Ripley Co MO   

From the History and Families of Ripley Co. MO
This is the cover of this beautiful book that would make a perfect addition to any genealogy library.

The followng article is part of The History of Ripley Co MO up to 1850.  It does not include  info after 1850.  It is reproduced here with the permission of the Ripley Co. Historical Society and the publisher, the holders of the copyright.

It is reproduced here with the idea in mind that if you don't own this book you should consider purchasing it.  The third printing is available and can be ordered from the Historical Society.  It is one of the few resources the Historical Society has for funds and without their assistance our genealogy research would be seriously lacking.

Ripley County Historical Society

105 Washington Street, Doniphan MO 63935


Meetings are held on the 2nd Monday of each month at 7:00 p.m. at the Doniphan Community Center at 105 Washington Street, Doniphan MO. Individual membership fees are $15.00 per year (January 1 - December 31) and includes 4 issues of "The Ripley County Heritage" the Society's official publication.

Ripley County History Book

  The price is now $60.00.  If needed, add $6 for shipping and handling. 

The First Settlers of Ripley Co.
Just prior to the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 a French trapper, Francis ADOR, was living with
the Indians on Current River at the site of Doniphan.  But how long he stayed, and where he later
went is a mystery.  In an interview with historian HUME in 1900, Lindzy DUDLEY reported
that the first European resident was a "Wees RILEY" who arrived in 1802 with a Delaware
Indian wife who soon died in childbirth.  In 1804 in St. Genevieve, he married Hanner
WALKER of Vincennes, IN.  They returned to Ripley County where he died in 1837.   HUME's
writings refer to RILEY as a Spaniard, probably because he came west from Mine Le Motte,
which was near Potosi and was Spanish territory in the late 1700s.

Another early pioneer, and perhaps the first American, known to have settled in the area was
Isaac KELLEY who by 1808 had traversed Current River again and again and found his chosen
spot, later called KELLEY Plantation, seven miles north of the present day Ripley/Carter
County line where he established an Indian trading post.

Earlier in 1803, William HIX settled on the southern border of Ripley County near the Indian trading
post of Buckskull, late the site of Currentview.  HIX may have been the first settler, but even
more significant to local history, he established a ferry service across Current River at Pitman,
AR, thus demonstrating the importance of the Natchitoches Trail.  The new arrivals found much
of the future county covered with an open forest consisting mainly of red, white, and black oak,
with walnut, hickory and elm on the red limestone soils.  In the northern and northwestern parts
of the county, short leaf yellow pine was dominant on the drier and chertier areas of Clarksville
silt loam.  Red and white oak and walnut were on the lower slopes.  The southeast lowlands were
swampy with cypress, tupelo gum and other swamp species.

The Louisiana Purchase had made southeast Missouri part of America in 1803 and by 1812
Congress created the Territory of Missouri and what eventually became Ripley County lay within
New Madrid County.  Three years later Lawrence County was established, which included all of
southern Missouri west of the St. Francis River as well as a portion of northern Arkansas. The
configuration changed again in 1818 with the creation of Wayne County.  This massive county
included one-fifth of the land lying within the Missouri Territory and Greenville was the county

The first permanent white settler in what was to be the Doniphan area may have been young
Lemuel KITTRELL (ca 1804-1865).  His father Samuel had brought the family from Kentucky
to Cane Creek in present day Butler County in 1819.  Lemuel was spending time in Ripley
County by the next year and homesteaded a farm on a bluff overlooking Current River just south
of Doniphan probably in the early 1820s, given his age.  He built a small grist and carding mill
just below his farm on the river.

