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

Shelby County, Missouri
By W. O. L. Jewett, Shelbina



Bounded on the east by Marion, on the north by Knox, on the west by Macon, and on the south by Monroe, Shelby County is the second west of the Mississippi and the third south of the Iowa line.

The county is small in territory, being twenty-four miles east and west by only twenty miles north and south, except at the southwest corner where it juts south four miles by six miles east and west, making the west line twenty-four miles long. The area of Shelby is 504 square miles, one of the small counties of the state. It is in ranges 9, 10, 11 and 12, and in townships 57, 58 and 59 and the north part of 56.

In Pioneer Days

When first visited by white men about half of this territory was covered by timber and the remainder was prairie. Some land which was prairie then grew up to young timber before it was brought under cultivation. This was doubtless caused by partial protection from fires. There was more prairie in the western than in the eastern part. The highest and most nearly level land was generally in the centers of the prairies; nearer the water-courses the ground was more rolling, in some places quite broken. The timber consisted mainly of oak of various kinds, hickory and elm, but along the streams there were also walnut, ash, soft maple, and sometimes hard maple, birch, sycamore, and other timber growth. On the bottom lands the soil is often quite dark, elsewhere in the tree land it is a yellowish clay loam, and on the prairies generally of a gray cast; all of it is very fertile, producing abundant crops when properly tilled. It is, however, preeminently a grass country. It is said that blue grass had to be introduced by the early settlers, but now it seems to be indigenous, springing up everywhere. Forty years ago the prairies were covered with wild grass much of it being called blue-joint, growing from six to ten feet high. As soon, however, as this was pastured short, bluegrass took the place of the wild growth. A piece of ground sown to timothy or other cultivated grass and pastured, will, in a few years, produce nothing but bluegrass and white clover. Prof. G. C. Broadhead, now eighty-five years of age and living at Columbia, Missouri, is quoted in the Missouri Historical Review as saying that in 1840 blue grass was found only where it had been sown, chiefly in yards, in Missouri; that before 1850 bluegrass was not found in pastures in this state; but by 1870 it was in most pastures and along the roadways; and that by 1880 it was common in north Missouri.

Shelby is a well-watered county, abounding in streams. The north fork of Salt River is the largest of these. It enters the county near its northwest corner and meanders in a southeasterly direction to near the southeast comer where it crosses the south line. North River flows for some twenty miles through the northern part of the county; the Fabius crosses the northeast corner; and Tiger Fork of North River runs for some considerable distance through the northeast part of the county; while Black creek flows from near the northwest corner north of Salt river to near the southeast corner where it empties into the last-named stream. Then there are Crooked, Clear, and Otter creeks, and some other named and many unnamed branches.

This county was named in honor of General and Ex-Governor Isaac Shelby of Kentucky; and originally, as organized by act of the legislature in 1835, was only eighteen miles north and south, the south line being the north line of township 56 in ranges 9, 10, 11 and 12; but in 1843, the legislature, at the instance of William J. Howell, who represented Monroe County, cut off sixty square miles in townships numbered 56 from the latter county and added them to Shelby. This is said to have been done to insure keeping the county seat of Monroe County at Paris.

Early Settlers

The first white persons known to have visited the territory now included in this county, were Edward Whaley, Aaron Forman, and a few other Kentucky hunters, who came across from the Boon's Lick country seeking the head waters of the Salt, then called Auhaha, or Oahaha, on their way to the Mississippi. It is probable, however, that hunters and trappers had visited this territory at earlier dates. In the spring of 1831 a man named Norton came from Monroe County and built a cabin on the banks of Black creek near where it joins Salt River. He brought some hogs there but he did not remain to become a permanent settler. It is probable that Maj. Obadiah Dickerson, who in October, 1831, built a log house on the north side of Salt River, three and one-half miles north of where Shelbina now stands, was the first permanent settler. It is said that Major Dickerson was the founder of Palmyra, the county seat of Marion, and it is certain he was the first postmaster there. Some interesting stories illustrating how things were done in those early days are told of this postmaster. It is said he kept his office in his hat, which was a large, bell crowned headgear and the letters were tucked behind the lining. He often went out on business or hunts and carried the office with him. He said he delivered more mail to parties he met in the country than to parties who came to Palmyra. He thus became the first rural mail carrier. A man from the frontier came to Palmyra to find the post office, but keeper and office were away. Going in pursuit, he found the Major, who fished out of his hat half a dozen letters for this man and his neighbors, and handed out three more, saying: ''Take these along with you and see if they belong to anyone in your settlement. They have been here two weeks; I do not know any such names and do not want to be bothered with them longer Major Dickerson was an honored citizen of Shelby, represented the county in the legislature and held other important offices. His son, John Dickerson, was three times chosen sheriff and collector of the county, and several of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren are good citizens of Shelbina now.''

Of the early settlers more came from Kentucky than from any other state, and this continued to be the case up to the Civil war. Virginia furnished the next largest number; a few came from Maryland, Delaware and Tennessee, and a sprinkling from the north, the latter being more numerous during the '40s and the '50s and much more so since the Civil War. From 1865 to 1870 many came from Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and New York. Quite a number of these became dissatisfied and returned, but many became permanent and valuable citizens and their number has been added to every year since, and numerously during the past ten years. Nearly every state, south, north and east, has contributed substantially to the population of this county and the people from these various sections have intermarried and the citizenship is becoming homogenous.

