Barry County, Missouri

Barry County, Missouri

  • Formed: 1835
  • County Population 1860: 7,748
  • Slave Population 1860: 257
  • Civil War Engagements
    -Skirmish at Keetsville (Washburn), February
    25, 1862
Campbell’s New Atlas of Missouri, 1874
Image courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

Barry County, Missouri is located in the watershed of several creeks, including Roaring River Spring and Shoal Creek.  Fertile soil allows for the growth of oats, wheat, and corn. The county also has naturally abundant wild foods, such as deer, fish, rabbits, turkey, and several varieties of nuts and berries.

Samuel C. Washburn was among the first settlers in the area in 1827.  He and his family stayed for over ten years until they moved to Texas, where Washburn was killed in 1840.  Another early settler, James T. Keet, came from England and established the first store in the region.  The area where he settled became known as Keetsville, later renamed Washburn after the Civil War.  A third prominent early settler was Littlebury Mason and his family, who was very wealthy and settled near present day Cassville in 1830.  In 1837, Mason became the first Barry County representative to the state legislature, and remained influential until his death in 1852.  In 1840, Reuben Vermillian moved to present day Monett from Ohio.  His son later fought for the Union Army.

Barry County was officially formed in 1835, and included the entirety of Missouri’s southwest corner.  The county was named in honor of Thomas Barry, who at one time was the Postmaster General in the cabinet of President Andrew Jackson.  The county gradually became smaller as several counties were formed out of Barry – Newton County in 1839, Jasper and Dade Counties in 1841, McDonald County in 1849, Lawrence County in 1845, and Stone County in 1851.  Mount Pleasant, near present day Pierce City, was the first county seat.  The county seat soon moved to McDonald (later renamed McDowell).  As more counties were extracted from Barry, the county seat continued to move to maintain a central location.  On May 8, 1844, the county seat moved to Cassville, named after Michigan politician Lewis Cass.  Although no settlers in the area were related to Cass, he was respected and admired.

Postal service was established in 1845, which helped the residents of the County stay informed on local and national news.  With the establishment of the county court June of the same year, there became three main orders of business to address.  These were: to solve civil disputes, make transportation easy and safe, and to help the poor.  Through their efforts, the roads in Barry County were easy to travel.  Many businesses flourished before the Civil War, including the Cassville Tan Yard which manufactured leather.  When the Civil War began in 1861, the county—like most counties in Missouri—was divided between Union and Confederate support.  Some, including Littlebury Mason’s widow Nancy, who showed hospitality to soldiers from both sides.  Despite this gesture of neutrality, her house was one of the many destroyed.  There were no major battles in Barry County boundaries, but the residents were plagued with guerrilla warfare and the strain of playing host to both armies.  After the Battle of Carthage, there was a small skirmish in Keetsville (Washburn) in February, 1862, and a Union army train was attacked in Cassville in June of the same year.

Governor Claiborne Jackson moved the seat of state government from Neosho to Cassville for one week, October 31-November 6, 1861, though he was soon exiled from office.  During the first year of the war, the county remained in Confederate control and served as a major camp for Confederate armies before the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in Greene County.  The “Wire Road,” one of the roads the county government worked to improve before the war, allowed troops to move in an out of Barry County easily.  The Battle of Pea Ridge, in Benton County, Arkansas, in March of 1862 put Barry County in Union control.  The Union army used the county courthouse as their headquarters, suspending county government for the duration of the war.

During the war, most businesses had ceased operation, and over half of the population had fled the area.  After its end, they slowly began to rebuild.  The county sued the federal government for funds to repair the damage the Union army had caused to the courthouse when it was used as Union headquarters.  The federal government granted this reparation.  In the 1880s, the Frisco railroad aided reconstruction when it moved to Monett—industrial and population growth followed the railroad.

Browse all collections in Barry County.

  • Consulted:
  • Addah Longley Matthews,  Early Barry County (Barry County Historical Society, 1965).
  • Senator Emory Melton, The First 150 years in Cassville, Missouri (Litho Printers and Bindery, 1995).
  • Nellie Alice Mills, Historic Spots in Old Barry County (Monett, MO:  The Free Will Baptist Gem., 1952).
  • Barry County History, Barry County, Missouri Genealogy & History, accessed 1 November 2010,