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History of Livingston County
from The History of Caldwell and Livingston Counties, Missouri. 1886
The first Caucasians - The Early French Occupation - The French Hunters, or
"Chasseurs du Bois"- Daniel Boone - The French Traders,
Blondeau and Chouteau - Robidoux's Post - Early Indian Alarms - The "Big
Neck" and Black Hawk Wars - Martin Palmer, the First American Settler in
the Grand River Valley - Other Early Settlements - First Settlement of
Livingston - The Indians - Organization of the County.
It is quite probable that the first Caucasians that trod the soil of
Livingston county were the early French trappers and voyageurs, who came up
Grand river to the forks long before the year 1800. The Grand river (" La
Riviere de Grande ") was explored and written of as early as 1724 by a
French party that ascended the Missouri river in that year, under M. de
Bourgmont, who held a treaty with the Indians in Jackson county. There was a
French fort on an island in the Missouri, about six miles below the mouth of
Grand river, called Ft. Orleans, which was built in 1721, and was commanded by
Sergeant Dubois, who had married a woman of the Missouri tribe of Indians. There
was a considerable camp of Missourians on the north bank of the river, opposite
While the French held Ft. Orleans their trappers and hunters visited the
country miles away, and of course came up" La Riviere Grande," as they
called it, after beaver and otter, which were plentiful then. But no printed
mention is to be found of the stream in any work accessible to the writer hereof
until after the return of de Bourgmont's expedition to the mouth of the Kansas,
in 1724. But in 1725 those fierce Indian Huns, the Northern tribes, swooped down
from Iowa on the village of the Missouri and Ft. Orleans, and utterly destroyed
both. None but a few Indians were left to tell the tale, and they told it so
imperfectly that the story in its details has been lost. It is quite probable
that if at this time there were any wandering French trappers in the Grand river
country they also perished, for none of them were ever heard of.
Thereafter it was not until subsequent to the Spanish succession or in about
1770, that French hunters again pushed out into this country. It must be borne
in mind that while from 1763 to 1800 the country west of the Mississippi
belonged to Spain, nearly all of the white citizens were French. Beyond a small
garrison at St. Louis, and in the vicinity, there were but few Spaniards in
Missouri, and the trading and trapping were done by the French.
A few years prior to 1800 Daniel Boone, the noted old pioneer who had
recently come to the country, spent a portion of one winter on the west side of
the Grand river, about twenty-five miles from its mouth. The old hunter had come
up from St. Charles on an exploring expedition, and after spending some time on
the Osage crossed over and paddled his canoe up the Missouri to the mouth of the
Grand river, and then up Grand river to the point mentioned, where he built a
comfortable but small hut, or "camp," as the histories call it, and
began trapping for beaver, which he found in abundance.
One day, while Boone was making some explorations up Grand river, some miles
from his camp, he came upon unmistakable Indian signs. He hastily returned to
his camp, where he remained shut up for about twenty days, afraid to venture out
even to his traps, as a deep snow had fallen and his tracks would surely betray,
not only his presence, but his hiding place. He also feared to build a fire in
the daytime, lest the smoke should indicate his whereabouts, and he kept himself
warm by wrapping up well and lying down among his peltries and furs. At about
midnight he would light a fire of dead or dry wood, which gave out but little
smoke, and then cook enough venison and corn bread to last him the ensuing 24
hours. The river was frozen over, and his canoe, in which he expected to escape
and to carry away his furs, was removed by him with great labor some distance
from shore and hidden until the danger had passed. At last there came a warm
spell and a thaw. The river broke up, and one night Boone launched and loaded
his canoe, paddled silently down the stream, and eventually made his way to St.
Charles in safety.
About 1817, after the close of the last war with Great Britain, two
Frenchmen, named Blondeau and Chouteau, had a trading post on Grand river, at a
point since known as Townsend's ferry, in Carroll county. Later Joseph Robidoux,
the founder of St. Joseph, established a trading post six or seven miles north
of Blondeau's, but on the Chariton county side. Robidoux's agents passed
frequently through the Grand river country on their way to and from the
"Blacksnake Hills" (St. Joseph), where Robidoux's principal post was.
