Jonathan Fairbanks and Clyde Edwin Tuck

Past and Present of Greene County, Missouri • ca. 1914

Early and Recent History and Genealogical Records
of Many of the Representative Citizens

Chapter 4
Organization of County
by A. M. Haswell

The Territory of Missouri was organized by act of Congress in the year 1818. In the usual course of such matters the territorial form of government would have continued for several years at least, but the first great clash between the political forces of the North and South, over the question of slavery, came to a head within a year or two after the organization of the territory. There were not lacking hot heads on both sides of the controversy who would not have hesitated to appeal to force in behalf of their own views and conservative and peace loving men, both North and South, sought industriously for some plan by which the difficulties could be adjusted without danger of civil strife.

The slaveholders of the South urged their constitutional right to take slave property into any state of the Union; the anti-slavery men just as strenuously maintained that not only should no slaves be held in the free states, but that all the territories remaining should be declared free soil forever. Out of all this controversy was evolved a measure known as "The Missouri Compromise." This plan admitted the territory of Missouri as a slave state, but prohibited slavery elsewhere in the Union, north of parallel 36° 39', the southern line of Missouri. The bill passed both houses of Congress, and was signed by the President. Such statesmen as Henry Clay declared in their joy, that the question of slavery was "settled forever!" How badly even great statesmen can err in judgment was proved years after Henry Clay was in his grave, when a bloody way was fought to its final conclusion, which did, at last, "forever" settle the slavery question.

Thus, in less than two years from its organization as a territory, Missouri was brought into the Union before her time, a pawn in the great game that was yet to be played put to its logical end. It was in 1820 that the new state took her place as a full-fledged commonwealth in the sisterhood of states, and at once changes and adjustments of the internal arrangements of the state began. [120]

When the territory was organized, in 1818, there was among the counties, as set forth in the act which gave it a legal existence as a territory of the United States, one which was named after "Mad Anthony," of revolutionary fame, "Wayne county," On the map of Missouri, as we see it today, Wayne county occupies a rather inconspicuous position in the southeastern part of the state. But as it was first formed it stretched away to the westward, even to the western boundary of the territory. Thus it included not only all of what afterwards became Greene county but many other counties also. In short, it occupied a large part of the south half of the entire territory.

The territorial alignment of the counties, so far as they affected Greene county, continued after the admission of Missouri to the Union, until the year 1831. Then a huge county was carved out of the original Wayne and named Crawford. This new division covered all the southern part of Missouri, and, of course, included in its boundaries Greene with the rest.

But immigration was flowing rapidly into the southwest in those days. The sturdy settlers from Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky were taking up homes upon the government lands, and new conditions called again for another readjustment. So in less than two years after the organization of Crawford county, on the second day of January, 1833, the Legislature of Missouri passed a special act creating a new county, cut from the overgrown area of Crawford, and the state fathers christened this new member of the family "Greene county." So in the columns of history, the second day of January, 1833, should he forever marked as the birthday of Greene county.

The act, giving our county a legal existence and an honored name, is of enough importance and interest to warrant entering it in full upon these pages. It is in the following words:

(as follows)

"1. All that part of the territory lying south of the township line, between Townships Thirty-four and Thirty-five, extending in a direct line due west from the point where the said township line crosses the main Niangua river, to the western boundary of the state, and southwest of the county of Crawford, which is not included in the limits of any other county, and which was attached to said county of Crawford by joint resolution of the General Assembly of the State of Missouri, approved the 18th day of January, 1831, be, and the same is hereby organized into a separate and distinct county to be called and known by the name of Greene county, in honor of Nathaniel Greene, of the Revolution.

"2. The qualified voters residing within the limits of said county, shalt meet at the place at present appointed by law for holding election, on the first Monday of February next, for the purpose of choosing three fit and proper persons to compose the County Court of said county, and one fit and proper person to act as sheriff; and the persons so elected shall be cornmissioned by the governor, and shall hold their offices until the next general election, and until their successors are duly elected and qualified.

"3. The County Court, when organized as aforesaid, shall have power to designate the places of holding the County and Circuit Courts within and for said county of Greene, and until otherwise provided by law.

