Historic Callaway County, 1818 to 1838

by Clyde Burch
This article was not dated but we believe it was written about 1955. Mr. Burch was interested in forming an organization to preserve and honor the history of Callaway County. The present Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society first met on June 2, 1960 at the Public Library.

Organization of the County

Callaway County was organized November 25, 1820, from a section of Montgomery County. It is one of three counties which can claim the distinction of being twenty-third in date of organization by the state. Callaway, Gasconade, and Saline all came into existence in November, 1820.

It (Callaway) contained more than 800 square miles of land and was located with Audrain on the north, Montgomery on the east, Cole and Osage on the south, and Boone on the west. The first census taken in 1821 showed a population of 1,797.

County Seat

Immediately after the county was organized the county seat was established at Elizabeth (now Hams Prairie). The county seat remained at Elizabeth (named in honor of Mrs. Henry Brite) for four years. It was an attractive location for a town in the center of a small fertile prairie. However, it was not long before the question of moving the county seat arose. Most of the people thought Elizabeth was too far from the center of the county. A committee was appointed to choose a new site and they chose the site of what is today Fulton.

In 1825, the future county seat was fixed on a tract of land, fifty acres in extant, sold by George Nichols for $50.00 for that purpose. In addition, Mr. Nichols agreed to clear the timber off the spot on which a courthouse was to be located.

Fulton was originally called Volney, after a French author. There was considerable opposition to this name. Robert Dunlap waged a successful campaign to change the name to Fulton, in honor of Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat.

First Courthouse

The first courthouse in Fulton was built by J. Ferguson in 1826-27. It was 36 feet square built of brick, two stories high, with a brick floor in the first story and cost over $1,300. At the time it was considered one of the finest courthouses west of the Mississippi River. The principal part of the funds was obtained in the following manner: one Hiram Bryan was charged with stealing a horse; he was put under a heavy bond for his appearance at the next term of the Circuit Court, and William Bryan became his bondsman. Hiram decided to dispense with the trial, and so ran away, leaving his security to pay the forfeited bond. This, with a small additional sum of county money, was appropriated to the construction of the courthouse.

Other Early Buildings

The first cabin in Fulton was built by Mr. Nichols. The next was built by John Yates, at the southwest corner of the public square. The first hotel log-house was erected by Joseph Sitton. James Fisher was the pioneer grocer and saloonkeeper. William Coward was the first saddler in the town. William Armstrong was the first tailor. Garrett Nichols was the first blacksmith.


The population grew very fast during this period of history. In 1821 there were 1,797 people in Callaway County. In 1830 there were 6,159 and in 1840 there were 11,765. As a result many little villages were organized. Some of them are: Concord , 12 miles north of Fulton and 4 miles west of Auxvasse, was settled in 1834. Millersburg, 12 miles west of Fulton, was settled in 1828. Portland, 20 miles southeast of Fulton, was settled in 1831. New Bloomfield was settled in 1831 by Major James D. McGray. In 1827 Thomas Caldwell settled Pottersville 9 miles south of Fulton. Williamsburg, 16 miles east, northeast of Fulton, was settled in 1834.

About the year 1834, a colony of Germans settled in the southeastern part of Callaway, and began immediately to test the adaptability of the soil to the culture of the grape. In 1837-38 a still larger immigration occurred, and the bluffs and hillsides began to be dotted with vineyards.


The first school taught at Cotes Sans Dessein, as recorded in a letter by one Ferguson, was taught in the winter of 1818-19 by Joseph James. This is the only account of education in the settlements except the private school taught in Fulton. It was taught by “Peg Leg” Dunlap, who came to Fulton in 1834. When he was 21 years old he could neither read nor write. About this time he went to the mill at St. Charles to grind and his horse fell on his leg and caused him to lose the leg. This was hard for him to adjust to, so he started to teach himself to read and write. He did this and wrote a textbook to use while teaching school. He traveled about the country holding private classes for as long as three months in one location. He had an average of 15 pupils at each school. The school in Fulton was held where the Palace Hotel parking lot is now situated. He went as far south as Alabama while teaching these classes. He combined the work of an auditor with that of teaching school. When he was returning from a trip in 1840, he died at Portland of cholera.


During this period of settlement, many churches saw their beginning. The Courthouse was used on Sundays as a Church. Many services were held in homes, also. The first church in Callaway, except the Catholic at Cote Sans Dessein, was the Salem Church, a Baptist mission. Fulton Primitive Baptist Church was organized in 1832, in the home of James McKinney, and named Liberty, after Liberty McKinney, a son of James McKinney. Among the constituent members were Theodrick Boulware and wife, Sam Martin and wife, R. Shelley and wife. The first church building was of brick and was erected in 1833-34, at a cost of $3,000.