Boyd's Atlas sketch says that in 1828 a French trading post was established
at the mouth of Locust creek, in the extreme southeastern part of this county,
but that the occupants were "so annoyed by roving bands of the Iowa, Sac,
Fox, and Kickapoo Indians that the post was abandoned until 1833, when the
Indian title to the lands was extinguished." This can not be the true
reason for the abandonment of the post, if we are to understand that the
expression "annoyed" means that the Indians depredated upon or menaced
the traders. The Indians and French traders always got along amicably,
especially in this country, as late as 1828. Joseph Robidoux had charge of a
post at Council Bluffs (Iowa) as early as 1809, and at the Blacksnake Hills for
years, and was never molested. It is possible that the post referred to by Mr.
Boyd was Robidoux's and that it stood down the river, below the mouth of Locust
creek, as before stated.
The fear of Indians, and the isolation of the country on the upper Chariton
and Grand rivers, kept white settlers out of this region for many years after
much poorer sections on the Missouri had been occupied.
In the summer of 1829 occurred what was known as "the Big Neck
War," in the upper Chariton country, which destroyed a white settlement in
that region and retarded the development of this country for some years. A
settlement of half a dozen or more families had been made the previous year upon
or near the present site of Kirksville, Adair county. In July, 1829, about 60 or
70 Indians, of the Iowa tribe, led by a chief called Big Neck, came down from
the north upon this settlement, grossly insulted the women, abused and
threatened the men, and committed sundry depredations. Big Neck announced that
the upper Chariton country was his; that the treaty whereby it had been
surrendered to the whites was a fraud and he should not regard it; that he meant
to maintain his claim by force, and that the whites must either leave at once or
purchase from him the privilege of remaining.
The pioneers became much alarmed and while they parleyed with the Indians
sent a messenger to Randolph, Chariton and Howard counties for assistance. Two
or three companies were at once raised in Randolph, and one, commanded by Capt.
Trammell, reached the locality by a swift two days' march and released the
settlers from their predicament. The Indians fell back a few miles and went into
camp. The white settlement was known as " the Cabins of the White
Folks," or "the Cabins."
Not satisfied with what they had already accomplished, the Randolph
volunteers concluded to have a fight with the Indians before returning home, and
accordingly marched out some ten miles and attacked them. The whites were
defeated with a loss of their captain. and three men killed, and they retreated,
first to the Cabins, where they secured the women and children and escorted them
to the settlements in Howard. Subsequently a large force of militia under Gen.
John B. Clark was sent against Big Neck and his band and drove them from the
State. The militia of Chariton was called out, and one company of 76 men under
Capt. Daniel Ashby, Lieut. James Hereford,. and Ensign Abner Finnell (and
containing some men who were afterward citizens of Livingston), made a rapid
march, first to the lower Iowa village, on Grand river, and then to the "
big Rock Heap," on the "Grand" Chariton, where it united with the
regiment to which it belonged, which was commanded by Col. P. Owens, of Howard.
Capt. Ashby found the Indians on the lower Grand river perfectly peaceable, as
they always were, and none of Owen's forces encountered any hostiles.
The effect of "the Big Neck War" was to drive every adventurous or
enterprising settler on the frontier back to the well established settlements
along or near the Missouri. There was a general alarm, and a great deal of
unnecessary stampeding and abandonment of homes and property. In early days upon
an alarm of Indians all who were in the least exposed fancied themselves in
danger; especially, when night came on were they impressed with a sense of
peril, so that they could not sleep, and the next morning they were off at once
for a secure place of refuge. In the "Big Neck" War all the exposed
settlements ran in, and the Indians ran also!
When the Black Hawk War broke out in 1832, there was another scare, which
again sent the advance guards of civilization back to the towns and villages, as
skirmishers and pickets are driven back upon the reserve in time of war when the
enemy advances in force. Day after day came reports to the settlements on the
Missouri in lower Chariton, Howard and Carroll, that the Indians were coming,
and not until after Black Hawk's tribe were either helpless or harmless and
Black Hawk himself was a prisoner did these alarms cease. The Indians dreaded in
this quarter were the Iowas and Pottawatomies, and indeed the wandering bands of
Kickapoos and Shawnees were distrusted.
