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A History of Livingston County, Missouri

Published by The Livingston County Centennial Committee

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History of Livingston County, Missouri

Few stories concerning the region about Livingston County date before James Monroe's successful negotiation with Napoleon for what is perhaps the greatest return for the money in history, the Louisiana Purchase. As early as 1724, French traders and trappers explored and wrote of La Riviere Grande. In 1721 Fort Orleans was established six miles below the mouth of Grand River, where French traders and trappers seeking the plentiful beaver and otter around the streams were massacred by fierce Indian Huns from the northern tribes.

Before 1800, the famous Daniel Boone came looking for furs. He built a cabin twenty-five miles from the mouth of Grand River, but signs of Indians one winter caused him to shut himself up in his cabin for twenty days, during which he dared not even visit his traps. His only fire was late at night, when he cooked enough venison to last the next twenty four hours. During a thaw, he dragged out his hidden canoe and escaped down the river to safety.

In 1806, when President Jefferson recommended that part of the surplus in the treasury be spent on public roads, John Gallatin's great-great uncle, Albert Gallatin, then Secretary of State, proposed the National Road, which finally was extended to St. Louis. The influence of this great undertaking in American history can scarcely be exaggerated, for it destroyed the idea that mountains and rivers were barriers to immigration and settlements.

The first white American settler in Grand River Valley was Martin Parmer, who built a cabin in 1817 or 1818, five miles east of Brunswick, where he lived several years. Although illiterate, this strong man of much good common sense later was elected as State Senator from this district, and a very good legislator he proved to be. Settlers came to the counties of Chariton, Carroll and Ray, from where they ventured into the region of Grand River, especially between the forks, looking for game and wild honey. It was said nearly every hollow tree was a bee tree. A legend of our later history tells of a prominent early settler, name unknown, who was caught trying to ship his load of beeswax with a large rock imbedded therein to bring up the weight..

Other settlers came to Grand River Valley, but the "Big Neck War" in the summer of 1829 caused unnecessary fright to the pioneers, and many pushed back to the settlements along the Missouri.

The first actual settlement of Livingston County was in 1831, when Samuel E. Todd built his cabin in a beautiful elm grove on the hill one and one-half miles west of Utica. His nearest neighbors were Indians camped about three-fourths of a mile from what is now Chillicothe. His white neighbors resided in Chariton and Carroll Counties. It was Mr. Todd who raised the first crop of corn in Livingston County.

It is impossible to name all the settlers who came between the years 1831 and 1835. We do know, however, that on the night "when the stars fell," November 12, 1833, Mr. Elisha Hereford pitched camp on Medicine Creek, eight miles east of Chillicothe. On the same night, Ruben McCoskrie, John Austin and Abe Bland, with their families, settled on Shoal Creek.

Until 1836, there were several Indian towns in the county, two or three of good size. Naturally there were Indian burying grounds, places which instilled far greater fear in the sturdy hearts of the pioneers than the live Indians provoked.

The territory comprising Livingston County had been successively a part of Howard, Chariton and Carroll Counties, then of Grand River Township. By 1836, there were enough people to justify a new county, so on January 6, 1837, an act of the legislature creating the County of Livingston was approved by Governor Dunklin and became a law. Within a few weeks the boundaries were set at their present limits. The county was named for the Honorable Edward Livingston, who served in General Jackson's cabinet two years as the eleventh Secretary of State.

The surface of 532 square miles called Livingston County ranges from the gently rolling hills, none over 225 feet, to the bottom lands along the streams. The main stream, Grand River, rises in Iowa and flows into the county in two forks which meet a few miles west of Chillicothe. The two other main streams are Medicine and Shoal Creeks. The pioneers found these, like Grand River, usually too broad and deep to be forded. Although navigation of Grand River was never possible above the meeting of the forks, in 1835 the legislature declared this stream navigable from the north boundary of the state.

In the summer of 1840 or 1842, the steamer "Bedford" navigated to the forks with merchandise. Returning laden, twelve miles southeast of Chillicothe it was rammed by a log in low water and wrecked beyond repair. The town of Bedford, which legend says was named for the boat, now stands near this site. In 1849 the "Lake of the Woods," and in 1857 the "Bonita," made round trips after many delays. While the "Bonita" was tied up at Utica, the officers of the boat gave a ball, and all the belles and beaux from Chillicothe and Utica attended.