Ever since the earliest recorded history the race has migrated westward, mainly directly toward the setting sun; but often deflected somewhat toward the north or south. It was so with Abraham when he left Mesopotamia and went to Canaan; but the journey of Israel from Egypt under the leadership of Moses was an exception to the rule. We have been taught that the race had its first abode in central Asia, and that from there it migrated to the western part of that continent, then into Eastern Europe and so on westward. On this continent the movements have been principally westward. Missouri being a central state has received settlers from all sections of the Union; but the northern portion attracted more from the northern states than did the southern.

The Life of the Pioneer

The pioneers here, like those in most of the country, were a hardy, robust race. In fact, frontier life produces that class of people. There was no place for weaklings among them. Only the strong survived. They became accustomed to enduring hardships and their manner of life was plain and simple compared with that of their descendants. Their houses were built of logs, the cracks filled with split pieces plastered with clay. A large fireplace provided heat for comfort and for cooking purposes. Some had glass windows but others did not. Many lived in one room for years, but usually there was an upstairs used for sleeping purposes. Some built two rooms on the ground to begin with. Usually there was a wide passageway between the two with a roof over all, and later this passageway was closed up and made a third room on the ground floor. The roof was made of clapboards, split on the premises and held on by the weight of small logs. The floor was made of split logs hewn smooth. Few were able to secure nails and wooden pins were used to fasten things together. Furniture was homemade except where the immigrants had brought a few things in their wagons. They were generally provided with good featherbeds. In a few years sawmills appeared, and then frame houses began to be erected, and at a later period brick was used to some extent.

For the first twenty years the settlements were in the timber, generally along streams where springs could be found. Few ventured to tackle the prairie; and there were several reasons for this: the luxuriant growth of grass made the prairie soil too wet for cultivation, the sod was tough and difficult to break, and the flies were so numerous and hungry that neither man nor beast could endure them. It is related that when a settler had occasion to cross any considerable extent of prairie in the summertime, he went at night to escape these pests. Then in the timber material was at hand for building purposes and for fuel.

While the life of the pioneer was rough and he had few advantages compared with the present, he had his pleasures and his virtues and he was not, as a rule, destitute of the feelings and promptings of a gentleman. He was kind, generous, hospitable and ready to lend a helping hand not only to neighbors but as well to strangers. He had few opportunities to learn of the happenings in his own vicinity and the world at large except by word of mouth; and this one source of information he usually improved. He went long distances to attend all gatherings, and thus he gained information and enjoyed intercourse with his fellows. Of course there were good and bad people then as now, but these qualities were manifested then somewhat differently from now. The use of whisky was then common, and the article was cheap and free to all and few thought its use wrong; indeed many considered it absolutely necessary for health. Yet excess was condemned, but drunkenness was not considered so disgraceful as now.

To build a farm in the timber is necessarily a slow and laborious process, and especially was this the case with the poor equipment of the pioneers. With the exception of the ax there is scarcely a tool which has not been greatly improved in the past sixty years. Farmers now would think it impossible to make a crop with only a crooked stick or a wooden mold-board with an iron point, with which to stir the soil. Yet the pioneers had only such plows and they secured good yields as a rule. They farmed, however, on a small scale. Some years were too wet and some too cold. We hear little complaint of drought and heat in those days, but accounts of had winters and late and early frosts have been handed down. It is related that just before the middle of May, 1835, there came such weather that the ground was frozen to the depth of two feet. This is no doubt an exaggeration. On September 16th of that year there came a killing frost which cut the corn crop short. No doubt the seasons have changed for the better as science recognizes the fact that clearing up of forests and cultivation of a country renders a climate warmer and dryer. It is said that two thousand years ago when Germany was covered with dense forests, the seasons there were much colder than now.

In the early days corn was raised largely for bread; some, however, was fed to work horses. Oxen were chiefly used for work on the farm, and these lived on wild grass and prairie hay. To have pasture a lot of neighbors would burn off a patch after the young growth had reached considerable height. Hogs lived and fattened on acorns and other nuts, but constant watch had to be kept to protect pigs from wolves and other wild animals. Wolves were numerous and sometimes attacked people. There were also wildcats, bears and panthers, and of course snakes, poisonous and harmless, were abundant. With the exception of flies and mosquitoes most of the pests which now bother the farmers had not made their appearance at that date. The chinch bug first became destructive about 1842 and its last appearance in great numbers was in 1881. Between these two dates this bug did more or less damage several seasons. Corn was the chief crop but wheat yielded as generously as fifty bushels to the acre sometimes. All farm products when the yield was good, brought low prices; wheat twenty-five cents per bushel, corn ten to fifteen cents, horses twenty-five dollars, cows ten dollars, hogs a dollar or two each. Fat hogs were driven to LaGrange or Hannibal and sold at from one to two cents a pound. Most articles of food were raised on the farm or secured by the gun or trap. Deer, turkey, prairie chickens, quails, fish and wild honey were abundant. Clothing was made from wool and flax at each home. There was little money and the pioneer had little use for it. The men generally wore buckskin trousers and jackets of other kind of skin. They made moccasins, but usually went barefooted in summer, as did the women, except upon dress occasions.

