Pioneers of Webster County

From The History of Laclede, Camden, Dallas, Webster, Wright, Texas, Pulaski, Phelps and Dent Counties, Missouri, published by The Goodspeed Publishing Co. in 1889


The beginning of Indian settlement on the summit of the Ozarks is a mystery of the ages. About the beginning of this century the Osages visited the mountains in their annual hunts, and a few years later, when the tide of white settlement spread westward from the Alleghany Mountains, new tribes, hitherto unknown on this side of the Mississippi, came here. On the old McMahan lands, near Seymour, are the first burial grounds of the Shawnees west of the Mississippi River.

The history of the movement of this tribe from the Auglaize and Ottawa Valleys of Ohio, toward the new land reserved for the Indians, in 1834, in what was then considered the Far West, is a pathetic one. This old burial ground is a grim memorial of their travels. As other tribes were moved to the Indian country in 1834, and later years, graves marked their advance, and many of the red hunters of the East left their bones in this section of Missouri.

  White Pioneers

William Mooney, a settler of the White River country, visited this part of Missouri early in the thirties, and located for a short time in the present Washington Township. Some short time after the Flanagan family located within the boundaries of what is now the town of Marshfield, on the road to the mineral springs, near the sand quarries. Equidistant from the court-house square, to the southwest, the Bowers settled, and about three miles west John Starnes (Staines) made a clearing. John Foster thinks that Spencer, James, William, and Arch. Marlin settled on the Marlin Prairie with their father, Thomas Marlin, about 1833-34. For years after new settlers would come in, locate, by sight, their farms as near the section lines as possible, and make mutual agreement that in purchasing from the United States the same lines should be observed as in the first location. The McMahans, Marlins, Fosters, Alcorns and nearly all the old families had experiences of this class, and in every case the verbal agreement was faithfully carried out.

Lazarus Nichols settled three miles west of Marshfield, on Pleasant Prairie, in 1837 or 1838, buying a claim from John Starnes, who had about three acres of wheat sown that year, and a little log cabin erected. Starnes had five or six children then. Two or three years ago he moved to Kansas, since which time nothing has been heard of him. The Allens, Lettermans, Griers, Silvys, Puryears, Haggards, Blunts, Bails, Peter Jump, the Rhodes family, Tom B. Neaves (afterward a representative of Greene County in the Legislature), the Haymes, Kellers, the Jones family, L. S. Case (of Greene County), Nathan T. Smith, the Bodenhamers, Pattersons, John L. Prior, Joiner Gentry, the Cardwells, Peter F. Hailey, the Burfords, Cantrells, Martins, Abram Hargus, the Hartleys, Hoovers, the Davis family, and others named in the list of original land buyers, were all in the county. Mr. Nichols died in 1876. He was born in North Carolina in 1808; moved with his parents to Kentucky in 1812, where, in 1828, he married Eliza Morris, who died in Webster County in 1855. He settled in Missouri in 1829. James M. Allen, who died in October, 1888, settled near Marshfield in 1836, but in 1864 removed to Wright County, near its western line. Mrs. Elizabeth Turner came here with her husband in 1839, surviving until November, 1880. Adaline Allen, who came from Tennessee when two years old, died here December 12, 1888. I. L. Hamilton, born in Tennessee in 1836, came a few years later to Webster County with his parents, where, in 1857, he married Mary A. Smith. He died in January, 1885. William H. Smith, born in Webster County in 1826, died January 11, 1880. His father, David D. Smith, and father-in-law, Jesse Bruton, were among the earliest pioneers of Webster. Wright Holland, who came from Tennessee in 1843, died April 16, 1879. He was instrumental in having the county seat located at Marshfield, and was commissioner for its survey. In 1863 he was appointed sheriff by Gov. Gamble, and later was elected sheriff and collector. Robert B. Day came from Kentucky in 1836, and located his home in Washington Township; three years after the McMahans arrived. Valentine Garner, John Smith (who died in September, 1880), Peter Jump, W. L. Burford, William Shook, the McMahans, Vincent and Caleb Haymes were among the pioneers with the Childress family, Jacob Good, the McCormachs, Brashears, Vittatoes, Letchworths, Callaways and the Dennys. It was related by Peter Jump that in building his first cabin he had to go north of St. Luke for help. J. Watts, who came to Missouri in 1838, and to what is now Webster County in 1840, when he settled in the southwest corner, visited Marshfield for the first time in December, 1878. The list might be continued indefinitely, but as the greater number of representative families are referred to in the pages devoted to personal history and reminiscences, mention here is unnecessary. James Smith, one of the oldest inhabitants of the county in 1887, died near Niangua, December 28, aged ninety-two years. Gov. McClurg came early in the forties, and in 1846 established his trading house where Hazelwood, of latter-day fame, stood. Dr. Clay, who is still here, was the physician of the mountain settlement at this time.


The slave owners of Webster County owned less than 100 slaves in 1860; but many of them, seeing the shape political life was assuming, either sold their slaves in Missouri or took them South to dispose of them. The county in 1850 had 220 slaves, owned by seventy-three persons.


The pioneer physician of the county is Dr. Clay, still a resident of Marshfield. Coming in 1846 to the McClurg settlement, at Hazelwood, his practice extended within a circle of over 150 miles for many years. Dr. Upshaw resided about a mile west, near the Burford Store. Dr. B. F. Cloud came next, and was joined in 1857 by Dr. Thompson, a celebrated physician. In 1857 Dr. Isaiah Cole came, and Dr. Thompson moved toward Texas. Dr. C. S. Wallis, Dr. N. H. Hampton and Dr. Robert Wallis came in 1858, and Dr. James Wallis came in 1861. Dr. J. S. Sellers served in the First Louisiana Confederate Cavalry, was made prisoner, paroled, and in 1862 or 1863 came to Marshfield, where he taught school in the old academy until succeeded by J. M. Leeds. Dr. Sellers studied under Dr. Hampton and graduated at the St. Louis University. Dr. Raymond, of Springfield, Mo., and Dr. Hunt, of Wellington, Kas., were also. here long ago.

Dr. Fenton Young followed Dr. Pack at the close of the war, and opened a drug store. In 1866 Dr. William Jennings came and opened a drug store, and remained until his removal to Waco, Tex. Dr. W. H. James came about 1875, and is still a resident of the town. Young Dr. James, now of Springfield, and Dr. J. R. Wallis, now of La Due, Mo., practiced here a short time. Drs. Williams, Wilson, Campbell, Florence, Highfill and Jolly came here in later years. Dr. Clay came from Charles County about 1846. Drs. A. J. Watts, White, Hackney, Funnell, of Seymour; Dr. Bailey, an old physician of the Waldo neighborhood; Dr. Brooks and a few others named in subsequent pages are also included in the list.