Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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Location: Missouri

I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Youngers & Pinkertons

I mentioned in a previous post a few months ago that I passed through Roscoe on my way to the Sedalia State Fair, and I noted at that time that Roscoe is near where the infamous Younger brothers had a shootout in March of 1874 with agents of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. I co-wrote an article about the shootout that appeared in Wild West Magazine a few years ago, and a similar version of the article appears as a chapter in my book about notorious incidents of the Ozarks.
One of the difficulties I encountered in researching the article was in trying to determine the exact route of the Chalk Level Road, along which the shootout and the events leading up to the shootout occurred. The Chalk Level Road going north out of Roscoe followed roughly the route of present-day Highway E but definitely not exactly the same route. For example, while modern-day Highway E skirts the eastern edge of Roscoe and then angles back to the northwest, the old Chalk Level Road did just the opposite--that is, it started from the center of Roscoe and angled northeast past the Theodrick Snuffer home, which sat almost a mile east of present-day Highway E.
I am currently working on a book about the battles of Newtonia, and I find that I am once again encountering difficulty determining the exact routes of old roads. The routes of some of the roads in and out of Newtonia are fairly well established, but figuring out the routes of others is an inexact science. As I understand it, section lines in Newton County were not drawn until after the Civil War; so most of the old roads simply followed the path of least resistance. But determining exactly where they ran is not easy, since Missouri road maps from the Civil War era are almost nonexistent.

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Anonymous Bob said...

My g/g/g grandfather purchased land in Newton County from the General Land Office in Springfield in May, 1842. According to Goodspeed's (page 168), some sales in the county occurred as early as 1839. Before an area was opened for entry, it had to be surveyed.

No doubt, in an era when roads were built by hand, many old roads followed the path of least resistance -- but it wasn't for lack of section lines.

November 30, 2009 at 2:28 PM  
Anonymous Bob said...

I should add that "entry" in my earlier post means entry in the legal records of the General Land Office, not physical entry. Many settlers lived on their lands for years before the lands were surveyed and could be formally purchased. I believe living on the land created preemption rights -- i.e. an actual settler had first right to purchase when the land was finally surveyed and opened to entry.

November 30, 2009 at 2:37 PM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

Thanks for the clarification. I know this is similar to what you told me by email a few weeks ago, but I keep getting conflicting information. Somebody at the genealogy room of the Neosho library told me townships, range lines, etc. weren't established in Newton County until about 1870, and there is a similar statement in one of the studies that was done a few years ago about the Newtonia battlefields. What you say, though, is convincing. Perhaps they just didn't respect section lines in the early days when it came to building roads as much as they did in later years. Could that be the case?

December 2, 2009 at 3:51 PM  
Anonymous Bob said...


Newton County was surveyed in the late 1830s or very early 1840s (the survey may have dragged out over a period of time), and the township, range, section grid was laid out then. If you go to the Recorder's Office in Neosho and look at conveyances from this early period, you'll find the property descriptions all follow the township, range, section format.

Exactly when the section line system of roads was established, however, I couldn't say. I'm pretty sure it goes back to the 19th century,but don't know whether it antedates the Civil War. I've poked around the internet without finding anything helpful on the subject.

I've also read many of the surviving Southwest Missouri newspapers between the Civil War & the turn of the century. If the section line road system was new in this period, you'd think it would have attracted some newspaper attention, but I don't recall anything about it.

As a long shot, you might email MoDOT and see if they know the legal history of the section line road system.

December 3, 2009 at 4:02 PM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

On double checking, I discovered that the exact statement in the study that was done on the Newtonia battlefields refers to the "section line system of roads" not being in existence at the time of the Civil War, not to the section lines themselves. So, apparently you are both right. Like you, though, I don't exactly when the section line system of roads was implemented.

December 4, 2009 at 5:09 PM  

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