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

Macon County, Missouri
By Ben Eli Guthrie, Macon


Physical Features

Macon County comprises twenty-three congressional townships. These lie between townships 61 and 55, north, and between ranges 12 and 18. However, there is a half township cut out of the northeast corner of the county and attached to Knox County, and a township and a half cut out of the southwest corner of the square and attached to Chariton County.

The Muscle fork of the Chariton River runs through range 17. The Grand Chariton River runs through range 16 the whole length. There is much bottom land in this range, averaging about three miles wide, with bluffs on either hand. Range 15 is washed by Middle fork of the Grand Chariton. The extreme eastern part of this range, as well as range 14, is drained through the whole county by the East fork of the Chariton.

The Grand Divide between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers lies in range 14, running a little west of north. From the Divide east the county is drained by the Middle fork of Salt River. The bottoms on these streams are large and the watersheds have many large plateaus. The general lay of the land is sightly, abounding in beautiful landscapes.

Many of the streams were skirted to a great extent by timber which extended well up into the hills. On the divides and plateaus were large expanses of prairie. The timber land has a lively soil. The prairie has less sand and the soil is apparently tougher and somewhat stiff. The timber soil produces tobacco, and, as a matter of course, corn, wheat and oats, and, when cleared and properly pastured, runs into blue grass. The prairie soils produce large crops of native grass, and, when cultivated, yield large harvests of tame grasses. There is sufficient clay in the soil to hold all fertilizers, and, as a consequence, the soil repays care and nursing as few soils do.

The timber of the county was of various characters of oak, hickory, walnut, Cottonwood, linn, hackberry and sugar tree. The timber was ample for the early settlers, who built their homes, fenced their farms and kept themselves warm therewith.

There are some springs in Macon County. The clay retains the water and cisterns are therefore easily built. Living water is usually found in large parts of the county from fifteen to twenty-five feet.

The topography of the county would render road building somewhat difficult. But the drainage of the roads is good, and, when once built, they can be maintained with reasonable outlay.

There are a few historic trails across the county, the most ancient of which is the Bee Trace, which, coming from the south, struck the county about the center of range 14 on the Grand Divide and extended up that watershed, passing through what was then called the Narrows, near the present site of Macon City, then through what was called Moccasinville and on north to Blanket Grove, which was in Adair County, just north of LaPlata.

Another historic road was the Hannibal and St. Joseph stage road that struck the county on the east and passed through township 58, passing by old Ten Mile post office, then on to Bloomington, the old county seat, thence on to Winchester and across the Chariton River on to Linneus in Linn County. This was the great highway of traffic east and west, until the building of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad, some six miles to the south, in 1857-58.

Still another road was the old stage road from Glasgow and Boonville northward, and, as years passed by, reaching the Iowa line and finally on to Des Moines. It passed through Bloomington, the county seat, thence on to LaPlata and to Kirksville.

Early Settlements

The territory above described was originally a part of that Mother of Counties, Old Howard, and when her daughter, Randolph, was separated by legislative hand, Randolph County then extended to the Iowa line. As a matter of course, the pioneer, with his natural restlessness and his shyness of the restraints and limitations of civilization, slipped up these roads and left no record behind him of the date he crossed the south line of Macon County. Doubtless it was away back in the '20s.

But Randolph was not the only county to the south. The present Monroe County was there and its people would naturally follow up the Salt River into Macon County. The same is equally true of Ralls and Marion counties. To the southwest was Chariton County, and its people would follow the Muscle fork into Macon County.

The southeast corner of the county, now known as Middle Fork Township, was one of the earlier settlements, and at a very early date the country to the southwest was settled by the Morrows and others who preceded them.

However, Mr. James Loe had made a settlement just south of Callao and sometime thereafter built a mill on the Chariton River. It was claimed it was a considerable time before the Loe family saw any human being save the Sioux Indians on their hunting expeditions.

Somewhat earlier, possibly, the Blackwell settlement near Moccasinville, which was about five miles north of Macon and just west of the Bee Trace, was started. Mr. Blackwell was quite a prominent man and gave the name to the settlement.

Farther to the west and north, over in range 15, there was a settlement known as the Owenby settlement. This was largely developed in the early '30s. West of the Chariton, in township 57, sprang up, somewhat early, the Lingo settlement. These settlements on the south, like Topsy, just grew to the north.

In range 13 there was a very considerable settlement on Ten Mile creek and also on Bear creek, coming chiefly from Clarion and Ralls counties.

The early settlers from necessity followed the usual course and located in the timber along the streams. There water was near, timber at hand for their cabins and comfort was found at the least outlay of labor and money. The wild turkey infested the woods. The deer had his run through the timber and, not far distant, the prairie chicken had his habitat. The rifle could be trusted for meat and a few acres of cleared ground could produce the necessary bread.

The settlers, like in all the counties to the south, were largely Virginians and Kentuckians. North Carolinians and Tennesseans were also found in goodly numbers, and, not infrequently, these came through the old Northwest Territory. Natives of that territory likewise were in the number and New England was not without its representatives. A very considerable number were slave owners and brought their slaves with them and acquired land and commenced the opening of large farms. These were not numerous and were found more largely in the southern part of the county, though they were spread to the northern part in the early '50s.