James Shirley used to tell of a trip with his father, cashier of the Branch State Bank in Chillicothe. They took the boat "Wild Sow" to Brunswick, where they changed to a regular packet bound for St. Louis. When they returned to Chillicothe on the "Wild Sow," they brought with them a ten-gallon keg of silver half-dollars.

During the century of progress in Livingston County, Grand River has proved an indispensable water supply. Even during the recent years of the intense drought, Chillicothe never has been curtailed in its water allotment. Citizens over the county have been forced to haul stock water from the river during such summers as 1934 and 1936, but never have they been forced to dispose of stock because no water was available.

It is recorded that, beginning in 1837, every seven years Grand River reached a high water mark, the highest occurring in 1858. Because no records of river depths were kept, we cannot tell whether the river stage in 1858 was higher than that of 1909, now generally known as the "year of the great flood." Mr. Sam Dupy, who has charge of the pump station, tells us the river stage in 1909 was 33.06 feet.

The following table, furnished by Mr. Dupy, gives the highest and lowest recorded river stages:




July 9



July 8


One hundred thirty-five thousand acres of land flooded. Over $2,000,000 damage


June 5



July 14



June 30



Sept. 19



April 23



Nov. 19



June 4



Nov. 25



May 29



Feb. 21






Sept. 28



Oct. 26



July 28


One-third of the county the pioneers found covered with timber of various kinds. The Gunby Abstract & Loan Company now has in its possession a copy of the Government's survey of the county, made by the late Matt Girdner, and showing the location of numerous tracts of timber. The many kinds of trees, white elm predominating, are carefully listed in clear, old-fashioned handwriting. The pioneers felt that land which would not grow trees could not grow crops. Perhaps the difficulty of turning the firm prairie ground with crude plows had something to do with this belief. Furthermore, the thick growth of prairie grass in the fall time all too frequently burned like paper. Often a pioneer plowed a strip of land as a fire brake between his home and the prairie. Trees were of great value, for, in addition to providing material for homes and hives for bees, these trees were excellent firewood. Our first settlers, especially in Jackson Township, found it profitable selling wood from $3.00 to $3.50 a cord. A cord of wood brings $5.00 to $6.00 now. In the fall, hickory nuts in quantities, at 25 cents per bushel, were shipped from Sampsel, Utica and Mooresville. Livingston County still can be called a region of beautiful trees.

The pioneers found the soil in almost all the County to be productive of good crops, most of it dark in color, ranging from one to two and one-half feet in thickness, and only a little soil, clay of mulatto color, not adapted to general crops. The gentle slopes of grasses and meadows charmed the stock men from Kentucky, Illinois and Ohio. Nothing could have pleased them better than the wild blue-stem, or timothy, and the red and the white clover. Although each farmer raised a variety of crops and domestic animals on the rich bottom land, corn was the chief product. Early settlers have reported yields of 30 to 90 bushels per acre for 25 to 40 successive years! Could it be that our ancestors exaggerated?

Among other natural products, coal was found in thin veins, and rock quarries, affording splendid quality building stone, are mentioned early. Soon after the building of the Chillicothe & Brunswick Railroad, now the Wabash, the Sampsel gravel pit was opened.

The very little wheat, oats or rye which was raised was reaped by hand. In 1840 the cradles came in, lightening the work and filling the pioneers with wonder at such progress. Then after 1850 the old McCormick reaping machine made the pioneers feel there was nothing left to be desired in labor-saving devices.

In 1937, although farming is still hard work, modern machinery and improvements make possible higher production with a relatively lower output of labor. The recent capture of wind power for electric light and power for all types of machinery is perhaps the greatest boon our farmers have known. Not all farms are equipped with electricity as yet, but it is now only a matter of a short time until every farmer will have access to electrical conveniences at as low a rate, or lower, than his neighbor in the city.

The first mills were "Armstrong," that is, worked by a strong arm, but power mills soon came into existence. Joshua Whitney built a power mill on Shoal Creek where Dawn now stands. Other early mills were: Cox's Mill (afterward Slagle's), James Black's horse mill (afterward Hicklin's), 1838. Samuel Todd's mill near Utica claims to have been the first water mill in the county. It is now believed that Todd's horse mill antedated by a year or two that one placed by Brannock Wilkerson.