"4. The election proposed to be holden under the provision of the second chapter of this act shall be governed and conducted in all respects by the laws relating to general elections, except that returns thereof instead of being made to the clerk of the County Court shall be made direct to the Governor, who shall issue commissions accordingly. January 2, 1833." 1

The lines given in the act constituting Greene county inclose a tract extending to the west and south lines of the state. The eastern boundary is more indefinitely stated. We do not know just what territory was included under the words of the act: "To the western boundary of the state, and southwest of the county of Crawford, which is not included in the limits of any other county." [121-122]

One record which I have seen makes the statement that these limits tended "to the Gasconade on the east, and the Osage on the north." That is probably correct as refers to the eastern boundary being at or near the Gasconade, but the northern line, as given in the act just quoted, is "the township line between Townships Thirty-four and Thirty-five, extending in a direct line due west from the point where said township line crosses the main Niangua river, to the western boundary of the state."

That line nowhere approaches the Osage river nearer than about fourteen miles, and it is within even that distance for only a short distance near its western extremity. Most of the way it is twenty to twenty-five miles south of the Osage. And yet it will be seen a little later, in this chapter, that when the newly organized court of the new county divided their domain into municipal townships, they gave boundaries for some of these divisions which reach to the Osage. The court records of Green county, both of County and Circuit Courts, show too that the county jurisdiction extended to the south bank of the Osage. All this has caused confusion in most of the historical statements made in the past and tends to make added confusion in an attempt to write the correct account of the organization of the county.

The explanation is, however, quite simple. The boundary on the north was, as first given by the act of organization, the line between the two townships stated, but for some years the territory to the north and northwest of' that line, and reaching to the Osage was, we are told, "added to Greene county, for civil and military purposes." Thus we find the County Court at its first session, and for some years thereafter exercising a jurisdiction over much territory not included in the act giving the county its organization. [122]


The region covered by the act of the Legislature included all of what now constitutes the following counties: McDonald, Newton, Jasper, Barton, Dade, Lawrence, Barry, Stone, Christian, Greene and Webster. Also parts of Taney, Dallas, Polk, Cedar, Vernon, Laclede, Wright and Douglas. A principality indeed, and much larger than any one of several sovereign states of the Union.

These boundaries, however, remained intact for but a short time. Immigration was coming into the county rapidly. New settlements and increased population demanded new alignments for the greater convenience of the people. The county-seat, at Springfield, was several days' journey over the rough "traces" of the wilderness, for a large part of the county, and men required a tax paying location that did not require so long and strenuous a journey to reach.

So on December 13, 1834, a new county called "Rives" was carved out of the northeastern part of the original Greene county. The name of this new division was afterwards changed to "Henry" county, the present day limits of which are wholly outside of anything that was ever included in Greene.

January 5, 1835, another big piece was cut out of Greene and organized as "Barry" county. This made necessary a new adjustment of the boundaries of our county, and an act was passed by the Legislature and approved March 3, 1835, as follows:
"GREENE—Beginning where the line dividing Townships Twenty-Six and Twenty-Seven crosses the line dividing Ranges Seventeen and Eighteen; thence west with the said township line to the intersection of the eastern line of Barry county; thence along said line to the southeast corner thereof; thence south to the beginning."

Anyone trying to trace the lines as stated in the above act will find difficulty in making them come together at all. But such they are described, and under the act so worded the county of Greene continued to thrive and grow!

Previous to these divisions of the original county, an election had been held, as directed in the act organizing the county. There is a discrepancy between the actual date on which the records state that this election was held and the day as set forth in the act of the legislature. That act names as the date of the election to be held for selecting the justices of the County Court and the sheriff: "The first Monday of February next;" i.e., February, 1833. The records of Greene county, however, state that the election in question was had "On the 14th day of February, 1833." Obviously that date could by no possibility be the "First Monday in February." [123]

However, the election was held, and it resulted in the selection of Jeremiah N. Sloan, James Dollison and Samuel Martin, as justices of the County Court, and John D. Shannon as sheriff. To these men Governor Dunklin issued commissions in due form, and on the 11th day of March, 1833, they met to organize their court. This first session was held as told in Book A., at page 1, of the County Court records, "At the house of John P. Campbell within and for said county of Greene." John P. Campbell was the original settler in the limits of what has grown to be the city of Springfield, and is well entitled to the name of "The Father of Springfield." His house, where the first session of the court was held, was a log structures very nearly at the city limits. All of which will be found more fully set forth in the appropriate chapter of this history.

The various acts and orders made at this initial term of the County Court will be found stated in subsequent chapters with the exception only of those which divided the county into the various municipal townships.

Right here a confusion is apt to arise in the mind of the ordinary reader concerning these townships. We have mentioned, in giving the boundaries of the county, the dividing line between certain townships as forming the northern boundary of the territory set aside by the legislative act of organization. How, then, some may ask, did the County Court have to divide the county into townships if they were already such subdivisions, as is indicated in the act?

