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Introductory — What Time has Done — Importance of Early Beginnings —First Settlements made in the Timber — Daniel Boone and Others — Who the First Settlers were —Postal and Mill Facilities — County Organized.
History “is but a record of the, life and career of peoples and nations.” The historian, in rescuing from oblivion the life of a nation, or a particular people, should “ nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice.” Myths, however beautiful, are but fanciful ; traditions, however pleasing, are uncertain; and legends, though the very essence of poesy and song, are unauthentic. The novelist will take the most fragile thread of romance, and from it weave a fabric of surpassing beauty. But the historian should put his feet on the solid rock of truth, and turning a deaf ear to the allurements of fancy, he should sift with careful scrutiny the evidence brought before bun, from which he is to give the record from what has been. Standing down the stream of time,. far removed from its source, he must retrace with patience and care, its meanderings, guided by the relics of time past which lie upon its shores, growing fainter, and still more faint and uncertain as he nears its fountain, ofttimes concealed in the debris of ages, anti the mists of impenetrable darkness. Written records grow less and less explicit, and finally fail altogether, as he approaches the beginning of the community whose lives he is seeking to rescue from the gloom of a rapidly receding past. Memory, wonderful as are its powers, is yet frequently at fault, and only by a comparison of its many aggregations can he be satisfied that he is pursuing stable-footed truth in his researches’ amid the early paths of his subject. It cannot then be unimportant or uninteresting to trace the progress of Audrain county from its embryotic period to its present proud position among its sister counties. To this end, therefore, we have endeavored to gather the scattered and loosening threads of the past into a compact web of the “present, trusting that the harmony and perfectness of the work may speak with no uncertain sound to the future.
Forty-seven years have passed since Audrain county was organized. Most wonderful have been the changes, and mighty. have been the events and revolutions, the discoveries and inventions that have occurred within this time. Perhaps since “God formed the earth and the world,” and tossed them from the hollow of his hand into space, so many great things have not been accomplished in any forty-seven years. Reflection cannot’ fail to arouse wonder, and awaken thankfulness, that God has ‘appointed us the place we occupy in the eternal chain of events. Tennyson and Browning, Bryant and Whittier, Lowell and Longfellow have sung. The matchless Webster, the ornate Sumner, the eloquent Clay, the metaphysical Calhoun and Seward have since reached the culmination of their powers and passed into the grave. Macauley, Theirs, Gizot and Froude have written in noble strains the history of their lands; and Bancroft and Prescott and Hildreth and Motley have won high rank among the historians of the earth. Spurgeon and Beecher and Moody have enforced with most persuasive eloquence, the duties of morality and religion. Carlyle and Emerson, Stuart Mill and Spencer have given the results of their speculations in high philosophy to the world. Mexico has been conquered; Alaska has been purchased; the center of population has traveled more than 250 miles along the thirty—ninth parallel, and a majority of the States composing the American Union have been added to the glorious constellation on the blue field of our flag. Great cities have been founded and populous countries developed; and the stream of emigration is still tending westward. Gold has been discovered in the far West, and the great Civil War — the bloodiest in all the annals of time— has been fought. The telegraph, the telephone and railroad have been added to the list of the most important inventions. In fact, during this time, our country has increased in population from a few millions of people to fifty millions. From a weak, obscure nation it has become strong in all the elements of power and influence, and is to-day the most marvelous country for its age that ever existed.
