A Directory of Towns, Villages, and Hamlets
Past and Present
of Pemiscot County, Missouri

Compiled by Arthur Paul Moser


Pemiscot County

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Pemiscot County, the southeasternmost county of Missouri, is bounded on the north by New Madrid County, east by the Mississippi River, south by the State of Arkansas, and west by Dunklin County. Its area is 310,000 acres ... The section comprising Pemiscot County was first settled by white men about 1786. The Delaware Indians had a large village on La Petite Prairie, or Little Prairie, near the present site of Caruthersville and there two brothers, Joseph and Francis Lesieur, early settlers at New Madrid opened a trading-post. In 1794 a town covering 200 arpents was laid out, the lots being an arpent each, and the Spanish built a fort directly east on the river front, which was called Fort St. Ferdinand. This was one of the attempts of the Spanish to prevent free navigation of the river. Roads were built and numerous farms laid out. Settlements were made near Gayoso, Big Lake and Little River. Francis Lesieur, in 1800, built a mill, the first in what is now Pemiscot County, at Little Prairie ... In 1799 the town of Little Prairie had a population of seventy-eight, and four years later it had increased to 103 ... In 1810 Colonel John H. Walker settled near Little Prairie, and was one of the few that the earthquake did not frighten from his holdings, and he remained on his original location until his death many years later. In 1821-2, he was sheriff of New Madrid County, and subsequently became judge of the county court.

The transfer of the territory from the Spanish to the French, and from the latter to the United States, little affected the settlers, who were protected in their land claims, and prosperity was enjoyed until the earthquake of 1811-12 unsettled the majority of the residents in their determination to continue their occupation in the county. It is evident that fright more than any damage that resulted caused many settlers to abandon the country, as little, if any, change was caused in this particular section by the shocks, other than the wrecking of buildings, although wonderful tales have been related of the phenomenon. The earthquake destroyed more than half of the houses of the village of Little Prairie, which place the people deserted, and it ceased as an inhabited town, and the constant erosion of the Mississippi some years since wiped away all vestige of the once prosperous place ...

The word Pemiscot is an Indian word signifying liquid mud, and was applied to the principal bayou of the county after which the county was named. The members of the first county court were Jesse Eastwood, presiding justice, and Martin L. Stancil and Jonathan Scott, associates, with Theodore Case, clerk and Robert Stewart, sheriff ... Honorable William S. Morley, of new Madrid; Albion Crow, of Scott, and William Sayers, of Mississippi County, were appointed by the Legislature to locate a seat of justice and their report for locating the public buildings at Gayoso was also presented to the court ... The first court house was a frame building and stood on the public square at Gayoso. It was built in 1854 and was used until 1873. In December, 1882, a new court house was finished. It was a small building unfitted for the purpose

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it was intended for, and burned, with the contents, within a few weeks after it was occupied ... No court was held from 1862 to 1865. In 1863 the jurisdiction of the county of New Madrid was extended to include Pemiscot and so continued until 1866. Major Carleton, the clerk of the county court in April, 1862, moved the county records to Memphis, where they were safely kept until peace was declared ... The only books lost were one county court order book and an execution docket ...

During the Civil War the residents of Pemiscot County, with few exceptions, favored the cause of the Confederacy. Guerrilla warfare was carried on, lawless gangs plundered the property of citizens, and there was a total lack of law and order in the county ... There are nine townships in the county, namely: Braggadocio, Butler, Coutre, Gayoso, Godair, Little Prairie, Little River, Pemiscot and Virginia. (--Encyclopedia of the History of Mo., 1901, Conrad, Vol. 5, pp. 83, 84, 85.)

Pemiscot County was organized by an act of the Legislature approved February 19, 1851, and included all of New Madrid County south of the following line:

"Beginning in the main channel of the Mississippi immediately opposite Major's Mill race, and running thence along said mill race to the Cushion Lake Bayou, thence along said Bayou to the Cushion Lakes; thence along the middle of said Cushion Lake to a point opposite to the head of Collins Lake or Portage Bay; thence along said lakes or bay to the junction with Little River, and thence due west to the eastern boundary of Dunklin County."

The county court was organized at the house of James Eastwood, with James Eastwood as presiding justice and Martin L. Stancil and Jonathan Scott, associates...

The county was represented in the Legislature with New Madrid County until 1866; and during that time but one representative was taken from Pemiscot -- Robert E. Cloud, elected in 1860. He was a strong Southern sympathizer and went south with Gov. Jackson. In March, 1862, he met with the remnant of the Legislature on board a steamboat, in the waters of Pemiscot County. (--History of Southeast Missouri, 1888, Goodspeed, pp. 369, 373.)

 


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