HOWARD COUNTY, MISSOURI, IN 1881
Kenneth Westhues, University of Waterloo, 2008
An historical resource published as part of the webpage on Boone's Lick Literature, which itself forms part of the K. Westhues Homepage. Thanks to Anne Westhues for the gift of the original newspaper in which the article summarized here appeared: The Industrial World, Commercial Advertiser (Chicago, February 24, 1881, Vol. XVI, No. 7).
All students of Boone's Lick history will share my delight
in a 15,000-word description of the county at the center of the region, as it
looked in 1881. Regrettably, the author is not identified. It is probably the
publisher of the business newspaper in which the article appeared, or a journalist
in its employ. Following is the link to the complete article, a relatively large
PDF which may take a few minutes to download; you'll need to magnify the view):
The Western Empire, a Graphic Outline..., Howard County
The article begins with a profile of the county's physical features ("half encircled by the Missouri River," at the "equable mean between the extremes of southern humidity and northern cold"), its natural resources (salt springs, timber, coal, and soils "among the finest in the world"). The river solves the transportation question, since a half dozen steamboat landings give "the cheapest water transportation known for about eight months of the year and forever putting a bar to undue railway exactions."
What makes this snapshot of the county so fascinating is its timing: fifteen years after the end of the Civil War, when the tensions and stigma of having been on the losing side still dominated the local culture, but amidst resurgence of the agrarian economy and growth of industry. No railroads had yet reached the county before the war began, but by 1881, three major lines linked it to eastern markets: the Chicago & Alton through Glasgow and the new town of Armstrong, a spur of the Wabash to Glasgow, and the Missouri, Kansas, Texas running from north to south through Fayette and four other shipping stations.
The author remarks on the curiously low land values: $3 to $12 per acre for "wild land," $12 to $35 per acre for improved farms. Similar land in Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio is said to sell for several times as much. The reason, according to the article, is that half the farmers lost everything in the war and "sold out at ruinous prices in order to save anything," while "half the young men" in the county left for Texas, Kansas, or Colorado. Few newcomers have settled since the war, moreover, on account of "groundless prejudice" against Missouri culture, a "misapprehension" that "Missouri is settled by border ruffians, who have no respect for law, order, constituted authority, morals, religion or culture, and that shot-guns, whiskey, cock-fighting, bank-robbing, train-wrecking, bull-dozing and proscription of northern people are everywhere rampant and dominant."
The bulk of the article is devoted to describing, one by one, the county's main towns: Fayette, Estill, Glasgow, Armstrong, and Roanoke. In relation to each one the largest nearby farms are mentioned by name: Hazelhurst, Walnut Shade, and Woodbourn near Fayette, Woodland Stock Farm and Fair View Farm near J. R. Estill's own 2,000-acre spread, Glen Eden, Hackberry Grove, Cedar Grove and others near Glasgow. The geography of the county appears to have been still defined by these large farms, previously called plantations, almost as much as before the war.
There are also detailed descriptions of the county's institutions of higher learning: Central and Howard Colleges in Fayette, the Pritchett School Institute and Lewis College in Glasgow. The schools of Glasgow "have not only given the town a fair fame abroad but have given an air of social and intellectual refinement to every department of local life and made this delightful old river-side city one of the most charming places of residence in the western country."
Far from being a mere public-relations or propaganda piece, the article concludes with a blunt statement of the county's drawbacks: the need for more and better labor, wasteful farming practices, and farms that are too large and that need to be broken into smaller ones of 60, 80, or 100 acres. The article calls for immigration of "hundreds of farmers from the eastern States, the Canadas and Europe, to cultivate small farms in all the staple grains, grasses and vegetables, to build cozy and pretty homes on every 80 acres of land in the county; to plant hundreds of orchards, vineyards and wine presses along the bluff district; to found modern butter and cheese dairies; to grown broom corn and make brooms for the West, and to develop scores of other standard industries now hardly known here."
Interestingly, the author hopes these immigrants will not all come from the same stock as the original settlers: "They want a little more mixture of the races for the dissipation of the local and provincial conceit and prejudice that is sure to obtain among a homogeneous people. These Kentuckians and Virginians and their other southern neighbors are as noble a race of people as ever spoke the English language, but there is nothing like a generous mixing up of people from all countries. It gives a liberal, cosmopolitan tone to society, commerce, culture, agriculture, religion and politics, wears into prejudice, develops enterprise, diversifies industry, and makes a progressive people, all-powerful in a splendid aggregation of the best impulse, sympathy, knowledge, thought and experience of all the peoples represented. Howard County offers welcome to good men and women from all lands...."