Polk County, Missouri American History and Genealogy Project

"Missouri As It Was in 1867"
J. R. Parker, Lippincott and Co., Philadelphia

From the "Polk County" section of the above book:

This county is situated in the southwestern portion of the State, and bounded on the north by Hickory, on the east by Dallas, on the south by Greene, and on the west by Dade and Cedar Counties, and has an area of 624 square miles. Population in 1860, 10,030; slaves 528, valued at $316,800, and 12 free colored.

Polk County was first settled in 1810 by immigrants from Tennessee; and at the present time a large portion of the population is from that State. The county was organized in 1834, and named in honor of Tennessee's favorite statesman, James K. Polk.

Physical Features. The topography of this county is agreeably diversified with rolling prairies, picturesque hills, and wooded valleys. The surface is generally undulating, except along the streams, where it is broken in many places by rugged cliffs and rocky hills.

Prairies. The Twenty-five Mile Prairie covers an area of twenty square miles in the northern portion of the county, and is separated on the east by the Pomme de Terre from Sentinel and Flint Prairies, which lie in the midst of the oak woodlands of the northeast. On the east Buffalo Head Prairie extends for several miles, and near the center of the county is Three Mound Prairie ; so called from three mounds of vermicular sandrock that rise above the surface. There also are Pleasant Prairie in the southern, and Crisp Prairie on the western borders, and Valley Prairie, which extends from the northwest corner of the county to within nine miles of the center. It is so named from its resemblance to a valley through which a stream appears to have found its way many years ago. It commences at a point nine miles west of the center of the county, and continues in a northwest course to the Osage River, near Oseola, in St. Clair County. The soil is very productive, and many fine farms with their fields of grain and herds of cattle dot the surface. About two-fifths of the county is prairie, which affords excellent facilities for stock raising.

Streams. This county is well supplied with water: creeks and fine springs are abundant. The principal streams are the Little Sac and Pomme de Terre, which are sometimes dignified by the title of rivers, and traverse the county from south to north. The largest tributaries of the Sac are the Slagle; Bear and Walnut Creeks on the east, and Turkey Creek on the west. The Pomme de Terre is a wild, beautiful stream, and dashes along its rocky bed beneath high hills and cedar-capped bluffs of silurian rocks. Its tributaries are Polk and Piper Creeks, and Dry Fork on the west, and Hominy and Lindley on the east.

Geology. Polk County rests upon a formation of magnesian limestone, wliich is easily quarried, and furnishes excellent building rock. In many parts of the county this formation is superlaid with a coarse brown sandstone, contemporaneous with Hugh Miller's "Old Red" series, destitute of fossils and not valuable for building purposes; and under this deposit lies that singular argillaceous sandrock, known as the vermicular or worm-eaten rock ; an estuary deposit containing fresh and salt water shells, and, above this formation, mountain or encrinital limestone is found, which is a fine carbonate, and when burned makes good lime. The bluffs of the Pomme de Terre are magnesian limestone capped with ferruginous sandstone; and in the eastern portion of the county but little of any other formation is found. Sac River cuts through ledges of shelly limestone and thi'ough the vermicular rock into the magnesian series. In portions of the county red sandstone is the prevailing rock. In the bottoms of the Pomme de Terre the remains of the mastodon and mammoth, with other species now extinct, have been found imbeded, with the bones of the bear, buffalo, elk, wolf, etc.

Minerals. No beds or leads of mineral have as yet been discovered in this county ; but lead in small quantities is found in the crevices of the magnesian limestone. In the ferruginous sandstone and in the debris of the vermicular formation, pyrites of iron and sulphuret of zinc is abundant. On the border of Flint Prairie are the traces of "old diggings," which have led many to believe that some valuable mineral has been found and still exists there; but we presume they were made by the aborigines to obtain flint for their arrow-points.

