The Risley History of Howell County Part Two

In my last issue, we explored the first written history of Howell County, written by Samuel A. Risley on the occasion of the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of our nation and read by him in a celebration in West Plains on July 4, 1876. We explored Sam's history, covering the first settlers and the formation of our county and through the end of the Civil War. Howell County was mostly abandoned and had returned a wilderness state when the Risleys arrived in 1870. The Risley history from here on, is written as a witness:
At the close of the war, the refugees from the county began slowly to return. They found only ashes where they left comfortable dwellings; their fields were fenceless and grown up with young timber. It was a desolate outlook and would have discouraged a less resolute people. But the returning people were hardy, energetic, and determined. Many of them were veterans from one or the other army and were not easily discouraged. They put their shoulders to the wheel with a vim and were soon surrounded with the comforts of home. It was like settling a new country. Who is here today who can realize eleven short years ago scarcely a dozen homes stood in Howell County? Who can realize that in the spring of 1866 –only ten years ago- (1876) the blackjack brush grew thick on the site of West Plains?
In 1865 but few families returned. A few more came in 1866, but the country did not begin to settle rapidly until the spring of 1867. During that and the three succeeding years almost all of the old settlers returned. Many new settlers came in 1868-1869 and new farms were opened.
The county was reorganized by the State government in 1866. Peter Lamons, Joseph Speers, and Richard Haven were appointed county justices. W.D. Mustion, sheriff, and W.Z. Buck, clerk. The courthouse being burned the first courts were held in a little log cabin. The records of the county which had been preserved during the war by being hid in a cave, were kept in the clerk's office, a little 10x12 box shanty, which, together with all the records, was destroyed by fire in 1866.
In 1868 E.F. Hynes and others purchased a press and material and established a small newspaper called 'The Type of the Times." The venture was ill-timed and the paper survived only a few months.
In 1869-70 the county received many accessions to its population, and the new settlers being principally from Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. The census of 1870 gave the population of the county as 4,218.
In October 1870, B.F. Olden and Sam A. Risley established the 'South Missouri Journal,' since changed to the 'West Plains Journal,' the first permanent newspaper in Howell County.
The unsettled condition of the county politically, seriously retarded its growth as late as 1870, by which time, however, the bitterness resulting from the war, happily began to wear away, and an era of peace and prosperity dawned on Howell County.
In 1871 the county increased rapidly in population and by 1873 the number of inhabitants was estimated at 8,000.
In the winter of 1873, B.F. Olden, J.H. Maxey, and Sam A. Risley located a steam sawmill in the pinery on Dry Creek, in the western part of the county, and on the 23rd day of February the first steam whistle awoke the echoes in the hills of Howell. In the summer of the same year, C.T. Bolin erected a steam flouring mill in West Plains. Previous to this time the people had been dependent upon water mills, located principally on the North Fork, and which, in times of drought, were very irregular.
In the spring of the present year, H.W. Bolin, Dr. C.M. Ross, P.N. Gulley, and others laid out a town on Hutton Valley, naming it Crossville. This is the second town in the county.
There are at present nine post offices in the country, viz: West Plains, Hutton Valley (or Crossville), Willow Springs, Albino, Chapel, South Fork, Yankee Doodle, Pottersville, and Peace Valley.
During the past three years, the improvements in West Plains and throughout the county have been numerous and of a permanent character. The present population of Howell County is estimated by competent judges at 11,000. The actual population of West Plains on this Centennial Fourth of July is 240.
Sam's wife Alice Cary Risley later wrote this addendum to his writings in a letter to the editor of the West Plains Journal, dated August 20, 1903:
And Declared War on the State of Arkansas – The Republic of Howell
I have for a long time been anxious to revive some of the funny things that happened in West Plains in the early '70s.
We were dependent upon ourselves for sociability in those days, and a jollier bigger-hearted people never lived. There were some bright, brainy ones, with a keen sense of humor, who kept things moving, and circuit court always brought a few more shining lights to help things along. I think it was during circuit court that one of the funniest things that came under my observation occurred, and that was when Howell County seceded from Missouri and declared war against Arkansas.
"Dick" Marsh was publishing the Journal then, and it is my recollection was one of the prime movers in the secession. I have succeeded in getting the story from him, written from memory, as he has no exact copy of the paper published at that time, and would be more than glad to have anyone who participated in, or remembers, that event to correct or add thereto, I give the story as written by Mr. Marsh:
'I regret to say that I have no memoranda that would refresh my memory of the indignation meeting to which you refer, but I recall it. The object of the meeting as expressed in the call was to demand justice from the states of Missouri and Arkansas for an outrage that had been perpetrated near the state line on a worthy citizen of Howell County.'
'The citizen mentioned came up from Salem (Arkansas) and reported that he had been attacked by a highway robber whom he was sure was a native of Arkansas. He exhibited two holes in the front of his overcoat and claimed that the robber had shot at him at close range and that the bullet had passed through the breast of his coat. It was too good a thing to pass by unnoticed as there were some 'doubting Thomases' who resolved to have some fun at his expense.'
'An indignation meeting was called to meet in the old courthouse that night, and I think every man and boy in and around town put in an appearance. Billy McCann was elected chairman, E.F. Hynes, secretary, and I forget who was sergeant-at-arm. After stating the object of the meeting, many motions and resolutions were offered, but no definite plan of action could be agreed upon.'
'Finally, a set of resolutions were presented denouncing the state governments of both Missouri and Arkansas as being impotent, and unable to protect the lives and property of their citizens or citizens of other counties temporarily within their boundaries, and that Howell County had a grievance against both commonwealths, and no hope of redress from either. Howell County, moreover, was fully able to protect the lives and property of its citizens, and it would undertake the responsibility of doing it regardless of states.'
"After this, a formal declaration of independence was presented and unanimously adopted. The Republic of Howell renounced all allegiance to the state of Missouri and proceeded to elect officers. I do not remember who filled all the offices, but McCann was made president of the republic, and he at once proceeded to form his cabinet, E.F. Hynes was secretary of state, and B.F. Olden secretary of war. An army was organized and Dr. Berry was made surgeon general."
'At some stage of the proceedings, the president asked for a drink of water, and your humble servant being convenient to the bucket, passed a gourd of the limpid fluid to his excellency, and the slight service was at once recognized by an appointment as minister to England. War was formally declared against Arkansas, and all the army and resources of the government were placed at the disposal of the president, and an aggressive campaign was at once determined upon. About midnight the government showed signs of fatigue, and an adjournment was declared until some future time.'
'Tradition has it that the meeting lasted all night and that there were many funny speeches which I wish someone could recall, and I hope the forgoing will brush the cobwebs from someone's memory so they can tell the balance of the story.'
Signed, Alice C. Risley
In our next article, we will conclude this series on Sam and Alice Risley and their contributions to Howell County and its rich history.
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Howell County News

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