground and washed away the old graveyard, while all of the buildings that stood in the original settlement have rotted down. The name has been given to the township in which the settlement was located, and in that way it will be preserved.

Cote Sans Dessein was the first site chosen for the state capital by the commissioners appointed by the general assembly to select a place for the permanent seat of government. The statute appointing the commissioners required that the capital should be located within forty miles of the mouth of the Osage river, and also provided that the commissioners should hold their first meeting at Cote Sans Dessein on the first Monday in May, 1821. The records of the meeting of the commissioners have been destroyed and the fact cannot be ascertained, but it is believed that they selected Cote Sans Dessein for the capital at that meeting. It is known that after Cote Sans Dessein had been selected a question concerning the title to the land was raised, and that then Jefferson City was chosen. An act of the third general assembly required the commissioners to meet a second time at Cote Sans Dessein on September 15, 1821, to complete their work, and this second meeting probably was held after the question of title came up.

Daniel Boone is credited with having crossed Callaway County in 1808 in company with Captain Clemson, who was on his way to establish Fort Osage. An oak tree still stands on Nine Mile Prairie on which is inscribed, "D. B., 1808," and local tradition says that the letters and figures were carved by Boone. Seven years after that time Col. Nathan Boone, a son of Daniel Boone, surveyed the Boon's Lick trail from St. Charles to Old. Franklin, directly across Callaway County; and the following year Colonel Boone, with Joseph Evans, began a survey of the county, which was completed in 1817.

The First Permanent Settlements

Uncertainty exists concerning who was the first permanent American settler. Campbell ("Gazetteer of Missouri," p. 94) and Rose ("Pioneer Families of Missouri," p. 265) accord the distinction to the Rev. John Ham, a Methodist minister, and Jonathan Crow, who built bark cabins on Auxvasse creek, about ten miles southeast of Fulton, in the fall of 1815.

In a brief sketch of James and John Estens (probably Estes), Rose says they came to Callaway county in 1815 and also were the first American settlers, while in still another sketch he says Asa Williams, of Cote Sans Dessein, settled here in the spring of 1815, which, if true, probably would make him the first American settler.

Ham's Prairie was named for Ham, and Crow's Fork creek for Crow. During the next few months a few other American settlers came to the county, and by the fall of 1817 a number of families were established in the district which now comprises Callaway County.

Capt. Patrick Ewing, of Virginia, who later was the second sheriff of Callaway County, built the first residence in the county outside the village of Cote Sans Dessein in January, 1816. It was located a short distance northwest of the present town of Mokane.

Aaron Watson located on the Boon's Lick trail in the spring of 1816 and about the same time James Van Bibber, of Kentucky, settled on Auxvasse creek, near the present Cross state Highway crossing. Immigration into the county was heavy during the next two or three years, and by the time the state was admitted into the Union, the county was quite generally settled.

John S. Ferguson, of Kentucky, who settled near Cote Sans Dessein in the fall of 1817, is credited with having built the first mill in the county in the spring of 1818. Previous to that time meal and flour were obtained in St. Charles County, or ground by the settlers by hand.

Henry May, who located on May's Prairie, southwest of Fulton, in the fall of 1818, soon afterward built another mill and also established a race track.

John Phillips, who settled on Crow's Fork creek, east and south of Fulton, in 1817, built a still house and made whiskey a short time after coming to the county.

Benjamin and James Goodrich, who settled on Auxvasse creek, near the present Berry ford bridge, in 1817, built both a horse mill and distillery.

Some Old Towns

The exact facts concerning the establishment of the old towns of the county probably have been lost forever. Either Smith's Landing, located on the site of the present town of Mokane, or Elizabeth, the first county seat, was the next village after Cote Sans Dessein.

Thomas Smith settled on the ground on which Mokane is built in 1818, and soon afterward established a cemetery and boat landing. Samuel Ewing, his brother-in-law and the brother of Capt. Patrick Ewing, looked after his business at the landing. The cemetery is still used as a burial place by the descendants of the early settlers. The village was known as St. Aubert for many years.

Thomas Miller, who came to Callaway County from Kentucky in 1826, laid off the town of Millersburg, and named it for Millersburg, Kentucky. The records of the county recorder's office show that the plat of Millersburg was filed on October 15, 1829. It ranks next to Fulton in age.

