Howell County History
Howell County is one of the southern tier counties of Missouri near the center from east to west and bounded on the north by Texas County, on the east by Shannon and Oregon counties, on the south by the State of Arkansas and on the west by Ozark and Douglas counties.
Howell County was organized March 2, 1857 and was created from parts of Oregon and Ozark counties. West Plains is the county seat.
First Settlers - The area was settled by the Osage Tribes in 1808 and in the early days, hunting bands of Indians from the Delaware, Kaw and Shawnee visited the country frequently and the woods were filled with bear, deer, elk and other game. Running north and south through the county is an ancient Indian trail and more than 1,000 prehistoric mounds have been identified in the area.
The first white settler in what is now Howell County was a hunter named Adams. who settled at the "town spring" in the summer of 1839. At the time, his nearest neighbor was said to have lived 20 miles away. That same year Adams sold his "improvements" to Josiah Howell who migrated here from Tennessee and is credited with being the first permanent settler in the county which now bears his name.
In 1840, Eli L. Tabor settled on Spring Creek . It is believed that he was the only settler who came that year. In 1841 Ozark County was organized and Tabor was elected presiding justice of the County Court. Ozark County then included range 19 which is now part of Howell County.
In 1841, Nathan McCammon settled three miles east of West Plains. About the same time, a man named Hutton located in a valley which is now referred to as Hutton Valley
The First Elected Officials - Benjamin Alsup, James Ellison and Joseph H. Russell were the first county justices. When Judge Ellison resigned, John McDaniel was appointed to take his place. Joseph Howell was the first sheriff. Joseph Harris was the first clerk. The county was part of the 15th Judicial Circuit and the presiding judge was Albert Jackson. John R. Woodside was the first circuit attorney. The first circuit court was held in a little log cabin, one mile east of West Plains, and there was only one case on the docket.
The Civil War - Howell County prospered and by the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, the county's population was about 3,200. West Plains, the county seat, was a town of about 150 with several stores, homes and a courthouse. The county boasted many fine farms. With the beat of "war drums" there erupted differences of opinion. Friends and families became estranged and soon became bitter enemies. Many of the county's inhabitants were "Southern Sympathizers" and several companies were formed for service to the southern army. The conflict of opinions made the area a "hotbed" with raiding parties supporting both sides engaging in raids. Many residents sought refuge in areas less dangerous and it is said that only about a dozen families remained in the area during the war. Men who stayed were often forced to hide in the woods and caves for weeks at a time to avoid capture and certain death. In the fall of 1863, guerillas led by a man named Watson burned the town of West Plains and not a house was left standing. Near the end of the war, raiding parties and guerillas ripped through the area burning most of the farm houses and most of the fencing.
The Refuges Return - After the war ended, those that left began to slowly return finding only ashes where their homes once stood and their fields fenceless and grown up in young timber. While those less resolute would have been tempted to turn away, these sturdy folk put their shoulders to the wheel and rebuilt their lives. By 1865, only a few families had returned, and by the spring of 1867 they began to drift home at a more rapid pace. By 1868 and 1869, many new settlers had also come to the area.
Reconstruction - The county was re-organized in 1866 and Peter Lamons, Joseph Speers and Richard Haven were appointed county justices. W.D. Mustion was the sheriff and W.Z. Buck was the clerk. With the courthouse being reduced to ashes, the first courts were held in a little log cabin. Most of teh county's records survived the war hidden in a cave but were destroyed by fire in 1866 which erupted in the 10' x 12' box shanty which served as the clerk's office. The county's unsettled political conditions retarded its growth until about 1870 when the bitterness began to wear away and an era of peace and prosperity began to emerge. In 1871, the population began to increase rapidly and by 1873, the number of inhabitants was estimated at 8,000. The new settlers were primarily from Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
Other Firsts - The first newspaper, "The Type of the Times," was established in 1868 by E.F. Hynes and others. It is said to have survived only a few months. In October, 1870, B.F.Olden and Sam A. Risley established the "South Missouri Journal " which later became the "West Plains Journal," the first permanent newspaper in Howell County. In the winter of 1873, B.F. Olden, J.H. Maxey and Sam A. Risley established the first steam saw mill on Dry Creek in the western part of the county. The first steam flouring mill was erected in the summer of 1873 in West Plains by C.T. Bolin. Prior to this, area residents depended on water mills located primarily on the North Fork.