Christian County, Missouri
- Formed: March 8, 1859
- County Population 1860: 5,263
- Slave Population 1860: NA
- Civil War Engagements
-Battle of Dug Springs, August 2, 1861
Image courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield
Christian County, Missouri is located near many natural sources of fresh water, including the Finley River. The land consists of hickory, pine, and oak timber and the fertile soil suitable for growing corn and wheat. Settlers discovered too, that it was a natural place to harvest maple sugar. The Osage tribe originally lived in this area, but with the Louisiana Purchase and other acts of legislature, the Missouri area was opened for exploration and settlement, and the Native Americans forced westward.
Explorer Henry R. Schoolcraft was one of the first Non-Native Americans to pass through the area in 1819. Other settlers, including the Pettijohn family, settled in the area in the 1820s. Settlement did not begin in earnest until the 1830s, with most pioneers coming from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. The first permanent settlers were William Friend, George Yoachum, James Kimberling, George Wells, and Thomas Patterson in present-day Ozark. Yoachum was locally well known for briefly printing his own currency, which he called the “Yocum Dollar.” The name “Ozark,” which quickly became the population center, is said to refer to the bends in the Finley River—French traders called it “aux arcs.” Ozark eventually became the county seat. Many settlers came to the area by way of the river. On March 8, 1859, Christian County was officially formed out of part of Greene County. A local woman, Mrs. Tom Neaves, named the county after her home town in Tennessee. The first act of county government established eight townships: Benton, Finley, Linn, Linden, Marion, Breckinridge (later Galloway), Polk, and Porter (which together later became Lincoln).
The county was still very young when the Civil War began in 1861. A large majority of Christian County voters were against secession, with a small minority supporting the Confederacy. The ratio was about 800:100, and the majority of Christian County men likewise fought for the Union. Though commonly considered to have taken place in Greene County, the Wilson’s Creek battlefield expanded into Christian County. The Union Home Guard formed in 1862, and on August 1 of that year defended Ozark against a minor Confederate ambush. On August 2, 1862, there was a minor skirmish near the town of Clever. During the war, many fled their homes and did not return until after the war was over. Both sides’ army forced many residents out of their homes, destroying their livestock, crops, and property. These malicious actions made many residents destitute and on the verge of starvation.
Bushwhackers also posed a constant threat of theft and violence. Although the population increased by more than 1,000 people from 1860-1870, (5,491-6,707) records indicate that during the Civil War the county was almost totally depopulated.
After the end of the war, Bushwhackers still posed a threat. A group of local men formed a vigilante band called the “Bald Knobbers,” who tracked down Bushwhackers or others taking part in illegal activities. In most cases, the “Bald Knobbers” either killed the criminal or brought them in for arrest. The “Bald Knobbers” continued to fight what they saw as injustice long after the Bushwhackers were no longer a problem. In the 1880s, their activity began to get out of hand, and the sheriff arrested the men who refused to stop their vigilante activity.
The railroad aided recovery, coming to the area in the 1870s-1880s. Several towns were named after railroad officials. These include: Chadwick, named after John F. Chadwick and Billings, named after John Billings. Several other towns sprung up after the war, including Sparta in 1885. Sparta was supposedly named after settler J.J. Burton’s home town of Sparta, Tennessee. Nixa was officially formed in 1878, supposedly after settlers Nicholas Alexander Inman. For postal service to come to the area, the town needed an official name, and got it from “Nick” A. Inman’s mailbox, becoming “Nixa.” The railroad continued to flourish in the area well into the 20th century.
- Christian County: Its First 100 years (Ozark, MO: Christian County Centennial, Inc., 1959).
- Christian County, Missouri: History and Families, Christian County Museum and Historical Society (Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, 1998).