Wright County, Missouri
- Formed: January 29, 1841
- County Population 1860: 4,441
- Slave Population 1860: 66
- Civil War Engagements
-Battle of Hartville, January 11, 1863
Image courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield
Wright County, Missouri is located in the floodplain of the Gasconade River, including the tributaries Whetstone Creek and Beaver Creek. Early farmers discovered that the local soil was suitable for growing hay, sorghum, corn, and wheat, which supplemented the wild plant foods including plums and various types of berries. The abundant timber resources include oak and hickory, along with natural mineral deposits of lead, zinc, and lime. The first settlers were mainly traders and hunters from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia.
Wright County was officially formed on January 29, 1841, from part of Pulaski County, which formed in 1833 from Crawford County. Named after Silas Wright, a prominent New York politician, the county soon became smaller when Texas, Laclede, and Webster Counties were formed out of portions of Wright County in 1845, 1849, and 1855, respectively. The county seat was named Mountain Grove, though the real population center was Hartville. Hartville was probably named after Hartsville, Tennessee. Among the first citizens, Radcliffe B. Palmer was especially prominent. He donated the building for the first public school in 1842, became the first circuit court clerk, and served in the Civil War. Other early settlers include R.C. Stephens who settled at Denney Spring in 1839, William F. Young, whose home served as the county courthouse until a separate building was completed, and William Tucker, a prominent business owner.
Wright County prospered in the 1840s and 1850s. The fur trade provided a great deal of economic growth, and the McClurg fur company established a trading post at Mountain Grove. Saw and grist mills prospered, and a brick yard flourished in Hartville. By 1850, the population grew to 3,387 people.
When the Civil War began, Wright County residents fought for both sides, though many tried to remain neutral. R.B. Palmer was named colonel of the 73rd Missouri Militia, which tried to protect residents and their property from either side of the warring factions. County government suspended action for most of the war and the county functioned under martial law. The county suffered constantly from bushwhackers and other guerrilla warfare, and destruction and violence were widespread. There were no pivotal battles in Wright County boundaries, but the Battle of Hartville, a minor battle, took place on January 11, 1863. Confederate General Marmaduke, having been defeated at the Battle of Springfield and having been denied supplies from that city, moved his army toward Hartville. He was pursued from Springfield and engaged Lieutenant Colonel Dunlap’s Union troops in Hartville. The battle resulted in a Confederate victory.
After the war, county government was reestablished, and residents began to rebuild their livelihoods. The Gulf Railroad came to the area in the 1880s, and the towns of Macomb, Mansfield, and Manes formed. Prominent writer and resident Laura Ingalls Wilder moved to Mansfield in 1894, and her home became a museum after her death in 1957. Dairy farming became a prominent industry in the early 20th century in the County and helped the local economy flourish.
- Clyde A. Rowen, Ed., Wright County, Missouri: History and Families (Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, Paducah, 1998).
- The Civil War Battle of Hartville and Related Incidents (Hartville, MO: Historical Society of Wright County, 1994).
- Larry Dennies, Mansfield, Missouri: The First One Hundred years (1882-1982). (Mansfield, MO: Centennial Book Committee, 1983).