The explanation is this: The government surveys its domain into townships, generally six miles square. These are again divided into thirty sections of one mile square each, and containing six hundred and forty acres, and numbered from one, in the northeast corner of the township, to thirty six in the southeast. All legal descriptions of land in those states where the system is followed, locate the land by the section, township and range. To one familiar with this method it is a matter of but a few seconds to locate any tract in a state if given only the figures representing the section, township and range. To the uninitiated it seems an intricate and difficult matter to be able to find, a certain tract from a few figures, and there are thousands of men who have lived all their lives upon certain tracts, who are unable to tell you off hand the section, or township, or range, in which is their home. As a matter of fact, however, the system is one of great simplicity. It is the tradition that it was first designed by George Washington himself, and, if so, it is by no means the least of the many great things he did for his country.

But, in the settlement of a wide space of country, the settlers naturally chose the best locations. Soil, water and timber were the great points they considered in getting a home in the new state. Thus the communities gathered, not according to the mathematically straight lines of the government surveys, but along the streams, at the margins of prairies, and wherever the conditions were such as they sought. So, when a sufficient number of people had located within reasonable distance of one another to require a township organization, it became the duty of the County Court, as we see stated in the act organizing, the county, to divide these communities by certain boundaries, for their own government. These are the "municipal townships," and have no relation to the boundaries of the government townships, as set forth in section, township and range. [124]

This division of the county into townships was among the first and most important matters transacted at this first term of the court. And it was a duty by no means easy of accomplishment. Here was an immense territory of thinly settled country. The inhabitants were in isolated communities of pioneer farmers, mostly along the bottom lands of the principal streams. The three judges upon whom it devolved to make an equitable and convenient division of this great tract had probably among their number not one man who was familiar with the entire region in question. Their work could be at best little more than experimental, and subject to frequent and radical changes in the future.

The records show us that even at the second term of the court, held in June, 1833, only ninety days after the first, there were urgent calls for changing some of the township lines, and for the organization of new townships. As population increased these changes became more frequent, and thus the municipal divisions have, along down the years, adjusted themselves in accord with the principal of "the greatest good to the greatest number."

The vast size of the territory, the lack of maps and the conflicting and selfish interests of the different communities affected, rendered the task of this division an onerous one, indeed, and it is a monument to the patience and ability of those first three judges that they were able to do as well as they did.

The orders made at this term of court, and which divided the county into townships, are well worthy of permanent record, and I shall give them in full. Incidentally, I will say that if the reader will take a good map of Missouri as we have it today and try to follow the lines laid down in these orders, as shown in the records, he will realize somewhat of the difficulties under which those first faithful officials labored.

The following are the boundaries of these first townships as set forth in the records of this first term of the County Court in March, 1833. Every one of them covers more ground than any one county today. Some equal any two or more counties now included in the original limits of Greene. Very few of them bear the names now held by townships in this county, but may be found here and there in widely separated counties of southwest Missouri.

"Spring River Township—All that portion of territory lying and being in Greene county, and included in the following boundaries: Beginning on the west boundary line of the State of Missouri west of Vivian's creek; thence east on the dividing ridge between the waters of Vivian's creek and Oliver's creek, so as to include the settlers, on Vivian's creek; thence north on the dividing ridge between the waters of the Osage and Grand rivers; thence on the same dividing ridge to the boundary of the State of Missouri; thence south to the beginning. Elections to be held at Samuel Bogard's.

"Jackson Township—Beginning at the north boundary line of Greene county, as now established, running with the dividing ridge between the North Fork of Sack river and the Pomada Tarr river, without limit, or so as to include all the settlements on both sides of Sack river. Elections to be held at Ezekiel Campbell's."2 Those two words in the foregoing description, "Without limit," would seem to introduce an element of uncertainty as to the exact boundaries of Jackson township sufficient to drive a conscientious surveyor to distraction. There is nothing in it to halt him from extending that line to the north pole or, for that matter, off in space to the planet Mars! The court evidently intended that there should be no mistake in including "all the settlements, both sides of Sack river," and they certainly made their intention clear.

Next comes Osage township, as follows:
"Osage Township—Beginning at the mouth of Little Niangua river running so as to include the place where William Montgomery now lives thence to the mouth of little Pomada Tarr river; thence west to Sack river and down Sack to the Osage river. Thence down the Osage river to the beginning. Elections to be held at William Brinegar's ferry, on Pomada Tarr."

