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

Scotland County, Missouri
By L. P. Roberts, Memphis


Territory and Population

What is now known as Scotland County was originally a part of the territory known as Lewis County, the latter being organized in 1832. The present boundaries of Scotland County are as follows: Bounded on the north by the state of Iowa, on the south by Knox County, on the east by Clark County and on the west by Schuyler and Adair counties. The east line of the county lies about twenty-eight miles west of the Mississippi River, and Memphis, the county seat, is about forty miles distant from the city of Keokuk, Iowa.

The territory embraced within the boundaries of this county is about twenty-three miles square, or 529 square miles. This, which is only approximately correct, means 338,560 acres of land, most of which is tillable and very fertile. The population of Scotland County according to the census of 1910 is given at 11,869, which is about 1,400 less than it was in 1900.

Organization - County Seat

By an act of the general assembly approved January 29, 1841, that part of Lewis County known as Benton Township was set apart as a separate county and was duly organized for civil and military purposes. Benton Township included the present territory of Scotland County, together with a strip of the north part of Knox County from east to west and six miles wide.

Under the terms of the legislative action referred to, the governor of Missouri was authorized to appoint the first officers of the county. Accordingly the following were appointed as county judges: Hugh Henry, Joseph Davis and William Anderson. The other officers appointed were: James L. Jones, sheriff and ex officio collector; Allen Tate, county clerk; and Henry C. Asbury, assessor.

It seems that while the center of the county, geographically, lay north of where the first county seat was located, yet the center of population in the earliest days of the county's history was near the town of Sand Hill. This was, and is yet, only a small village, but in an early time was considered quite an important trading point. However, the first term of the county court ever held, was called at Sand Hill, and several terms thereafter were held at that place. Hugh Henry was by common consent of his associates on the bench made presiding judge. This court was held the 7th, 8th and 9th of February, 1842.

Volume I, of the records of the county court is now on file in the vault at the office of County Clerk Walter B. Scott, in Memphis. The accuracy with which the records were kept at that time is almost a marvel. Inasmuch as the state of Missouri was then a comparatively new commonwealth and at the same time educational advantages of the pioneers being limited, Clerk Tate's record was considered a model in its day. But Mr. Tate was a fine scribe and the written pages in that old book stand out as a monument of the care and accuracy with which this man did his work. The spacing was almost as nearly perfect as the printed page and the lettering was such as to excite the admiration of later generations, who have grown to regard good penmanship as a lost art.

One of the transactions recorded in this book was where fifty dollars of school money .was loaned to a citizen of the county at a rate of ten per cent interest per annum. The rate of interest was so large that in this day it would be considered usury to demand so much. They could not secure a borrower now at such a rate, because of the fact that plenty of money can be secured at a much lower rate of interest.

Elections had been held in the county some years before its organization. A writer of contemporary history says the first election held in Benton Township was in August, 1835. Sand Hill was the polling place and the territory was the same as described heretofore. While the northern portion of the county was then but sparsely settled, it is probable that one-third of those casting their votes at that election lived in the six mile strip that was afterwards made a part of Knox County. In view of the great increase in the population since that time it will be interesting to note that only fifty-two votes were cast in this election at Sand Hill, which was the precinct for so large a territory.

The first postmaster of Sand Hill was Robert Smith, a man who was prominent in the later history of the county, and whose name frequently appears in the public records. The first store in the place was conducted by James L. Jones, the man who was afterwards appointed sheriff and collector of the county. Sand Hill gave promise of growing into an important industrial center, but circumstances were such that these prospective developments were never realized. On the organization of Knox County, the six miles to the south were taken from Scotland County and the county seat had to be moved to a place more centrally located. Even the post office was taken away, giving place to the modern rural delivery route, and today Sand Hill gets all of its mail from the town of Rutledge, that is situated not far distant on the Santa Fe Railroad.