The general assembly in the winter of 1836-37 organized the county, extending from the north line of Randolph County to the Iowa line. The act appointed Joseph Baker and Henry Lassiter as commissioners to select a county seat. They located it in the Owenby settlement, in what was then known as Box Ankle and later Bloomington. It was the fifty-seventh, county to be organized in the state.

The county court convened for the first time on the 1st of May, 1837, at Joseph Owenby's. The court consisted of John S. Morrow, Joseph Owenby and James Cochran. Daniel C. Hubbard was the clerk and Jefferson Morrow was the sheriff appointed by the governor. They righted up the old township bounds that had been made by the Randolph county court, and ordered an election for justices, and, among other things, appointed a commission to open a road commencing at Jones' mill on middle fork of Salt River and running by way of Centerville. Fred Rowland's and Dan Crawley's and intersecting with the Bee Trace on the grand prairie, meaning, no doubt, to go to Moccasinville and on to the old county seat. The second meeting of the court was held on the 3rd of July at the house of Dabney C. Garth, which became the Capitol of the county.

The first term of the circuit court was not held until August 17. Judge Thomas Reynolds, being the judge of the second judicial circuit of the state, presided. Circuit court had seventeen civil and ten criminal cases on its docket the first year. The criminal cases were one murder case and various misdemeanors, such as marking hogs and gambling.

The first marriage was performed on April 30, 1837, by the Rev. Wm. Sears, of the Primitive Baptist church, and united in matrimony Joseph P. Owenby and Nancy Garrett.

The court house was ordered built at the August term of the county court in 1838, a wooden concern. But the county court had some ambition, and, in November, 1839, ordered a brick court house, forty-five feet square, two stories in height and at an estimated cost of $30,000. The house was completed in 1852.

Pioneer Life

The dwellings of pioneers in Macon County were copies of the well-known pioneer cabin. It is easy to see that this is a matter of necessity. He brought his axe with him, and maybe, occasionally, had a crosscut saw, and sometimes some fortunate fellow had an ill-assorted kit of tools, including an adze or broadaxe, possibly. Poles were at hand, growing in the timber. These were straight and could be found of desired lengths, from sixteen to twenty feet.

Doubtless the modern housewife would scare at the idea of a dirt floor and the immense amount of dirt that would go with it. Well, that depends somewhat. The dirt of the floor became packed until it often glistened in a way, and when brush brooms were used, as in some instances, and other brooms when broom corn would grow, the deft art of the pioneer housewife made those floors look clean and refreshing.

One wonderful thing about one of these cabins was its capacity to take care of people and house strangers. The latch-string was on the outside and no questions were asked, but the invitation was: ''Come in, be seated and welcome.''

The furniture of these houses was as varied as the tastes and ingenuity of the owner and his wife. A pioneer bedstead would be something interesting were there space to describe it. There is a little institution that existed in every home in those days that seems almost to have passed from memory. That is the trundle-bed. If it was not brought along, it was not hard to construct one. It was placed during the waking hours under the other bed and consequently occupied but little room and could be pulled out when occasion required.

The following story is told of the distinguished Methodist Bishop Marvin: Stopping one day in one of these cabins, he was put to bed at night with the children in the trundle-bed. In the night the little fellow beside him wakened him by crying and saying: "Mother, mother, this man's a scrougin' me.'' The good bishop moved over and is said to have wondered if he had ''scrouged" anybody else during his life. But there has been many a fellow ''scrouged" in trundle-beds, as well as other places, in Macon County. These primitive devices for furniture gradually but slowly gave place to better.

But the round-pole cabin, while persisting in many places, eventually gave way to the hewed log house. It subsisted with some persistency, but gradually gave way, as the saw mill and the carpenter and a little money came, to the dignified frame buildings. These, setting back in great lawns, were signs of prosperity and wealth and gradually sprang up here and there over the county. Occasionally the brick residence raised its substantial form above the lawns and outbuildings of the thrifty farmer.

The early Macon County citizen was not without his diversions, not-withstanding the monotony of a new country. He found many directions where he could give vent to his surplus energies.

The streams abounded largely with fish and the only drawback was hook and line and net. These were costly, but, when once possessed, were stored with the jewels of the family. The squirrel inhabited the forest and was wont to chatter in his season. The rabbit infested the paths, roads and fields and could be taken by dog or gun. The wild turkey made the timber his habitat. The deer roamed the prairies and bivouacked in the timber and knew every crossing from branch to branch and from timber point to timber point. The early comers in Macon County occasionally found the bear, especially in the southeastern corner. The wolf howled and robbed. When he could find the time, the settler was found in pursuit of game. It filled his smokehouse and made his table rival the viands of the nobility. Major William J. Morrow claimed that for years, from the early frosts of October to the coming of the spring rains, his smokehouse was never without from two to a half dozen saddles of venison and from three to a dozen turkeys, to say nothing of smaller game.

