Bates County Locations
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A BRIEF HISTORY OF JOHNSTOWN,
revised by E. Wells, January 23, 1996
In the early days the town served a large area as the trading center
for Pioneer Citizens. The
first automobile that chugged over the dusty, bumpy roads to inland towns and homes might
well have carried a sign reading TIME FOR A CHANGE, for its coming marked the beginning
of the last chapter in the long and useful history of the small inland town. Such is the story of
Johnstown, situated in the eastern section of Bates county near the Henry county line, an early
day thriving center for trade and marketing, supplying every needed commodity to residents
and travelers. After five years in business, George Daly closed the last grocery and feed store
in the mid 40's, writing the final chapter of the interesting and colorful history of the town.
Only a few homes are now occupied and there are a number of empty dwellings remaining
in mute testimony of a more prosperous past. In the year 1832, a settler named James Stewart
located on the site that later became Johnstown. Stewart's creek was named
after this man. He was a blacksmith and he remained at this location for a few years.
Later he moved to Johnson county after selling his claim in 1834 to some brothers from Kentucky
named John and Samuel Pyle. John came alone in 1834 while Samuel and his new bride followed
two years later in 1836. These two men with their families were the last residents to leave in
compliance with Order No. 11. To give some background, Order No. 11 was a drastic
measure issued August 25, 1863 by Thomas Ewing, Jr., a new commander of the District of
the Border, only four days after the sack of Lawrence, Kansas. It said that allresidents
of Jackson, Cass, and Bates counties and the northern half of Vernon county, with certain
exceptions, were ordered to leave their homes. The exceptions were persons living within a
mile of military posts that were listed in order: Independence, Hickman's Mills, Pleasant Hill,
Harrisonville, Kansas City and Westport. Persons who could give satisfactory evidence of
their loyalty to the United States were permitted to move to any military station within the
district or to any part of Kansas other than the counties on the eastern boundary. All others
were required to move beyond the limits of the District of the Border. The civilian population
of the border counties encompassed some thousands of persons who were eager to fight for
the Confederacy. Although they did not, ordinarily, wear uniforms and fight in regular military
units, many were bold and resourceful; and they were skilled in taking advantage
of the credulity and other weaknesses of officers who were given the job of keeping them in order.
Without sufficient cavalry to police the country roads and backwoods communities and unable to
descend suddenly upon remote places that were used for refuge by the bushwhackers, Commander
Ewing could not bring the District under control as long as Southern sympathizers lived
unmolested in their homes and worked secretly with the guerrilla bands. The women spies,
scouts, and auxiliaries must have know they were engaging in warlike acts when they aided
Quantrill, Anderson, Todd, and other wholesale killers. If the bushwhackers and their families, and
the friends who aided them, expected to engage in war without suffering any of its penalties,
"Order Number Eleven" must have been a shock. In any event, it was war at its worst. Old
timers from the Johnstown area were often reminiscent about the bands of men on huge horses
coming into the town brandishing firebrands and watching the buildings go up in flames.
And now, back to the settlers of the territory later to become Johnstown. Another early settler
was James McCool and his family from Ohio who came to this area in 1840. The first store was
established in the territory by Jim and Dan Johnson in 1845. John Harbert, along with Dick
McClure, opened the second store. Mr. Harbert became the first postmaster of the town in 1846.
Before this residents of the area had to go to Deepwater for their mail. John Hull was the
town's blacksmith. Although other towns were near such as Harmony Mission,
West Point, Harrisonville and Clinton; Johnstown became the important business center.
Before the Civil War, there were five stores, two saloons, three blacksmith shops, a mill operated
by A.B. Maupin, a cabinet shop, and a shoe and harness shop. It is said to have enjoyed a larger
business than any other town in this area, supplying necessities to the residents and serving
as a center where articles of barter with the Indians might be obtained. The exact date of
the settlement is not know, but by 1839, many settlers had established themselves
in that community. In observance to Order Number Eleven, the people left the town and went
to Henry and Pettis counties. On their return, the town never regained its thrift and
importance because the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway by-passed the Johnstown to
go through Montrose in Henry County. Although the town was practically destroyed
during the period of the Border War between Missouri and Kansas, it was rebuilt. It boasted a
flour and grist mill, saw mill, two hotels and two churches. A plat of the incorporated town
appeared in the plat book published in 1895, laying out the location of said hotels and churches
and the lots into which the town was divided. Johnstown continued as a local trading point,
gradually declining in number of businesses after 1917. At one time in its more prosperous
period, there were five physicians living in it. Dr. Shirk of Sedalia was the first. He came
to the town in 1866 to take care of James Harbert, son of John Harbert. He liked the area so well
that he stayed, later marrying Jennie Harbert. Drs. Finn and Ridgins settled there later. The five
doctors who were residents at the same time were: Dr. S. W. Maxey, who served as a postmaster
and minister; Dr. Matchette; Dr. McAninch; Dr. Charles Bowden and Dr. Choate, who was
the druggest in the local drug store owned by Dal Drake. As a matter of interest, Dal Drake was
the only former soldier who received a pension from the government for his part in the
Civil War. It is said that he used to give the other veterans, who had fought for the Confederacy,
a hard time saying, "Boys, I told you that you were fighting on the wrong side!"