Early Settlements

One of the earlier settlements of the county was Edinburg, which is not far from the south line of the county. This once thriving place has likewise been supplanted by towns that have sprung up along the lines of railroad and grown to larger proportions. In the year 1836 Holliday & Eskridge started a store at Edinburg. In July of that year Mt. Pleasant Township was organized by dividing Benton Township so as to cut off a strip of ten miles width to the west. At the presidential election held in 1840, 150 votes were cast in Mt. Pleasant Township alone, which was but a small portion of the former township of Benton. It is thus seen that the thinly settled district of five years before was fast filling up with people.

In these early days, Indians were quite numerous in and around Edinburg and the store there was the rendezvous for the wily red man. The husky natives came frequently for the purpose of hunting, racing and other sports. ''On one occasion,'' says George T. Collins, ''a company of 'bucks and squaws' imbibed too freely and became boisterous. Passing to the southwest between Tobin creek and the Fabius, they began to create some uneasiness on the part of the white settlers who thought it best to watch their movements. Accordingly they kept three watchers in a position where they would be unobserved. The band went into camp near Middle Fabius. In their drunken revelry one of their number bound another with a cord. When the latter was released he was so enraged that he seized his rifle and shot down the other. Immediately all the guns in the camp were fired, it is said, as a precaution against further bloodshed.''

By an act of the general assembly, passed and approved in the year 1843, a commission was created for the purpose of locating a permanent seat of justice for the county of Scotland. This commission was composed of Obediah Dickerson, John Lear and Matthew Givens. They held a meeting at Sand Hill, which was then the county seat, and during their deliberations, were offered several different tracts of land, notable of which was a tract near the Thomas H. Smith farm, southeast of Memphis that was then offered by John C. Collins, and the Rev. Mr. Smith, Thomas Smith's father. But the commissioners did not think it was a suitable site for a town, and finally decided on the place where Memphis now stands, as being less than a mile northwest of the geographical center of the county and of easy access to all of the people. Samuel Cecil donated a tract containing fifty acres of ground, the commissioners securing title thereto by a deed that was subsequently executed by Samuel Cecil and his wife. This instrument was signed on the 19th day of September, 1843. It was approved by the circuit court at its next session. George Woods was by the county court appointed as a commissioner to lay off the land into blocks and lots and to locate a public square near the center of the tract, to be preserved for the permanent seat of justice. J. F. Forman was employed to make the survey and mark off the lots. This preliminary work having been accomplished, a sale of the lots was ordered; from the sale of lots the county realized something more than four thousand dollars, and this money was expended in the erection of public buildings to be used for county offices and as places to hold court.

There have been three court houses built in Memphis. The first building used for that purpose was erected near the northeast comer of the public square. In 1856 the first courthouse in the center of the square was erected at a cost of $10,000. Levi J. Wagner was appointed by the county court as superintendent of construction.

The first county jail and jailer's residence was built in 1850. This, like the court house, was a brick building and answered the purposes for which it was intended many years. Subsequently two wings were added to the court house, and were built fire proof, for use as vaults for the safe keeping of the public records.

Early in the year 1907, the court house that had stood the tests of time for a half century and answered the purpose of a seat of justice, showed signs of decay and as the walls were badly cracked, an expert was employed to make an examination and pass upon its safety. R. H. Phillips, a civil engineer of St. Louis, came and looked over the building and in his report, which was supplemented by the reports of others, declared the building unsafe. Thereupon the court was petitioned by taxpayers to order an election for the purpose of voting bonds for the building of a new court house. Prior to this time, however, the offices, together with the records, were removed to a building on the east side of the square, known as the Bence building and all the county business was transacted there. The election was held, and the vote of the people of the county gave the required two-thirds and many votes to spare. The bonds were registered and sold and the contract was awarded to the Falls City Construction Company, of Louisville, Kentucky, at the price of fifty thousand dollars.

The building, which was completed late in the year 1908, is a large stone veneered structure, having ample room, and vaults of fire proof construction, that it is believed will answer the purposes intended for a long number of years.

The county court at the time the old court house was condemned was composed of John H. Barker, William R. Matlick and George Struble. At the time the bonds were voted and the building erected the county court was composed of Judge Walter S. Hickerson, William R. Matlick and J. S. Crawford.