Soils. The most productive soil of the uplands is on the limestone hills of the Sac and its tributaries, while the bottom lands or valleys of the same streams are unsurpassed in fertility. The bottoms of the Pomme de Terre are not so extensive or productive as those of the Sac. The former has a basis of silurian rock; while the latter is formed from the disintegrated carbonate of lime. The soil of the prairies is thin and sandy, but productive. In many parts of the county the land is poor, and the timbered ridges are too rocky and sterile for cultivation.

Springs. There are many fine springs of pure, clear water in this county. Those at Bolivar, Humansville, on Colonel Acock's plantation, and several others are impregnated with sulphate of iron and other minerals. On the western slope of the Sac River, near the village of Orleans, and ten miles southwest from Bolivar, are the celebrated Wallula chalybeate springs, noted for their medicinal properties and for the beauty of their environs. These springs issue from the rocks high up among the wild, romantic hills of the river, into which they pour their health-restoring water. The surrounding of the spring is exceedingly beautiful. High natural terraces and escarpments of a brown color tower high above the narrow valleys and terminate in isolated, grotesque cliffs. Far below, the waters of the Sac are seen gleaming amid the foliage that fringe its banks; while beyond is Pleasant Prairie, with its broad farms and well-cultivated fields; and in the distance the Ozark hills form an indistinct, irregular outline against the horizon. Wallula is fast becoming a "watering-place" of note, and is rapidly growing in public favor and distinction.

Timber. The timber of this county is generally of an inferior quality. On the uplands, post-oak and "black-jack" are the only growth; in the bottoms, walnut, sycamore, hickory, and bur oaks attain a large size. The principal portion of the timber used for building in this county is from the pine hills on White River, about ninety miles distant.

Productions. No hemp is raised here, but tobacco is found to be a sure and profitable crop, and many farmers are turning their attention to its culture. The soil is well adapted to the cereals, roots, and grasses that flourish in this latitude ; corn, oats, wheat, and timothy are considered as certain crops; wheat seldom fails, and yields an average of thirty bushels to the acre. The creek and river bottoms produce immense crops of corn, etc. There are many fine orchards here, and apples, pears, peaches, and plums yield plentifully. The soil is well adapted to the growth of the grape; but as yet no attention has been given to this branch of industry. Indigenous varieties grow in abundance. For the want of facilities for transportation of produce to market, stock growing is considered the most profitable business for farmers. Annually about 2000 horses and mules are taken to the cotton States, and a much larger amount of cattle to St. Louis and other markets. Sheep thrive well and increase rapidly here, the climate being most favorable for their growth. There are four steam and five water power mills; two distilleries, and four carding machines in the county.

Churches and Schools. The Baptist, Christian, and Methodist are the principal religious denominations, and are about equal in point of numbers. There are 56 places of worship in the county, and 14 ministers of the gospel. Of schools there are 63 in the county, at which 3433 children are taught, and the amount paid teachers in 1860 was $7275. Besides the district schools, three well-conducted academies are supported by private subscription. The educational interests are not well regulated, and the school fund is only sufficient to maintain the schools about one-half the time.

BOLIVAR, the county-seat, and principal town in the county, has a population of 700. It is pleasantly situated near the center of the county, and is surrounded by a heavy body of timber, and is 30 miles north of Springfield, and 50 miles southwest of Warsaw, on the great emigrant road leading from the Missouri River to Texas. A telegraph line and daily coaches of the best class connect Bolivar with the east, north, and south. The public buildings are a large, well-built court-house in the public square, and two brick churches belonging to the Methodist and Baptist denominations. Of business houses in Bolivar, there are 7 dry goods stores, 1 clothing store, 1 drug store, 2 saddler shops, 2 blacksmith shops, 2 carding machines, 2 newspapers, 4 doctors, 4 lawyers, and 2 hotels.

Of other towns in the county there are Humansville in the northwest corner, population 200; Pleasant Hope in the southeast corner, population 60; Orleans in the southwest, population 50 -- fine water power here; Brighton in the southern, population 50; and Fair Play in the western portion of the county, with a population of 40.

This website created June 3, 2015 by Sheryl McClure.
2015 Missouri American History and Genealogy Project