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

Putnam County, Missouri
By B. H. Bonfoey, Unionville


Physical Features

Putnam is in the most northern tier of Missouri counties, its northern boundary being the Missouri-Iowa state line. It is bounded on the east by Schuyler County, on the south by Sullivan and Adair and on the west by Mercer. It is thirty-six miles from east to west and fourteen from north to south, except in the southeast corner, where the boundary extends three miles further to the southward. It contains 523 square miles.

The land is generally rolling and some of it hilly and broken, although there is much level land. There are few springs and water is gotten from cisterns, and wells 15 to 30 feet deep, or artificial ponds. There are no rivers in the county, except Chariton on the eastern boundary line, but numerous small creeks drain most of the land well.

The county is crossed by three railroads, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, and the Iowa & St. Louis. All run from north to south.

Although practically all the good farming land is now being tilled, the resources of the county are still both numerous and diversified. There is some good timber land left in the eastern part of the county. In the western part it is found only along the streams. Coal is found in abundance. Layers underlie the entire county, but it is readily accessible only in the eastern part. Here it can be reached either by shafting or drifting. Numerous coal mines are worked on a small scale and there is one large company, the Mendota Coal and Mining Company, which owns twelve thousand acres of coal land in Putnam County. Limestone and sandstone are both found in the county, the latter excellent for building purposes. Paint clay, fire clay and gravel are also found.

Increase in Population

The population of Putnam County since its organization has been as follows: 1850, 1,657; 1860, 9,208; 1870, 11,217; 1880, 13,555; 1890, 15,365; 1900, 16,688; 1910, 14,308.

First Settlers

The first settlers in what is now Putnam County came in the decade beginning with 1830. Who was the first to come is a matter of dispute. John Corneilison and his daughter, Hannah Vincent, settled in the county in March, 1836.

Brightwell Martin is said by some to have come earlier than this. Settlers who preceded these were Spencer Grogan, William Miunix, Thomas Eelly, James Cochran, Thomas Wright and Jack Martin. The dates of their coming are unknown. Of the early settlers the largest number came either from some other part of Missouri or from Kentucky. Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio and Illinois were also represented in the population of the county during its early history. Later, immigration from the northern part of the United States came in larger numbers.

Besides the nine persons mentioned above, the following were among the early settlers in Putnam County.

Came before 1840
Lilburn Smith
Joshua Shaddon
Joseph Shaddon
John Shaddon
William Loe
Col. James Wells
G. W. R. Ledford
Elias Ledford
Jesse Trewhitt
Came in 1840
S. P. Kirby
James G. Humphreys
Hamilton W. Berry
Mary M. Johnson
John J. Brasfield
Martha J. Fullerton
Joshua Guffey
W. R. Berry
Charles T. Berry
John Bragg
W. A. Smith
Bennett West
Came in 1841
Elias Morgan
Peter Nicholas
Richard West
Daniel Sparks
James Ryals
Wilson Lee
James M Brasfield
R. M. Shaddon
Hiram Perkins
F. K. McCollom
John A. McCollom
A. Q. McCollom
Lucy Smith
William Kirby
John Ryals
Came in 1842
Samuel Marshall
John Williams
J. M. Gilstrap
William P. Shanklin
Branch Morris
Came in 1843
Samuel West
Thomas Holman
Robert Smith
Joseph Guffey
John F. Crabtree
Wesley Crabtree
William J. Cook
James Shaw

The exact date of their arrival has not been ascertained. Immigrants in large numbers continued to come up to the time of the Civil War.

The early settlers made their homes in different parts of the county. St. John, in the northwestern part; Medicine Creek, in the south western part; Putnamville, which was the county seat for a time; and the Mullines settlement in the southeastern part of the county, these were early settlements within the borders of what is now Putnam County.

Putman County Coal Mine

The early settlers did not, as a rule, enter their land. The office of entry was at Fayette, in Howard County, about 100 miles away, and journeys there had to be made overland. There were few entries made before 1849, in which year a land office was opened at Milan, now the county seat of Sullivan County, which adjoins Putnam on the south. Entries from that time on were numerous. Entries for land in Putnam County were first made in 1836. Brightwell Martin made the first entry, on April 24th. Several residents of adjoining counties entered land in Putnam County during the next few years.

The early settlers found the valleys partly or entirely covered with timber. Fences were rare and the settlers held their lands almost in common. Their cattle, sheep, hogs and horses ranged at will.

Pioneer Life

Poor but honest, the early settlers had the proverbial hospitality of the South. Strangers were cordially entertained and the people were kindly toward each other. The market was far distant, so they produced little that they did not consume themselves. Then too, the "good roads movement" had not begun to be agitated and the roads and bridges were very bad. Deer and wild turkeys were common and fish were found in the streams. These could be gotten with little effort and helped to supply the wants of the settlers. The women spun, wove and made clothing for the family. Tobacco was raised at home and whisky was plentiful at only fifteen cents a gallon. On election days, this intoxicant was often given away free to influence the voters.