The first white American settler in the Grand river valley was Martin Parmer,
who in 1817 or 1818 built a cabin on Parmer's creek, five miles east of
Brunswick, and there resided alone for a few years, removing in about 1822 to
Clay county. In 1834 he went to Texas and died there. He at one time (in 1826 -
30) was State Senator from this district. He was a rough, uncouth, illiterate
man, but of strong common sense and perfect integrity, and made a very fair
legislator for his day.
Parmer (the name is sometimes spelled Palmer) was an eccentric character. He
called himself, and was widely known as, "the Ring Tailed Painter"
(panther), and many are the incidents related of him. In a speech before the
Legislature he declared that he was a "Ring Tailed Painter from Fishin'
river, wild and woolly, hard to curry. When I'm mad, I fight, and when I fight l
whip. I raise my children to fight. I feed 'em on painters' hearts fried
in rattlesnake grease," etc. Of this odd but somewhat noted character, Gen.
W. Y. Slack thus writes, in an unfinished and unpublished manuscript sketch, now
in existence, and which was written in about 1850: -
His habits and manners were as rude as his cabin, and like all other early pioneers, he was a true disciple of Esau, and lived by hunting. There were, however, but three kinds of game that "Ring Tail" Parmer cared to expend ammunition upon, and these, as he expressed it, were "deers, bar and Injuns." The last named were not, in his judgment, the least worthy of his deadly aim. His warfare with the red men was not manly and open, but on the contrary was stealthy and murderous. [From what the compiler has learned from other sources the last sentence, regarding the style of Parmer's warfare against the Indians, is strictly correct.]
The traveler who called at Parmer's cabin and claimed his hospitality was
furnished with dry deerskins for his bed, wild venison and wild honey for
his repast. The ceiling of his cabin was lined with dried venison; one corner of
the room was filled with green hams, another was occupied with a number of deer
skins sewed up tight into sacks and filled with honey-comb, and another
contained a pole scaffold fitted up as a bedstead. On two hooks over the rude
fireplace hung his rifle, the most esteemed article of furniture about the
household. Thus fitted up in life, and with such paraphernalia started the first
settler in this great valley; and when the reader is introduced to Parmer's
cabin and made acquainted with its arrangements and fixtures, he has been
introduced to the domicile and its appointments of every early pioneer,
that first felled the forests and plowed the virgin soil of the Great West.
Parmer's cabin, on Parmer's creek, formed the nucleus of a settlement which, in
the course of a dozen years, extended along the hilly bluff lands as far
northwest as Salt creek, and as far north (about eight miles) as the "great
prairie" to which then even the hunters knew no limit.
In 1817 and 1818 the first settlers came into the Missouri bottoms, in
what is now the southern portions of Chariton, Carroll and Ray counties. In the
spring of 1817 the town of "Old" Chariton was laid out, at the mouth
of the Chariton river, and not long thereafter there were considerable
settlements in that quarter. Among those who came to Chariton county in the fall
of 1818 were Maj. Daniel Ashby, Pleasant Browder, James Leeper, Thos. Shumate
and Abram Sportsman.
By the year 1825 settlers' cabins were plentifully scattered along the
Wakenda, in Carroll, near the mouth of Fishing river and Crooked river in Ray,
and about Liberty in Clay. The town of Bluffton, in Ray, was laid out, and both
Ray and Clay counties had been organized.
After the first settlement of Chariton, Carroll, Ray and Clay counties, from
1818 to 1830 - Carroll county then not having been organized and forming a part
of Ray - the Grand river county, especially the country between the forks,
became celebrated as a hunter's paradise, as a land abounding in meat and honey.
The timber sheltered plenty of game and it is said that nearly every hollow tree
was a bee tree.
In the fall of the year scores of "bee hunters" came up from the
river counties, bringing wagons and barrels in which to carry away the honey
which was here in such great abundance. So many of them came that they made
roads through the wilderness between their homes and the honey fields. These
roads were called "bee trails."
The hunters camped out and remained here some days, or until they filled
An old settler of Clay county (Mr. Richard Neeley) informs the writer that in
early days he came up into the Grand river country with some other parties on a
honey hunt. They struck camp on West Grand river, just above the forks, and the
next morning the leader sighted six bee trees all within a circle a hundred
yards in diameter. In one day, so much honey was obtained that all the barrels
brought along wouldn't hold it, and Mr. Neeley says he filled a huge trough with
the nectar, covered it with another trough inverted, and buried it in the
ground, intending to return for it the next spring; but this he never did, and
the 50 gallons of good honey went to waste no doubt.
