(The following originally appeared as the
November 2005 installment of "Lake Stories with Michael Gillespie" in the
Lake of the Ozarks Business Journal.)
Oftentimes the best and most colorful sources of historical information come from old county history books and newspapers. Nearly every Missouri county had its own book-length history published in the latter nineteenth century. They usually were written by local authors and were full of interesting facts and vignettes. And many towns, especially the county seats, could boast of their own weekly newspaper—with all the news fit to print, and more. I’ve gleaned a few passages from two such sources and presented them below for your amusement, enlightenment, and consideration. The headings are my own.
THE TOWN ALIVE ON 65. "We defy any town in the county to beat Lincoln for good-looking girls, marriageable material, and gray horses; but in red-headed girls we have a figure below par."—Benton County Enterprise, May 31, 1889.
WATCH YOUR MOUTH. "Many of the early cases on the [circuit court] docket were for trespass, assault, and slander. From the numerous slander cases it seems that the early settlers were extremely zealous in maintaining their character."—1889 History of Camden County.
ON SECOND THOUGHT. "Squire Morgan had quite an interesting case on hand Saturday last--a dog case. Mat Alexander laid claims onto the canine and a Mr. Tharpe did likewise. Mr. A claimed that he could produce fifty witnesses to testify that the dog was 'his'n.' Mr. T claimed the testimony of fifty witnesses in his favor. Squire Morgan suggested to both parties that to bring all their witnesses into court would cost over a hundred dollars and either one or the other would have to pay. After consideration, a comprise was effected and Mr. Tharpe took the dog."—Benton County Enterprise, December 6, 1882.
ALL RUMORS ASIDE. "Mrs. Julia Castle Holmes, who is remembered in Warsaw by her singing class and concert last summer, and is a vocalist of rare ability, died in Sedalia last week. She was taken ill with malarial symptoms. There was nothing in her illness to warrant the gossiping rumors as to the cause. Her private character was unassailable, even amidst her peculiar domestic afflictions."—Benton County Enterprise, January 22, 1885.
GOLD IN THEM THAR HILLS. "The Osage Mining Company has taken out a charter to work a gold and silver mine on the old Cunningham place and claim they have struck excellent ore, with promise of great abundance, at a depth of 15 feet."—Benton County Enterprise, August 15, 1885. [P.S.--If you find the gold, remember who tipped you off.]
TAX TIME. "During the early years of the existence of the county, when there were no school taxes to collect and but few public improvements to be made, only a small amount of taxes was required. While the early settlers raised enough provisions for their own support, being so far from market they seldom received money for their surplus products, and consequently were frequently without the ready cash when the tax collector called upon them. To overcome this difficulty the tax collector sometimes assumed the role of a vendor of merchandise, and received the skins of 'coons and other wild animals in lieu of money for taxes, and then disposed of the skins for money. There being a bounty on wolf scalps, they were also received for taxes. Thus the skins of wild animals and wolf scalps were legal tender in those days."—1889 History of Camden County.
RESULTS MAY VARY. "Circuit court commenced its regular term October 13, with Judge J.B. Gantt presiding. In commenting on youth, the judge said he believed a whipping was as good for a boy as currying for a horse."—Benton County Enterprise, October 15, 1885.
AN OLD VETERAN. "John Metscher, who lives on Ross Creek, ten miles southeast of Cole Camp, is 91 years old and is still active, enjoying life. He often walks to Cole Camp and back home, attends to his business and then takes a glass of beer. He was in the Prussian army at the battle of Waterloo, in 1815."—Benton County Enterprise, February 24, 1888.
NOT HERE. "A man with a double-barreled gun and a belt full of cartridges passed through [Cole Camp] Wednesday looking for a fellow with seven names who stole a gun, a horse, a man's daughter, etc. None of the parties belong to our town."—Benton County Enterprise, May 22, 1891.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP. "Owing to the uneven surface of the country the roads are somewhat crooked and hilly. There are but few bridges in the county, but the streams have solid bottoms and are easily fordable, except when the water is too high."—1889 History of Camden County.
SHADES OF THE MUSIC MAN. "The Warsaw Cornet band boys have received their new uniforms and on or before the Fourth will make their appearance in their elegant new bandwagon...."—Benton County Enterprise, June 26, 1888.
MORE SHADES OF THE MUSIC MAN. "The Warsaw Band, after attaining such proficiency that they were complimented on every hand, has allowed themselves to get into a disorganized condition. The boys should pull themselves together and make music during the summer weather. If they only could realize how nice they look in their uniforms and how they make everybody's heart swell with sentiment and patriotism when the band begins to play, they would forget all discords and be once more the pride of the county."—Benton County Enterprise, May 24, 1889.
MUSIC MAN, THE FINAL CHAPTER. "The rejuvenated Warsaw band Sunday afternoon embarked in skiffs and gave Warsaw a nice serenade along the river front, which, by the way, ought to be a park."—Benton County Enterprise, June 12, 1891. [P.S.—It took about a hundred years, but Warsaw’s riverfront park is today a reality.]
OLD SAILORS NEVER DIE. "At Jefferson City a couple of weeks since, a marriage license was issued to the well-known old Osage River pilot, Capt. Wm. Towns of Osage City, and Miss Mary Rahden of Lebanon. Captain Towns is pretty well up in years and his bride is but 22."—Benton County Enterprise, September 7, 1888.
© 2005 by Michael Gillespie. All rights reserved.