The nearest markets were Brunswick, on the Missouri river, seventy-five miles distant, almost due south; and Alexandria, on the Mississippi, eighty miles to the eastward. Bad roads made it impossible, usually, to make the trip in less than eight or ten days. The early settlers did not commonly travel for pleasure. The trips were tedious and it was hard to get the "ready money" which was necessary on the journey. Little that the pioneer had could be converted into cash except with great difficulty. Even the most prosperous financially had trouble getting funds.

These features of the early life in the county were not unlike those of life elsewhere in Northeast Missouri. The pioneers were much the same in manners and customs.

Organization of the County

When Missouri was admitted to the Union in 1821, Putnam County was a part of the territory comprised in Chariton County. Between 1841 and 1845 it was in Howard County, then a part of Sullivan County. Part of Sullivan County was known as Dodge County, St. John was the county seat. Putnam was organized from Sullivan County in 1845. Putnamville was chosen as the county seat of old Putnam County by the board of commissioners, which consisted of Robert Bronaugh, of Ralls; Harrison Monday, of Lewis; and John H. Rumjue, of Scotland County. The county was divided into five townships, Grogan, Cochran, Elm, Richland and Locust. Justices of the peace were appointed for each township. The townships have been changed on numerous occasions. There are now ten, York, Medicine, Sherman, Jackson, Union, Wilson, Lincoln, Richland, Liberty, Grant and Elm.

County Officers

The first county officers of Putnam County, with the years they held office, are as follows:

Burnet M. Henderson, sheriff, 1845-1848
John McMillan, clerk of the county court, 1845
Wesley Halliburton, circuit and prosecuting attorney, 1845
David Eckles, treasurer, 1849
Christopher Miller, assessor, 1847
J. Lavenburg, coroner, 1866
William J. Cook, school commissioner, 1853
John McMillan, clerk of the circuit court, 1845
L. P. Smith, county surveyor, 1845-1868

The present county officers are: E. F. Haigler, presiding judge of the county court; J. L. Casady, judge of the county court from the eastern district; William L. Pollock, judge of the county court from the western district; Lorenzo Jones, judge of the probate court; Sang Triplett, clerk of the circuit court; John T. Morgan, clerk of the county court; Peter D. Greggers, recorder of deeds; Edgar A. Jarman, prosecuting attorney; Noah Crooks, sheriff; C. W. Mulinax, treasurer; J. H. Holman, coroner; A. F. Kenne, public administrator; Cloe Tingley, surveyor; W. K. Armstrong, superintendent of public schools.

County Court

The first session of the county court was held on April 28, 1845, at the home of James Cochran. The first county officers were appointed and it was provided that the county and circuit courts should be held at the home of James Cochran until a permanent seat of justice was established. Jacob Willis was given permission to conduct a ferry across the Chariton River, and the rates of ferriage were fixed. The rate for a single person or horse was six and one-fourth cents and for a wagon twenty-five to fifty cents.

Among the records of the court is found one very interesting order. On August 18, 1845, it was ordered that the county buy four gallons of whiskey to be used on the day of a lot sale in Putnamville. The order reads as follows:

Ordered that the town commissioner be authorized to purchase four gallons of whisky for the sale of lots, and that he be paid out of the lot fund. Signed by:

Walter Crockett
Isaac Gilstrap, Sr.
Thomas Hargraves

The whiskey was evidently expected to make bidding on the part of the purchasers of lots more spirited. The court was anxious to make the lots sell for as high prices as possible, because numerous debts had to be paid for out of the fund derived from the sale of the lots. The first county seat was Bryants Station, then Hartford and afterward Putnamville.

In 1848 a petition was presented to the court by 212 taxable inhabitants of the county, out of a total of 269, asking that the county seat be removed from Putnamville to the center of the county. The request was granted and five commissioners were appointed to locate the county seat. They were:

James Wells and William Oglesby, of Schuyler County
Marcus Stephenson, of Adair County
Thomas Z. Whitson and John R. Davis, of Mercer County

The voters of the county, at an election held on December 15 and 16, 1848, ratified the action of the county court. Lilbum P. Smith, the county surveyor, located the geographical center, of the county and a court house was begun. This was finished in 1858, costing in all, $11,175.