Salem Baptist Church was located in the Auxvasse township. Its organization dates back to 1820 or 1821. The names of some of the original members were: James Coats and wife, John Watson and wife, Edward Walker and wife. The first pastor, Rev. William Coats, served the congregation until his death in 1835. At one time the church had over one hundred members. The building was constructed of logs. The construction of the church was supervised by Rev. Coats and the pulpit was built by his own hands.

Cedar Creek Old School Baptist Church was organized July 14, 1821, by Rev. Edward Turner and Thomas Campbell. The names of the original members were William Edwards and Sally, his wife, Virgil Edwards, Absalom Renfro and Chloe, his wife, Thomas P. Stephens, Elijah Stephens, Nancy Edwards, and Sukey (a slave). The first church, built in 1825, burned down. In 1831 another building was erected.

The first Presbyterian Church organized in the county was the Auxvasse Church, (now known as Old Auxvasse) located near the Auxvasse Creek. It was organized June 1, 1828. At that time, Reverends William P. Cockren and Thomas R. Durfee were present . Eleven persons presented letters from other churches, signed a solemn covenant, and were organized as the Auxvasse Church. John Hamilton and Reuben Scott were elected and ordained ruling elders. In 1823 Reverend David Kirkpatrick preached in a neighboring schoolhouse. The following year Reverend William S. Lacy, from St. Charles County preached at the house of Mr. Samuel Dyer. On the February 13, 1826 the neighbors met together with the purpose of cutting logs, with which to build a house of worship, and the next day the house was raised. This building was of hewed log, twenty by twenty-six feet. In the middle of one side was the door, in the other was the pulpit with a window behind. There also was a window in either end.

In September, 1832, the church held its first great camp meeting. Because the church building was small a shed was built to accommodate those who might attend. This was capable of holding almost 1,000 persons. Three times a day under this shed there was preaching. For the purpose of securing light at night, six platforms, four or five feet high, were erected around the shed. These were covered with earth, and fires of hickory bark kept burning upon them, sending up their flames like so many ancient altars. People came from near and far to attend this meeting and the membership of the church increased greatly.

James Tate was elected to the office of Elder when the Fulton Presbyterian Church was organized June 14, 1835. Reverend R.L. McAfee gave the first sermon. He spoke about the following passages: Deuteronomy 33:26-29.

The Methodist Church of Fulton met from 1821 to 1828 in the home of Robert Dunlap. In 1828 they built a church building in Fulton. Some of the other churches which were organized and the date of founding are as follows:

  • Middle River Baptist – August, 1824
  • Providence Baptist – August 5, 1826
  • Concord Church – June 25, 1833
  • New Bloomfield Presbyterian Church – 1835
  • New Providence Cumberland Presbyterian Church – October 4, 1823
  • Church of Christ at Antioch – October, 1828

Economic and Social Life

The people who came to Callaway County were not attracted by the glitter of gold. They were mostly young and middle-aged men with families who came here with the purpose of making homes and settling their families on cheap government land. The settler s traveled and settled close to parallel lines of latitude; hence we find that north central Missouri was settled mainly by Virginians and Kentuckians, while the southern portion of the state was settled more by Tennesseans and Carolinians.

The settlers were living during a time of self-reliance and brave, persevering toil. The experience of one settler was just about the same as those of the others. Nearly all the settlers were poor; they faced the same hardships and stood generally on t he same footing. These settlers had their hardships, but they also had their own peculiar joys. If they were poor, they were free from the burden of pride and vanity: free also from the anxiety and care that always attends the possession of wealth. Other people’s eyes cost them nothing. If they had few neighbors, they were on the best of terms with those they had. Envy, jealousy and strife had not crept in. A common interest and a common sympathy bound them together with the strongest ties. They were a little world to themselves and enjoyed the good feeling that came with realizing this.

Among those pioneers with the same interests, there were no castes, except an aristocracy of benevolence, and no nobility except a nobility of generosity. Neighbors did not wait for an invitation when another’s house had burned. They immediately went to help the unfortunate one rebuild. One man’s interest was every other man’s interest. These settlers helped one another as if they were all blood relations. They knew they had to live this way for protection. After leaving the security of laws in the East, they were now left to protect themselves. Each man’s protection was in the goodwill and friendship of those around him.

House and Home Comforts

The first buildings in the county were not exactly nice, comfortable log cabins. They were a cross between “hoop cabins” and Indian bark huts. As soon as enough men could be gotten together for a cabin raising, then log cabins were in sty le.

A window with sash and glass was a rarity, and was an evidence of wealth and aristocracy, which but few could support. They were often made with greased paper put over the window, which admitted a little light, but more often there was nothing what ever over it, or the cracks between the logs, without either chinking or daubing, were the dependence for light and air. The doors were fastened with old-fashioned wooden latches, and for a friend, or neighbor, or traveler, the string always hung out. The pioneers of the west were hospitable and entertained visitors to the best of their ability.