Some of the Pioneers

To return to individuals among the pioneer settlers, the Holliday family was one of the earliest and most prominent. Mrs. Holliday, a widow with six sons and three daughters, came in 1830 from Winchester, Virginia, and soon after settled in what is now the eastern part of Shelby County. These sons were named Richard T., Angus MacDonald, William J., James M., Elias L., and Cornelius T. The last named was one of those appointed to view the first road laid out in this wild country, but William J. was the most prominent. He was the first representative to the legislature from this county, being elected in 1836. In 1838 he was chosen county judge for four years and in 1847 county clerk for six years. In 1865 he was appointed county clerk by the governor. In 1866 he was elected to that office by the radical Republicans. When the war came and men had to choose sides, he became a strong Union man, and later was known as a bitter hater of those he considered disloyal. He served as a soldier in Colonel Benjamin's regiment.

Some of the Holliday descendants still live in this county, and James M., son of Cornelius T., after being a prominent citizen of this county for many years, moved to Sixteen, Montana, where he still lives. He has, for many years, been considered a walking encyclopedia of historical knowledge, especially political, of this county, state and nation.

Another family prominent in the early history of the county was that of the Vandivers. Abraham Vandiver was here at the time the county was organized in 1835, and some years later it was said that the Vandiver connection was the most numerous of any in the county. Samuel A. Vandiver represented the county in the legislature which convened in January, 1885.

W. B. Broughton had a store at Oak Dale, the first in the county, and at his place the first circuit court was first held. He raised a family of three sons, two of whom settled in Paris, Missouri, and established and ran a woolen mill. One son, W. C, after living in Ralls County for several years, returned and bought the farm where his father lived at Oak Dale, and a son of his, T. J., now owns the old place; and two other sons are large farmers near Oak Dale. These are B. F. and J. L. There is still at Oak Dale a store and also a good school and Methodist church.

Russell W. Moss was a settler prior to the organization of the county, and for many years he was a prominent figure, both in this county and at Hannibal. He held several offices, among them that of representative, to which he was chosen at the August election in 1844, and for more than thirty years after that he was active and influential. His physical form was large and impressive and he was a man of energy and capable of enduring great hardship.

Robert and Addison Lair were also settlers prior to the organization of the county, and they became prominent and the Lair family numerous.

John McAfee is also numbered among those living in the county at the time of its organization, and more than once afterward, he represented the county, and was chosen speaker of the house.

Dr. Adolphus E. Wood was originally a New Yorker, but came here from Cuba where he had lived for some years, to settle near Oak Dale in the early '30s. He had, as most men of that day did have, a large family, and some of his sons still live in the county, but most of them have crossed over to the unknown country. One son Dr. A. G. Wood, living at Lentner, in this county, is quite active at the age of eighty-one. Doctor Wood's brother Fernando was at one time mayor of New York and was also a congressman.

Residents in 1835

Following are the names of seventy men who were residents in the spring of 1835, as recorded in a history of the county compiled in 1884:

George Anderson
Josiah Abbott
James Y. Anderson
Thomas J. Bounds
W. B. Broughton
Anthony Blackford
James Blackford
Isaac Blackford
Samuel Bell
Alexander Buford
Silas Boyce
Samuel Buckner
Thomas H. Clements
William S. Chinn
Bryant Cochrane
Samuel Cochrane
J. W. Cochrane
Charles Christian
Obadiah Dickerson
Robert Duncan
William H. Davidson
Levi Dyer
George Eaton
Elisha K. Eaton
John Eaton
James Foley
Benjamin F. Forman
Jesse Gentry
George W. Gentry
Julius C. Gartrell
James B. Grenn
William J. Holliday
Thompson Holliday
Elias L. Holliday
Thomas Holeman
Charles A. Hollyman
Bradford Hunsucker
William D. B. Hill
Julius C. Jackson
Robert Joiner
Peter Looney
Oliver Latimer
Michael Law
Russell W. Moss
J. M. Moss
John H. Milton
William Moore
William T. Matson*
J. C. Mayes
S. W. Miller
Henry Musgrove
John McAfee
Samuel J. Parker
George Parker
James Shaw
Cyrus A. Saunders
Henry Saunders
James Swartz
Peter Stice
Montillion H. Smith
Hill Shaw
John Sparrow
William Sparrow
Major Turner
William S. Townsend
John Thomas
Abraham Vandiver
Dr. Adolphus E. Wood
Nicholas Watkins
Elijah Pepper
W. H. Payne
Peter Roff
John Ralls
Hiram Rookwood
Robert Reed
*(died same year)

One familiar with the people of this county will recognize a majority of these names among the citizens of the county at this time, more than three-quarters of a century after their ancestors settled here.