Portland was laid off September 8, 1831, by John Yates, the Fulton merchant, and Eden Benson. Possibly the village was in existence at an earlier time. Later on Portland became second in importance only to Fulton, and at one time was its commercial rival. Located on the Missouri River, shipping to and from it was easy, and it became the trading point for a large section. It retained its importance as a tobacco market up to about 1885, when the culture of tobacco in the eastern part of the county became unprofitable.

Williamsburg was laid off December 1, 1836, by B. G. D. Moxley, and named for Harvey Williams, who was interested with him and a man named Compton in the town's first store. It is said that the town was founded two years before it was laid off.

Concord, which is not even a post office now, was laid off by John Henderson on May 18, 1837. Before the building of the Chicago & Alton Railroad it was an important trading point.

Organization of County

Even before Missouri became a state, Callaway County was organized out of territory that had previously belonged to Montgomery County.

"Campbell's "Gazetteer of Missouri," p. 95, says: "The settlers prior to 1817, as far as can be ascertained, were, in and near Cote Sans Dessein.

Early Settlers

Cote Sans Dessein
Jean Baptiste
Francois, Joseph
Louis Roi
Joseph Rivard
Joseph Tibeau
Baptist Graza
Francois Tyon
Baptiste Denoya
Louis Denoya
[Francis] Urno [Emo]
Louis Labras
Louis Vincennes
Nicholas Foy
Louis Laptant
French Catholics
Patrick Ewing
Asa Williams
Thomas Smith
Jonathan Ramsey
Major Jesse Evans
George Evans
Further north
John Ham
Jonathan Crow
Rev. Willian Coats
Thomas Kitching
William Pratt
Joseph Callaway
John Ward
Aaron Watson
Felix Brown
John French

Instead of living north of Cote Sans Dessein, however, the Americans lived north east, some near the present town of Mokane, and more on Coats' Prairie.

Jonathan Ramsey, mentioned above, was a member of the convention of 1820 which framed the first constitution of Missouri, being one of the two representatives from Montgomery County, of which Callaway was then a part. He was the first representative of the county in the general assembly and served in that capacity until 1827. His daughter, Jane, was the wife of Robert Ewing and the mother of Henry Clay Ewing, attorney-general of Missouri from 1873 to 1875.

It is possible that Minerva, daughter of James Van Bibber, and Elizabeth Hays (the latter a granddaughter of Daniel Boone), was the first American child born in Callaway County. Efforts made by the writer to learn of someone who was born earlier have failed. She was the wife of William J. Davis, of Coats' Prairie. Campbell's Gazetteer (p. 98l) says: "She is the oldest living woman born in Callaway County. She is (August, 1874) fifty-six years and six months old." According to these figures, she was born in February, 1818. Mr. Huron Burt, of Nine Mile Prairie, now 84 years old, thinks that probably she was the first American child born in the county. Mr. Burt lives on the farm on which he was born and is the best informed man living on pioneer days in Callaway County. His mother was a daughter of Isaac Van Bibber and a great-granddaughter of Daniel Boone. His father, George W. Burt, came to Missouri from Ohio in 1821, and, with his brother, John Burt, built the first water mill in this part of the state in Montgomery County. They later built the first water mill in Callaway County for Neal Calbreath on Auxvasse creek, near the Mexico road crossing.

It is one of the three counties that can claim the distinction of being the twenty-third organized in the state, for Callaway, Gasconade and Saline each came into existence on November 25, 1820. The county was named for Capt. James Callaway, who was killed by Indians on March 7, 1815, while crossing Loutre creek, just above the mouth of Prairie Pork, several miles below Mineola Springs, Montgomery County, where, a year later, Isaac Van Bibber erected his famous tavern.  

The first officials of the county were appointed by Alexander McNair, first governor of Missouri. Judge Irvine O. Hockaday, founder of a distinguished Missouri family, came from Winchester, Kentucky, to become clerk of the circuit and county courts and to act as treasurer, and Wynkoop Warner, of Nine Mile Prairie Township, was sheriff and acting collector. The county court was composed of Benjamin Young, Stephen C. Dorris and Israel B. Grant, Robert Criswell was appointed assessor by the county court, and David Sterigere was recommended by the court to Governor McNair for appointment as surveyor, and later was commissioned by the governor.