Every nation does not possess an authentic account of its origin. Neither do all communities have the correct data whereby it is possible to accurately predicate the condition of their first beginnings. Nevertheless, to be intensely interested in such things is characteristic of the race, and it is particularly the province of the historian to deal with first causes. Should these facts l)e lost, in the mythical traditions of the past, as is often’ the case, the chronicler invades the realm of the ideal and compels his imagination to paint the missing picture. The patriotic Roman was not content until he had found the “ first settlers,” and then he was satisfied, although they were found in the very undesirable company of a wolf, and located on a drift, which the receding waters of the Tiber had permitted them to preempt. One of the advantages pertaining to a residence in a new country and one seldom appreciated, is the fact that we can go back to the first beginning. We are thus enabled to not only trace results to their causes, hut also to grasp the facts which have contributed to form and mold these causes. We observe that a State or county has attained a certain position, and we at once try to trace omit the reasons for this position in its settlement and surroundings, in the class of men by whom it was peopled, and in the many chances and changes which have wrought out results, in all the recorded deeds of mankind. In the history of Audrain county we may trace its early settlers to their homes in the Eastern States and in the countries of the Old World. We may follow the course of the hardy backwoodsman, from the “Buckeye” or “Hoosier” State, and from Kentucky and Virginia on his way West, ‘‘ to grow up with the country,’’ trusting only to his strong arm and willing heart to work out his ambition for a home for himself and wife, and a competence for his children. Again, we wi1l see that others have been animated with the impulse to move on, after making themselves a part of the community, and have sought the newer portions of the extreme West, where civilization had not penetrated, or returned to their native heath. We shall find something of that distinctive New England character, which has contributed so many men and women to other portions of the West. We shall also find many an industrious’ native of Germany, as well as a number of the sons of the Emerald Isle, all of whom have contributed to modify types of men already existing here. Those who have noted the career of the descendants of these brave, strong men, in subduing the wilds and overcoming the obstacles and hardships of early times, can hut admit they are worthy sons of illustrious sites They who in the early dawn of Western civilization first “bearded the lion in his den,” opened a path through the wilderness, drove out the wild beast and tamed the savage Indian, are entitled to one of the brightest pages in all the records of the past. The old pioneers of Audrain county — the advance guard of Western civilization — have nearly all passed away; those remaining may he counted on the fingers of one hand. A few more years of waiting and watching, and they, too, will have joined— “The innumerable caravan, that moves To that mysterious realm, where each shall take His chamber In the silent halls of death.” Fresh hillocks in the cemetery will soon he all the marks that will be left of a race of giants who grappled nature in her fastnesses, and made a triumphant conquest in the face of the greatest privations, disease and difficulty. The shadows that fall upon their tombs as time recedes, are like the smoky haze that enveloped the prairies in the early days, saddening the memory and giving to dim distance only a faint and phantom outline, to which the future will often look back and wonder at the great hearts that lie hidden under the peaceful canopy.
The first settlements in the county were invariably made in the timber or contiguous thereto. The early settlers did so as a matter of necessity and convenience. The presence of timber aided materially in bringing about an early settlement, and it aided in two ways: first, the county had to depend on emigration from the older settled States of the East for its population, and especially Kentucky and Tennessee. These States originally were almost covered with dense forests, and farms were made by clearing off certain portions of the timber. Almost every farm there, after it became thoroughly improved, still retained a certain tract of timber commonly known as “the woods.” “The woods” was generally regarded as the most important part of the farm, and the average farmer regarded it as indispensable. When he emigrated West, one objection was the scarcity of timber, and he did not suppose that it would be possible to open up a farm on the bleak prairie. To live in a region devoid of the familiar sight of timber seemed unendurable, and the average Kentuckian could not entertain the idea of founding a home away from the familiar forest trees. Then again the idea entertained by the early immigrants to Missouri, that timber was a necessity, was not simply theoretical. The early settler must have a house to live in, fuel for cooking and heating purposes, and fences to inclose his claim. At that time there were no railroads by which lumber could be transported. No coal mine had yet been opened, and few if any had been discovered. Timber was an absolute necessity, without which material improvement was an impossibility. No wonder that a gentleman from the East, who in early times came to the prairie region of Missouri on a prospecting tour, with a view of permanent location, returned home in disgust and embodied his views of the country in the following rhyme : — “Oh! lonesome, windy, grassy place, Where buffalo and snakes prevail; The first with dreadful looking face, The last with dreadful sounding tail! I’d rather live on camel hump, And be a Yankee Doodle beggar, Than where I never see a stump, And shake to death with fever’n ager.” The most important resource in the development of this Western country was the belts of timber which skirted the streams ; and the settlers who first hewed out homes in the timber, while at present, not the most enterprising amid progressive, were, nevertheless, an essential factor in the solution of the problem. Along either side of the various streams which flow across the country, were originally belts of timber ; at certain places, generally near the mouths of the smaller tributaries, the belt of timber widened out, thus forming a grove, or what was frequently called a point, and at these points or groves were the first settlements made; here were the first beginnings of civilization ; here “began to operate those forces which have made the wilderness a fruitful place and caused the desert to bud and blossom as the rose.” Much of the primeval forest has been removed for the building of houses and the construction of fences; other portions, and probably the largest part, have been ruthlessly and improvidently destroyed. This destruction of timber has been somewhat compensated for by the planting of artificial groves.
