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Livingston County History
Celebrating 150 Years, 1821-1981

Published by The Retired Senior Volunteer Program
reprinted by permission

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Under the laws of the state of Missouri County Courts control finances, set taxes, order buildings to be erected, audit accounts, serve on the board of equalization, and, in general, control county property during their terms of office.

In writing this I have consulted Livingston County history books, county court records and the recollections of various individuals.

The first Livingston County court judges were commissioned by Governor Lilburn Boggs on February 4, 1837. They were William Martin, Joseph Cox and Reuben McCoskrie.

On April 6, 1837 these judges convened to transact county business at the home of Joseph Cox, located four miles north of Chillicothe, section twelve, township fifty-eight, range twenty-four, and west of present highway 65.

William Martin was chosen to be the president of the court.

The first entry of Livingston County court records is an order dividing the county into four townships. These were Shoal Creek, Indian Creek, Grand River, and Medicine Creek townships.

The boundaries of these townships were as follows; Indian Creek township was the present day Sampsel and Jackson townships known as the “forks of the river”. Shoal Creek township was bordered on

the north by Grand River, on the west by Caldwell County, on the south by Carroll County, and on the east was the line between ranges twenty-three and twenty-four. On the east of this was Grand River township which was bordered by Carroll County on the south, Grand River on the north, and the county line and Grand River on the east. Medicine Creek township, not to be confused with the present day Medicine township, was bounded on the west by the Thompson River, on the south by Grand River, on the east by Linn County and on the north by Grundy County.

The first designated seat of justice, the Joseph Cox home, was located in Medicine Creek township. On August 7, 1837 the judges took steps to lay out into lots the city of Chillicothe, which was to be the county seat. John Graves was hired to perform this work. He later resigned and Nathan Gregory was appointed to complete the work of platting and surveying.

The first courthouse of Livingston County in Chillicothe was begun in October, 1837. The cost was not to exceed $50.00, it was intended to be only temporary. The first county court session in Chillicothe was held in this building in May, 1838.

The first jail was ordered built by the court in 1838. The commissioners were ordered to expend no more than $1,000.00 in erecting this building.

The construction of the second courthouse was ordered by the county court in August, 1838. This building was estimated to cost no more than $5,000.00 and was to be finished in two years. The building was finished in November, 1841. It stood until after the Civil War. This building was located on the site of the present courthouse.

In February, 1839 the county court changed the name of Medicine Creek township to Chillicothe township and in addition created some new townships and changed the names of still others.

County courts of the 1840’s and 50’s were busy, bridges had to be built, roads were laid out, and elections were held. Business of the court was routine as the county progressed from the wilderness into an orderly government.

Three commissioners were appointed in 1841 to study the need for bridges across streams. In the early 1840’s bridges were ordered built over east Grand (Thompson) River, Medicine Creek and Shoal Creek.

The first County court judges were appointed by the governor to transact business after the formation of the county. The General Assembly appointed three commissioners to select the location of the county seat. The land could be obtained either by purchase or donation and had to be no more than 160 acres if purchased and no less than 50 acres in any case.

This land was divided into lots and the governing body of the county retained lots suitable for county buildings. The remaining lots could be sold by a land commissioner appointed by the court.

Schools were financed in part from sales of lands donated to the counties. Swamp and overflow lands and swamp indemnity lands were held by the county and when sold the proceeds were used for school purposes.

There was a road and canal fund which was the proceeds of three percent interest on the net proceeds of the sale of public land in the state of Missouri. These monies were distributed among the several counties of the state. Such funds were to be used for the construction or repair of bridges, roads and canals.

In addition to these sources of income there was taxation of real estate and other property. Personal items such as watches and chains, livestock, and shares of stocks in banks were taxed. All free males over twenty-one and under fifty-five years of age paid a tax of thirty-seven and one half cents.

The county court appointed the treasurer in the first few years of the county and the sheriff was designated as collector of revenue.

To sum it up, the county functions were supported by taxes and by the sale of land. As more settlers arrived land and lots became more valuable both for sale and for purposes of taxation.

During the Civil War, conditions were chaotic and Livingston County courts were affected. Union troops occupied the city of Chillicothe part of the time. No regular term of court was held between June, 1861 and January, 1862. James Davis, A. Wallace and Abel Cox were the members of the county court at this time.

Beginning in 1862 a great deal of order was restored and the government of Livingston County proceeded more peacefully. Judges were required to take an oath of allegiance to the provisional government.

In 1862, the judges of the county court offered a bounty of $100.00 to anyone who would enlist in the Union Army before a certain date. No court was held between September, 1864 and February, 1865.