The first session of the circuit court was held on February 5, 1821, at the tavern of Henry Brite, at the northwest comer of Ham's Prairie, about one-half mile northwest of the present village of that name. Rufus Pettibone, of St, Charles, afterwards a member of the state supreme court, presided, holding his commission from Governor McNair. The grand jury called for that term of court was the first to meet in the county and was composed of:

First Grand Jury

James Van Bibber
Samuel Miller
James Guthridge
Patrick Ewing
Thomas Hornbuckle
Robert Craghead
Robert Criswell
Josiah Ramsey, Jr.
Richard Humphreys
James Henderson
John Nevins
Arthur Neal
Robert Read
William Coats
James Langley
William H. Dunnica
John Gibson
William Hall
John Evins [Evans]
Thomas Smith
Wharton Moore

Mr. Moore was foreman. The jury reported to the court that there was no business to come before it and was discharged.

A week later, on February 12, 1821, the county court met at the same place. Much of the business of the first session of the court concerned highways, as it does today, and has throughout the county's history. One of the first acts of the court was the division of the county into two townships, the one east of Auxvasse creek being called Auxvasse, and the one west, Cote Sans Dessein. When the court met in May, 1821, Round Prairie, Elizabeth (now Fulton), and Nine Mile Prairie townships were created. Cedar township was formed in 1824 and Bourbon in 1825. Liberty Township came into existence in 1838, while the other townships of the county are comparatively modem in their origin.

Judge I. O. Hockaday was the father of Judge John Augustus Hockaday, of Fulton, who was attorney-general of Missouri from 1875 to 1877, and judge of the circuit court of Callaway, Boone, Randolph and Howard counties from 1890 until his death on November 20, 1903. Judge John A. Hockaday was born on Hockaday Hill^ just south of Fulton, on May 6, 1837. He was city attorney of Fulton in 1865, and in 1866 was elected a member of the state senate, but was not allowed to serve because he was not of constitutional age. He was graduated from Westminster College in 1856 and was the first person to obtain the degree of Bachelor of Science from the college. His widow and only child, Augustus Hockaday, live in Fulton.

After serving on the county court nearly a year, Judge Young resigned and Samuel T. Moore, who lived on Ham's Prairie, and was founder of one branch of the Moore family in Callaway County, was appointed to take his place. Judge Young was elected a member of the state senate in 1822 and continued in that office until the session of 1834. He also was a member of the state constitutional convention of 1845.

Judge Grant was murdered by two Negroes on December 29, 1835, and they were legally executed. The murder was the first in the county. One of the Negroes belonged to Judge Grant and the other to Col. William Cowherd, grandfather of William S. Cowherd, of Kansas City, former mayor of that city and former representative in congress from the Jackson county district. William S. Cowherd says the Grant Negro confessed the crime and implicated the Cowherd Negro, and that when the Grant Negro heard the tolling of the bell which announced the execution of the Cowherd Negro, he broke down and confessed that the Cowherd Negro was innocent. "My grandfather felt so outraged at the result of that trial," Mr. Cowherd says, "that he left Callaway and came to Jackson about 1837."

The election of August 5, 1822, was the first held in the county after its organization. Judge John B. C. Lucas, father of the man whom Thomas H. Benton killed in a duel, carried the county for representative in congress, securing 146 votes, to 96 cast for John Scott, of Ste. Genevieve, who had been territorial delegate to congress and who was elected representative, and thirty-three for Alexander Stewart. Jonathan Ramsey was elected representative in the general assembly; Wynkoop Warner, sheriff, and Samuel T. Guthrie, coroner.

The meeting place of the first courts was designated in the statute which created the county ("Laws of a Public and General Nature of the District of Louisiana," etc., vol. I, p. 679). The same statute appointed commissioners to locate the county seat and they subsequently selected a site near Brite's tavern and named it Elizabeth, in honor of Brite's wife. Elizabeth remained the county seat until 1825, when, by authority of the general assembly, the permanent seat of government was moved to Fulton, where it has since been located. During the years that Elizabeth was the county seat Brite's tavern was used for a courthouse.

