History of Buchanan County, Missouri
Source: The History Publishing Company, History of Buchanan County and St. Joseph, Missouri 1915, Midland Printing Company, St. Joseph, Missouri 1915.
Buchanan County, Missouri is located in latitude 39 degrees 47 minutes north and longitude 4 degrees and 55 minutes west. The elevation is about 1000 feet above sea level. It is about 400 feet higher than Chicago in elevation and 600 feet above St. Louis.
The land is a mixture of rolling prairie, valleys and hills. The land is drained by several streams and rivers including the Platte, One-hundred and Two, Missouri, Bee, Castile, Malden, Ten-mile, Forty-mile, Sugar, Contrary and Blacksnake Creeks. There were numerous natural lakes in the area too. They included: Contrary, Sugar, Singleton, Horseshoe, Muskrat, New Made and Mud Lakes.
There was plenty of timber for early settlers. The most abundant trees were black walnut trees, which were used for furniture making by pioneers.
Joseph Robidoux is credited with being the first settler in Buchanan County, Missouri. Robidoux landed at the mouth of the creek that was called Roy's Branch in the Blacksnake Hills. He arrived in 1826 with permission of the U. S. Government. Soon other white men came to the area: John Elliott came from Kentucky in 1833 and located in Platte Township. Hiram Roberts came in 1836 to what became DeKalb. Absalom Enyard built a small cabin in Platte Township in 1836. Then Judge West J. Everett of Clay County bought the cabin from Enyard and took possession of it in February 1837. Soon Absalom Munkers arrived in Buchanan County. From 1837 to 1840 there was a steady influx of settler to the area and the county began to progress rapidly. The majority of the early settlers were from Kentucky, Ohiow, Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.
Pioneer life in Buchanan County was not different from pioneer life elsewhere in the West. The first settlers were brave men who lived plain lives. They were hospitable and generous with their neighbors. This bond between the early settlers helped them survive the harsh environment of early pioneer life. The first homes built by the settlers were not log cabins as one might imagine. Rather, they were a hybrid of the bark huts lived in by Native Americans in the region and "hoop cabins." They usually lived together in groups for mutual protection and formed many small communities made up of 3-4 families. Later the settlers made log cabins. The logs were notched together at the corners and were ribbed with poles and covered with split boards. The floors were puncheon floors and the endwall had a chimney made of sticks and mud. Sometimes a small window was cut in one or more sides. The window was covered with greased paper and a door made of clapboard covered the doorway. Mud was chinked between the logs to reduce draft.
The pioneer's furniture was very rudimentary. It was built of walnut, cut from local timber. It usually consisted of a one-legged bedstead, small rough hewn table, chairs, pots and pans. There were no stoves for cooking. Early settlers hung their pots and pans on hooks in the fireplace. Essentially that was the only furnishing most settlers had in their early homes.
The mills were operated using horses to furnish the power. Each person brought their own horse for grinding their grain. In the early years, the only grain grown in this area was corn. The corn was also used to make hominy which was then ground into grits. The cornmeal was used to make cornbread and ashcakes. Other food eaten by the early settlers included deer, elk, wild turkeys, prairie chickens and bear.
The clothing worn by the early settlers was plain and functional. The mean wore "jeans" and the women "linsey-wooley." The men also wore clothing made of buckskin. The jeans worn for every day were dyed with hickory and walnut bark producing a dark brownish black fabric. For Sunday clothing indigo was used to produce a blue jean. Pioneers had no money, nor place to purchase food and clothing that present day residents are accustomed to having.
The General Assembly of Missouri passed an act in 1838 providing for the organization of Platte and Buchanan Counties. The county was named for James Buchanan who was at that time a representative of the United States at the court of St. Petersburg. He was very popular at the time and thus people named the county for him. Along with providing for organization the 1838 act also authorized the governor to make appointments to get the young county organized. The governor:
Governor Lilburn W. Boggs appointed judges
- the 12th Senatorial District
-1st Judicial District
-the 12th Judicial Circuit Court (the regular terms of the Circuit Court were the 2nd Mondays of April August and December)
The 1st sheriff was Samuel Gilmore
The 1st surveyor was Matthew M. Hughes. He made his initial survey and presented his report to the county court on January 8, 1840.
The first meeting of the county commissioners was at the home of Richard Hill on the 1st Monday in April 1839. Samuel Johnson was elected presiding Judge and William Fowler clerk.
The first county business was to divide the county into municipal townships. This was a difficult job and took several attempts before the final divisions were made. The list below names some of the township divisions named in the early county records:
During the 1st session of the county court an order was made for the election of 2 justices and 1 constable for each township naming all of those listed above except for: Atchison, Washington, Crawford, Wayne and Center.
In 1842, there were officially 10 townships including:
-Bloomington, Crawford, Platte, Tremont, Marion, Jackson, Washington, Rush, Wayne and Center.
From 1842 to 1915 as the population changed it became necessary to change the boundaries of the townships and to add 2 more for a final number of 12. The 2 additional were Lake and Agency.
The county court met alternately at the homes of Richard Hill and Joseph Robidoux
The early commissioners originally selected Sparta (SE 1/4 of section 21 , T56, R 35) as the county seat because it was near the center of the county. However, the principal point of trading was at Blacksnake Hills, the early trading post established by Joseph Robidoux. A petition signed by 956 of the taxable citizens of the county was presented to the county court at the February 1843 term for movement of the county seat. The county court appointed three men to study the issue and select the appropriate site. The men were Winslow Turner, James Hull and James Kuykendall. They presented their findings to the court on July 4, 1843. The selected Blacksnake Hills (SW 1/4 of section 8, T57, R35) as the new county seat. This land had been pre-empted by Joseph Robidoux. He platted the town of St. Joseph, but did not want to donate his entire section of land to the county. Therefore, the circuit court did not allow the change. In the fall of 1844, the county voters petitioned the state legislature and by March 1845 an act was passed by the state legislature to allow the county seat to be moved to Blacksnake Hills. Joseph Robidoux did not donate his entire section of land, but did donate all of block 48 which was the site of the court house in 1915. Other early St. Joseph men also donated land for the town:
Frederick W. Smith donated 1 block
Elias F. Wells donated 2 blocks
John Patee donated 3 acres
Samuel C. hall donated 20 acres
The donated land was sold and the citizens of Sparta were reimbursed because the county seat was moved.
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