Livingston County History
On January 6, 1837, Livingston County
came into existence when Governor Daniel Dunklin signed a Piece of legislation
enacted by the Missouri Assembly. The county was named for the Hon. Edward
Livingston, the eleventh Secretary of State, of the United States under
President Andrew Jackson.
The land that came to be called
Livingston County dates back much further than 1837. Before settlers came to the
area the land was populated by its natural inhabitants - coyotes, beavers,
squirrels, panthers, deer and rabbits. The Grand River flowed from the northwest
to southeast, shagbark hickory, cottonwood, and white oak growing on its banks.
Beneath the prairie grass covered hills a sub-soil of clay and thin veins of
coal lay hidden.
An old Indian trail crossed what is
now known as Medicine Creek and went north to the mouth of Honey Creek. The
Chippewa's, Sac's, Fox and Pottawatomie's used the trail. They camped for brief
times near the watercourses; when the game became scarce they moved on.
The Missouri Indians settled
Livingston County in the early 1800's. An example of their burial mounds can be
found near the bank of the Grand River just upstream from Bedford. They were the
first known occupants of Livingston County. The Indians settled a number of
towns and villages in this county. One city was located a mile west of the
present site of Chillicothe; another was located on Medicine Creek; another on
the bluffs on the east fork of Grand River. One village was located three miles
southeast of the present town of Springhill, another west of Farmersville.
According to a treaty drawn up in 1833 the Indian title to the land in the Grand
River Valley was nullified, and the Indians were to move north and west. The
Shawnee's were the last tribe to leave. They left behind the name of their town
Trench trappers are known to have
explored and written of the Grand River as early as 1724. About six miles below
the mouth of the river the French had held a fort; their trappers covered many
miles trading with the Indians for beaver and otter.
In the late 1820's settlers from
Carroll and Ray counties came north in search of honey said to be found here.
The "bee hunters", as they were called, set up camp in the timber bottoms
between the two forks of Grand River. In a few days, they returned to their
homes with a wagon filled with barrels of honey.
In the spring of 1831, Samuel E. Todd
chose a spot west of Utica as his home; other settlers soon followed. Numerous
families reported seeing the giant meteor shower on the night of November 12,
Joseph Cox built the first log cabin
in the Chillicothe area in the summer of 1832. Indians coming through Ray County
had stolen one of his horses, and he traced them to Livingston County. He got
his horse back, and was so impressed by the rolling countryside that he moved
here. It was at the Joseph Cox house on April 6, 1837, that the first term of
the county court was held and the county divided into four townships - Shoal
Creek, Indian Creek, Medicine Creek, and Grand River. The first term of the
Circuit Court for Livingston County was also held later that summer at the
Joseph Cox home. The judge, jury, lawyers, witnesses and defendants all boarded
at the house free of charge. Corn pone, butter, and venison were served on log
tables set up under the trees.
In August 1837, the Livingston County
Court took the first steps in laying out the town of Chillicothe. John Graves
was appointed trustee to lay off lots by September 4th. He resigned and Nathan
Gregory finished the surveying and platting in time for lots to be sold in
October. The name Chillicothe comes from the Shawnee Indians and means "The big
town where we live" or "Our big home". It was not until July 1839 that
Chillicothe was designated as a county seat.
Livingston County's first courthouse
was built in 1838, but because of an oversight in the plans it had no windows. A
second courthouse was built in November 1841 on the southwest corner of Webster
and Cherry Streets. It was a two story brick structure with all rooms warmed by
fireplaces. The original courthouse without windows was used as a school.
By the time Livingston County was
becoming a much-traveled area as wagon trains and pioneers went west. One route
led through the northern half of the county crossing East Fork of Grand River at
Cox's Ferry, then up through Navetown and on to the northwest. Another route
came across the southern part of the county and crossed Shoal Creek at Josiah
Whitney's Mill in what is known as Dawn. The southern route was the route the
Mormons chose to take. The Mormons and their practices of polygamy angered
settlers in Livingston County. A group of settlers from the forks of the river
petitioned the Governor to expel the Mormons from the county. Josiah Whitney
took matters in his own hands halting all wagons at his mill and demanding that
the Mormon men give him their guns and ammunition or turn back to Illinois.
Since they could not survive without
guns to hunt for food they protested, but Whitney insisted that he was the law
and determined to keep bigamists out of Missouri. Whitney succeeded in turning
some of the Mormons back, and others when on without their arms to Caldwell
County. Sentiment against the Mormons ran high in Livingston County and a
militia of two hundred men was organized. They encountered the Mormons at Hawn's
Mill in Caldwell County. The Mormons offered no resistance and were told to move
West. Before they could move, a second group attacked them and seventeen Mormons
were killed. The militia looted the houses and stables and brought the bounty
back to Livingston County.
In the spring of 1846 the first move
was made to establish the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad. As A. J. Roof noted in
his History of Livingston County, "The newspapers of the towns through which it
was thought the road would be built, favored it; those located off the line were
opposed to it, and the people divided with the newspapers." When it was finished
in 1859 passenger trains left Hannibal at 10:30 a.m. and reached St. Joseph, 206
miles away, at 9:30 p.m. Hannibal, Hudson (Macon), Brookfield, Chillicothe, and
St. Joseph were the principal stations.