The pioneer did not eat what we today would call a balanced meal, but they had food to keep them healthy. The cooking was done with pot and kettles over the heat of the fireplace. These pioneers had to live on what they could grow, find in the woods, or happen to find for sale. There were many wild animals in the woods, they could grow many vegetables, and they could buy some things.

After the mill was begun by J.S. Ferguson they could grind (wheat and corn) much easier. Deer would be seen daily trooping over the prairie in herds of from twelve to twenty, and sometimes as many as fifty would be grazing together. Elk were also found, and wild turkeys and prairie chickens without number. Trapping wolves became a very profitable business after the State began to pay a bounty for wolf scalps.

There were fish in every stream. Sometimes a group would get together and take cooking utensils and travel a long distance to catch fish and be together.

These pioneers were honest and sincere in their relations. They hated cowards and falsehoods most of all. When there was a house to be raised and everyone had gathered, the men would pile up logs while the women prepared the dinner. Sometimes it was cooked over a big log fire near the site where the cabin was being built, other times it would be prepared at the nearest cabin. Thus, the pioneers of the day led a very happy and satisfying life.

The only plows they had at first were what they styled “bull plows”. The mould-boards were generally of wood or half iron. The man who had one of the latter was looked upon as something of an aristocrat. But these old bull plows did good service and they must be awarded the honor of first stirring the soil of Callaway County.

The pioneers enjoyed hunting and trapping, but they enjoyed hunting bee trees most. These trees were found along the Missouri River and sometimes along streams in the county. Many of the settlers would go into camps for days during the late summer for the purpose of securing honey from the bees.

The economic and social life of the pioneer is very well described in PIONEER FAMILIES OF MISSOURI by Rose:

“The poor women had a pretty hard time, for in addition to taking care of the children and doing all the ordinary domestic work and house-cleaning, with none of the modern improvements to aid them, they had to manufacture cloth from raw material and make all the clothes worn by themselves and their families. Some idea of the trial they had to pass through can be obtained from the following extract of a letter written by one of the pioneer women of Callaway County to her sister in Kentucky who had made inquiries as to how she liked her new home.”

“The men and the dogs have a fine time, but the poor women have to suffer. They have to pack water from one-half to one mile and do all the washing and cooking. So my advice to you is, stay where you are. But if you see anyone coming to this part of the country, please send me a plank cradle for poor little Patrick. His poor little back is full of hard lumps and skinned all over, lying in nothing but a cradle George made out of one-half of a hollowed log. With a piece of wood on one end as a pillow. The poor child had a hard time for he hain’t got but two shirts in the world and both of them made from nettle bark that almost scratches him to death. Great dents and whelps are all over the little creature’s back. I don’t want to have any more children if the poor little things are to be treated in this way. I told George so last night, and what you reckon he said? He said it was the very thing –it would make them tough and they could stand Bare and Deer hunting. George has got him a buckskin huntin- shirt and pants, and he is gone hunting day and night.

We have got some good neighbors and we visit each other when we can. I forgot to tell you of a wedding George and I attended last week. They were married by an old Hard Shell Preacher by the name of Jabe Ham. He had on a long buckskin overcoat that looked so funny! The man was in his shirtsleeves with white cotton socks and buckskin slippers on his feet. The girl was dressed in a short-waisted, low necked, short-sleeved white cotton dress, that was monstrous short for a tall girl like she was, for I don’t reckon there was more than five yards of cloth in her dress. She had on buckskin slippers and her hair was tied up with a buckskin string, which is all the go out here. And when Mr. Ham was spelling and reading the ceremony from the book, the girl commenced sneezing, and the buckskin string slipped off and her hair flew all over her face, and everybody laughed.”

The years 1818 to 1838 were important formative years in Callaway County. The people of Callaway have a commendable interest in history. Our past is a precious heritage which we must hold in trust for future generations. McCaulay has said that; “A people which takes no pride in the noble achievements of remote ancestors, will never achieve anything worthy to be remembered by remote descendants.” However, we should keep in mind that those experiences of the past (history) which will help us develop better as human beings should receive greatest emphasis. In the words of the French thinker, Jean Jawres, we should “take from the altars of the past the fire—not the ashes.”

A few methods used in some counties to stimulate interest in history are:

  1. Start a historical museum in the community.
  2. Form a County Historical Society (affiliated with State Society).
  3. Arrange for preservation of a local historical site.
  4. Make a historical map of the county.
  5. Preparing a pamphlet about local historical sites.
  6. Arranging for display of local historical documents.
  7. Writing of a new county history book.
  8. Setting up a section in the local public library for local history materials.
  9. Preservation of a site and starting a museum can sometimes be a joint project, i.e. preserve a prominent old house or building and establish a museum therein. A small admittance fee and proper publicity will usually insure sufficient income to maintai n the project once it is established.

Editor’s note: TheKingdom of Callaway Historical Society was officially chartered by the State Historical Society on July 15, 1960. We are proud to report that all nine items in the list above (and more!) have been accomplished.

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