On August 6, 1868 they awarded a contract to J. O. Hogg for the erection of a new jail and attached living quarters. The cost of the building was to be $18,540.00 and was to be completed by August, 1869. This was the jail which was torn down in recent years and replaced with the present county jail.

September 8, 1869 the jail lot was purchased. The purchase price was $400.00 and the seller was John W. Boyle. This entry was of interest to the writer since Boyle was his great grandfather.

From 1837 to 1877 county courts varied some in their makeup. Generally, but not always, they were composed of three members with one member as its president or presiding judge. In some courts the probate judge was a member of the court. In July, 1872 a court composed of twelve members took office. These twelve members were a justice from each of twelve townships. (Sampsel township was created in 1874). Three of these judges were named Davis. Not surprisingly the man selected as president of the group was named Davis. This was followed by a court in 1873 of five members which consisted of a presiding judge and four district judges.

After the constitutional convention of 1875 was finished with its work, and on July 6, 1877 three men were presented their commissions from the governor and became the new court. They were Jacob Houx, R. B. Williams and Archibald Thompson. This was the beginning of our present form of county court.

The 1889 state statutes stated that beginning in 1880 and every two years thereafter two district judges shall be elected from two districts as nearly equal in population as possible without dividing municipal townships. This was a statute that was to be the cause of a law suit against the Livingston County court nearly a century later. It also stated that in 1882 and every four years thereafter the presiding judge from the entire county was to be elected. All judges were to serve until a successor was elected or otherwise qualified.

The names of the presiding judges in their line of succession from this point were: R. B. Williams, William Davis, Charles Stewart, P. Waite, J. C. Minteer, Samuel Forrester, D. A. French, James Hale, Chris Boehner, T. K. Thompson, John Hill, Andy Prager, R. D. Russell, Luther Williams, Lee Tiberghien, Fred Grouse, Frank Bonderer and Bill Hoyt. Judges of the Eastern District in this time span were: J. R. Houx, John Donovan, Charles Stewart, William Littrell, George Rohrer, J. F. Howard, G. W. Beauchamp, Charles Gates, C. L. Collins, James McCleary, John Waydelich, Ira Donovan, Joe Blazell, John Yeomans, John Alexander, W. E. Beat, Charley Young, J. F. Winans, William Bales, C. F. Powelson, J. E. Winn, E. L. Lang, Elmer Kerr, Bert Hoyt, Sterling Vanlandingham, Reuben Turner, Herman Shiflett, and V. H. (Jack) Wilkerson. From the Western District in this same time span, beginning in 1877, were: William Spears, Joseph Patton, A. A. Stone, Archibald Thompson, James Patton, J. H. Copple, G. A. Allnutt, R. J. Lee, J. M. Peniston, George Purcell, L. F. Bonderer, Andy Prager, William McCarthy, James Vanzant, Luther Williams, Andy Prager, Lee Tiberghien, J. E. Raulle, Fred Grouse, Albert Dickman, Arthur Treon, Charles Sidden, Ross Cooper, Otis Hurst, Charles Zullig, Bill Hoyt, and Roy C. Hicklin.

It may be noted that some names appear more than once. Several district judges became presiding judges and in a few cases district judges served at various times. In these cases the names appear more than one time.

By the turn of the century most government lands had been disposed of, but in 1899 C. W. Asper, Land Commissioner for Livingston County reported to the county court that Livingston County owned eighty acres of swamp indemity land in Christian County, southeast of Springfield. Other lands belonging to Livingston County, had been sold at $1.25 per acre.

This was the last mention of eighty acres for the next seventy five years.

On April 1, 1912 a petition was presented to county court judges F. K. Thompson, Lawrence Bonderer and John Yoemans asking they present to the voters a proposition for voting $100,000.00 in bonds to pay for the building of a new courthouse. The courthouse at that time was located across the street from the present jail. The bond issue was to be paid off in four years with twenty-five cents increase in the county tax rate. The election was held on April 10, 1912.

Results of that election, as certified by the county court, were 1845 for the proposition and 812 against. Since this was more than the necessary two-thirds majority the bond issue was successful.

The Dumas Construction Company had the lowest bid to build the courthouse. Warren Roberts and George Sasse were the architects. The courthouse was built and stands to this day.

The years of the thirties were the years of the “Great Depression”.  Some of the prices and conditions of those times are unbelievable to later generations. There was a problem to county government in that owners were not able to pay taxes levied against their property. County records reflect the attempts of property owners to survive. In many cases they would appeal to the county court to compromise or reduce taxes. The reason given was that the property was not worth the taxes owed on said property. In some cases they were reduced fifty percent without the dollar amount involved mentioned.