It was the honey hunters who were the means of having this county first
settled. They described the county and its resources, and awakened an interest
in it, and some of them became its first occupants. As soon as no reasonable
danger was to be apprehended from the Indians, and the land was surveyed and
opened to settlement, the pioneers came up into it.
In the spring of 1831 the first settlement was made in the central portion of
the Grand River Valley, in what is now Livingston county. In a beautiful elm
grove, crowning the most elevated portion of a high ridge, one and a half miles
west of the present site of the town of Utica, Samuel E. Todd erected his cabin
and made his home. After careful examination and investigation of the subject,
the writer is convinced that to Mr. Todd is to be given the distinction of being
the first actual settler in the county. His written testimony to this effect,
made many years ago, is convincing in itself, and Gen. Slack's manuscript,
written after careful comparison of statements of many of the first settlers,
fully corroborates his testimony.
When Mr. Todd made his settlement he was, like Crusoe, "monarch of all
he surveyed." His nearest neighbors were a portion of the chief White
Cloud's ("Mahaska") band of Iowa Indians, whose village then,
temporarily, was on an elevation six miles northeast and about three-fourths of
a mile west of the present depot of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad at
Chillicothe. His nearest white neighbors were the settlers down in lower Carroll
In after days Mr. Todd frequently claimed, and the claim was not denied, that
he was the first man that raised a crop of corn in the county. He procured with
his rifle a sufficiency of meat for his family, but Gen. Slack writes that he
was not so much of a Nimrod as were the early pioneers generally. His
inclination was more to the pursuits of agriculture and manufacturing than to
hunting. He erected the first grinding mills in the county - just a horse mill,
at his residence, and a few years later a water mill, on the West fork of Grand
river, near Utica, on the site afterward occupied by Hoy & Chadwick's mills.
Probably other settlements were made in the county in the year 1831, but, if
so, neither the fact or any particulars can here be stated. But during the year
1832 the notorious Heatherly family came in and located two miles northeast of
Chillicothe, and with them came and located another family named Yatterlee; both
families soon removed to the northward several miles. In 1836 the Heatherly
family made themselves generally and unfavorably known, but secured an abiding
place in the history of the State as the authors of the Heatherly War, described
on subsequent pages.
It is impossible at this late day - if it ever was possible - to detail the
settlements in their order and location as they were made between the year 1831
and 1835. On the night of November 12, 1833, memorable as the night of the great
meteoric shower, or the night "when the stars fell," as some persons
called it, Mr. Elisha Hereford encamped on Medicine creek, eight miles east of
Chillicothe. On the same night Reuben McCoskrie, John Austin, Abe Bland,
and their families, settled on Shoal creek, in the southwestern portion of the
county. Also in 1833 Levi F. Goben settled in Jackson township, and about the
same time Spring Hill was founded, and half a dozen families were living in the
In 1834 - 35 a considerable immigration came in, and in 1836 there were 200
families in the county, or about 1,000 people. For the particulars of the first
settlements, names of pioneers, etc., the reader is referred to the township
histories and to subsequent pages of this volume.
The first settlements were all made in the timber, and chiefly along streams
or at a spring. The settlers seemed to think a spring indispensable to an
existence. As between a piece of good land without a spring, and a piece of poor
land with a spring, the latter was preferred. Timbered land was preferred
for farming purposes - first, because the settlers were accustomed to that sort
of land, and, again, because they had no plows capable of cutting and turning
the stubborn, tough prairie sod. The timbered land, when cleared and grubbed,
was as mellow as an ash-heap, and corn could be planted by the use of no other
implement than a hoe.
It has been stated that the first settlers regarded the prairie lands as
worthless, and refused to settle on them solely for that reason, but this is not
true. The early pioneers knew good soil when they saw it as well as their
posterity or those who came after them, but with the simple plows in vogue at
that day, with their frail cast iron points and wooden mold-boards, it
was impossible to subdue the stubborn sod of the prairies for some years after
the settlement of the country.