The Bonded Debt

The history of the bonded debt of Scotland County is much like that of many other communities, in that the indebtedness is closely identified with the building of the railroads of the county. There was one railroad only partly built, however, for which the county was never held responsible for the bonds. This is due to the fact that a proviso was wisely inserted, making the result of an election null and void unless the road should be completed and running trains before said bonds could be issued. This came about in the year 1860, when a petition largely signed by resident tax payers of the county, was presented to the county court praying that an election be ordered for the purpose of ascertain-ing whether the citizens of the county were in favor of taking $100,000 stock in the proposed Mississippi & Missouri River Airline Railroad, which was then in course of construction from Canton, Missouri, in a northwesterly direction. The election was accordingly ordered (Justice Thomson dissenting), to be held September 17, 1860. The result was that the election carried, but it was conditioned as aforesaid, stipulating that construction should proceed to a point six miles northwest of Memphis. Henry M. Gorin was appointed by the county court as the agent of the county. The company at the back of the project having failed within the stipulated time to complete the railroad as stipulated. Mr. Gorin recommended that the county's interest in it be revoked, which was done in August, 1868.

In the year 1870, however, when the construction of the Missouri, Iowa & Nebraska Railroad was being agitated in this section of the state, a large petition was presented to the county court asking that body to subscribe $200,000 to the capital stock of said company. This also was conditioned on the construction and operation of the road through Memphis, the county seat, and thence to a point six miles west thereof. This stock was to be payable in county bonds due twenty-five years from date, with interest at the rate of eight per cent per annum. This petition was headed by Charles Mety, H. H. Downing, H. A. Montgomery, David Guinn, R. P. Wayland, et al, 1365 in all and a remonstrance almost as large as the petition was headed by Levi J. Wagner. Prior to the delivery of the bonds, which had been ordered by the court, an injunction suit was instituted by Levi J. Wagner, et al, against Charles Mety and other officers of the county to restrain them and prevent the delivery of the bonds. The case was not brought to an issue, however, nor a decision reached until long after the bonds had been delivered.

The cause was continued from time to time and finally taken to Shelby County on change of venue, and was tried before Judge John T. Redd, who decided in favor of plaintiffs, that the bonds were illegal and void and ordered them returned to and destroyed by the Scotland County court. Attorneys for the railroad company got the case taken to the federal court and there secured the reversal of the decision of Judge Redd. John D. Smoot, the prosecuting attorney of Scotland County, filed a motion praying the court to set aside certain orders pertaining to the bonds. This litigation continued for several years. The seeming conflict between the statutes of Missouri and the federal laws could not be settled. Meantime, in the year 1881, the members of the county court, acting under the state law, were taken up by the federal authorities for contempt of court. These judges were the late Judge Ben F. Bourn, E. E. Sparks and Judge Riley Gale. Judge Treat of the federal court, caused them to be arrested and placed in the jail at St. Louis for a term of three months. Finally a compromise was agreed upon. Meanwhile the costs of the litigation and accumulated interest on the bonds had grown to be nearly as large as the face of the bonds. But since that compromise was reached, a sixty cent levy has been made each year, by the county court, and at this time (July, 1912) a debt of nearly $400,000 has been reduced to about $145,000. Each year a large part of the interest fund is transferred to the sinking fund and paid on the original bonds. It is estimated that at the present rate of reduction in seven or eight years the railroad bonds will all be paid.

Schools and Churches

The proper training of the children has long since been considered a duty characteristic of the people of Scotland County. As in other counties the sale of government lands set apart for school purposes, established a nucleus of a fund from which the early settlers derived some funds to carry on the country schools in a crude way. It is claimed that Judge John C. Collins, father of George T. Collins, taught the first school in the county. This school was held in the vicinity of what was later called Edinburg. William G. Downing, once a prominent citizen of Memphis, who afterwards held the state office of railroad and warehouse commissioner, was among the earliest teachers of Scotland County. In 1841 he taught school in the Smoot neighborhood eight miles west of Memphis, the place being styled ''Pulltight'' district.