In the spring after the crops were in and before com plowing began, the farmers, or at least the young people, were liable to go on fishing expeditions to the nearest river and spend at least one night. Again, in the fall, after the wheat was sown, there was a hunting excursion. Maconites usually went to the Chariton River and those expeditions often lasted a week or ten days. All the young bloods of the neighborhood got into the company and there were scenes of social enjoyment, feats of physical strength, as well as exhibitions of pluck and marksmanship.

An incident will serve to illustrate: Old ''Uncle" James Dysart was a pious Presbyterian elder and a dominant figure in his neighborhood and he believed in a hunt on the Chariton in the fall and the neighbors were much pleased to send their boys with him, because of the somewhat restraining influence of the old gentleman's presence. The old gentleman was given to keeping up his devotions, even in camp. One Sunday morning, however, the boys slipped out before the old gentleman awoke and got away, all except his young son, Jimps, who was quite a character and lived and died in Macon County. Young Jimps did not dare to breach the parental discipline and stayed in camp. When the hour for the morning service came, and while right in the midst of his father's prayer, Jimps heard the hounds a short distance from camp. He knew exactly where that deer was going to cross the branch and he quietly took his gun and slipped away while his father was still engaged in his devotions. In due course ''crack'' went Jimp's rifle and in a reasonable time he appeared with the saddle of the deer, which he hung on a pole. The old gentleman came out and said: ''Jimpsy, Jimpsy, Jimpsy!" The boy threw up his head and said: ''Father, no deer's a going to run over me in the path, if it is a Sunday morning.'' The story followed the boy to his grave and he even laughed and told it himself long after he had become an ordained Presbyterian minister.

Another fall sport that was somewhat largely followed was shooting for beef. The neighborhood assembled and shot for the right to choose the pick of the beef. Dear as powder and ball must have been, it was not thought illy spent when used in this sport. It not only developed the rifleman, but it brought food for the family as well, and the winner was as proud as the victor at some modern state tournament would be.

Quilting Parties and Log Rolling

The surroundings explain the necessities for much bedding. Consequently quilting parties were active industries of the women. The quilting brought together all the dames and daughters of the neighborhood. When the dinner hour came the quilt was hoisted above the heads, the table was spread and a sumptuous dinner laid thereon and there was room and to spare for all. So the wagging tongue, the laughing mouth and the sparkling eyes had their opportunity, whether they got to the first table or the second or third. And the boys and men always made it convenient to be around more or less at meal hours at least. With the sinking sun the quilt would go up among the rafters for the night, and while fathers and mothers, at least the older ones, may have wended their way home, the younger ones stayed to dance 'til morning's light.

Cupid plied his art with assiduity in Macon County and the records show that his dart was as fatal here as elsewhere. Weddings were grand social events. The friends were invited, or, failing invitation, came, and where it was at all possible the infare must follow, and the bride-groom's family must be just as liberal as the bride's. These were frequently followed by the dance and made much for the social development, as well as diversion, of the people.

Another phase of the social life is represented by house raisings, where the men assembled to help a neighbor build a log house. This may have lasted for one day or more, though generally for one day. It was hard work, but they were a jovial lot of men and workers, and the joke went 'round and the news was retailed and the questions of the day were discussed and the men swapped ideas. All this called for cooking, and, consequently, the good women of the neighborhood came in to assist and the men and women all met at the noon, if not at the evening meal.

The same incidents attended the great com husking, when the farmer was behind with his work and his corn had to be shucked. These were especially attractive to the younger element, and when the Negro came in. as he very frequently did, his rich melody and jingling songs added to the interest and entertainment of the occasion.

Log rollings were not infrequent. Great trees that could not be split into rails were cut into proper lengths, because the land had to be cleared. These logs were rolled into great heaps to be burned. Even tobacco cuttings and strippings occasionally fell into the same line. The pioneer did not throw these opportunities away, but gathered them up and carried them home for reflection.

In the early days of Macon County musters were still in vogue. While intending to keep the militia in training, they served a far better purpose. It was the mixing and mingling of men, the sharpening of wits and the development of ideas and thought, as well as the dissemination of news and information. There is always in all new communities and settlements a ''bully." He is liable to attend any large gathering, and, next to the county court days, the muster was his favorite resort. But it was rather a fatal place for him to attend, because the sense and brawn, as well as the moral forces of the community, was felt at such places.

The following story may illustrate: One year the Macon muster was held at Huntsville. Among other Maconites was Basil Powell, a stalwart man, weighing 200 pounds, without a surplus pound of flesh, a North Carolinian and as peaceable a man as a new settlement ever contained. The ''bully" appeared, looked the field over and chose Mr. Powell for his victim. He jibed, taunted and teased in a way, but got no response or recognition. Powell simply ignored him. So, taking advantage of some circumstance, he taunted Powell in a way that touched the quick and brought rapid and unexpected action Powell arose from his knees, where he had been fixing his fire, seized the ''bully" by the neck and with Herculean strength laid him flat on his back and sat on him. Then, holding his hands with iron grip and without breaking the skin or inflicting a blow, he simply sat there until the man begged to be released.