Population Increases

From the time of the organization of the county when it contained less than five hundred, probably not over three hundred, inhabitants, until the breaking out of the Civil War, population in the county gradually increased, both in the natural way and by the addition of settlers from other states. One of the latter who obtained most prominence was John F. Benjamin, who came from central New York some years before 1850, and settled on a farm some few miles southwest of Shelbyville, the county seat. He was then about twenty-five years of age, with a fair, probably superior for those days, education. The gold fever attracted him to California, but he returned in time to defeat John McAfee for the legislature. This was the first time Joshua M. Ennis figured prominently in politics except as a candidate himself, and I shall have more to say about him hereafter. While in the legislature, Benjamin commenced the study of law, and soon became the leader of the bar in Shelby. He was a man of strong mental faculties, and was inclined towards financial affairs. Had he been in a place where business centered, he would probably have become a millionaire. When the war came on he became an uncompromising Union man, and in the winter of 1861-62 he raised a company of cavalry, was its captain, later its major, and when this company was consolidated with the Second Missouri State Militia, he became lieutenant-colonel. At the election of 1864 he was chosen to represent the district embracing a large territory in Northeast Missouri in congress and was reelected in 1866 and 1868, but declined to be a candidate in 1870. He made a good record in the house. Before his terra expired, he established a National bank at Shelbina, the first bank organized in the county. Now there are fourteen. Mr. Benjamin built the best homes in the county in his day, two at Shelbyville and one in Shelbina. In 1873 he closed his bank in Shelbina and embarked in the banking business in Washington. This was caused by a difficulty between him and James Hanley. Benjamin accused Hanley, who was an honorable man, of stealing. This Hanley resented and shot Colonel Benjamin. This developed the fact that there was much feeling against Benjamin, growing out of his course during the war. This led the colonel to change his abode. But Mrs. Benjamin remained in their mansion, which was built like an Italian villa and stood in grounds of five acres. At Washington, in the spring of 1877 the colonel died, and a long lawsuit over his will ensued. He had no children and his wife soon followed him across the river. His brother George from Syracuse tried to break the will, but after two hung juries, the case was dismissed.

In 1837 Joseph Ennis came from Maryland and settled at Shelbyville, where he ran a mercantile house. Merchants in small places did not specialize but kept a general stock of all articles their customers were expected to buy. His son, Joshua M., who had gone from Maryland to New Orleans, joined his parents at Shelbyville and made his home there from that time until his death a little over twenty years ago. The older Ennis was county treasurer. He built the first brick building at the county seat in 1839. This was used as a hotel building for half a century. The younger Ennis was ambitious and became sheriff and collector in 1846 and held these positions for four years, again from 1856 to 1860 he held the same positions, and still again from 1880 to 1884. Thus he was six times elected to these important positions and for four years from 1874 to 1878 he was county treasurer. Mr. Ennis did not aspire to wealth, but he was a liberal, large hearted, genial man, very hospitable, his home being open not only to his friends but also to all strangers who were gentlemen. This made him popular and gave him political influence. If a candidate could count ''Josh'' Ennis as his active friend he was almost certain to succeed. In 1850 he espoused the cause of Benjamin, a comparative stranger and a ''Yankee," against John McAfee, who sought reelection, and Benjamin won. This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship, though Benjamin was an uncompromising Union man and a Republican and Mr. Ennis the reverse. Mr. Ennis had the qualities which would have made him a first rate political boss had he aspired to such a position. He raised a large family, one son of which, Charles, has been clerk of the county court for eight years, and is now a business man in Shelbina.

It is said that the Dimmitt family was originally from France but they came to Maryland at an early day from England and then to Kentucky. Judge Walter B. Dimmitt settled in Marion County, Missouri, in 1829, and became a large landowner and farmer. Philip was born in the ''bluegrass state'' in 1824 and came with his parents to Missouri At twenty-one he began the study of medicine and practiced at Monticello, the county seat of Lewis County, at Boonville, in Cooper County, both in this state, and just before the Civil war he located on a farm in this county. He was a leading physician and a large farmer, and although he never held office, he was always prominent in political and other affairs. He raised six sons, five of whom are prominent and respected citizens of this county at the present writing, three of them being bankers. He died something like twenty years ago.

Dr. Anthony Minter was one of the early settlers from the Old Dominion, a physician and an agriculturist in the northeastern part of the county. He died in Shelbina more than thirty years ago. He was a man of strong personal character and somewhat eccentric. His nephew, Daniel G. Minter, came to the county in the fifties, was a merchant in Shelbyville, a captain in the Confederate army, was captured and banished to the North under a $10,000 bond, but was permitted to return at Colonel Benjamin's intercession. Later he engaged in business in Shelbina, from which he retired some fifteen years ago. He was a man of commanding personality and always influential. He died June 10, 1912.

There were others among the very early settlers worthy of special notice in this history, but limited space compels their exclusion. From my acquaintance with many of these early settlers, and from information gathered during the past forty-odd years, it seems to me there were an unusual number of strong characters, many more than could be found among an equal number of people now. Perhaps this is true of pioneers generally. Weaklings seldom migrate. And then the fact that these men had access to few publications, and the sparseness of the settlement, gave those inclined to think at all, time to reflect on the common as well as the great questions and problems of life. Thus each thought out matters for himself and came to an independent conclusion. The life of the pioneer, no doubt, developed men vigorous physically and mentally.