The county court was paying $3.45 per hundred board feet for bridge lumber, $4.19 a ton for coal and the bridge on west Third Street across Thompson River was bid in at $2,240.00.

The county at this time had a pauper fund which was used often. A great many court orders were for $2.00 and $3.00 for groceries. The county also maintained an infirmary or “Poor Farm”. The following is a bid turned in by the Springhill store for furnishing supplies to the infirmary; 1,000 pounds flour at $17.00, accepted; 1,000 pounds sugar $51.25, bid rejected as too high; 300 pounds coffee $49.50, also rejected as being too high.

In spite of the depression, or perhaps partly because of it, the county seemed to fare reasonably well. Taxes came down more slowly than did the price of products. At the beginning of 1934 the county’s financial condition was said to be in excellent shape, according to newspaper reports.

Low prices did not end with the thirties. As late as 1942, after World War II was well underway, the county court, on a split vote, raised the daily wage of the bridge employees from $3.00 to $3.50 per day.

In 1963 a state law was passed forbidding a county from owning any land except in adjoining counties. In 1970 persons from Christian County, Missouri made inquiries concerning land in that county owned by Livingston County. In 1972 the county court was notified that Livingston County did own eight acres of land in Christian County. In May, 1973 the court made a two day trip to Christian County, located the land and made an inspection of it and brought back pictures of typical hill land. The land was duly advertised and sold at the Livingston County courthouse door. The purchase price was $100.00 per acre with the schools receiving the money.

The seventies, saw several other events of importance recorded in the county court records. The courthouse at this time was nearly sixty years old and while still a magnificent building, was in need of some repair. The jail was over 100 years old and was still in service.

In 1971 the Livingston County jail and its living quarters were vacated by the sheriff and the prisoners moved to Carroll County.

In 1972 the county voted on a ten cents increase in the tax levy to replace the electrical system in the courthouse. The proposal did not carry. Shortly after this the county received federal aid in the form of grants and revenue sharing. This placed the county in a stronger financial condition than in many years. The courthouse was rewired, the circuit courtroom was air conditioned as was the magistrate courtroom. A new boiler was installed and $1,000.00 was spent on the steam pipes.

In February, 1978 the county voted on bonds totaling $550,000.00 for the purpose of building a new jail. This proposal passed by a nearly three to one margin. In the spring of 1979 the new county jail, a modern forty prisoner capacity, was ready for use.

In 1976 the Livingston County court were defendants in a lawsuit which claimed that the two districts from which county judges are elected were unequal in population and therefore unconstitutional. The county court’s reply was that the districts were unequal, but that the statutes forbid dividing a municipal township and unless this was changed the county could not be divided in any manner to have two equal districts. At the hearing the statute was declared unconstitutional and the county court was ordered to redistrict. This was to be done immediately since it was in the midst of an election year.

Also in the seventies the problems of reassessment were resolved. The supreme court of the state of Missouri ruled that the entire state must be reassessed in order to equalize property taxes. The order went to the Missouri State Tax Commission who in turn passed it down to the various assessors and boards of equalization. Livingston County received its notice in July, 1980 for a plan to be submitted by September 2. The reassessment is scheduled to be finished by January, 1, 1984.

By 1979 inflation was causing much concern in many counties over the state. Livingston County was no exception. At the end of 1979 the county borrowed a small amount of money against incoming taxes. This was the first time in several years that this had happened. It would appear at this writing that the county may be forced to ask the voting public for additional funds in the future. A sales tax or an increase in the present tax levy is a possibility. Either one requires a vote of the public. Counties generally seem to be facing difficult times in the near future.

It would perhaps be appropriate to mention several judges of Livingston County courts who have achieved something unusual. Frank Bonderer served longer than any other member of the court. He served twenty years from 1951 to 1971. All of this was as presiding judge.

Andy Prager served one term as associate judge, then was elected presiding judge, and later served as associate judge. He appears to be the only one to have done this. P. Waite, in 1891, served only one month. This was possibly the shortest term.

Jacob lbec, in 1873, won election by two votes. In 1878 Archibald Thompson was elected by three votes, but these cliffhangers are surpassed by William McCarthy who, in 1917, came out the winner in an election tie. Each candidate received 975 votes.

Joseph Slagle of 1846-50 was a man of action. He served as justice of his township as well as judge of the county court. He was married five times or more, owned a large tract of land, owned the first water mill in the county, was indicted for murder by a grand jury and subsequently cleared, and freighted in the west several years. He also studied for the ministry at one time.

Thomas Hutchison probably has the record for longevity. Born in 1800 and died in 1901, he lived every year of the nineteenth century. 

-- Judge Roy Hicklin Western District, County Court.

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