This description covers a large area not included in the description of Greene county as set forth in the act of organization. It is a part of the outlying territory temporarily under the jurisdiction of the Greene County Court. The line from the mouth of Little Pomme de Terre to the mouth of the Little Niangua is nearly sixty miles in length. This gives some idea of the size of these old townships. [125-126]


Mooney Township—Beginning at Pomada Tarr river where the Niangua Trace crosses; thence taking the waters of Pomada Tarr to the mouth of Little Pomada Tarr; thence up the Little Pomanda Tarr to the dividing ridge between it and Sack river; thence along the line of Jackson Township, to Sack river; thence up the Dry Fork of Sack to the beginning. Elections to be held at John Mooney's. Judges of elections, James Smithson, Aaron Ruyle and John West.

"Campbell Township—Beginning at the mouth of Finley, running thence to include the settlers on Finley to the eastern boundary of Greene county; thence north with said line to Niangua river; thence with said river to Niangua Trace; thence with said line to James Ross' on Sac river; thence to the Widow Leeper's; thence to the Parr Springs; thence to the point where the road leading to Washington Clay's crosses said creek; thence in a straight line to the mouth of Finley to the beginning."

This is another quaint description: "The said line to James Ross' on Sack river," and "thence to the Widow Leeper's," are deliciously novel. One can but wonder how a surveyor could locate this boundary in case James Ross or the "Widow Leeper" should have died or moved out of the country! Then, too, "the point where the road to Washington Clay's crosses said creek." What creek, and where was Washington Clay's?

Today Campbell township is the metropolitan township of Greene county. As its importance has increased so have its limits shrunk, until from covering much more land that all Greene county now includes, it has decreased till it comprises only the two government townships, 29 of range 21 and 29 of range 22,a space just twelve miles by seven miles and a half, with the city of Springfield nearly in its geographical center.

"White River Township—Beginning at the mouth of Finley, on the James Fork of White river; thence down said James Fork so as to include all the settlers on both sides thereof, to this mouth of said James Fork; thence due south to the State line; thence with said line of Campbell township; thence with said line to the beginning. Elections to be held at Felch's old place on the north side of White river. Edward Mooney, James H. Glover and --------- Newsome, Judges."

This is another terribly mixed description. White River township boundary, we notice, runs "due south" from the mouth of James river to the state line. Then comes the puzzling statement: "Thence with said line of Campbell township to the beginning." Now, the lines of Campbell township, as set forth in the records, would not touch the south line of the state by twenty miles at least!

But to continue: "Oliver Township—All that portion of territory lying and being south of Spring river, and not included in any other township."

At the second term of the court, held in June, 1833, Sugar Creek township was created, and described as follows:
"Beginning on the south boundary of Missouri where Brown's lane crosses the Missouri line; thence north with Brown's lane to the dividing ridge between the waters of Friend's river and Colonel Oliver's Fork; thence east to Elkhorn Spring; still east to the Paddler's cabin on Flat creek. Thence southeast to White river; thence up White river to Roaring river and the Missouri line."

Note that "still east to the Peddler's cabin on Flat creek"! Flat creek today heads in Barry county near the county-seat, Cassville, and after a circuitous route empties into James river near the center of Stone county. But where the "Peddler's cabin" was located history does not hint, and no man living, probably, could positively say.

Most of the seemingly unintelligible and confusing descriptions in these recorded township boundaries arose from the fact that much of the land included in Greene county had not yet been surveyed by the government at the time these townships were set off. So, instead of being able to say, a County Court in these days would, "Beginning at such and such a corner, section, township and range," etc., the pioneer court had, perforce, to depend upon such local landmarks and farm settlements as happened to be best known to themselves, or to the men appearing before them, to ask for such a delimitation of territory as suited their wishes. Even in the regions where the government had sectionized the land, unless the pioneer settlers were much better posted upon the numbering of lands than are their descendants of the present day, not one man in a hundred of them could have given the correct section, township and range of any tract, however, much he might have wished to do so.

Thus, with much painstaking effort, the new county was divided into townships. At the same term of court there were appointed numerous justices of the peace and constables for the newly formed subdivisions, and from thenceforth the machinery of county government was in operation, not to be wholly suspended even during those four years when Greene county was in the very vortex of civil war.



1 See "Territorial Laws of Missouri," comprising all laws passed in Missouri between 1824 and 1836. Vol. 2, page 306, chap. 235.

2 The names of the rivers mentioned in this description of Jackson Township, seem to have been stumbling blocks to the fathers. Pomme De Terre is here spelled "Pomada Tarr." In many of the old records it is rendered "Pomely Tarr." The actual spelling, Pomme De Terre, is French and literally translated is "Apples of the Earth," or as we would, say, "Potatoes." Sac, too, is here spelled with a "K", which is not correct.

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