Circuit Court

The first term of the circuit court began at Putnamville on September 16, 1845. James A. Clark was the judge. The grand jury was composed of:

Grand Jury

John Corneilison
Richard West
Abraham Morris
Jacob Young
John Dillon
Benjamin Musgrove
Wesley J. Crabtree
Morris B. Atkins
John L. Upton
Lewis Scobee
Asa Fisk
Richard Humphreys

The first case to come before the court was that of the State of Missouri was: James Trewhitt, for murder. This was continued until the next term of court, when Trewhitt was acquitted. The first suit for divorce was brought on October 19, 1848, and was styled Amanda Green vs. Abraham Green.

One of the most interesting and important suits ever brought in the circuit court of Putnam County was that of the county against the Chicago, Burlington & Kansas City Railway Company, in 1885, for taxes due the county for the years 1881, 1882, 1883 and 1884. The railway maintained that it was exempt from taxation. The case was decided in favor of the county. It was appealed by the company to the Supreme Court of Missouri and later to the Supreme Court of the United States, both of which courts sustained the decision of the lower court. The company finally paid into the county treasury the sum of $5,383.08.

Putnam County is now in the third judicial circuit of Missouri. George W. Wanamaker, of Bethany, is the judge. Court meets in April, August and November, on the fourth Monday in the month. Grundy, Harrison and Mercer counties are in the same circuit. A probate court was established by act of the legislature in 1848.

In the Civil War

In the Civil War Putnam County sided strongly with the North. When J. H. Halley, a former representative in the Missouri legislature sent word that he would make speeches in the county in support of the Southern cause, word was sent back to him that if he came and attempted to carry out his program, a scaffold would be erected on which he would be hanged. He was told that there were to be no speeches by Southern sympathizers in Putnam County. Needless to say, Halley did not come. The few residents of the county who joined the Southern forces had to slip quietly away.

A contingent of Southern sympathizers in Schuyler County, about four hundred in all, sent word to N. P. Applegate, sheriff of Putnam County, that if he did not enroll troops for the Southern army, the four hundred Schuyler County soldiers would come over to "aid'' him. When the time came which had been fixed by the Schuyler County men to come over to "aid" Sheriff Applegate, about five hundred men assembled at Unionville, armed with all kinds of weapons and organized themselves. They wanted to go over to the Chariton River to invite the Schuyler County "army" over into Putnam County, so that the enrollment question might be settled then and there. The troops started off, and reached the Chariton River, after having been delayed once, soon after they started, because they thought they saw the Schuyler County troops approaching. However, the Southerners did not come, but went off to join Price's army, so Schuyler County was left with few Southern sympathizers, at least among the men, and no attempt was made to organize Southern troops in Putnam County. The Putnam County troops remained on the banks of the Chariton River about a week, then, learning of the departure of the Schuyler County troops, returned to their homes, after organizing themselves into six companies of "Home Guards."

Each of these companies consisted of seventy-five men, armed with their own guns. Among the captains of the companies were:

William H. Bolander, of Liberty Township
M. T. Steen, of Elm; Peter Thompson, of Wilson
Sylvester S. Collins
G. W. R. Ledford

Captain William H. Bogle commanded another company composed of fifty-nine men. It was organized in August, 1861, and performed duty under orders from General Hurlbut, by reinforcing Colonel Scott, of the Third Iowa Infantry, at Kirksville. It was also stationed for a time at Sepley's Ford and was in the service in Putnam, Schuyler and Sullivan counties until it disbanded in October. Another Putnam County organization was the Shawneetown Home Guards, of which James Ewing was captain.

The first speech made in Putnam County in favor of the war was that by Lieut.-Col. I. V. Pratt, at the court house in Unionville, during the early summer of 1861. In 1862 Alexander Woolfolk, recruiting at the time for the First Missouri State Militia, spoke requesting recruits for the regiment of which he was later made lieutenant-colonel.

Most of the Putnam County citizens who enrolled in the Union army were in either the Eighteenth or Forty-Second regiments of the Missouri infantry, or the Seventh Missouri cavalry. Some enrolled in cavalry regiments in Iowa. Guerrillas and bushwhackers did not trouble anyone in Putnam County during the war, except during 1864, when a band passed through the eastern part of the county. An attempt was made to capture J. M. Brasfield, but it failed. No one was killed by the guerrillas in Putnam, but a man was shot in Sullivan County by the same party.

Several men were killed during the war by Union sympathizers. Among these were James M. Overton, Samuel Bland, William Cain, Braston Carter and John Henry. The Rev. John L. Woods, pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church at Unionville and a Southern sympathizer, was killed by Union soldiers at home on a furlough, while they were under the influence of liquor.

These deeds of Union soldiers must not be taken, however, to represent the spirit of all the Union men. Putnam County furnished many loyal soldiers to the Northern army, some of which died on the field of battle. It is estimated that 1,345 Putnam County citizens enlisted during the war, more than the number of qualified voters. This number is fairly accurate as it is based on actual returns from all the townships except Union, where the number had to be given approximately.