Two churches met the spiritual needs of the community. The church of Christ met for the first
time in 1853, set in order by Dr. Downing from Kentucky. Although Dr. Downing went back to
Kentucky during the Civil War, the church continued to grow and a foundation for its building
was laid at the southeast corner of the present cemetery, but was never used. The present building,
located just off Rural Road 0, was built in 1893 on land given by the
late John L. Coleman, with the stipulation that if any musical instrument were brought into it,
the property would return to the original owner. There were approximately 10 charter members,
including Anne Harbert, Ive and Bone Coleman, Sis Ramsey, the McCools and Billy and
Nancy Gates. From this small beginning in a local school building, it soon grew to a membership
of 100. Today it has an active membership of around 60 and continues to
be an influence in the community. The Methodist church, about which little history remains,
was disbanded in 1893. (As a child of three, I remember attending with my mother, Flora Spears,
before she became a member of the church of Christ. Therefore, I would have to say members
were still meeting in the late 1920's, my grandfather being one of the staunch members.
Although my memory is faint, it seems that the building burned. The steps can still
be seen in the driveway to the east of the trailer owned by Delbert Hooper.)
The town was named for John Harbert who donated the land for the cemetery. It is still kept in
good repair by a board of directors, possibly chaired by Joe Kline, son-in-law of Bill Harbert,
great-grandson of John Harbert. During his lifetime Bill Harbert scrupulously maintained the
cemetery to the highest standards. Tyrian Lodge No. 350 A.F. & A.M., chartered in 1870, was
one of the leading Masonic lodges in this area. After 80 years in 1950, it was consolidated with
Montrose Lodge No. 408 at Montrose. Large pictures of two of the charter members hung on
the wall until the time of consolidation. These were of Captain John Newberry and
A. B. Maupin. The great-grandson of A.B. Maupin, Dudley R. Spears of Alvaton, Ky. now has
the picture of A.B. Maupin. In fact, it hangs over his fireplace in a prominent position!
Cal Martin was also a charter member. The first school house built by early settlers burned
during the Civil War. Afterward, another building was erected and in the early twenties, there was
a four-year high school established. Mr. Walter Dudley walked the countryside
getting signatures to establish it, and he served as a school board member for years. After
some years as only a first through eighth grade facility, it was taken in by the Ballard RII system.
Of interest is the fact that at no time in the history of Johnstown was any newspaper started.
It could be surmised that because of its "closed community" characteristics, there was never
a need. The telephone office that was in service was composed of party lines which
provided all the news that was news! The telephone office was run by Aunt Cal Drake and
her daughter, Ruth, for many years, until progress made it obsolete. Electrical service was
established in 1949 and the roads leading into the community from other areas are now paved.
The community also has access to Butler water, doing away with the many wells in the area.
This information concerning the history of Johnstown came from "Atkeson's History
of Bates County", "The Old Settler's History of Bates County" by Tathwell and Maxey, and
from interviews with Mrs. Dallie Campbell, granddaughter of John Harbert, one of the first
settlers. She was the daughter of James Harbert, a merchant. Also there were interviews with
Mrs. Claude O'Neal, daughter of Bill and Sunie Spears; and Walter McComb for the facts
concerning the Masonic Lodge. Mrs. Claude O'Neal, nee Roma Spears, gave the writers access
to records from the church of Christ in Johnstown. Other members of the Spears family were
also contacted for information: i.e. Pete Spears, Rex Spears, Rena Harbert, and Ronald Spears,
all of whom had been born in the Johnstown area and lived there or nearby for most of their lives.
One story in particular was told by Mrs. Campbell, "Aunt Dallie", about the time of the
Border War. Her father, James Harbert, loaded a wagon with merchandise from his store
to take it to Calhoun for safekeeping. During his absence, bushwhackers came. Mrs. Harbert,
Aunt Dal's mother, hitched a team to a wagon, put her children, her parents, Mr. and Mrs.
Jim McCool, and an aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Vanardstrum in it, taking them all to Calhoun.
The raiders burned and looted buildings and homes with one exception. Mrs. Mary Hull Harbert,
a widow, with her two children, John and Fannie, had no way to escape. Mrs. Harbert fed
the men and for her kindness, she and her children were moved to the Union fort in
the church at Germantown. There she and her children remained safely, returning later to
her undamaged home in Johnstown. Aunt Dallie lived to be 101 and is buried in the Johnstown
cemetery along with the rest of her relatives. She lived the major part of her life in the town
and during the latter years in Butler. She was always a rich source of history and many went
to her for facts about their births and families. She operated a millinery or "Hat Shop" from
1904 to 1917. "It wasn't a very good town after that," she said, "for the cars ruined a little
place in favor of the larger towns." Then she added, "My mother said she lived in four counties
and never moved from the same house." She gave the counties as VanBuren, Vernon, Cass and Bates.
In the early 1930's, there were two general stores remaining and the local telephone office.
Bill Ramsey and Jess Umstattd were the owners. The depression was in full swing and the
residents of the small community were in desperate conditions. Jess Umstattd's store had
succumbed to the harsh realities, leaving Bill Ramsey's store to continue alone for a time
until Jim and Rena Harbert bought the store from Jess Umstattd. In the late 40's or early 50's,
Jim and Rena moved out west because of Jim's health and the store was abandoned.
Since that time, the only place of business in the community was a restaurant owned by Eldon and
Lynn Craig for a few years.
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