Early Settlement of Barry County, Missouri
by W. B. "Bill" Landers
This was taken from a photo of the Curry cabin, which was located in Barry County, MO, during the pioneer days.
This cabin is still standing.
Original photo is in the ownership of Darla Marbut
What made the population of Missouri increase from slightly over 66 Thousand in 1820 to nearly six times that number in 1840 and made that number double by 1850?
It was the offer of land, anticipated opportunities and the spirit of adventure. Mainly, it was the land.
The decision to go west did not come easily, especially to young womenfolk who had not been away from home before. Tales told by the few who returned embellished the virtues of the new state, the fertile land, the lush forests, the clear streams, the plentiful game and the welcome-mat to newcomers did little to prepare these skittish females for the harsh reality they were about to experience. Males could only imagine the tribulations they would undergo.
Once the decision was made to move west there were plans to formulate, who to invite along, which route to follow, when to leave and what to take?
Who to invite: There was safety in numbers. Most groups consisted of neighbors, friends and family who knew one another, their frailties and their skills. Practical skills such as hunting for game, cutting the trail, driving a yoke of oxen and herding livestock were essential and were possessed by most every man. Special skills, routing by use of astrometry, marksmanship for hunting and protection on the trail, a blacksmith for repairs, a midwife with knowledge of healing and someone who could read and write were sought out by groups that planned well. A level-headed leader was essential. A man of God to pray over the group on the trail and to marry and bury once the destination was reached was a welcome luxury.
Which route to take: Rafts and barges were available for hire on the waterways and were a relatively rapid means of travel. Loading everything aboard and floating downstream was desirable because it reduced overland travel by days, provided the group could afford the expense. If funds were scarce they had to be reserved to pay for crossing the Mississippi River. By the time a group saw the Mississippi they were seasoned travelers. No matter where they approached it and chose to cross, just making it that far was an accomplishment. They were veterans of the road who had slept under the stars, met people who befriended them and folks who wished them harm. They had lost livestock along the way and perhaps a loved one. Their resolve was strong. The Mississippi meant their journey was half over. Once they got across they began to pay closer attention to the lay of the land. If they crossed at St. Louis it was still a long trek to Barry County with few settlements along the way. Trails were rugged or nonexistent. If they crossed farther to the south they found Arkansas sparsely settled by veterans of the War of 1812 who claimed bounty land for their service. Every mile was hard gained. Some turned back in despair but only a few. Most were never going to cross the river again if they could help it. They knew they were near the end of their long journey.
When to leave: There was no good time to set out. At 10 to 20 miles per day it would take about three months to travel the few hundred miles over a course that had to be planned as they traveled, day by day.
Leaving after the harvest with plans to arrive in the late fall was probably the most sensible. It would allow a few months to clear ground for spring planting and to build a crude shelter. The drawbacks to this time schedule were getting through the harsh winter and depending on a steady diet of wild game without fresh produce.
What to take: A durable wagon with at least one spare wheel and oxen or horses to pull it were essential. What the wagon would contain was the rub. Every man needed a firearm and the more powder and shot, the better. Men needed a plow, teeth to build a harrow, an axe, cross-cut saw and other tools. He also needed to pack grain for the stock and seed to plant. There was no protest about the barrels of water, flour, cornmeal, dried fruit, salt, sugar, coffee, jerky and other foodstuffs. A trunk containing comforters, blankets, the few extra clothes the family owned and the families gold found its place. Space in the wagon became scarce when the women wanted to bring everything in her kitchen, utensils, kettles, dishes, buckets, a churn and a washtub. Seeds for the garden were a given. There was no space for furniture, save a chair or two for use on the trail. Deciding between a spinning wheel, a cradle or a crate of chickens, the woman of the house most likely chose to take the chickens for the few eggs and the hope that they would reproduce.
Reaching Barry County was not the end of the journey. Typically, the group camped out much as they had done on the trail until the perfect location could be found. While basic requirements for a place to settle were similar, each man had his own priorities. Some wanted to locate near their fellow travelers. Others wanted space and were content to locate miles away from the others. Water, a stream, a spring or a good spot to dig a well topped the list of requirements. A stand of hardwood trees which would produce logs to build shelter and fuel to heat it was necessary. Native rocks to build a fireplace and perhaps a springhouse were plentiful.
But it was the land, soil to plow and grass for the stock to graze, that drew the attention of the new arrivals. Our ancestors from Tennessee and Kentucky didnít mind the hills and hollows with an occasional prairie. They chose their land without knowledge of where roads would be built or where towns would be formed. They did pay attention to who their neighbors were. They lay claim to their land and waited for the surveyors to appear and for the land they occupied as squatters to be offered for sale. Some became disenchanted, or didnít have the fifty dollars to pay for forty acres, sold their pre-empted land and moved on the Texas or farther west.
