History of Greene County, Missouri

R. I. Holcombe, Editing Historian

Chapter 36
Robberson Township
Description--Topography--Early History--First Settlers--Pioneer Camp meeting--Knox Cave--Masonic Lodge, Ebenezer--Biographical History


This is the central northern township of the county, bounded by Franklin township on the east, Campbell and Center townships on the south, Cass township on the west and Polk county on the north. It comprises all of congressional township 30, and the south 24 sections of congressional township 31, all in range 22. There is but little prairie territory in this township, and that lies chiefly in the vicinity of Ebenezer, in the eastern central part. It is most even and least broken in the central parts north of Little Sac river, stretching thence away to the northeast towards Sims branch. These two streams and their branches, which flow for the most part from the southeast towards the northwest, form the chief drainage of the township. The northern part is rough and more hilly, and not the best adapted to agricultural purposes like the central portion in and around the Robberson prairie.


One Mr. Paynter settled Ebenezer in 1831. Paynter has long since gone, and Thomas Wilson lived on the farm. For a lonG time it has been owned and occupied by a worthy citizen, William H. Paine. In 1834, one of the largest and most worthy and respected families of Greene county settled near Ebenezer, and their name was given to that large, rich and beautiful prairie, "Robberson." In that family were seven brothers and seven sisters. They were from Tennessee. Edwin was an eminent Methodist divine. Bennett, whom we all knew, and knew him to love and respect him, was a large farmer, a politician of a large and broad soul, who had and held the confidence of all parties. Rufus is the only one of that large enterprising family now living. Some of their children are leading men and women, and are citizens of Greene county. [915]

The Rev. David Ross, Elisha and Daniel Headlee were early settlers. The Rev. David Ross was respected by all, for his many virtues and Christian example. He left a small family who true to the teachings of their father, are ornaments of virtue and worth in society. The first camp meetings were organized mainly by the influence of this truly Christian settlement.

A grist mill was built by Joseph Evans, and he ventured to erect a frame dwelling, house, and for years it was the admired of all admirers, every one being, curious to know how much such a building cost. Uncle Joe is still living and is happy.

Many other names ought to have a place here, and are left out only for want of sufficient and correct data. It is now a densely populated part of the country, and in all respects commendable as a church-going and industrious community of citizens.

In congressional township 31, range 22, which forms the northern part of Robberson township, a family by the name of Alsop were settlers at an early date, and lived west of the State road. John Jones came about 1834, and lived in section 15. The log cabin which first occupied the spot where Jones settled was built by a man named House. William Tuck came from McMahon county, East Tennessee, in the fall of 1837, and settled where House and Jones had formerly lived. Simeon Bird came from Tennessee in 1837, and settled on the Dry Sac in the neighborhood of Tuck. About the same time several families came to this part of Missouri from Tennessee, but settled in what is now Polk county, adjacent to this township. In the fall of 1838 or 1839 Thomas Swadley, from East Tennessee, settled on the Dry Sac about a mile above the Tuck and Bird settlement.

The Bolivar road, which runs north through Robberson township, is said to have been the first road regularly laid out in Greene county. It was laid out by the State, and ran from Boonville on the Missouri river to Fayetteville in Arkansas. A post-office was formerly kept on the James Headlee place, which was called Richland, but it is several years since it has been in existence. [916]


The cave is one of the greatest natural curiosities anywhere in the country. It is located in the southern part of the township, just a little southwest of the Little Sac, on the northern part of section 33. It was discovered December 23, 1866, by J. G. Knox, explored by him, and named in his honor, though some patriotic individual has endeavored to have it called Lincoln cave. The mouth faces northward at the head of a deep and rocky ravine. The entrance is through a door of ordinary size and the passage is narrow for about 30 feet, where it opens out to a width of 65 feet. A solid row of stalactites and stalagmites almost block the way for quite a distance, and then the visitor is confronted by two columns, one 34 and the other 36 feet in circumference and 12 feet high. Many curiosities in underground formation are found herein that must be seen to be fully appreciated. Visitors who have been through the two greatest Kentucky caves pronounce, Knox cave superior in attractiveness and beauty of its formation, though less in extent. Among the columns, pools, chambers, etc., that have been named we have the following: "Washington Monument," "The Twins," "Mount Heckla," "Arched Gallery," "Dark Cavern," "Rachel Weeping for Her Children," "The Happy Family," "Grandmother," "Grandchild," "Solomon's Temple," "Solomon's Parlor," "The Jordan" (stream), "Pool of Siloam," Nest of Diamonds," and other things of interest too numerous for an accurate description of each. There is a gentleman in charge of the cave, at this writing, who, for a small fee, will take visitors through this interesting place, show them all the sights, and explain everything to the best of his ability.


Rising Star Lodge of the A. F. and A. M., at Ebenezer, was organized under dispensation, by Marcus Boyd, August 13, 1857. Their charter bears date of May 28, 1858. The charter members were Jno. C. Cochran, Goo. R. Barrett, Thomas Teller, Jno. M. Donnell, Jno. D. Winton, B. G. Sims, W. G. Porter, William N. Estes, James M. Ramsey, Samuel G. Headlee, and Marcus L. Abernathy. First officers were the following: Jno. C. Cochran, W. M.; Geo. R. Barrett, S. W.; Thomas Tiller, J. W.; Jno. M. Donnell, S. D.; M. L. Abernathy, J. D.; S. G. Headlee, secretary; Jno. Winton, treasurer; Briggs G. Sims, chaplain. None of the present members are grand lodge officers. They use a rented frame building for lodge meetings, and their membership at this writing is 26. [917]


THOMAS M. GURLEY. This gentleman was born in Alabama, Jannary 20, l841. When he was four years of age he came with his parents to Greene county, Missouri, and began farming for himself when nineteen years of age. He was married October 10, 1858, to Miss Mary A. McCurdy, by whom he had two children, a son and daughter, the daughter marrying at the age of thirteen. Mr. Gurley's first wife died September 27, 1863, aged twenty-two years. He was married the second time April 11, 1868, to Miss Mary A. McKee. This union has been blest with seven children, six of whom are still living, the last two being twin boys. He lost all his property during the war, and when the war ceased he found himself in possession of one yearling calf. So he had to begin at the bottom of the hill, and now seems to have made rapid strides toward a competency, for he owns one hundred and twenty acres of fine land, four and one-half miles from Springfield upon the Bolivar road, Mr. Gurley being yet a young man is what few men reach at his age, and that is the grandfather of five children Mr. Gurley's father died in Arkansas on his way to this county, leaving a widow and nine children, Thomas M. being the seventh. The mother braved all the dangers and obstacles of pioneer life and reared six of the children to manhood and womanhood, and is still living enjoying the fruits of a well-spent life. [918]

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