State Hospital for the Insane

State Hospital for Insane, Fulton

The State Lunatic Asylum, now known as State Hospital No. 1, was located in Fulton on July 13, 1847. An act of the general assembly approved on February 16, 1847, provided for the establishment of the institution, and for its location within the counties of Boone, Callaway, Chariton, Cole, Cooper, Howard, Moniteau and Saline. When the commissioners met at Boonville, bids from a number of counties were received, and the offer of Callaway to give about five hundred acres of land and $11,500 in money being considered the best, the institution was located here. The contract for erecting the building was let to Solomon Jenkins on April 16, 1849, for $47,450, and the building was opened and the first patient t received on December 2, 1851. The first superintendent of the hospital was Dr. Turner R. H. Smith, J and the first treasurer Judge James S. Henderson. Charles H Hardin, afterward governor of Missouri, was the first secretary of the board of managers, and held the position about ten years. The hospital was closed during part of the Civil war and the buildings and grounds were used for barracks by the Federal soldiers stationed in the county, and also for a military prison in which to confine disloyal Gallawegians.

The County Courthouses

The original town of Fulton comprised fifty acres of land bought from George Nichols for $50. The town was platted by Henry May, Ezra B. Sitton and Hans Patton, who were appointed by the general assembly as a commission to erect a courthouse and jail. The original town lay between Sixth and First streets, north and south, and Bluff and Nichols streets, east and west.

A brick courthouse was built in Fulton in 1827-28 by S. J. Ferguson at a cost of $l,297, and remained in use until 1856, when it was superseded by the present courthouse building. The structure was thirty-six feet square, two stories high, and had brick floors on the ground floor, making what was considered the finest courthouse west of the Mississippi river at that time. When the first courthouse was torn down, Daniel M. Tucker, who was then and for many years afterward a merchant in Fulton, bought the building for $400 and used the brick in erecting his dwelling, which stood at the head of Court Street until 1911, the year after his death. The present courthouse was erected by Alfred I. Moore at a cost of $17,850.

Ministers and Churches of Callaway County


Callaway County's first railroad, which was one of the first completed in the state, was built between the years 1855 and 1857, and extended from Cote Sans Dessein back into the county a distance of about seven miles to a large cannel coal mine. The road was built by the Callaway Mining and Manufacturing Company, which was chartered by the general assembly in 1847, and was composed of Pennsylvania men. The company planned to mine cannel coal extensively and also to extract oil from the coal and sell it for commercial uses. To this end the railroad was built, a mine opened, an oil factory erected, and a number of houses constructed for the use of employees. After the railroad was built, the product of the mine was shipped on a steamboat owned by the company. The enterprise proved to be a wild dream of riches, for the demand for the coal was small, while the oil-producing scheme was impracticable.

The property was sold at trustee's sale in St. Louis on September 26, 1859, and was bid in at $95. At least part of the first railroad track built by the company was laid with wooden rails, and it is said that horses were the first motive power used. The whole of the track was finally laid with steel rails and a locomotive put into use. Traces of the old track and the foundations of the building are yet to be found.

Chicago & Alton Railroad

The Louisiana & Missouri River Railroad, now known as the South Branch of the Chicago & Alton, was built from Mexico across the county to Cedar City in 1872. The county court, composed of men who, under the provisions of the Drake Constitution, were appointed by the governor and therefore were not beholden to the people of the county for their position, issued $640,000 worth of nine per cent bonds for the building of the railroad. In 1872 the people of the county refused to pay interest on the bonds, and then ensued five years of litigation to test the validity of the debt. The end came when the United States Supreme Court, by a vote of five to four, decided adversely to the people of the county. After the decision of the court, a convention was held in Fulton to consider a compromise with the owners of the bonds. Some of the members of the convention advocated paying fifty per cent of the debt while others desired to pay seventy-five per cent. Much discussion ensued, and finally Richard Hord, of Cote Sans Dessein, proposed that inasmuch as only five of the nine members of the Supreme Court thought the bonds were valid, the county should agree to assume five-ninths of the debt. The suggestion was adopted by the convention, and afterward most of the bondholders accepted payment on that basis. The bonds were refunded twice and the last of the debt was discharged in 1906, when, on September 26, the last of the bonds were publicly burned at a celebration held in Fulton. It is estimated that the debt cost the people of the county $1,500,000 in principal and interest before it was paid. The history of the debt is the darkest chapter in the history of the county.