Although the public school system was only crudely developed in those early times, they managed, by the use of the small public fund in addition to paying a small tuition, to pay the teachers from fifteen to twenty dollars per month, which was considered fair remuneration, in view of the scarcity of money.

But with the increase in population came improved methods of securing a fund as well as improved methods of teaching the ''young idea how to shoot.'' Township and district organizations were formed and annual elections were held for the purpose of making a levy sufficiently large to maintain better schools for a longer period of time, and at the same time pay large enough salaries to justify teachers to adequately prepare themselves.

Under the new law of Missouri requiring counties to have a superintendent whose time is all taken with the work of visiting the schools and making suggestions for their improvement, the schools of Scotland County have made great advancement. County Superintendent I. M. Horn has taken hold of this work in a manner that is showing results' The rural schools are being graded up under his supervision, so that all the schools pursue the same course up to the eighth grade during each school term of six to eight months. Annual examinations are held at all of the approved schools, and the pupils passing the eighth grade requirement are entitled to enter any high school in the state as freshmen. This forms a correlation of the country schools with the city high schools, just as these city high schools correlate with the State University. Superintendent Horn is industriously engaged in bringing about the best results from this model arrangement. In May, 1912, of the number of rural pupils taking the examination in the eighth grade, eighty-seven earned satisfactory grades and were promoted to the high school. For such pupils, commencement exercises are held annually at the county seat, when the superintendent gives them their certificates.

There are seventy-two rural school districts in Scotland County, besides the independent district of Memphis.

While there is no college in the county at this time, the high schools maintain such high standards that any ambitious pupil completing a high school course has become so enthused with the possibilities of an education that he is not satisfied without going up higher, if such a thing is possible for him. Much stress is placed on music in Scotland County, and there are not a few boys and girls who develop to a high degree their talents in this line of learning.

Along with the development of the educational interests, the religious nature of citizens of Scotland County has in no wise been neglected. Within the boundaries of the county many church organizations are maintained, and most of them hold regular stated services. Rev. Mr. Smith, an early Methodist preacher, is said to have started the Methodist organization in the county. Rev. James M. Lillard, of Lewis County, organized the Baptist church at Edinburg on the 12th of May, 1838, Jesse Stice, who settled near Bible Grove in 1834, wrote before his death of the organization of a Christian church in 1836 under the preaching of Elder J. White, of Howard County. The Presbyterian Church at Memphis was organized in 1844 by Rev. Joseph Anderson, the father of Judge John C. Anderson, former circuit judge of this circuit. The Cumberland Presbyterian church in this county was organized in 1840 by Rev. Mr. Briggs and others. The Methodist, Christian, Baptist, Cumberland Presbyterian, Southern Presbyterian, United Brethren, Catholic, Holiness and other churches are well represented all over Scotland County. The Catholic and Holiness churches are the weakest in point of numerical strength.

The Civil War

From 1861 to 1865, the period of the Civil war, Scotland County was a place from which many recruits were gotten, both for the Confederacy and for the Union. In those troublous times animosities were engendered that continued for a long time after the end of hostilities. The most troublous event, however, in that period was in 1862. The Federals had some men imprisoned at Memphis who were known to have been in sympathy with the Confederate cause. On the second day of July, 1862, Colonel Joseph C. Porter and his regiment entered Memphis, and caused the Confederates held here to be released. He also took several prisoners from here that were affiliated on the opposite side. From here he proceeded to Henry H. Downing's residence eight miles west of Memphis. Here the execution of Dr. Aylward took place, he being hanged to a tree. Some of Porter's men, who were great admirers of the gallant leader, claim that the Colonel never knew of this execution. After resting there for the night. Porter's command proceeded to Pearce's Mill.