One of the early amusements in Macon County was horse racing. Man likes a horse and likes to see him run. Moreover the horse likes to run. Man is a plunger and will bet on a horse-race. Macon County was not very old when she made a record in the courts which shows that the passion for horse racing, if not ruling, was at least active in the community. The race was run near old Bloomington. They disagreed about the payment of the stakes and suit was instituted which was finally carried to the Supreme Court. (Humphreys v. McGee, 13 Mo. 436.) Some nice things cannot be said about horse racing. Nevertheless, they played their part in the advancement of men and horses.

The Humphrey-McGee race was run in November, 1847. There still remains in Macon County a witness of the race, Isaiah Lewis, who seems to have reached Bloomington in 1835 before the county was organized. He locates the track a mile south of Bloomington on a quarter-stretch.

Macon County Towns and Villages

Anabel | Ardmore | Atlanta | Axtel | Barnesville | Barryville | Bevier | Bloomington | Callao | Cash | College Mound | Dodd | Economy | Elmer | Ethel | Excello | Floretta | Goldsberry | Hart | Kaseyville | Lacrosse | LaPlata | Lingo | Macon City | McClainesville | Mercyville | Moccasinville | Newberg | New Boston | New Cambria | Old Centerville | Old Winchester | Sue City | Ten Mile | Tullvania

Prairie Fires

A peculiar dread of the settler, especially in the fall of the year, was the dread of the prairie fire. The old settler expatiates in most vivid teems upon the grandeur and fearfulness of those wild agencies of destruction. One of Dr. Willis King's most famous oratorical efforts was his description of a fight against a great prairie fire. There was nothing equal to it. By the way. Doctor King was a Macon County man, and the prairie fire he described a Macon County incident of pioneer life.

Peace and Order

Taking the traditions that come down to us, as well as the records, in the early days of Macon County peace and order seemed to prevail to a remarkable degree. The above is true up to the war. That period from 1861 to 1870, however, was a period of revolution. All her railroad towns were garrisoned. Negroes rushed into large garrisons, including the county seat. Her citizens became greatly divided on the questions at stake and were losing property by the strong arm of military rule, as well as the hand of the guerrilla and the robber. Strife was engendered and turbulence reigned on every hand. Everything was confusion and chaos and the old saying inter arma, silent leges, was fully illustrated and exemplified. Not only the regular forces, but independent commanders, responsible to nobody, made the highways dangerous and the night hideous. Death, as a matter of course, followed, and famine and vendetta raised their reeking hands.

It must be said, however, to the credit of the county and its inhabitants that, considering the circumstances, when we look at it at this distance, the damage and destruction was much less than it might have been. With the coming of peace, civil authority regained its power and the people settled down face to face with one another and began to take in the situation and slowly to accommodate themselves to the basis of peace and quiet and good order. There were here and there occasional outbreaks with telling consequences.


In no small sense, possibly, the above conditions resulted from the deep religious sense that animated the early inhabitants of the county. They were, as stated, largely from Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. They were only fifty years from the great Revival of 1800, and many of them brought with them the impulses received in that wonderful movement, and, when they found themselves in the wilderness of Missouri, away from every religious movement, they were a little lonesome and felt the loss of a great privilege. The consequence was that the missionary was looked for, longed for and hailed with welcome when he came and his meetings were attended by throngs. The Baptists of various kinds, the Methodists and the Presbyterians got an early start in Macon County, as well as the Disciples (so called Campbellites), and all stayed with us and have given us moral power and religious tone and have been a chief factor in making us what we are.

In 1853 McGee College was opened by the Cumberland Presbyterians at College Mound in the county, and the early settlers, such as the Dysarts, McCormicks, Sharps, Caldwells, Pattons, and many others, were throwing their influence to build it up, so that in 1861 when the long roll of war was sounded through the land it had an attendance of some 250 students, and its graduating class for the year numbered ten or more.

Several of its students have spent lives of usefulness in Macon and adjoining counties, among whom may be mentioned Maj. A. W. Mullins, the distinguished attorney of Linn county, Maj. B. R. Dysart of Macon County, no less distinguished as a lawyer, Capt. B. F. Stone of Macon County and the Rev. H. R. Crockett and many others. That institution was stopped by the exigencies of the war, but opened again in 1865.

In 1867 there was established in Macon under the patronage of the Methodist Episcopal Church an institution known as Johnson College. It ran for several years and was well managed and did good work. But the necessities of the early 70s following the great panic put it out of commission and it was never reopened.

In the early '80s the Reverend Ethelbert Talbot, rector of St. James Episcopal church in Macon, opened a school which he called St. James Academy. Mr. Talbot was well known for his energy, diplomacy and ability. The school was opened in a modest way and grew possibly beyond his expectations. Later on the school was conducted by Mr. Davis, a successor of Mr. Talbot as rector, and he did good work. In about 1890 Col. Frederick William Blees became the principal of the school and developed with considerable rapidity the military feature which had been introduced by some of his predecessors. He continued the school until about 1895. About that time Colonel Blees came into a fortune and in 1897 built, just south of the city of Macon, in a most beautiful location, what became known as Blees Military Academy, said to be the best designed military school building in the country.