Before Livingston County had stores, pioneers went to Carrollton or Brunswick to trade. The first store in the county was opened by Jesse Nave at Navestown, or Springhill, in 1837. John Doss opened a store in the forks in 1838, the same year in which Stone & Wilson started business in Chillicothe. In 1835 the first ferry in the county crossed the east fork of Grand River west of Joseph Cox's home. Below the forks one Mr. Murphy put in a ferry in 1838; the same year J. Whitney put in a ferry at his mill. Elisha Hereford operated a ferry across Grand River six miles south of Chillicothe about 1839. Later it was run by Martin Wheat. Hargrave's ferry over Grand River west of Chillicothe was running in 1839. The same year C. H. Ashby established one across Grand River at the site of our famous Graham's Mill bridge. Rates were: Man and horse, 12 1/2% cents; one man, 6 1/4 cents; one-horse wagon, 18 3/4 cents; two-horse wagon, 25 cents; cattle, 4 cents each; hogs and sheep, 1 cent each. The license fee was $2.00 each, state and county.

It is told of Thomas Jones, who settled near Bedford, that he once had a terrific fight with John Custer to see which would ride the horse or hang to the horse's tail while they crossed the river. Custer lost and had to take the tail hold.

The following notice appeared in a Chillicothe paper in 1868:





The stage leaves Chillicothe on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 6 a. m., stopping

at the intermediate points of Springhill, Jamesport, Crittenden and Bancroft, and arrives at Bethany at 6 p. m., same days.

The Stage leaves Bethany Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, stopping at the above intermediate points, and arrives at Chillicothe at 6 p. m., same days.


The Stock on this Line is fresh and good, while the Stages are new, commodious, and fitted up expressly for the convenience of Passengers.

G. O. Brown.

Chillicothe, July 16, 1868.

The first county road was opened in September, 1837. It ran from Chillicothe to Millport, near Gallatin. The second road extended from Utica, by way of Chillicothe, to Nathan H. Gregory's residence on Medicine Creek. Numerous private roads, trails or "traces" were already in existence.

The first marriage in the county was that of Thomas Maupin and Elizabeth Austin, who were married by James D. Penney, justice of the Peace in Shoal Creek Township, 1837. Usually everyone was invited to the early settler weddings. To be left out was an oversight; to refuse to go was an insult. Often the guests danced all night in callous-hardened bare feet, over puncheon boards. There are many interesting stories concerning early weddings in Livingston County. John J. Jordan, who settled in Medicine Township in 1842, used to tell of a young couple who, on their way to be married, found Medicine Creek too high to be forded. A young man with them swam across and brought Justice Jordan to the opposite shore. He was unable to persuade the young people to wait a few days, so the couple joined hands and the marriage ceremony proceeded, Justice Jordan almost screaming the lines to which the couple shouted back, "I do." At the wedding of Eliza Munro to David Allen Creason, May 25, 1854, one man in the county was unintentionally overlooked. Guests who came from San Francisco required six months to make the journey. The bride's uncle, the Mayor of New Orleans, came with his family. The wedding party had a maid of honor, a best man, and six bridesmaids. The ceremony took place on the steps of the Munro home, then the bridal dinner was served on the lawn. The next morning the bride and groom started across the country horseback with their saddlebags and satchels strapped on their saddles, to a little log house where they began housekeeping.

It was not until 1881 that a marriage license was required. Mr. Robert F. Cranmer, who married Elizabeth L. Jester, was one of the first young men of the county to be married with a license.

What is thought to be the first religious service in the county was held in the summer or fall of 1834, in the grove of what was later known as the Comstock place, southwest of Utica. Robinson Smith, Daniel Patton, Wiley and William Clarke, Cumberland Presbyterians from Clay County, conducted the meeting. In 1838 the next preaching in that settlement was by the Reverend Aldrich, a Methodist, who later organized a little church at the McCroskie school house. Preachers of early Livingston County were as human as anyone. An amusing incident is told about John Ballew, who preached as a Methodist for his section of Grand River Township. Returning from church one Sunday, he was shocked to meet his colored man, Arthur, carrying a gun. In all piety he exclaimed, "Why, Arthur, how often have I reproved and punished you for hunting on Sunday?" Just then Arthur dragged from the grass a fat deer he had killed. "Well, I declare," said Mr. Ballew, "if you haven't killed a deer. You're a bully boy. Bring him home and we'll have a slice of him for dinner."

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