The soil of the present territory of Audrain county was doubtless pressed by the feet of many white men before any permanent settlement had been made within its limits. That mighty Nimrod of the forest — Daniel Boone — had no doubt explored the country, not only lying along the banks of the Missouri, but, it is supposed, the crack of his unerring rifle often resounded far out among the hills and valleys of the surrounding country, and that be more than once, during his hunting and trapping expeditions, passed through portions of Audrain county. It is a fact that, in the summer of 1812, James Murdock, Temple and Stephen Cole, James Patton and John Gooch, left the settlements on Loutre Island and went in pursuit of a party of Indians who had stolen some horses from them and other settlers. They followed their trail to Grand Prairie, now in Audrain county, and night coming on they camped on the hank of a small stream. It appears that the savages were in the vicinity amid watching them, for soon after they had fallen asleep, they were fired upon, and three of their number, Patton, Gooch and Stephen Cole, were instantly killed Temple Cole engaged in a desperate hand—to—hand contest with one of the Indians, and was wounded, but succeeded in making his escape. Murdock escaped unhurt. Many years afterward the skulls of the murdered men were found near where they fell, and the stream upon the bank of which they had camped was called Skull Lick, the latter part of the name being derived from a deer lick not far distant on the same stream. Temple, or William T. Cole, above named, was the father of Samuel Cole, who now resides in Cooper county, at the advanced age of 82 years.
From the best and most reliable information that can be obtained the first white man to permanently pitch his tent within the present limits of Audrain county, was Robert Littleby, an Englishman, who settled upon what was afterwards called, “Littleby Creek” in 1816 He built a cabin in what is now known as Prairie township, on the above named stream near its confluence with Salt river. Littleby is said to have been an eccentric, misanthropical man, and lived the life of a hermit, until 1822, when he moved to Platte river, where he soon after died. His dogs were his only companions. He hunted and trapped extensively, and sold his furs and peltries in St. Charles. His food consisted of game, wild fruits, and the vegetable portion of the earth’s natural productions. He cured his meat by soaking it a week in a strong concoction of lye. Beaver, otter, muskrats, raccoons, etc., surrounded him in great numbers, and he reaped a rich harvest from their furs. The next settler was Benjamin Young, who located in Audrain county in 1821; and Young’s creek was named for him. He was a native of Stokes county, North Carolina; had been raised by the Indians, and married a squaw. In the same county there lived a woman named Mary Ring, who was captivated by Benjamin’s prepossessing appearance, and proposed matrimony to him. He frankly told her that he was already married to the squaw, but had no desire to see her carried to an untimely crave from the effects of a broken heart, and if she would whip the squaw she might take him. She accepted the proposition, defeated the squaw, and claimed her reward. Young was not the man to “go back ‘‘ on his word, so he dismissed the squaw and married the white woman. The result was, they lived pleasantly and happily together, and the devotion of his new wife increased, as they passed down the stream of life together. In 1809 Mr. Young placed his wife and worldly goods on a little pony, and started on a journey to Kentucky, which he performed on foot, with his rifle on his shoulder. They lived in Kentucky two years, and then settled in Howard county, Mo., where they lived until 1821, when they removed to what is now Audrain county, and built their cabin on the bank of the stream since known as Young’s creek. For many years they were the only persons who lived in that part of the county, and they never saw the face of a fellow-creature, except when some traveler would get lost and wander that way, or a solitary hunter would by chance stop at their humble habitation. Col. Thomas H. Benton used to stop at Mr. Young’s house, and pay hum a visit whenever he was out on an electioneering tour, and the old hunter felt so much honored by the kind attentions of the great man, that he named one of his sons Thomas Benton, in honor of him. Benton also sent him a great many public documents, which he could not read, but would place in prominent positions about the house as ornaments. Mrs. Young, who was a very large woman, was almost as good a hunter as her husband, and would frequently go into the woods and camp for weeks at a time on hunting expeditions. She was also an excellent bee hunter, and always kept her family supplied with nice, fresh honey. One day she went into the woods, accompanied by her son, Thomas Benton Young, on a bee-hunt, and while they were wandering about, Thomas saw a nice, straight grape vine, that he thought would make a good clothes line. He climbed the vine some twenty feet, amid cut it off above his head, without stopping to consider the law of gravitation, or the effect of being suspended in the air, with nothing to sustain him. The natural result was that he fell to the ground and received such a severe jolt that he never entirely recovered, and time supposition was, that for this reason he never became as great as the distinguished Senator whose name he bore. When Mr. Young’s eldest daughter was married, the wheat from which the bread and cakes were made for the festive occasion was ground on a hand-mill and the flour bolted through Mrs. Young's muslin cap. They had no sieve or bolting chest, but the muslin cap answered the purpose very well. Mr. Young was killed in 1833 