As the foundation of a building is the most important part of a structure, so the character, habits and surroundings of the early settlers of a county should be carefully noted in history, since these have much to do in shaping the future course of events. For this reason much space has been taken in describing the pioneers of this county.


The early settlers were not indifferent to education or religion, but it was some years before either churches or schools could be established. The wilderness had to be grappled with, the wild beasts subdued, and dominion over the land secured. Inhabitants were too few to maintain schools. No record seems to have been kept of the first efforts at education.

Prior to 1865 the school system as it exists now was unknown in this state. But private schools were organized in all neighborhoods in the county as soon as there were sufficient people to support them. The circuit rider and the schoolmaster came at an early day; the one with saddle bags in which he carried a Bible, a hymn book, and a few articles of apparel, the other a little bundle containing a spelling book, a reader and an arithmetic. The former was unselfishly seeking the lost sheep and earnestly trying to persuade men to amend their ways. The latter felt called to instruct the young in the elements of book knowledge. Sometimes the children were taught in private houses, but generally the neighborhoods, each for itself, by mutual agreement erected a log schoolhouse, and here the children gathered for instruction. The benches were of slabs or of split logs with pins for legs, and the writing desk was of the same or was a wide plank fastened to the side of the room. All was rude and primitive, but many boys received in these rough buildings the foundations on which they built until they became men of education and power.

The proportion of the illiterate gradually decreased, and soon more pretentious schools were established. Palmyra, the seat of justice for Marion County, had several colleges before the Civil war. Philadelphia, in that county and near Shelby, had a college of note. At Shelbyville a seminary of high standing was established and flourished until the early seventies. In 1877 Shelbina Collegiate Institute was established with a good building, and subsequently a large boarding-house in connection. Dr. Leo Baer was the first principal, and later, E. L. Ripley a man of much culture and ability, occupied the position for a number of years.

In 1888 Macon district high school was established at Clarence. This is now controlled by the Independent Holiness people. In 1890, the Rev. John T. Welch established a school of high grade at Leonard, in the northwest part of the county. However, in a few years the public schools became so good that there was no field for seminaries, academies or institutes, and the Holiness school at Clarence is the only one which was not long since abandoned. Shelbina, Shelbyville and Clarence each have high schools of such standing that all educated citizens are proud of them. There are now in the county about eighty public schools, and though more improvement in the rural schools is to be desired, yet they are probably as good as such schools elsewhere. Missouri has an excellent public school system and a large school fund. The University, the five normal schools, and the schools in the cities generally, are abreast of the times.


Whether the Methodist, Baptist or Presbyterian, first proclaimed the Gospel in this territory cannot now be determined, but at an early day the first-named denomination held a camp-meeting near North River. As early as 1835 the Revs. Jeremiah Taylor, M. Hurley, and William Fuqua, Baptists, preached in the county and organized a society known as Mount Zion, which still exists in the northern part of the county, and later a Sunday school was organized there with William T. Looney as superintendent. W Moffett was the clerk of this church. Near Tiger Fork was also organized at an early day Looney's Creek Old School Baptist church. This denomination, which was once quite prominent in this part of Missouri, now call themselves Primitive Baptists. North River Baptist church was organized in 1844. Later Shiloh, also Baptist, was organized farther west than the others named. Oak Ridge Baptist in the southwestern part of the county was organized immediately after the Civil War. And later still, Prairie View Baptist in the southeastern part of the county. These are rural churches. Shelbina, Shelbyville. Clarence and Hunnewell each contains an organization and a church building of this denomination. Henry Loudon, who made a large farm in the eastern part of the county near North river, was a Primitive Baptist preacher of force and power, who did much before the Civil war in making this denomination strong. But since his day the numbers have dwindled to small proportions. The Missionary Baptists, however, have grown and become a very influential denomination.

No records seem to tell of the first Methodist preachers and societies, but they were among the first. The circuit rider has always followed the pioneer, and has always been indefatigable in his efforts for the salvation of souls. As early as 1836 the Oak Dale church of this denomination was organized, the Rev. H. James being its pastor. In 1839 the Methodists organized at the county seat and erected the first building for worship in the county. Even prior to this the Methodists organized Bacon Chapel, a little southwest of the center of the county. This has been a stronghold for the Methodists since early days. It has produced a number of preachers of ability. Soon after Shelbina became a station on the railroad with a few inhabitants, the Methodists organized a society there. So churches of this denomination were organized at Clarence and Hunnewell, and since then they have been scattered all over the county. When the division in the Methodist church came in 1844, all the organizations in this county went with the Southern church and no M. E. churches were seen until Civil war time. Then and shortly after the conflict, quite a number of organizations affiliating with the Northern branch came into being, but most of these have been absorbed by the M. E. church South. The M. E. church has a good edifice and congregation at Clarence, also at Epworth, and perhaps at some other points.