Macon County was some time getting its public school system under way. But it should not be inferred that it was indifferent to education. That by no means followed. The private subscription school was soon in vogue in many neighborhoods. The teacher was abroad and stirred up sentiment in favor of education. It may be well here to correct a not uncommon idea in regard to the pioneer, and especially the Missouri pioneer. He gets credit for being a dullard and an ignoramus. He is entitled to no such credit. He may have been dull, and often was; he may have been more or less ignorant, and sometimes was. But he was a man with nerve. He was a man whose contact with the world had made him dissatisfied with his own condition and that dissatisfaction had sent him into the wilderness to better himself and he knew that dullness and ignorance were not going to stay in that wilderness simply because he was there. He understood that his children would meet the children of learning and intelligence and he made this venture to get a vantage ground by which he might prepare his offspring to meet the coming wave of culture and refinement. Consequently, the intellectual, as well as the religious, culture of his children lay next to his heart and inspired him to sacrifice. The pioneer was a man of enterprise He had the sagacity to see visions and the nerve to attempt their realization.

At present there are 139 school districts in Macon County.

Macon County years ago adopted by popular vote the system of superintendents in lieu of the old commissioners when that was a matter of option, and the common schools of the county are fulfilling to as large a measure as in any county in the state the object of their creation.

There were many private teachers in different parts of Macon County to supplement the public schools. Religious denominations lent their aid in this direction, and we find Bloomington Academy, under the patronage of the Methodist Episcopal church, South, in a very thriving condition and disseminating knowledge at the county seat and thus over the whole county.

The high schools of Macon County are quite numerous and all of them are in articulation with the State University and the great private and denominational colleges of the state.

Medical Profession

Like all new counties, and especially lying as Macon County did, the early settlers had more or less sickness, chills and fevers and malaria being the dominant ailments. The enterprising physician followed in the wake of the advancing immigration. To every settlement soon came the physician. As far as tradition goes, the profession was represented by men of sterling worth, who helped to give tone and worth to the community. As a sample may be mentioned Dr. J. B. Winn, who in the early '30s settled in the Morrow neighborhood and rode far and wide wherever fever burned and disease raged. The touch of his hand, like the sound of his voice, was more or less inspiring to the racked patient. He was a strong believer in Christianity and a devoted member of the Methodist church. He stood at the head of every movement for the advancement of morality and religion.

Their lives today in the county Dr. Josiah Gates, at LaPlata, who is far into the 80's and has ministered to the aches and pains of humanity all over the north half of the county since his early manhood.

It is impossible to name all the worthy individual members of the profession. We trespass to mention an old English doctor who came to Macon County in the early days, bringing with him his diploma from Oxford and Edinburgh and fitting himself with his elegance, learning and gentility into the crudities and rudeness's of frontier life, traveled over the eastern half of the county and was called in almost every consultation. The older people remaining today, who were children in Barron's time, continue to speak of him with great respect and dwell upon his peculiarities and his efficiency.

Dr. William I. Lowry, son of old Doctor Lowry of Fayette, was a doctor by nature and practiced widely in the southwestern part of the county before and during the war. Doctor Lowry was the father of Professor Thomas J. Lowry, who for years taught in the University of Missouri.

Another physician who was partly contemporaneous with Doctor Lowry in southern Macon County, a surgeon of the Fifth Regiment, Missouri Infantry, C. S. A., was Dr. Benjamin Dysart, who, after the war, settled in Paris, Missouri, where he had an extensive practice and died a few years ago.

Dr. T. F. Owen, who came to the country from Kentucky during the building of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad, got his start following the camps of the laborers on the railroads, and, later, settling at Callao, practiced extensively and died some years ago.

Dr. J. F. Campbell settled in the southwestern part of the county during the war and built up a large practice when he moved to Callao and practiced extensively up and down the Chariton River. He was a public spirited man and took a deep interest in public affairs and represented the county in the legislature.

Dr. T. F. Jackson, son of Lieutenant-Governor Hancock Jackson, was for years a prominent figure in the medical profession of the county. At the time of the Porter raids through the northeastern portion of Missouri, the doctor, by tradition at least, is credited with visits made during the shades of night to the secret retreats of Porter's sick and wounded.

Macon County has had for years a County Medical Association, which is connected with the state organizations and its members today are devoted to their profession and are studying its interests.

Bench and Bar

Macon County when organized was attached to the second judicial circuit, of which Judge Thomas Reynolds was the presiding judge. Judge Reynolds became governor in the election of 1840, and seems to have been succeeded for a short term by Judge James Birch, and then followed by James Clark and Judge Leland. These were all gentlemen of fine ability. They were followed by Judge William A. Hall of Randolph County, who was a learned lawyer and a just judge. He had some peculiarities, but was a great thinker and understood his profession. He is said to have been on fine terms with the younger members of the bar.

Judge Hall was succeeded by Judge George H. Burckhartt of Huntsville, a great character and native of Randolph County. He was proud of the fact that he had never been outside of the great state of Missouri.