by a pet bull. His coffin was made by Rev. Mr. Asaph Hubbard, under directions from the widow, who stood by and told him to make it large and roomy, as her old man never did like to he crowded. It was accordingly made ‘‘ large and roomy,’’ and the old hunter was buried in a decent manner. Let us hope that he sleeps well in “The grave, where ev’n the great find rest.” The next earliest settlers were John and William Willingham ,who came from Boone county to Audrain in 1825. Richard Willingham built the first mill in the county. In 1830, Joseph McDonald moved in and settled on the farm now owned by Garland Sims, and about time same time one, Wainscot, came and settled what is now known as the Clem Smith place, but soon after sold to John Martin. In that same year came William Levaugh, John Barnett, Caleb Williams, Black Isam, Fiddler Isam and John Kilgore and Richard Willingham. Levaugh settled what is now known as the Powell place—owned at present by M. Y. Duncan. Willingham took a claim on the place known as the Kirtly farm. This he sold in 1831 to Reuben Pulis. John Kilgore settled on the north side of Davis’ fork, on the farm known as the McIlhany farm. It was on this place, early in the year 1831, that the first white person was born in the county. This was our fellow-citizen, Frank Kilgore, who, perhaps, has the best claim to that much-coveted title, “The oldest inhabitant.” Next after these came Roland McIntyre, Thomas Barnett, Richard Pearson, Charles McIntyre, Roland amid Joseph Watts, William and Richard Byrns — a Mrs. Throckmorton, Judge James Jackson, John A. Pearson, Judge James Harrison, Joel Haynes and James E. Fenton. Later came Judge J. B. Morris, William and Jerry West, Wm. White, Robert C. Mansfield and the ubiquitous Smith — this one was James H. In 1884 there were not exceeding thirty families in the entire limits of the county. Settlements were ten and fifteen miles apart, but this great distance did not cool their friendship or blight their hospitality. With the inseparable and trusty old flint-luck rifle, a man, regarding it as a solemn duty as well as real pleasure, would go ten amid fifteen miles to aid his neighbor to rear the rude cabin or garner the crop, and at the conclusion of their labor they would enjoy a wholesome, if not elegant, repast of corn bread and fried venison, with rye coffee, but sugar was wholly unknown.
The early settlers of the county, for several years after they built their cabins, had neither postal nor mill facilities, and were compelled to travel from 25 to 50 miles in order to reach a post-office, or to get their meal. Their usual way of sending or receiving tidings from their friends and the news of the great world, which lay towards time east and south of them, was generally by the mouth of the stranger coming in, or by the settler who journeyed back to his old home, in Kentucky or Virginia. Those who did not grate their corn, or grind it upon a hand mill, took it either to Boone or Callaway county, whither they also occasionally went to obtain their mail. Postage at that time was very high, and if the old settler sent or received two or three letters during the year, he considered himself fortunate. His every-day life in the wilds of the new country to which he had come to better his condition, was so much of a sameness, that he had, indeed, but little to communicate. His wants were few, mind these were generally supplied by his rod and his gun, the latter being considered an indispensable weapon of defense, as well as necessary to the support and maintenance of himself and family. No wonder that the pioneer loved his ‘‘old flint lock,’’ and his faithful dog, whose honest bark would so often — “Bay deep-mouth’d welcome as he drew near home.”
The county of Audrain was organized December 17, 1836, and named in honor of Col. James H. Audrain, of St. Charles county, Missouri, who was a member of the Legislature at that time. It was the fifty-second county organized in the State — the space of 25 years having intervened between the date when the two first counties were formed and the period of its organization. Since then 62 additional counties have been added to the list, which now aggregates 114. Audrain, although not having any separate existence until 1836, is now the thirtieth county in population in the State, and ranks among the best in pluck and enterprise.
A great dramatist intimates there is nothing in a name; but a name sometimes means a great deal. In many instances it indicates, in a measure, the character of the people who settle the country, and have given to its distinctive characteristics. Names are sometimes given to towns and countries by accident; sometimes they originate in the childish caprice of some one individual, whose dictate, by reason of some real or imaginary superiority, is law. Whether the policy of naming counties after statesmen and generals he good or bad, the Missouri Legislature has followed time practice to such an extent that fully three-fourths of the counties composing the State bear the names of men who are more or less distinguished in the history of the country. In this instance, the county of Audrain was not named by accident, but the christening took place after mature deliberation. Col. Charles H. Audrain, after whom the county was named, was a man of nerve and enterprise. He located in St. Charles county, Missouri, at an early day, and did much for the improvement of the country and the material prosperity of the people with whom he had cast his lot. As Col. Audrain was bold and fearless in his character amid possessed of many of the sterling characteristics of a noble manhood, so- were the early settlers of Audrain county fearless in their attempts to conquer the wilderness, and so did they possess, in a large measure, the distinguishing traits of a superior manhood.