The Christian church, known as the Disciples, was early in this field. The Rev. Jacob Creah was one of the earliest ministers. He was a man of zeal and ability. As early as 1839 an organization was effected at Shelbyville, and a building was erected in 1844. A story is told of one of the early settlers who had been accustomed to use profanity, but was converted under the preaching of Elder Creath. When it came his turn in baptism at Black creek, he saw a water snake coming directly towards him. Though he was a brave man, he, as many others, feared snakes. As this snake approached him when he was being led into the deep water toward it, the man said, ''Good God, Brother Creath, hold on. Look at that snake!'' But the good preacher was equal to the occasion, and said, ''Come along'' Brother, a good Christian need not fear serpents."

This denomination has had many able preachers in the county, and it now has many church organizations, buildings, and in numbers is, perhaps, about equal to the Methodist. The Baptists are also strong.

The Presbyterians had missionaries here at an early day and during the forties. Dr. David Nelson, president of Marion College, at Philadelphia, spoken of above, often visited this county and held meetings, but the organization of churches was not effected until 1859, when three congregations were organized, one at Shelbyville, one at Clarence, and one, called Cumberland Presbyterian, in the northwest part of the county. Since then others have been established, but that denomination has never been strong here.

The Catholics have never been numerous in this county but they have churches in Shelbina, Clarence, near Hagar's Grove, at Lakenan, and at Hunnewell.

The people of this county are probably above the average in morality, temperance and religious inclinations. Churches as well as schoolhouses are scattered all over the land.

There has not been a saloon in the county for nearly thirty years. Before the enactment of the local option law in 1887, places where intoxicants were sold had disappeared because the county court refused to grant anyone license for that purpose. In the fall of 1887 the county adopted local option by a vote of 1,231 for to 964 against. In 1901 another vote was taken on the question and this resulted in a greatly increased majority, the vote being 1,823 for to 932 against. Since then no effort has been made to secure another vote. Though the law is violated, there is much less intoxicating drink sold and much less drunkenness than where there are open saloons. It has also been demonstrated that neither saloons nor the licenses from these places are necessary for the prosperity of a town or city. The towns of this county have grown as rapidly, to say the least, as those where saloons exist. Shelbina has been more prosperous during the past twenty years than any of the cities of Northeast Missouri where liquor is openly sold. Again, most of the rural counties shrank in population between 1900 and 1910, but Shelby increased.

Early Mills

Mills to grind grain into meal and flour were an early demand; for the pioneers had either to use a homemade mortar or go to Florida, in Monroe County, or to Massie's mill near Palmyra, some thirty miles or more, to secure even meal. The first mill in the county was built by Peter Stice, where Bethel now stands. Soon afterward, one was built on Salt River southeast of Shelbyville; and another on Black creek in the same direction. William J. Holliday in his historical sketches about the early days says that the first mill was on Black creek near Oak Dale; but other early settlers deny this. The most important of the early mills, however, was built on Salt River about five miles southwest of Shelbyville by William O. Walker and George W. Barker; and soon a store and post office were established there, and the place was called Walkersville. This was in 1840 and this mill, which did sawing and grinding and also ran a carding machine, remained there for more than thirty years. It was a great place for the people from all the southwestern part of the county to gather. After the railroad was built. Walkersville, like other trading points off the line of this road began to decline and in the course of twenty-five or thirty years, ceased to exist as a village, and the mill was abandoned.

Cities, Towns and Villages

Bethel | Lakenan | Lentner | Shelbina | Shelbyville | Walkersville

Political Matters

This county was before the Civil War pretty evenly balanced between the Democrats and the Whigs in number of votes, but the former elected nearly all the officers; only occasionally would a popular Whig secure a position. About the close of the war and for a few years following, the Radical Republicans controlled the county as many Democrats were disfranchised. But after all the people were again allowed to vote, it sustained the Democratic ticket with an increasing majority until 1896, when more than two Democratic votes were cast for one Republican.

At the August election in 1841, for clerk of the county court, Thomas J. Bounds received 224 votes to John Jacob's 198. At the presidential election the year previous, Van Buren received 233 votes to Harrison's 226. In 1844 the votes of both parties amounted to 448, not quite so many as four years before. But in 1852, there were 511 votes cast, of which Franklin Pierce, Democrat, received 309, and Scott, Whig, only 202. In 1856, however, there was a change. The campaign was very exciting. The Whig party had ceased to exist and in its place was the Know-Nothing party. The vote gave Fillmore 432 votes to Buchanan's 373.

The campaign of 1860 was still more exciting. Everybody felt that important events were near at hand. The people, North and South, were wrought up to the highest tension. The "fire-eaters'' were threatening disunion, while the Republicans were preaching a crusade against slavery.

The Democratic Party had split, Stephen A. Douglas for the North and John C. Breckinridge for the South. The Republicans had nominated Abraham Lincoln, and the Know-Nothings, or peace party, John Bell. The vote in this county stood: Bell, 702; Douglas, 476; Breckinridge, 293; Lincoln, 90. But the state chose Douglas electors, it being the only one that did, though a part of New Jersey was for him. Thus the voting strength at this time had increased to 1,561, about five times what it was in 1841.

