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Historically Yours

By Elizabeth Davis

Moniteau: The County That Almost Wasn’t

Even before statehood, counties began forming in the Missouri Territory. Howard County was organized in January 1816 from St. Charles and St. Louis counties and took up over one-third of the area that would one day become the state of Missouri. Less than two years later, Howard County was divided along the Missouri River with the southern half becoming Cooper County in December 1818. 

Cole, Lafayette, and Saline counties were organized out of Cooper County in November 1820. During its organization, Cole was divided into two townships—Moniteau and Moreau. Morgan County, which also came from Cooper County, was organized in January 1833, and Miller County was organized out of Cole and Pulaski counties in February 1837.

By the early 1840s, there was a movement in Cole County for another county. Negotiations with surrounding counties for the relinquishment of territory began. Cooper and Miller counties refused outright, but Cole and Morgan were more agreeable. 

At the time of the 1844 election, Cole County was allowed two representatives in the legislature. B. H. Gray was nominated for the southern district and Jonathan P. Martin was their candidate for the northern district. The problem was, Martin was against a new county. Many people went to Martin asking for his support in forming a new county, but he refused. Finally, a meeting was called for all those in favor of a new county. 

Anyone who was anyone attended regardless of their party affiliation. At the end of the meeting, L. L. Wood was nominated to oppose Martin. Martin’s friends were concerned, but Martin was a shrewd politician. A conference was arranged between the two factions. The result was, Martin agreed to advocate the organization of the new county and Mr. Wood would withdraw from the election. 

Gray and Martin were elected and, true to his word, Martin introduced a bill for another county and added it onto an omnibus bill along with fifteen other prospective new counties. Everything was moving along nicely until it was discovered that the territory did not contain the four hundred square miles required for the formation of a new county. 

Upon hearing the news, Mr. Wood, C. M. Brookings, W. M. Dunlap, and Robert Moore headed for the capitol. The gentlemen met with representatives of Cole, Cooper, Miller, and Morgan counties asking for enough land to allow the bill to pass. The representatives, however, wouldn’t agree without consent of the people from their respective counties and there was no time for that. It appeared that all was lost. 

Mr. Wood left the conference alone and walked the bluffs above the Missouri River. Along with a ray of sunshine out of the clouds came the thought, “If we cannot get land, we can get water.”

Mr. Wood hurried back to the conference and the bill was changed. Instead of the Missouri River being the northeast boundary of the new county, it was extended to the middle of the main channel of the Missouri. They had their four hundred square miles and then some.

On February 14, 1845, a bill organizing sixteen counties in Missouri was unanimously passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. Moniteau County was one of them. 

Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News for over ten years. She has covered the Civil War, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to