The majority of these early pioneers were young, recently married with one or two children when they arrived. But older people came along too; parents and grandparents of the young, men who had been influential in their communities. These men would help form the new county government, hold office. In their own local they would serve as Justices of the Peace, guarantee signatures and perform marriages.
Families that arrived as early as 1833 or 1834 paid taxes in Greene County and to Barry County in 1835. Things were changing; the county court relocated when the county was reduced in size in 1838 and again in 1845.
Families that had traveled together remained close. The children intermarried and there were instances where a widower married a widow.
Government land was being sold to individuals at $ 1.25 per acre under the 1820 law. New arrivals were buying government land and the resale from original purchases was taking place. Land descriptions began to appear in deeds and probate records.
Still, all the available land was not sold to individuals. Land speculators purchased large tracks. The atlas of 1909 shows land ownership throughout the county by Missouri Land Company of Scotland.
The Homestead Act had been discussed for several years preceding the Civil War. It was signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862. It allowed settlement of public lands and required only residence, improvements and cultivation of the land. U.S. citizens over the age of 21 or immigrants who wanted to become citizens could obtain 160 acres, nearly free.
Two foreign flags had flown over Missouri prior to the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The Spanish granted land to encourage new settlers to come. Daniel Boone was granted 850 acres for relocating his family to Missouri. He was only one of those whose grant was revoked when the United States took over. The French had been in the territory for years and influenced the culture although their ownership of the territory was brief. Fortunately, Napoleon needed funds to finance his wars and to retire debts.
The Spanish and the French had their own methods and terms of land measurement but when the United States took over the system and terms changed.
The Public Land Survey System typically divides land into 6 mile square townships, subdivided into 36 one mile square sections. Townships are defined by Range Number, East or West from the Principal Meridian which runs North to South, and Township Number, North or South from the Base Line which runs East to West.
Due to state and county line changes, some 6 mile square townships overlap county or state lines. Due to curvatures of the earth, some 6 mile square township are less or greater than 6 miles. Due to errors in survey, not all square miles (section) are exactly 640 acres. But overall, the system works.
There are 34 Principal Meridians. Surveys in Missouri are governed by the 5th Principal Meridian. The eastern boundary of Barry County begins at Range 25 * West and proceeding west, the county includes Ranges 26 W, 27 W, 28 W and one mile in Range 29 W. The southern boundary of Barry County begins at Township 21 North and proceeding north, the county includes Township Numbers 22 N, 23 N, 24 N, 25 N and one mile in Township 26 N.
(* The northeast corner of the county at Range 25 W is 24 ranges west of the 5th Principal Meridian or 144 miles (6 x 24) west of the imaginary line where the range numbers to the east of that line become 1 E, 2 E, etc.)
Each square mile section contains 640 acres, more or less. For descriptive purposes, a section may be divided into quarter sections containing 160 acres. A quarter section may be sub-divided one half (80 acres) or one quarter (40 acres) of a quarter section.
Under the P. L. S. S. (Public Land Survey System) land is defined by its placement within a sub-divided section, within Township (N or S) and Range (E or W).
Example: On 3 April 1848 early settler Josiah T. Keet purchased 80 acres in Township 22 N, Range 28 W. under the cash sales law of 1820. Mr. Keet actually purchased the land in 1846 and paid the $120.00 at that time but due to the sales volume at that time it took about 2 years for the sale to become final. The land was the East Half of the Southeast quarter in Section 28 and would have been described: E1/2SE, Sec. 28, Twp. 22N, and Range 28W. Mr. Keet later sold the 80 acres to E. West. Ultimately, the 80 acres was sub-divided and in 1909, the Historical Atlas shows J. N. West as the owner of a portion of this land at the edge of the town of Washburn.
Early settlers purchased as much land as they could afford. They collected it, hoarded it like money in the bank and stockpiled it for future generations. Even those with a profession, physicians, ministers, blacksmiths, merchants and public office holders, all owned enough land for their familyís subsistence, often assigning the farm-work to their teenage sons.
There have been many outside factors that changed the county panorama; the makeup of the population, an exodus during the early years of the Civil War, followed by an influx of new arrivals, the coming of the railroad, the establishment of new towns, the building of new roads, tourism, mining, recessions and depressions, followed by prosperity, storms and tornadoes, followed by rebuilding.
But though it all, the land remained constant.
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