Then followed Judge John W. Henry, who served from 1872 to November, 1876. He saw justice and was quite prompt to take the right. Quick in his mental and physical action, he reached an opinion and was somewhat firm in it, but was always ready to reverse himself, which he could do with the greatest grace when convinced he was wrong. In 1877 he became judge of the Supreme Court. In November, 1876, he was succeeded by Judge Andrew Ellison of Adair County, who succeeded to the vacancy and continued on the bench until 1898. He was another of nature's noblemen. Not an over-bookish man, but a man who knew the meaning and purport of what he read and with a somewhat remarkable tenacity of memory as to the principles of the law and their application to the jurisprudence of Missouri, he made a most acceptable judge and could have remained on the bench until his death had he so desired. But he went into private practice, and died a few years thereafter.

In 1899, Judge Nat. M. Shelton of Schuyler County succeeded to the bench and has continued ever since. This last fact speaks more for Judge Shelton than could a page of words. Sometimes after his election the judge moved to Macon, which is now his home. The Bar of Macon County has always been one of ability and devotion.

An incident may serve to illustrate pioneer life and jurisprudence: There lived at Bloomington, from the earliest period, one Absalom Lewis, commonly called Uncle Ab. When he was getting along towards his ninetieth birthday the writer was passing his house one day and saw him at the gate in the sunshine of a beautiful fall day. Stopping to say ''howdy, '' the old gentleman would not be satisfied unless I stayed for dinner and said I could put up my horse and he would show me where the corn was. While doing so, he told me that he was for eleven years a justice of the peace at Old Bloomington and had had but two cases appealed and that both were affirmed. Then he said that Abner Gilstrap and Wesley Halliburton had a case before him one day ''and they were running along all right, when Abner, he sprung a pint, and they argued her up and they argued her down, and I gave the pint to Abner. And then he said, ''they ran along and directly Wesley, he sprung a pint, and they argued her up and they argued her down, and I gave the pint to Wesley. Then they ran on again and directly Abner, he sprung another pint, and they argued her up and they argued her down, and I gave the pint to Wesley, and Abner, he got as mad as hell. I told him if he did not sit down I would adjourn court, take off my coat and go into the yard and whip him. And," he said, ''they quieted down and the case went on. '' It may be mentioned that the squire prided himself on his fighting ability as much as on his legal.

Among the young men who were circuit attorneys and afterwards became distinguished at the bar was John F. Williams. He was circuit attorney in 1858, and represented the state in connection with Attorney-General Gardenhire in the celebrated case of the State against Hayes. The case was quite famous in its day. Colonel Williams became a colonel of militia during the war. After the war he settled in Macon and practiced law in connection with Judge John W. Henry. After Judge Henry's election to the bench. Colonel Williams continued to be a most successful lawyer. He was an advocate and made a most telling speech to a jury, free from cant and always managed to find some point of merit in his case and present it with effect and for all there was in it. Colonel Williams was also a good stump orator.

During Colonel Crittenden's administration, Colonel Williams was superintendent of insurance. He was a friendly man and especially so with the younger members of the bar, and the writer, as well as others, is under many obligations to him.

Space forbids the mention of many good and great men who have practiced at the Macon bar, among whom is the late John H. Overall, an able man and lawyer.

The present bar is of ability. The Honorable Benjamin R. Dysart, who was a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1875, is at present the nestor and dean of the Macon bar. The writer may be permitted to say that Major Dysart is a good pleader, a close thinker and a fine judge of the law, and on a legal point makes a most plausible and convincing argument. For a fine Italian hand in the management of a case, and especially in giving plausibility to its weak points, he is a full match for his old schoolmate, the Honorable A. W. Mullins of Linn County. Mr. Dysart's age and eminence will justify this personal mention of the living while the rest of the bar are left unnamed.

Politics and Interstate War

Macon County from the first seems to have been largely Democratic, though there was a large intelligent and influential minority of Whigs who managed to influence in no small degree the civic destiny of the county. Its location put it on the route of the pilgrimages of the great political orators in campaign years, and tradition is rife with the great speeches made by the great men of the day, such as Claiborne F. Jackson, James J. Lindsey, James Clark, Thomas L. Anderson, James S. Rollins, James S. Green, Thomas Hart Benton and many others. Among the local politicians Fred Rowland soon pushed to the front and became representative. William S. Fox likewise became an active politician and legislator. Colonel Abner Lee Gilstrap also was a prominent politician and member of the convention of 1865. Wesley H. Halliburton was also quite a prominent man and became a member of the state senate.

The Benton split in the Democratic Party created a good deal of excitement in the county, and it is believed the anti-Bentonites dominated. The great questions of slavery and states' rights had their advocates and opponents and at times discussion grew warm, and the Jackson resolutions of 1849 became quite a subject of animated debate among all parties.