Crossing the bridge near the mill they marched up on the hill on the south side of the creek and entrenched themselves just over the brow of the hill, safe from the view of the road. Colonel Porter had information that a regiment far superior to his own in point of numbers and equipment was in pursuit. The Union regiment was known as Merrill's Horse. While Porter's men were thus entrenched, he sent Lucien Durkee and another man back toward the bridge to decoy the enemy into the trap. They soon came along and wounded Durkee slightly, but he ran into the brush and escaped. When Merrill's Horse ascended Vassar Hill they knew not the fate that was in wait for them. But when they advanced within easy range, Porter's men opened fire, mowing the front rank down as with a giant scythe. Colonel Clopper, the Union commander, ordered a retreat; but after resting they renewed the charge. Seven times they charged on Porter and his men, but were repulsed with heavy losses every time. The Federal losses were eighty-five killed and a large number wounded. Porter lost two men killed and about a half dozen wounded. This battle, which was the only important engagement in Scotland County during the Civil war, is described in detail in a book written by Dr. Joseph A. Mudd, now of Hyattsville, Maryland, who was an officer in Porter's command. The book is entitled, ''With Porter in North Missouri,'' and it seems to be a fair and impartial account of the military activities of that time.

Major Shacklett, who it is believed succeeded at one time in capturing General Grant, but released him on his word of honor, was also a resident of Scotland County, Missouri.

Cities, Towns and Villages

Arbela | Azen | Bible Grove | Brock | Crawford | Energy | Etna | Gorin | Granger |
Hitt | Killwinning | Lawn Ridge | Memphis | Rutledge


It has been intimated before that Scotland County is pre-eminently an agricultural community. The rich, black soil, of the broad prairies is highly productive of corn, oats, wheat, timothy and clover. The prairies and wooded fringe along the several small streams alike, produce as tall blue grass as grows anywhere on the face of the earth. The bot-tom lands along the Wyaconda, North Fabius, Tobin creek and other smaller streams are especially fertile. Com on these bottoms has been known to yield as much as seventy-five to one hundred bushels to the acre.

While the land is thus productive, there is very little surplus grain and hay shipped out of the county. Our farmers prefer to raise stock, and good stock at that, and ship the products out on the hoof. Consequently most of the corn, hay and oats are fed right here in the county.

In the early history of the county, farming and stock raising was carried on in rather a crude manner. Almost any kind of an animal suited the average farmer thirty years ago. But now this is not so. Farmers are buying the best pedigreed stock and thus improving their herds.

Among the breeders who are keeping pedigreed stock of superior quality are the following:

Joseph Miller & Sons
F. L. Davis
T. R. Sanders
J. L. Sanders
M. Billups
J. M. Lockhart
William McClellan
Evan Jones
A. C. Cowell
Harvey T. Drake
D. W. Burns
John Wolf*
John R. Hudson**
J. E. Gray
William Hartman
A. D. Walker
Moore Brothers
James Harker
Matt Moffett***
C. B. Walker
J. L. Tennant
Rice & Leslie‡
G. E. Leslie
Newell Cone§
B. F. Moore§
Arthur Dawson§
*cattle  **shetlands  ***horses  ‡ sheep  § hogs

At a public stock sale held by Joseph Miller & Sons, two miles north of Granger the 7th of June, 1912, one short horn bull sold for $365. Forty head put up in the sale, many of which were only calves, averaged $136 per head.

G. E. Leslie, of Memphis, has a herd of Poland-China hogs as fine as can be found anywhere.

Old Settlers

A history of Scotland County would be very incomplete indeed if it failed to make mention of some of the oldest settlers. Some of these came here when the county was Benton Township, comprising the present limits of Scotland and six miles of the north part of Knox County.

Willis Hicks and his father, James Hicks, settled in March, 1834 in the southeast part of Sand Hill Township, and near where the town of Rutledge now stands.

Robert T. Smith, formerly a citizen of Tennessee, came to this county in May, 1834, at which time he and his family located about one-half a mile east of the village of Sand Hill.

Among the earliest settlers of the county were Jesse Stice, Moses Stice and Tyra March, whose homes were in the vicinity of Bible Grove, in the southwest part of the county.

George Forrester came here from Randolph County, Missouri, in 1835, and settled in the vicinity of Pleasant Retreat, which is located about eight miles south of Memphis, Many of the descendants of Forrester still reside in the county.