Other families entered what is today's Ripley County before 1820.  Micajah and Sarah HARRIS
moved west after the 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquakes.  The HARRIS family, with five
children including sons Washington (born 1813) and Travis (born 1815), built a one-room log
house along the Natchitoches Trail on a bluff over-looking Harris Creek just south of Oxly by
1816 when Micajah was listed as a Lawrence County Justice of the Peace.  A relative, Essex
HARRIS, lived nearby.  Loban ASHENBRINNER and "old man PITMAN" were living in the
county by 1810 according to Lindzy DUDLEY, and a Mr. CUNNINGHAM was running the
Buckskull trading post as early as 1804.  Judge John POWERS was born on Little Black in 1820
and on his death in 1889 The Prospect News called him "the oldest native-born citizen of Ripley

In Jan 1819, explorer, geologist and ethnologist Henry Rowe SCHOOLCRAFT passed through
Ripley County on his way from Batesville, AR to Potosi, MO.  SCHOOLCRAFT, who was on
the return leg of a round trip through the interior of Missouri and Arkansas, crossed Current
River on the HIX ferry.  The explorer, who would later lead the expedition that discovered the
source of the Mississippi River described the Current as "a noble stream... and affords in its
whole length, bodies of alluvial lands well worthy the attention of the planter and speculator."

Traveling up the Old Military Road, SCHOOLCRAFT spent the night of January 25 at the
HARRIS cabin six miles northeast of HIX's ferry and found breakfast at a cottage three miles
further on the next morning.  He was soon in the Little Black River valley and observed, "the
newness of the buildings, fences, and clearings, indicate here, as at every other inhabited part of
the road for the last 100 miles, a recent and augmenting population.  This is chiefly composed of
emigrants from Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, Kentucky and Tennessee."

Pioneers, mostly of Scots-Irish descent, from those eastern states continued to move west and
what would be Ripley County soon found REDFORDS, SANDLINS, VANDOVERS,
CAPPSes, EPPSes and others moving in from Cane Creek as KITTRELL had done earlier.
The MERRELLS settled in what would become the Pratt community in 1824.  William
LITTLE and Thomas PULLIAM homesteaded on Fourche Creek, John Elijah DALTON was
on the south fork of Fourche in 1828 and Thomas PRICE could be found in the Mill Creek area.
Those holding Ripley County land patents prior to 1830 were Isaac KELLEY, Thomas
CHILTON, John William GEORGE,  James SANDLIN, Philip GARTMAN, and Samuel

Some of the early settlers were hunters and squatters who moved on, but the ones local history
recognized were usually subsistence farmers.  Single family or small extended family farmsteads
were the unit of settlement.  In their 1975 examination of the settlement pattern of the Little
Black River watershed, archeologists Dr. James E. and Cynthia PRICE wrote. "The farm usually
consisted of a log cabin, either single or double cribbed with fences and at least one outbuilding.
Horses, cattle, hogs, and chickens were kept.  Corn, which was the staple food, was grown in
small family plots for family use and was processed at home with a stump mortar and a pestle or
small hand mill.  There was a heavy reliance on wild plant foods, particularly cane, acorns and
grass to supply food for the domestic animals."

Hunting provided a large portion of the meat used by early settlers.  The bear was most important
for oil and meat and deer and bison  were highly valued for their hides as well as meat.  Turkey
and elk were hunted as well as beaver, raccoon, rabbit, squirrel and opossum.  Fish was also
common fare as well as wild honey and a wide variety of nuts and fruits.

The early farm was not an isolated, self-sufficient frontier entity. The pioneers, situated
themselves along trade routes and major stream valleys and were part of a wider social-political
setting.  Micajah HARRIS, for example was a road commissioner and a Justice of the Peace for
the Current River area.  The family had a variety of English and American ceramics, cast iron
cooking vessels, clay pipes, glassware and other manufactured items.

Ripley County Formed
The state of Missouri entered the Union on  August 10, 1821, but it was not until January 5, 1833
that the General Assembly formed Ripley County out of a large portion of Wayne County and
established its seat at Van Buren.  The county was named after General Eleazar W. RIPLEY, a New
Hampshire native and War of 1812 hero who had no known connection to Missouri.  Its territory
also encompassed what would later become Oregon, Howell, Carter and Shannon Counties.
Thomas CHILTON represented Ripley County in the state legislature the year after it was
formed.  Court was held in the home of Isaac KELLEY on the west bank of Current River south
of Big Spring until a courthouse was built in Van Buren.  This first county building was a
two-story log structure with two rooms upstairs and two rooms downstairs.  A huge stone
fireplace was built through the center of the building.  The first justices of the county court were
Isaac E KELLEY, John W. GEORGE and Silas M. LORIMONS.  Andrew L. GEORGE was
Circuit Court Clerk, Alfred WHEELER was County Court Clerk and Zimri CARTER was the
Sheriff.  A post office was opened in 1834 and Andrew GEORGE was postmaster.