In 1860 the Breckenridge men ran for representative, Dr. James Weatherford of Bloomington, a good man and States Rights Democrat. The Douglas men ran Fred Rowland, a dignified thoughtful Democrat with little culture, blessed with good common sense, but a slow speaker. The Bell and Everett party were represented in the race by George Palmer of Macon, a young lawyer with a good gift of speech, quick to catch a point and apt to dodge a thrust. In that campaign his office was to advocate ''The Constitution, the Union and the Enforcement of the Laws,'' but he was in fact principally engaged in goring his two opponents. He seemingly aimed to pet Doctor Weatherford and to go after Uncle Fred, because he was himself almost a secessionist and had the idea that his mission was to beat the Douglas men in the county. The issues were discussed with great earnestness, not to say warmth, and union and disunion, secession and coercion came in for heated declamation. The consequence was that Weatherford was elected and Douglas and Bell lost in the conflict in Macon County. The Whig and Democratic issue went out of the discussion and the Whigs, a great per cent, of whom were States' Rights men of the strictest sect, were acting with the Breckenridge Democrats. Lincoln received no votes in Macon County it is said.

The legislature of 1860-61 called a state convention to take into consideration the ''Federal Relations." The election of delegates to that convention engendered much strife.

There is a little incident that occurred in the early spring of 1861, which seems to have escaped notice in these late years. Macon City was a new railroad town and was enjoying her youthful notoriety. Early in April notice went out that there would be speaking on the political issues of the day by Col. Thomas L. Anderson of Palmyra, Mo., an ex-congressman, and a secessionist flag would be raised. The city made considerable preparation for the event. The crowd came, the train from the east brought Colonel Anderson, and all the political debaters of the surrounding country were present. The flag went up in the afternoon in front of the Harris house, and the crowd cheered, and, as its folds fluttered to the breeze, Colonel Anderson was introduced and made one of his telling and captivating speeches. He was followed by Wesley Halliburton in his most bitter and sarcastic vein, in which he dealt out facts that were damning to the East and the Republican Party.

Soon after the pole raising at Macon, Bloomington announced a speech from the Honorable James S. Green, then a senator from Missouri. His fame and reputation had filled the nation by reason of his demolition of the Squatter Sovereignty doctrine of Douglas. The day came and a large crowd. Green seemed to have been in good condition, and spoke it is believed in his ordinary way, with possibly an increased enthusiasm by reason of the intense excitement that saturated the mind and thought of the community. He spoke his words as if they were hot and spit them from him as if to get rid of them. The audience was at rapt attention when a messenger came in and a telegram was passed to the speaker. He perused it and then read it to the crowd. It announced the taking of Camp Jackson by General Lyon. The crowd was still, as if trying to get hold of something, but the response came a little later, as it were, in a deep unconscious groan. Then Green proceeded, and in his way scored the act, denounced the actors and made his audience feel that the day of liberty had passed in Missouri. However, there was a seriousness and comprehension of the situation that sent the audience home deeply impressed with the sterner facts at hand. The theories had become facts and discussion had vanished before realities. This was followed in a day or two by a great meeting in Macon, which was simply a spontaneous running together from all comers of the county of men, anxious to know and learn and see and determine when and what was to be done. It is said that this crowd in Macon was largely armed with old muskets, shot guns and rifles and the temper of the crowd was anything but assuring for peace.

During all the preceding exciting events several organizations of men were exercising in the different neighborhoods, and musters and drills were frequent, but informal and ineffective. Few real organizations existed. Among them were the Silver Greys of Macon City, under Captain Halleck, and the Macon Rangers, under Capt. William D. Marmaduke. These companies had some more or less organization and some systematic drill, especially the Halleck Company. The preceding incidents attracted the Federal attention and early in June a couple of regiments under General Hurlbut reached Macon from the East. This created consternation and drove out a good many people. About the same time the proclamation of Governor Jackson, calling for fifty thousand volunteers at Jefferson City, sent quite a number of the Halleck and Marmaduke companies on their way, and they joined Gen. John B. Clark, brigadier-general of the third division, at Jefferson City and made a part of the first regiment of that division. This regiment played an important part in the battle of Wilson creek on August 10th. There may be others of that company remaining, but the only one recurring to memory now is Maj. B. R. Dysart of Macon, who was severely wounded in the fight and fell in front of where General Lyon was killed.

About August 20th, there rendezvoused at Marshall three companies of Capt. James Scovern, Capt. Theodore Sanders and Capt. Ben Eli Guthrie, all of Macon County. This constituted the Bevier Battalion of the Third Division and operated with that division during the existence of the Missouri State Guard. This, with the contingent of about one thousand men under Col. Ed Price, joined General Price's advance at Nevada and took part in the battle of Dry Wood and thereafter marched on to Lexington. There, great numbers of other Macon county people joined the various organizations to which they belonged, and the Bevier Battalion was increased to third regiments by the companies of Gross, Griffin and Smith and some three other companies, so that it may be safely said that in Price's army there was at that time in the neighborhood of twelve hundred Macon County people. These followed the fortunes of Price and from time to time additional recruits straggled in.

The Federal army doubtless had as many as two thousand Macon County men during the war in its various commands and militia. Some of them did valiant service, among whom may be mentioned Wm. T. Forbes, C. R. Haverly, John M. London and Ben F. Stone. These were all respected citizens. Garrisons were continually maintained at Macon City. Among the commanders at different times were Forbes, Ebberman, Gilstrap and Williams, who were disposed, as much as may be, to make a hard situation as easy as possible. The tradition among the people afterwards was that General Merrill was quite severe and his memory is not reverenced highly in the county. Col. Odon Guitar commanded for a while and General Fisk also.