The Banner of Liberty, established in Fulton in 1839 by "Warren Woodson, Jr., was the first newspaper published in the county. The next year Isaac Curd and William Henry Russell became editors of the paper and changed its name to Fulton Reformer, then the name was changed to Western Star by W. A. Stewart, who remained in charge until 1843. Duncan & Goggin in 1845 named the paper Fulton Telegraph, and as the Telegraph it is still published.

In other Wars

Black Hawk Indian War

Two companies were furnished by the county in the Black Hawk Indian war, one going out under Capt. John Jameson, and the other under Capt. Patrick Ewing. They did duty alternately at Fort Pike, on the Des Moines River, just below Keokuk, Iowa. Jameson's company left Fulton on July 1, 1832, and was away about six weeks, while Swing's company went out in August and was on duty even a shorter time. Neither company participated in an engagement.

Mexican War

The next war to which the county furnished men was that with Mexico. Company H of Doniphan's immortal expedition was organized in Callaway with Capt. Charles B. Rodgers as captain. The roster of the company contained 111 names, according to Connelley's ''Doniphan's Expedition" (pp. 560-62). The company left Fulton on June 14, 1846, going to Fort Leavenworth, where it joined the remainder of the expedition, and then began the most spectacular military exploit in the history of the United States. The company served throughout the campaign and was mustered out at New Orleans on June 21, 1847.

During the Civil War

The County Courthouses

The original town of Fulton comprised fifty acres of land bought from George Nichols for $50. The town was platted by Henry May, Ezra B. Sitton and Hans Patton, who were appointed by the general assembly as a commission to erect a courthouse and jail. The original town lay between Sixth and First streets, north and south, and Bluff and Nichols streets, east and west.

A brick courthouse was built in Fulton in 1827-28 by S. J. Ferguson at a cost of $l,297, and remained in use until 1856, when it was superseded by the present courthouse building. The structure was thirty-six feet square, two stories high, and had brick floors on the ground floor, making what was considered the finest courthouse west of the Mississippi river at that time. When the first courthouse was torn down, Daniel M. Tucker, who was then and for many years afterward a merchant in Fulton, bought the building for $400 and used the brick in erecting his dwelling, which stood at the head of Court Street until 1911, the year after his death. The present courthouse was erected by Alfred I. Moore at a cost of $17,850.

The Life of the Pioneer

Life in the county during its first years was not unlike that elsewhere on the frontier of civilization. The men were robust and stalwart, the women strong and resourceful, and under their hands farms were cleared of timber, settlements established, and highways opened. Many of the pioneers were slave owners and brought their bondmen with them when they immigrated to the state, and until slavery was abolished, the institution was recognized and accepted by the most influential men of the county. The county was an independent community, for besides the grain and vegetables required for food, the land grew the cotton and flax which were needed to make the lighter clothing, while the farmers raised the sheep from which wool was gotten for the heavier clothing. Game was plentiful, even buffalo being seen at times and such time as the settlers were not employed at other pursuits they devoted to the chase. Even the powder the settlers used was made in the county, as were the augers, the guns, the wagons, the hats, and the boots and shoes. Indians had long since ceased to be a menace and the years were filled with a contentment such as only like communities know.

Callaway County Today

During the years 1892-93 the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad was built across the southern part of the county. It follows the course of the Missouri River.

By far the most important development in the county in recent years is the building of permanent highways adjacent to Fulton. A road district eight miles square, with Fulton almost in the center of it, was organized in 1911, and on December 30, 1911, a bond issue of $100,000 was authorized. The seven principal roads out of Fulton are being graded at this time, and during the coming year will be macadamized to the boundary of the district. From this beginning it is hoped that a system of permanent roads throughout the county will be developed.

By the census of 1910 Callaway county had a population of 24,400 people, of which 5,228 resided in Fulton. Nearly the whole area of the county has been cleared and is productive. A large majority of the people own their homes, and while none is immensely wealthy, none is miserably poor. The county is noted especially as a mule-feeding center, though its mule industry is small compared with its other livestock interests. The town of Fulton is prosperous, owning its water and light plants, and having an adequate sewerage system, besides a public library and many miles of paved and macadamized streets. From the town and county have gone many men and women who have done, or are doing, splendid work in the world. 

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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