Others who came here about the same time were Elijah Whitten, from Boone County, who settled two miles northwest of Edinburg.

Thompson and Cornelius Holliday who settled at Edinburg.

Elijah Mock who settled in Tobin Township
Joseph Price settled near Saud Hill
William Myers located two miles south of Pleasant Retreat
Burton Tompkins settled at Memphis
Jonathan Riggs settled on the farm now owned by J. J. and J. L. Sanders, in the suburbs of Memphis.
Branch Miller settled in the forks of the Fabius, a few miles northwest of the site of Memphis
Mr. Niseley settled about ten miles west of Memphis.

In 1836, or a year or two later

Jacob Maggard
John C. Collins
George Buskirk
Rev. Sanford Myers
Phillip Purvis
Joseph Johnson*
Michael Spillman
*from Kentucky;
Sylvester Allen
Allen Tate
Samuel Wilfly

The Scotland County Fair

One of the oldest fairs in Missouri is the Scotland County Agricultural and Mechanical Association that is located just south of the Memphis corporation line. At the August term of, the county court, in the year 1856, a petition was presented to the county court asking that this fair association be incorporated. A number of the signers of the petition were as follows:

Incorporation for Fair

Thomas S. Richardson
Samuel Arnold
James L. Jones
Josiah Smoot
Henry Ferryman
E. McIntyre
Curtis Cody
T. H. Richardson
William G. Downing
J. M. Rowan
I. I. Reyburn
Levi J. Wagner
James Proctor Knott
Alfred S. Myers
Thomas Gunn
Ed M. Beckwith
L. W. Knott
H. M. Gorin
John M. T. Smith
W. D. Smith
H. D. Clapper
John A. Childress
R. T. Nesbit
Chas. Mety
Chas. Martin
E. G. Richardson
Charles Hughes
James S. Best
John Sanders
E. W. Roberts

First Fair Officers

Isaac M. Rowan, president
Charles Mety, treasurer
Sterling McDonald, secretary
H. C. Baker, chief marshal.

The fair was held annually, except that the exhibitions were greatly interfered with during the Civil War. But since that time there have been annual exhibits.

The Tallest Woman

Scotland County boasted of the tallest woman in the world. If any as tall has ever been discovered the fact has never yet been made known. Miss Ella Ewing, who was born in Harrison Township, near where the town of Gorin now stands, was eight feet and four inches tall. She was a quiet, modest woman, intelligent, and possessed of many accomplishments. She had seen much of the world and in her travels had taken advantage of the education that comes to a close observer who has seen the ways of many people. Miss Ewing, when she was a young girl, was quite sensitive about her unusual size. When she went to public gatherings in company with other girls she would cry because the curious people would follow her and make remarks. She was the principal attraction in Ringling's circus several years and had also been employed at different times by other companies. She had made some money that way and built a house with high doors, constructed for her special use. Her bedstead was made to order and other furniture about the house was fashioned for Miss Ella's convenience.

Miss Ewing died at her late home in this county January 10, 1913, after being in ill health for a period of more than a year. She had in her lifetime an aversion to being buried as other persons are buried after death; fearing that showmen would rob the grave for the skeleton or scientists take the body away for other purposes, and because of this belief made the request that her body be cremated after death Her request was not complied with by her father, who could not bear the idea, but instead he had the body placed in a metallic casket and sealed and this imbedded in a concrete vault. The woman was universally liked and her funeral was one of the most largely attended of any funeral in that community in years.

County Officers

The present county officials of Scotland County are:

Representative, Wesley M. McMurry
Presiding judge of county court, John H. Barker
Judge, eastern district, Thomas P. Smith
Judge of the western district, Anslum Corwin
Sheriff, J. O. Myers
Collector, Alfred Vaught
Treasurer, S A. Hammond
Circuit clerk and recorder, R. W. Campbell
County clerk, Walter B. Scott
Surveyor, William H. Davis
Assessor, W Frank Barker
Probate judge, William T. Reddish
Coroner, John P. Davis

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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