In 1858 Chillicothe had 1000
residents, two dry goods stores, a livery stable, a drug store, a hotel, an
eating house, and a newspaper, "The Grand River Chronicle." The town boasted of
one physician, four lawyers and regular stagecoach service. The sixty mile trip
to Bethany was one of the most popular. There were no paved streets or sidewalks
and few fences in town. The pigs and chickens ran all over. The local Thespian
Society, for men and boys only, put on a play called "Tootles" and charged
twenty-five cents admission.
Through the beginning of the Civil
War, Livingston County was uniformly Democratic in politics. In 1860 the
Democratic vote was split by different candidates; but of the 1469 votes cast
only twenty went to Abraham Lincoln.
In the winter of 1860 and 1861 the
men began a series of Friday night meetings to discuss such questions:
"Resolved: That the inaugural of President Lincoln means war." The
meetings were brought to an abrupt end in April when Fort Sumter was fired upon.
Soon afterward, the first Federal cannon was moved to the square in Chillicothe.
Sentiment in Livingston County at the
beginning of the war was strongly Secessionist. In 1862 all persons liable to
military duty were asked to enroll themselves as loyal or disloyal. Several
hundred in Livingston County registered as disloyal.
An example of the feelings of the
county residents concerns a certain Reverend J. E. Gardner. In the election of
1860 only twenty people in the county stood up and by voice voted for Lincoln,
fifteen in Monroe township and five in Blue Mound. Utica had voted for Bell,
Breckenridge and Douglas. Rev. Gardner had been one to vote for Lincoln but then
he went to Utica as a Northern Methodist minister, and on a camp meeting, the
Reverend Gardner was "found in the wrong tent" at the revival. There was a
meeting of citizens in Utica about December 20, 1860, and at that time thirty
seven residents gave the minister three days to leave their county. This time
was extended and they finally forced him and his family out of town by January
4, 1861. He was rescued by a Mr. P. Rudolph from Monroe township.
By 1863, when Lincoln issued the
Emancipation proclamation, sentiment was divided. At a public meeting discussing
the Proclamation two supporters were arrested. One was Mr. Harbaugh, editor of
the Constitution Newspaper; the other was Reverend T. B. Bratton, Presiding
Elder of the Methodist Episcopal churches in this area. The officers of the
Harper Union Ladies Encampment of Utica decided to rally to the cause of
Reverend Bratton and Mr. Harbaugh.
The Harper Union Ladies Encampment
had over 250 members and included most of the women from Utica and the
surrounding areas. Carrying a Union flag and wearing red, white, and blue
sashes, they marched on Chillicothe to call on Judge McFerron. When the judge
appeared the ladies introduced themselves and said they had come to demand the
release of Reverend Bratton and Mr. Harbaugh. The judge asked them by what
right, and the ladies replied, "By our rights as loyal Americans."
The judge reminded them that they did
not have the vote and challenged their right to tell him what to do, but the
women replied that free speech is guaranteed to men by the Constitution and the
Reverend Bratton and Mr. Harbaugh were only venting their right to free speech
and should not be imprisoned. Further discussion ensued and the women were told
to roll up their flag, take off their red, white and blue sashes, and go home
where they belonged. The judge eventually gave in, the two men were freed, and
the meeting ended with the women singing "Rally Around the Flag Boys",
In the three years from Lincoln's
election in 1860 until 1863 the sentiment in Livingston County had changed. In
1860 only a few had wanted to do away with slavery, but by 1863 only a handful
stood against the Union and emancipation.
City pride began to be aroused in
Chillicothe in the 1870's and 80's. The city park was rid of black locust
sprouts and an attempt was made to keep the cows and pigs away after the City
Council passed an ordinance that said livestock must be fenced in. Dr. Green
helped to get an Opera House started. Tickets for Opening Night cost $10.00 and
a ball was held afterwards at the new Leeper Hotel.
Disasters hit the county, too. In
1873 a bank robbery was made on People's Bank, and an attempt was made to kidnap
the bank president. The Wheeling Railroad burned in 1881. A tornado killed four
persons, wrecked thirty-seven houses and did $65,000 worth of damage in 1881 in
the Blue Mound area. An earlier tornado in 1880 had wiped out most of the town
of Bedford. In 1886 the tower of Central School was struck by lightning.
Electric lights came to Chillicothe
in 1885. They ran until midnight six days a week, no electricity on Sunday. The
street railway was begun with four cars and ten little mules to haul people from
one depot to another or up to the square. The first telephone system in
Chillicothe began with sixteen phones in 1886. The Chillicothe, Milwaukee and
St. Paul Railroad built a new line through Chillicothe. The innovations in the
coming years would bring swifter changes than could be imagined.
"History of Caldwell and
Livingston Counties Missouri, 1886; Past and Present of Livingston County,
Missouri" by A. J. Roof, 1913
A History of Livingston
County, Missouri published by the Centennial Committee, 1937, and Progress of
Chillicothe and Livingston County since 1832" compiled by W. L. Cox, 1911."
Found online at:
Copyrightę2019 Heidi Utley