At the circuit court, in November, 1860, some slaves belonging to the estate of George Gains were sold at the courthouse door according to law, and a German made some strong remarks against the sale. He was arrested and placed under bond, which he forfeited by not appearing. Further on something will be said about ''the peculiar institution."

Claiborne F. Jackson, who was elected governor of the state at the election in 1860, was for secession, and John McAfee, Shelby's representative, was also a strong secessionist. He was elected speaker of the house, yet the majority of the legislature were in favor of preserving the Union. An act was passed in February, 1861, calling a convention to consider the relation of this state to the other states. Some southern states had already seceded. But it was provided in this act that this convention could not take the state out of the Union that this could be done only by a vote of the people. Candidates were nominated for the convention who were unconditional Union men and conditional Union men. That is, the latter were for secession in the event of certain conditions arising. Joseph M. Irwin was the unconditional Union candidate in this county, and G. Watts Hillias was the conditional Union candidate. The county voted nearly three to one for the unconditional Union candidates; and the county always remained strong for the Union and against secession. The majority of the convention was for the Union, but they passed resolutions against the government's using force to coerce the seceded states. A measure was introduced into the convention and supported by Mr. Irwin for the emancipation of the slaves, to take effect July 4, 1876, the master to be paid three hundred dollars for each slave. This is the price Lincoln proposed in his proclamation in 1862.

During war times men change their political opinions rapidly. Some who were ultra-pro-slavery Democrats in 1860, the next year found themselves Radical Republicans. This county was an uncompromising Union County and perhaps one reason that made the sentiment for the Union so strong was the position of John F. Benjamin, Joseph Irwin, Alex McMurtry, William J. Holliday, J. M. Collier, and other leading men, who early declared their uncompromising position. The elections held during the war were not strictly legal and regular, as the polls were generally surrounded by soldiers, and only such persons were allowed to vote as the commanders designated.

In 1865 a constitutional convention was held in Missouri, controlled by the radical element. A rigid test oath was provided. Before anyone could vote, teach school, practice law, sit on a jury, or even preach the gospel, he must swear that he was well acquainted with that pro-vision of the constitution, and that he never sympathized with those in rebellion. Registrars were appointed for each county, and only those whom this board, composed wholly of members of one party, admitted to register could cast their ballots. Those who carried out the constitution were even more drastic than its provisions. A long string of questions was asked each applicant for registration; such as, ''How did you feel when you first heard of the battle of Bull Run?'' One wag, Cobe Wood, of this county, replied, ''I never felt so happy in my life. I rode home and the old woman and I had a regular camp meeting shouting.'' Even if one took the oath and answered all the questions satisfactorily, still the registrars might reject him. Men who had served years in the Union army were disfranchised.

Thus in each county there was formed a ring, the members of which divided the offices, and disfranchised enough men to keep themselves in power. Under this system there was as complete a tyranny as ever existed. B. Gratz Brown, Carl Schurz and others determined in 1870 to end this tyranny, and as the Republican convention refused to declare in favor of abolishing the test oath system, they bolted the convention and organized the Liberal Republican party of Missouri. Brown was nominated for governor. Col. John Shafer and the writer of this article organized the party for Brown and enfranchisement in this county, and in the state Brown was chosen by a large majority and enfranchisement was carried by an overwhelming vote.

In 1870, the total registration in this county was 1,403, and this was more than twice the number of votes cast in 1864. The vote in 1872, when all were admitted to the polls, was over two thousand. In 1896 the vote in the county aggregated 4,183. Of these Bryan received 2,878 and McKinley 1,275, the Prohibition ticket 21, and Palmer and Buckner 9. Since then the vote has somewhat decreased.


Those who lived in the far North could never fully comprehend the real situation in the South on the subject of slavery; and those who have grown up since the war do not understand how good people could own and work slaves. But two hundred years ago few people thought it wrong to bring the uncivilized African to this continent and hold him in bondage. At one time the institution existed North as well as South; but about the time of our revolt against England and following that for a few years slavery was abolished in nearly all the northern states. New Jersey alone holding on to it for some years later. By the time of the Revolution, the more enlightened men of the country, South as well as North, had become unfriendly to the institution and hoped to see it gradually die out. When Virginia ceded the Northwest Territory to the United States, it made a provision in that grant that slavery should never exist there; yet at that time that state held many slaves. In the Border States, like Missouri, the slave-holder usually inherited these chattels. It was an institution handed down from generation to generation, and one who had slaves and had conscientious scruples against selling them as most of them had, could not easily free himself from this condition. The free Negro was not favored, was considered dangerous, and was in a bad condition. For this reason the laws hampered emancipation. Most of the masters in Missouri at least, treated their slaves humanely, and were kind and considerate. In 1860 there were 724 slaves in this county. These people were more numerous in Monroe and in all the river counties. As the prospect for war grew darker, some men fearing emancipation took their slaves South and sold them; but most of the masters kept them until the law set them at liberty. Even then some of the colored people refused to leave their old masters, and nearly all held their former owners in great respect, and continued to look to them for help in time of trouble.