Prior to the white occupation of Livingston county the Indians had full
possession. The first since the historic period were the Missouris, and after
them the Northern Indians came in from time to time. The Iowa tribe of Indians
had one or two towns here, and so did the Sacs (or Sankees) and Foxes, and
perhaps the Pottawatomies, all of whom occupied the Grand river county from time
to time until the white settlers came, and, indeed, often came in and hunted and
trapped for some years afterward, although their true homes and real hunting
grounds were to the far north, in Iowa.
There was one Indian town on the hill, a mile southwest of Chillicothe.
Another stood twelve miles north of Chillicothe, near Grand river (sec. 4 - 59 -
24), and was of considerable size. There was a noted Indian town on what came to
be known as Indian Hill (sw. sec. 8 - 58 - 24), two miles a little east of south
of Spring Hill. Another was on Medicine creek, near Collier's mill (sw. sec.
36-58-23), and ten miles east, on the 40-acre mound which stands on the west
side of Locust creek, half a mile south of the railroad, was quite a large town,
which existed till 1836.
Three miles northwest of Spring Hill (sw. sec. 23-59-25) was an Indian
cemetery or burying ground, which seemed to be very old in 1838. The locality
was well known and greatly dreaded by the pioneer boys, the majority of whom had
as great a terror for Indian "spooks" as of living Indian warriors,
painted and armed and on the war path. Mr. James Leeper relates that when
compelled to pass the old Indian graveyard after nightfall he wasn't long about
it, and whistled shrilly and loud to keep up his courage and to keep down the
Hunting parties of the Indians came into the Grand river country from the
north up to about 1840 to hunt and trap. An old Sac chief named Hard Heart
passed down the river with his village of 50 persons and camped near Compton's
ferry during the winter of 1839.
Until November 16, 1820, the territory now embraced in Livingston (except
that portion in the extreme southeast, east of the line between ranges 21 and
22, which belonged to Chariton) formed a part of Howard county; after the date
mentioned it became a part of Ray, until January 2, 1833, on the organization of
Carroll, when it was attached to that county. While this county formed a part of
Ray it was included in Missouriton township until May, 1832, when it was made a
part of Grand River township.
When Carroll was organized this territory became again Missouriton and Grand
River townships. But by the year 1836 there was enough people in the territory
to justify the creation of a new county, and it was done. On the 6th of January,
1837, the following act of Legislature was approved by Gov. Dunklin and became a
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the Statle of Missouri as follows: 1. All that portion of territory heretofore attached to the counties of Carroll and Chariton, in the following boundaries: beginning at the northwest corner of Carroll county; thence east with the northern boundary of said county to Grand river; thence up said river to where the range line dividing ranges twenty-one and twenty-two crosses said river; thence north with said range line to the line dividing townships fifty-nine and sixty; thence west with said township line to the range line dividing ranges twenty-five and twenty-six; thence south with said range line to the beginning; shall form a separate and distinct county, to be called and known by the name of Livingston county, in honor of Edward Livingston.
2. All rights and privileges guaranteed by law to separate and distinct counties are hereby extended to the county of Livingston.
3. E. V. Warren, Samuel Williams and George W. Folger, of the county of Carroll, are hereby appointed commissioners to select the seat of justice for said county; and said commissioners are hereby vested with all power granted such commissioners by an act, entitled "An act to provide for organizing counties hereafter established," approved December 9, 1836.
4. The commissioners appointed by this act to select the seat of justice for the county of' Livingston, shall make such selection within three miles of the center of said county.
5. The courts to be holden for said county shall be holden at the house of Joseph Cox until the county court for said county shall select some other place.
6. The Governor is authorized and required to appoint and commission three persons, resident in said county, as justices of the county court thereof, and one person resident in said county as sheriff [who], when so commissioned, shall have full power and authority to act as such in their respective offices, under the existing laws, until the next general election, and until their successors are elected, commissioned and qualified.
7. All that territory lying north of said county of Livingston shall be
attached to said county for all civil and military purposes until otherwise
provided by law.
At the same time, and included in the same act, the counties of Macon and
Linn were organized.
As originally organized the eastern boundary of Livingston above township 56 extended three miles eastward of where it now does, taking off three miles of what is now the western part of Linn county; but in a few weeks the boundaries were reduced to their present limits.
The Hon. Edward Livingston, for whom the county was named, was the eleventh Secretary of State of the United States, serving in Gen. Jackson's Cabinet two years, or from May, 1831, to May, 1833.