Campbell-McCammon Collection

Leonidas and Sarah Rush Campbell
Images courtesy of The History Museum on the Square

John Polk Campbell was one of the first pioneers of European ancestry to settle in present day Springfield, Missouri; however, there are discrepancies among the historical records indicating the exact year Campbell ventured into the area. Some historians believe Campbell did not come until 1829 or 1830, while family records indicate he came to southwest Missouri as early as 1825. John Polk Campbell was the fifth child of John Campbell and Matilda Golden Polk. John Polk was born in North Carolina in 1804, and his family moved to Tennessee when he was three years old. When the Campbell boys reached adulthood, they wanted land of their own, and explored outside of well settled Maury County, Tennessee.

In 1825 my grandfather, John Polk Campbell with his brother, Madison, a cousin, and several other young men, went on a prospecting trip to Southwest Missouri, a country then peopled by the Kickapoo and Cherokee Indians.

Louisa (Lulu) Cheairs McKenny Sheppard – A Confederate Girlhood

The settlers encountered a tribe of Kickapoo Indians encamped along the James River. A young boy from the tribe was gravely ill, and John Polk offered to assist with his recovery. He gave the boy simple herbs which eventually lifted the boy’s fever and brought him back to full health. The Kickapoo Chieftain gave John Polk a tract of land to the north of their village near a large spring as a token of his gratitude. According to Lulu, granddaughter of John Polk and Louisa Campbell, John Polk built a small log cabin near the spring and began a small farm.

In 1827, John Polk returned to Tennessee and married Louisa Terrell Cheairs on May 28.1 John and Louisa traveled to Missouri, but lived there for only a short period as Louisa became pregnant with the couple’s first child. John and Louisa questioned giving birth in the rural regions of southwest Missouri, and returned to Tennessee for the birth of Talitha Caroline. According to the family, John Polk left his wife and child in Tennessee and returned to Missouri. In October 1829, John returned to his family to escort them back to their new home.

Before John Polk left Missouri, he hired two men to clear timber for construction of a larger cabin near the spring. He carved his initials into an ash tree to mark the land and location of the new cabin. On his way to Tennessee he stopped at William Fulbright’s house in Rolla. Fulbright and John Polk were friends from Tennessee, and John told him about the ample springs and land in the southwest region of the state. John continued on to Tennessee where he was welcomed by his family and friends. As they prepared to leave, several friends and family members decided to join the Campbells as they set off towards Missouri. The party arrived in Missouri in March 1830, and John Polk found his lumber had been constructed into a cabin near his spring.2

After Campbell left Rolla, Fulbright and his brother-in-law, A. J. Burnett, decided to move to the area. They found the pile of lumber, and presuming the materials to be abandoned, built a cabin. John Polk showed Burnett his initials on the ash tree near the spring which marked his property. Burnett turned over the cabin, and both families worked together to build homes for everyone as they started a community in rural southwest Missouri.

Over the years John Polk built several houses. Each house was vacated for new settlers to inherit. The Campbell’s second child, Mary Francis, was born in 1831 and was the first white female born in the area. The settlers traded with the Native Americans in the region and began to stockpile goods in their homes. In 1833, John Polk donated fifty acres for the construction of a town, with two acres designated as the public square. Lots were sold to new settlers and John Polk began the organization of the county. He appointed his family members as county officials to assist with the establishment of Greene County. By 1835, approximately 500 people lived in Springfield which included five Campbell brothers, one sister and their mother, Matilda Golden Polk Campbell. Springfield was finally incorporated into a town in 1838.3 As Springfield grew John Polk began to explore new territory in Texas and Indian Territory, current day Oklahoma. John Pol died on May 28, 1852 in Oil Springs, Cherokee Nation.4

John Polk and Louisa had ten children: Talitha Caroline, Mary Frances, John Nathaniel, Leonidas Adolphus, Sarah Rush, James Cheairs, Thomas Polk, Samuel Independence, Constantine and William Argyll.5 John Polk outlived two of his children, who succumbed to diseases at an early age. Four of his sons fought in the Civil War, two of which died. The Campbell family supported the Confederacy, and they owned a number of slaves both in Springfield and on their Mississippi plantations near Vicksburg. Lulu was a young girl during the Civil War, but she recorded her memories of the family’s experiences in “A Confederate Girlhood.” After Union forces secured Springfield, the Campbell’s were forced from their home and they sought refuge on family land in Tennessee and Mississippi. After the war, Louisa and Sarah Rush came back to Springfield, but the Springfield they returned to was vastly different from the one they left. Much of the family’s property lost during the war was never regained, and Louisa died trying to rebuild their life.

The Campbell-McCammon Collection consists of letters written between friends and family members from 1861 through 1872. Included is Louisa T. Campbell’s exile order from Springfield, Missouri, several letters reflecting on the war’s impact on the family and letters written by former family slaves.

Contributed by the The History Museum on the Square

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  1. Charles Sheppard, “Watch Out! The Campbells are Coming.” John Polk Campbell vertical file, Springfield-Greene County Library Center, 1-5.
  2. Sheppard, “Watch Out! The Campbells are Coming,” 6.
  3. Sheppard, “Watch Out! The Campbells are Coming,” 8-12.
  4. “Lucy MCammon’s Home, Built in 1851, Holds Memories of Civil War Visitors” in The Springfield Leader 3 June 1932, 15.
  5. “Genealogies of Some Early Springfield Families,” Ozar’kin, vol. 1, no. 1, (Spring 1979), 27.