The 1830s saw slowly increasing settlement along the eastern Ozark escarpment.
PATTERSONS, MURDOCKS,  and KEELS, homesteaded in the Fourche Creek area.
Stephen and Elizabeth SMELSER were on Logan Creek by 1832.  Andrew KELLEY opened a
store on Mill Creek and established a post office in 1837.  Two mills were reported on Current
River.  The 1840 census reported the large area still thinly populated with 2,856 souls.  A few
families were fairly well off as 23 households reported a total of 218 slaves.  Life, however,
wasn't easy for most.  Flu, pneumonia, cholera and malaria were present.  In a July 16, 1844 letter
to their daughter Sally's family, Douglas and Elizabeth MERRILL wrote, "The winter sickness
waved wonderfully last winter.  Swept off many persons."

Early roads:  The Trail of Tears
The Natchitoches Trail continued to be central to the county's development and place in
American history.  An expedition to the Rocky Mountains commanded by Major Stephen H.
LONG crossed Current River at HIX's ferry in 1820.  As early as 1827 it was being used as a
post road with riders carrying the mail weekly from Greenville to Batesville, AR and back.  In
the early 1830s the U. S. Army widened and improved the Natchitoches and it soon became
known as the old Military Road.  Ripley County's first tourists, Englishman George
FEATHERSTONHAUGH and son, and Germans Frederick GERSTAECKER and Dr. George
ENGELMANN, journeyed separately down the Old Military Road in the 1830s and wrote
extensively of their adventures.  The HARRIS cabin near Oxly was a rest stop and is mentioned
in the journals of SCHOOLCRAFT, LONG, and FEATHERSTONHAUGH.  In the 1820s
many families certainly traveled that southwesterly route, following the direction of Stephen F.  
AUSTIN of Potosi, MO, to Texas where they could get cheap land.  In the 1830s Missourians,
including Ripley County men like the BURLISONS - James, Joseph, and Preacher Jonathan -
went down the Trail to fight for Texas independence.

In 1835 a treaty between the U. S. Government and the Cherokee nation took away the remainder
of Cherokee land in the east and their forced migration to Indian Territory began.  Although the
Old Military Road would have been the most likely route for the Cherokees to travel from Cape
Girardeau to Indian Territory, later Oklahoma, it wasn't the most frequently used trail.  The
common route was to the north from  Cape Girardeau through Farmington, Caledonia,
Waynesville and Springfield, MO.  Provisions were more readily available along that more
settled route.

One group of about 1200 Cherokee, the BENGE Party, did come down the Cape Girardeau Road
in the harsh winter of 1838-1839, passed through Wappapello and forded the Current River
above Pitman's Ferry at about where the state line today crosses the river.  According to Wash
HARRISS' widow, they camped one night in a field across from her cabin.  This detachment was
later reported arriving in Batesville, AR making the Old Military Road part of the Trail of Tears.
Historian HUME aptly characterized the meaning of the Road when he described it as "one of
the oldest and most interesting roads in the Middle West, because it is woven into the warp and
woof of our pioneer life in such a way as to make it inseparable from our national history."

