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History Early Settlers in Douglas County Church, Trading, Etc.

Church, Trading, Etc.

Roughnecks make fun of preachers; how one "preacher" turned the tables; Trading, Clothing, Courting, Roads, Justice, Post Offices

Early settlers in front of the country storeAs the county filled with settlers and adventurers, stores were built and post offices were established to supply the ever increasing needs of the people. The first store in what is now Douglas County was owned and operated by Austin Reynolds. It was located on Cowskin Creek about two miles above where Highway 14 now crosses it. This store was established in 1854 and remained at that location for three years. In 1857 Austin Reynolds moved his store to a location near the west side of the present town square of Ava, Missouri. Interview: Aug. 25, 1938, Prov Anderson, the oldest resident of Douglas County who recently celebrated his 100th birthday, at his home 2 miles west of Blanch, Mo.

The second store in the county was established by Bill Keltner at Vera Cruz, Mo. in 1856. He was both merchant and postmaster for more than one year. His store was located about one mile north of the present site of Vera Cruz. A little over a year after going into business at Vera Cruz Bill Keltner sold out and went into a partnership with Austin Reynolds. Less than a year later Austin Reynolds sold out to his son Mose Reynolds and retired from active business. This partnership between Mose Reynolds and Bill Keltner was dissolved less than a year later and Bill Keltner went into business to himself. This partnership dissolved because of an argument over a two cent postage stamp. Interview: June 6, 1938, John Tompkins, son of the first postmaster in this county, at his home two miles northeast of Ava, Mo.

The first post office in what is now Douglas County was known as California Barrens. It was established in 1855 with George Tompkins as post master. The mail was brought from St. Louis by horseback. There were sixteen relay stations between here and St. Louis where fresh horses were obtained and it took from fourteen to eighteen hours to carry the mail from St. Louis to California Barrens. About 1858 this post offfice was moved near Reynolds and Keltners stores. From these two stores and California barrens post office there grew a village which was incorporated in 1870 under the name of Militia Springs. It was so called because during the Civil War a company of militia had a post near some springs on the north part of town. In 1881 the name of this village was changed to Ava. It was named by Doctor Sellers, and English emigrant, after the town of his birth in England. From this humble beginning grew the present town of Ava. Interview: Sept. 2, 1938, Thomas Kay, former Superintendent of Schools at Ava, MO. and former County Superintendent of Schools, at his home in Ava, Mo.

The early settlers had very little chance to have church services. They had to wait until some wandering circuit rider came through the country before they had any opportunity to have church. Then many times the lawless element would break up church. One of their favorite methods of breaking up church was to shoot out the lights. One time the lawless element hazed a bunch of wild horses in where they were having church. Once a bunch made a preacher dance by shooting at his feet. Another time some one trapped a wild cat and shoved it in a window where they were having church. Once they kidnapped a preacher tied him on a wild horse and shipped the horse into the church. One circuit rider, a man named Devlin, who was passing through the country turned the tables on the jokesters. He advanced to the pulpit turned and announced he wished to make a few announcements. He said "I understand you have been having bad order here. I intend to have order here if I have to kill every man in the house to get it. It any of you don't like it make your play". As he finished speaking his congregation was amazed to see he held a gun in each hand. He looked his congregation over for a minute then started to preach. No one saw where his guns came from or where they went when he replaced them. Not a one of the lawless elements made a sound during his sermon. One of the jokesters said afterward, "When a man can draw so fast I can't see it and me looking right at him I figure it would have been just plain suicide to have started something". Devlin preached there two nights and then moved on. Three weeks later two Texas Rangers, with extradition papers, were here hunting him. It was never learned whether they caught him or not. Interview: June 8, 1938, Myron Pease, former county judge and National Peoples Party delegate, at his home at West Plains, Mo; Interview: Aug. 9, 1938, Sherman Berry, one of the few remaining old settlers, at his home two miles east of Trail.

In 1821 Missouri became a state but this country was so isolated that it was several months before the people here knew of it. Whether it was a state or a territory meant very little to these people. Even the law did not come to this country until years later. Thomas J. Walker and Luther Hardway, Our State of Missouri, published 1928. The Macmillan Co., New York, New York. p.117.