There was a Federal prison maintained at Macon on which from time to time many of the old citizens of the county found a temporary abode. On the 25th of September, 1862, ten Confederate prisoners, tried by court martial, were shot. Among the condemned was a boy who wrote the general the following note, which is preserved in the form in which it was sent:

general for god sake spare my life for i am a boy i was perswaded to do what i have done and forse i will go in service and fight for you and stay with you douring the war i wood been fighting for the union if it had bin for others.

J. A. Wysong.

 There is a well authenticated report of a Confederate officer being hung in Macon in the fall of 1864, on the ground of intercepting the United States mails. The name has passed from the records.

The garrisons were not confined to Macon City. It is estimated at one time there were as many as seven thousand soldiers in the county, but this was only for a short time. But garrisons were kept along the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad, and especially at the Chariton Bridge, where a block house was built in 1863 for the protection of the bridge, which still remains and is now used for a better purpose, towit, a stable.

There was one stirring little campaign in Macon County in '64 when Colonel Poindexter made his raid through the country and took Kirksville. In his retreat southward he came into Macon County and crossed to the west of the Chariton, where he met a detachment which was trying to cut off his retreat, and a running fight occurred along the west bluffs of the Chariton, on what is known as Painter's creek, in which there was some maneuvering and a good deal of shooting and maybe one or two deaths. Some of his command were Macon County people.


As stated above, the great stage road from Hannibal to St. Joseph ran through the center of Macon County. So in 1853 when the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad was located it naturally fell within the boundaries of Macon county and runs through township 57.

The North Missouri Railroad was projected in 1853. Among its incorporators were some Macon county men.

After the war the Missouri & Mississippi Railroad was projected, running northeast from Glasgow, Howard County, through Macon, Knox and Clark counties to the Mississippi River. This road was located through Macon City. The county made two subscriptions, amounting to $350,000. The road was not completed and in the panic of 1873 it was abandoned. Later on the St. Louis, Macon & Omaha air line was projected, running from Macon in the direction of Omaha. This road had some work done on it. Its location touched old Bloomington. Hudson Township subscribed $60,000 and Liberty $40,000. These bonds were defaulted and finally compromised and settled.

Business and Industry

After the War

From the settlement to the war was a period of some twenty years in which the settler had established a home and gathered around him many of the comforts then known to rural life. He had stocked and equipped his farm and was reaching out with young and vigorous hand and with watchful eye to acquire the good things of this world. And this can be said to a greater or less extent of every portion of the county. But the war came. War means desolation, and here in Macon County where both parties came and went and where the intelligence and wealth of the community was largely with the weaker party, neither wealth nor intelligence had much protection. Returning peace was not cheered by the smoke from the chimney of the peaceful home, but too often was chilled by the lonely chimney and the ashes of the once happy home. Where the home remained, often the son and father and husband were missing. Almost always the horses and stock were missing and plows and wagons and other implements of industry were scattered. These, singly, are small items, but when taken in a mass they meant a vast sum of money that in the five years of strife had been absolutely swallowed up and was gone beyond recall. How slowly a community reacts from such a thing can only be known by experience. It is first a fear and trembling and an anxiety to get the necessities of today, and then all these means and implements of industry must be gotten together before a start can be made. After reassurance in some measure settles upon the community, credit is strained to the breaking point to supply the wastes of war. But in 1873 came the great panic, not so red-handed as war, but in a certain way more destructive of confidence and commercial activity and energy, and, as a consequence, credit is destroyed, defaults are common, the red flag flies at the courthouse door and at the crossroads and the hard earnings of the last half dozen years are gone with but little to show for it.

Recollect, this period was not confined to 73. It hung on with a deadly fatality until in the '80s, the sun of confidence began to climb the skies and invite men to real effort and gave them real hope and inspired them with early expectations.

From the '80s to '93 Macon County in a certain sense boomed. Not that her progress was phenomenal, but it was steady and forward and she grew in wealth and intelligence and her roads were improved and her confidence in herself and in her people and in the future returned. Consequently, in 1893 the panic was not to be compared with that of 1873. No banks failed and there were but few forced sales and only an occasional foreclosure, and, while the flood of business was stayed in its rapidity, it moved on by the force of its momentum with a steadiness and sureness that gave the community confidence. Macon County can be said to have done well during the trying years from 1893 to 1896.

The panic of 1907 struck the country with an unusual suddenness. In that fall and winter and the following spring the ordinary sales that occur among the farmers of stock and grain were largely attended and large amounts of property were sold. The terms at such sales were cash, or note at eight per cent. It was a remark at the time in the county that the banks got very few sale notes, which is another way of saying that the vast amount of property that changed hands at these sales was paid for on the spot in cash.

For the last fifteen years the farmers have been depositors in the banks and the cattle men and wealthy farmers have been the great borrowers of the banks. This wealth has been grown in Macon County since 1880. From the war to that period the people had just got started and had made back a small amount of what they owned at the beginning of the war and lost during its continuance. 

  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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