The anti-slavery sentiment of the North was of slow growth, but it had been yearly increasing, and the agitation over the Wilmot Proviso and the compromise measures of 1850, including the Fugitive Slave Law, and especially the repeal of the Missouri Compromise in 1854 to permit slavery in Kansas, stirred up a very bitter opposition over all the free states. The profitable use of slaves in the cultivation of cotton had gradually changed the sentiment in the South so that by 1850 and 1860 a large element there justified the institution, declared it heaven-ordained and sacred. Thus the antagonism between the two sections had by 1860 become acute. If a settlement could have been made by peaceful means, much blood and bitterness might have been spared. But war seemed to be the only remedy. The split in the Democratic Party which occurred that year insured the election of Lincoln, and as many Southerners said they preferred him to Douglas, Northern men took them at their word. Some of the fiery men down there were anxious for a pretext to set up a new government; and bitter men of the North urged them on. The secession of South Carolina and other states which occurred in the winter of 1860 and 1861, and then the firing on Fort Sumter, which occurred in April, brought the country face to face with Civil War.

During the conflict the border slave states like Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri, became very largely the seat of war, and in consequence, the people of those states suffered much. Missouri had her full share of loss and bitterness.

Shelby County in the Civil War


F. M. Dalton published the first newspaper in the county called the Shelbyville Spectator. This was in 1853. N. C. Sperry, who bought the paper, changed the name to The Star of the Prairie. This paper was started as a Whig organ, but it failed. About the spring of 1861 Griffin Frost and G. Watts Hillias started the Shelby County Weekly. This was a red hot secession paper, and the Union men did not like to have it published. So in June, 1862, the militia notified the proprietors to stop the publication, and they did.

In 1866, J. D. Moudy started the Weekly Gazette at Shelbina and in a little while sold out to his foreman, E. D. Hoselton. The paper, however, soon became the property of Daulton, who started the first paper in the county. He sold to Shafer & York, who changed the politics, to radical Republicanism and the name to the Shelby County Herald. In 1871 it was sold to W. L. Willard and moved to Shelbyville, where it is still published by Ennis Brothers as a Democratic organ.

April 1, 1869, E. D Hoselton founded the Shelbina Democrat and the next year Col. S. A. Rawlings bought a half interest in the paper. In September, 1875, the latter died. It remained the sole property of Mr. Hoselton from the sale by Rawlings' administrator until May, 1881, when this writer bought one-half interest in it. He had been assisting in editorial work after Colonel Rawlings' death. In 1891 John W. Cox bought Mr. Hoselton's interest, and in 1901 sold it to this writer, who still owns the plant, though H. H. and E. W. Jewett now publish the paper. The paper, from its first issue, has been as its name indicates. Democratic in politics.

J. R. Horn started a paper at Hunnewell called The Echo, then moved it to Shelbyville and named it The Shelby County Times, but it did not long survive.

In 1892 E. D. Tingle, started the Shelbyville Guard. This paper passed through several hands to W. A. Dimmitt, and finally burned. Now the county seat has only The Herald.

In 1881 Bumbarger and McRoberts started the Shelbina Index. It passed through many hands, its name was changed to the Shelbina Torchlight and under that name it is now published by N. E. Williams. Mr. Williams practiced law for some years before he went into the newspaper business.

W. M. Bradley founded the Clarence Courier, which, after passing through a number of hands, is now owned by Hon. H. J. Simmons and Enoch Ragland. It is Democratic.

The Clarence Republican is the only paper in the county that advocates the principles of the Republican party. It was founded by O. P. Devin, but is now published 'by A. B. Dunlap.

The Hunnewell Graphic was first published by O. P. Sturm, but is now run by H. A. Stephens. It is neutral in politics.

The county has nine Odd Fellow lodges and five Masonic. It has also Knights of Pythias lodges and many fraternal insurance organizations.


Limited space has compelled leaving out events and persons worthy of a place in this history, and also, in many cases compelled very brief mention where a more extended account would be justified under less restricted requirements. The aim has been to chronicle the more important and striking occurrences in a manner to give a correct idea of the settlement and growth of the county, the character and genius of its people from the first settlers down to the present time, and to indicate the state of civilization which has prevailed and now exists in this section.

Eighty-two years ago the territory now comprising Shelby County was without human inhabitants. The land was covered with primeval forests and prairie grass, about half each. The deer, wolf, bear, panther, turkey, prairie-chicken, quail, beasts and reptiles wandered about, un-alarmed by the presence of man. There was not a road, a house, or an acre of tilled land. See what civilized man has done! Now there are about five hundred miles of laid out road. Upon some of this little work has been bestowed, and but a small part is really good except in dry weather. Now there are thousands of pleasant homes, some of them really delightful. Nearly every acre of land is more or less utilized, though much more might be produced if the land were more thoroughly cultivated.

There are three cities, three incorporated towns, and several villages. A trip over the county will disclose many charming spots, many highly improved farms, and many evidences of culture, taste and refinement. As a rule the houses and barns show thrift and comfort. Here nearly seventeen thousand people dwell in safety and peace, surrounded with an abundance of the necessaries of life and many encouragements to mental development and moral and spiritual uplift. These people are a not unworthy part of this great and growing republic of which we are all so proud. Shelby will measure up fairly well with the most favored sections of this favored land.  

  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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