McDonald County, Missouri

McDonald County, Missouri

  • Formed: March 3, 1849.
  • County Population 1860: 3,976
  • Slave Population 1860: 72
  • Civil War Engagements
    - Skirmish at Sugar Creek, February 17, 1862
Campbell’s New Atlas of Missouri, 1874
Image courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield



The first non-Native American settlers in McDonald County, Missouri were Valentine, Katy, and Levi Miller, who arrived in 1827 from North Carolina. In the 1830s, the Millers were followed by Augustus F. Friend, P. Williams, and R. Lauderdale. John and Jim Mayfield arrived in 1839, Joel Meador and Elam and William Moffatt in 1840, and the Nicely family in 1841.

McDonald County borders Arkansas to the south and Oklahoma, or “Indian Territory,” to the west. The county contains abundant fresh water, including the Elk River, Sugar Creek, Buffalo Creek, Patterson Creek, Elkhorn Creek, and Honey Creek. Timber, principally pine, is also very abundant. Wild game includes deer, turkey, and pigs. The area was originally Osage territory, but by the late 1820s, the Osage moved into Kansas and Indian Territory and white settlement began.

The county was officially organized on March 3, 1849. A group of men from neighboring Newton County—Oliver M. Hickox, Joseph Pearson, and James Mayfield—established the county seat at Rutledge. Fights surrounding Rutledge’s location dominated local debate until 1857, when residents decided that the county seat needed to be moved. Again, men from neighboring counties were appointed to name the seat. The first committee—J.R. McElhany of Greene County, Samuel Hail of Lawrence County, and Anderson Brown of Newton County—did not reach a consensus. A second committee formed, which included Lyman Beeman of Newton County, Moses Shelton of Lawrence County, and William McLure of Barry County. They named the new county seat at Pineville.

During the 1850s, McDonald County residents joined in on the debate over whether Kansas should enter the Union as a slave or a free state, though they were not directly involved. Bordering Arkansas, the majority of McDonald County residents sided with the Confederacy when the Civil War began in 1861. In the spring of 1861, Major Moses Smith formed the first Confederate Company in McDonald County at Pineville. In the fall, John Carroll raised the second. In May, 1861, union supporters in McDonald County organized under Captain John V. Hargrove. After the Confederate victory at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in Greene County, McDonald and other counties were firmly in Confederate control.

Border warfare constantly plagued the McDonald County citizens, and conflicts between the two armies and residents were common. Several skirmishes and battles took place in the county. A small skirmish took place on Sugar Creek on February 17, 1862. In early March of the same year, General Franz Sigel sent troops in to remove Confederate troops from McDonald County. His effort, known as the Pineville Expedition, was successful. On June 23, 1862, there was a skirmish at Pineville between the Second Wisconsin Cavalry and the Confederates under Major David Russell. The latter were defeated, with the loss of several prisoners and considerable property. The Battle of Pineville took place on August 12, 1863 between Companies I, K, and M, 3rd Battalion, 6th Cavalry under Captain Abe Allen and troops under Captain John T. Coffee. During this battle, county records were destroyed.

The county was devastated from the war, but railroad construction and the associated industry boom aided recovery. New towns, including Indian Springs and Tiff City, formed in 1881.

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