People now hunt bears, panthers, and wolves for sport, but in those days they were hunted down and killed to protect the cattle herds. Every man had a pack of stag hounds. These dogs would run down and kill a wolf and have been known to kill bears and panthers. Supplies were brought twice a year when the drovers returned from driving the cattle to market. These settlers had their own meat, their own flour and meal, and their own sweetening in the form of sorghum molasses; so the main supplies brought back were salt, gun powder, lead for bullets, spices, and factory woven goods to make the women's Sunday dresses and the men's Sunday shirts and underclothing for the women. Deer skin was still used for clothing and the footwear was usually home made cowhide boots or deer skin moccasins. Their everyday clothing was homemade. Most of them sheared their own sheep, washed and carded the wool, spun it into thread or yarn, wove their own cloth, and cut and made their own clothing. The young men wore but one garment most of the time, a homespun shirt that reached to knee or ankle or anywhere between. Many of the young men wore this garment until they were old enough to start courting. They usually started courting at fifteen or sixteen years of age, and a boy was considered backward who was not married by the time he reached nineteen years of age. Girls who reached the age of eighteen unmarried were considered old maids and a disgrace to themselves and their families. Business was simple in those days. It was mainly barter or trade and very rarely was any money involved. The cattle that were shipped to market were traded for supplies and if any surplus remained this was placed to a man's credit with the stock buyer or merchant who sold him his supplies. A great many times large sums of money were left for years without being drawn upon. If a man desired to borrow a sum of money for any purpose his word as to when he could repay the money was considered all that was necessary. No note or security was given. If a man sold a farm to another man, a bill of sale was all that was considered necessary. Interview: May 1, 1938, Mary J. Garton, wife of one of the first doctors in the county, at her home in Ava, Mo

The first deed was given in 1855 by Adam Fleetwood and his wife Abijill. The deed was given to R. V. Durham, circuit court and recorder of Ozark County. A lawyer from Springfield had to write the deed as no one in this country knew how. Quit Claim Deed and Record Book H. Douglas County, page 255. Rerecorded in 1889.

The first road was built in what is now Douglas County in 1853. It ran from a salt lick down in Arkansas to Rolla which had by this time surplanted (sic) St. Louis as the trading point for this section of the country. This road followed game trails and cow paths through the country. The surveyors of that time had the idea that an animal would pick the easiest route from one place to another, so instead of using his head and eyes the surveyor followed the path of the game and the cow. In traversing these roads today you can tell where the game or cattle detoured to places where the grass grew greener and more luscious. By 1855 there were three roads in the county. Namely the Salt Road, the Jackson Port Road and the Springfield-Rockbridge Road. These roads were little better then game trails in fact travelers frequently would leave the road unknowingly to follow a game trail. All freighting and most travel was done by ox wagon. Single travelers sometimes went horseback but nearly all family travel was done by ox wagon. Interview: Sept. 2, 1938, Thomas Kay, former Superintendent of Schools at Ava, MO. and former County Superintendent of Schools, at his home in Ava, Mo.

Both county and circuit court were occasion for festivity. All the settlers who could possibly get away from home would go and camp for the entire week at the county seat. They would attend court during part of each day and the rest of the day would be spent horse racing, drinking, fighting, wrestling, and playing games. The most interesting cases were always well attended. The lawyers, their clients, the witnesses and sometimes the Judge were freely discussed by the spectators during court. It is told that a substitute judge was called from St. Louis one time when the regular judge was ill. A witness' veracity was being questioned by one of the lawyers. One of the spectators said quite loudly, "Why, everybody knows he is a liar and a hog thief." The judge fined him five dollars for contempt. Nothing daunted he handed the judge ten dollars saying, "Jedge, it would take ten dollars to show my contempt of the hog thief."Interview: May 4, 1938, Mary Hughes, wife of a Civil War Veteran, at her home in Ava, Mo.

Courtesy of the Douglas County Genealogical and Historical Society Journal, December 1984 and December 1986. The text is from “First White Settlers” in the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection, U.S. Work Projects Administration, 1935-42, Missouri Historical Records Survey-Douglas County.