Although few people at Putnam County actually enlisted in the Southern army, there were a larger number who sympathized with the Southern cause. One of these men, William Adkins, was disqualified from voting because of his "hurrahing for Jefferson Davis." This disability was removed when, later during the war, he served in the Union army. One of the interesting proceedings of the Putnam County circuit court is the record of the removal of his disability. The order was made that "it is" considered and decreed by the court that the disqualification resting upon the petitioner, William Adkins, in consequence of "hurrahing for Jefferson Davis, is removed."

At the close of the war it was proposed to erect a monument, to cost about $2,000, out of respect to the memory of the defenders of the Union from Putnam County, who died while in the service. Interest was permitted to wane, though, and the monument has never been built.

County Politics

Putnam County has been strongly Republican in politics since the beginning of the Civil war. In 1864 the vote for president was:

Lincoln, Republican, 1,292; McClellan, Democrat, 47.
In 1880 the vote was: Garfield, Republican, 1,513; Hancock, Democrat, 725.
In 1910 the vote for judge of the Missouri supreme court was: Brown, Republican, 1,697; Gantt, Democrat, 777.

These figures are given to show that the county has remained continuously and strongly Republican. All the present county officers, except the presiding judge of the county court, are Republicans.

The liquor question began to be agitated in Putnam County about 1876. In 1887 an election was held in which the sale of intoxicating liquors was prohibited in the county. The vote was 900 to 627. The county has since been continuously dry.

Railroads and Schools

The people of the county have shown their progressiveness by the support they have given to railroads proposing to run through the county and to other expenditures of money which would prove beneficial. In 1870 the people voted to subscribe $150,000 to the capital stock of the Burlington & Southwestern Railroad Company, to be paid when the road was built through the county. The money was never paid, however, as the road was never built. In 1871 the county court subscribed $150,000 to the capital stock of the St. Joseph '& Iowa Railroad Company, all of which was to be used in building the road within the county. Of this amount only $100,000 was ever paid, as the railroad refused to deliver to the county their certificates of stock. In 1875 a proposition to subscribe $110,000 to the capital stock of the Missouri, Iowa & Nebraska Railroad Company was defeated, 464 to 784.

Putnam County has encouraged education since its organization. The schools of the county are equal, or superior, to those elsewhere in Missouri. The teachers of the county have formed, for their own benefit, teachers' associations and teachers' institutes. The first meetings of each of these organizations were held in 1866.


The strongest religious denominations of the county are the Methodists, Christians and Baptists. The Methodists and Baptists were early in the field. Preachers of these denominations came soon after the first settlers. The Rev. A. J. Wall, a Methodist preacher, came as early as 1852. Other denominations having churches in the county are the Presbyterians, Church of Christ, Adventists, Catholics and Universalists.

There have always been few Negroes in Putnam County. In 1860 there were only thirty-one Negro slaves and at the present time the Negro population is less than twenty-five. Nearly all the people are not only native born Americans, but children of native born Americans and by far the largest part of the population own the homes in which they live.

Putnam County is preeminently agricultural in its interests. The incorporated towns are to wit: Unionville, the county seat, a city of the fourth class, and Lucerne, Powersville and Worthington.

Cities, Towns and Villages


Unionville has a population of slightly more than two thousand. It has two newspapers, the Journal and the Republican; four banks; two flouring mills; and a brick and tile factory. Grain, lumber, livestock and coal are produced around Unionville and make it a business center of importance. It has good schools, including a high school approved by the University of Missouri. It was founded in 1853, when Putnam and Dodge counties were united and was first called Harmony, as all factions were conciliated in its selection. At the sale of lots when Harmony was laid out the prices for single lots varied from $8 to $100. The total amount received from the lot sale was $1,703.


Lucerne has a population of about three hundred. It is in the western part of the county and is the center of a rich farming region. Coal deposits are found nearby. It is on the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad. It has one bank and one newspaper, the Standard.


Powersville, on the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad, north of Lucerne and three miles south of the Iowa line, is the center of agricultural interests. It has one newspaper, the Record; two banks; saw and grist mills; and a cheese factory. It is incorporated, and has a population of about four hundred.

Lemonville | Blackbird | Howland | Mendota

Lemonville, Blackbird, Howland and Mendota are stations on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. Much coal is mined at Mendota. On the Iowa & St. Louis Railroad are Worthington, Mapleton and Livonia.

There are small communities elsewhere in the county, but none of importance. Lowground is the only post office off the railroad. Post offices are located at all the above mentioned places. The primary interests of all of them are agricultural. Other, industries are either dependent or subordinate.


  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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