There were other roads that also served as avenues for the pioneers.  In 1820 a road was started
from Potosi to Little Rock, AR that at first passed by KITTRELL's mill and crossed Current
River below it.  To the north it became known as the Greenville Road and to the south as the
Pochantas Road.  Overall, it was the St. Louis to Little Rock Road and was a Butterfield Stage
route before the Civil War.  The Bellevue Road was an early route that came down from Van
Buren through the western portion of the county and ended at Pocahontas.  It paralleled what is
now J highway south, then east to Briar, on to Mill Creek and left the state at what would later be

The Founding of Doniphan
In the early 1840s Ripley County began to shrink with Shannon County being established in 1841
and Oregon County (including what would be Howell County) in 1845.  Thus Ripley was
reduced to the size of today's Ripley and Carter counties.  At the same time a settlement was
growing up around KITTRELL's mill and store that would move and become Doniphan.
Archibald PONDER had a store, saloon and distillery near KITTRELL'S home as early as 1842
and Oeise (Wes) RILEY, son of the first pioneer, had a mill in the area.  George LEE (1780-1853), who had
arrived from Virginia in the l830s, owned 40 acres west of present day Grand Street and south of Brooks
Street, and built a cabin on what is now Washington Street. In 1844 Miles DISMANG settled south of Hurricane
Creek and set up a tannery. Millwright John CHENOWITH was living by Bay Mill Eddy on Current River.  John
WOODS settled on Logan Creek and John F. MARTIN built a tavern/inn on the Natchitoches
Trail near present day Oxly that also became the Martinsburg post office in 1842.

Ever since Ripley Co had been in existence many settlers living south of Van Buren had argued
for moving the county seat in their direction.  After the county was divided, their voices were
heard in the legislature and John F. MARTIN and Martin SANDLIN were named to a
committee to locate a site for a “seat of justice.”

On October 7, 1847 a crowd gathered at the home of George LEE and as historian HUME later
reported, “proceeded to wrangle about what the place should be called and where it should be.”
Some wanted it where Fairdealing now stands; others preferred a place that was later Joe
DALTON’s place near Ponder.  A third group, led by Aden LOWE, favored LEE’s farm as the
site.  The national road from St. Louis to Little Rock passed by this farm which included several
springs.  There was also argument over the name.  Leesburg, Ponderville, Dudleyville and others
were suggested but agreement could not be reached, Hume reported.  The three commissioners,
adjourned into three different camps and met again on October 17th.  More people had joined
LOWE’s group and LEE, who had acquired additional land, offered to donate 32 acres for a
town site.  The argument over the location of the new town had been resolved.

Agreement on the name soon followed.  Col. Alexander Doniphan had recently completed his
epic march into Mexico, which had resulted in victories at the batt1es of Brazito and Sacramento
and the capture of Chihuahua. Doniphan and his lst Missouri Volunteers had returned in triumph
to St. Louis only four months earlier. With Doniphan's exploits still echoing throughout the
nation, and the war not yet over, naming the town after Missouri's latest hero was a natural

The next day LEE's orchard, which adjoined the old Cherokee campground, was selected as the
center of town and the place for the courthouse. The laying out of the town was later described to
HUME by Lindzy DUDLEY in these words..  ''I driv the pegs at the corners of the lots and
streets and Ade LOWE hope the surveyor and Mart SANDLIN  hilt the pegs while l driv them.''
Local legend has it that before the work began a barrel of whiskey was rolled out in celebration.
A tap was driven in the bottom of the barrel and tin cups were hung around the top.  When the
founding fathers finished their work they discovered the town had been located 60 feet over an
adjoining property line and some of the streets intersected at odd angles.  There is still evidence
of this in the town today.

A wooden courthouse was soon erected in LEE's apple orchard (the site of today's courthouse)
and the county government was moved from Van Buren, making Doniphan the new county seat,
effective 1847.  A post office was installed in the building with Anson DEARMON becoming
the first postmaster on January 19, 1848.  The settlement around KITTRELL’s mill, including
PONDER’s store, moved to the new town and a Methodist Church was founded.  A small frame
church building was raised about two blocks north of the Courthouse at the corner of Spring and
Lafayette Streets.  Lemuel KITTRELL was the main sponsor of the church.  In 1849 the Cane
Creek Association of Baptists, led by Elder Timothy REEVES, put up a log church on the
Greenville Road near a spring just east of the present Doniphan High School athletic field.  Prior
to that time circuit-riding preachers conducted church services sporadically, usually outdoors.

.................................... researched and produced by Ray Burson           

This article is continued in "The History and Families of Ripley Co."




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