THE SETTLEMENT OF CENTER GROVE (MISSOURI)
by Mrs. Sue Scott Smith (nee Hannah Susan SCOTT, b 1852, d 1940)
EARLY NAMES AND EVENTS ARE RECALLED BY A PIONEER
Having heard of the rich fertile lands to be had in the Platte purchase,
a number of families living in and near Indianapolis, Indiana decided
form a settlement in that county which would be their future home. After
looking about over the country available , they selected a place near
the center of Atchison County, near the present town of Tarkio, and in
the years 1845 and 1846 they arrived at their location.
The point selected for the first settlement was a beautiful grove,
was a real "forest primeval," surrounded by open rolling prarie lands,
covered with grass and beautiful wild flowers. Their choice of land near
the timber was for a number of different reasons. In the first place,
there was an easily available supply of drinking water : it was only
necessary to sink a barrel in one of the numerous springs, and there was
a constant supply of fresh, cold water, which supplied the needs of the
family and provided a primitive sort of cooling system when used in the
"spring house." In addition the forest supplied protection from severe
winters; the houses or cabins were built in the sheltered "draws," which
was of foremost importance in those days when logs were the walls and
were anything but air tight. Again the timber was readily worked up into
fuel, an absolute necessity in the absence of coal. And it also supplied
rail for the fences.
"Center Grove" was the name adopted for this new community. It was
named because of its central location with regard to the other
settlements of that day---Walden Grove, Irish Grove, Lost Grove and
The members of this band of pioneers were nearly all relatives or
relatives, so they gave their best toward the building of a real home
community for themselves and their children, and time has told the story
of their successes and their failures. Among those who first came were
several who had suffered financial reverses during the Jackson and
VanBuren administrations, but faced the new life with courage and
determination, resolved to make realities of visions.
Many names of this group of settlers will be recalled by their
descendants, some of whom still live here in and near the original
settlement. Martin BUSH and his son, Henry, and family; Grimes DRYDEN
and his married sons and daughters, James, Squire, Newton and Spencer
ROBERTS and their families; Rev. MULLIS and sons, Henry, a carpenter and
Enis, a farmer, Michael and Alfred KIME, Franklin MERRILL a merchant;
and Josiah SCOTT, my father, a cattle drover who bought and shipped
stock of all kinds, were among those who established Center Grove.
Others soon settled near, among whom were found the TATES, CHRISTIANS,
McCOLLISTERS, CAUDLES, VAN LEUVENS, DANIELS, DUNHAMS and GRAVES.
The names of these pioneers deserve special mention for the things they
did to build up the communities in which they lived. Mrs. Martin BUSH
Mrs Grimes DRYDEN,(nee SCOTT) were the older ladies and they devoted
much of their time to caring for the sick and cheering the homesick.
There was no professional medical aid nearer than Rockport, and the
doctors were never called except in case of grave illness or emergency.
When it became necessary to call them, a messenger was dispatched
overland on horseback for Dr. BUCKHAM or Dr. SNOW. The distance as
traveled at that was said to be ten or twelve miles.
It was due to the thoughtfulness of Mrs. DRYDEN that we have our
beautiful cemetery at Center Grove today. After returning home from an
all night vigil with a sick child, Mrs. DRYDEN told her husband that the
child could not live, and suggested they go out on their farm and locate
a piece to be used as a cemetery. They selected a beautiful spot,
covered with grass and wildflowers, with a few scattering oak trees, and
donated it as a public burying ground. That little sick infant, which
she so anxiously nursed, was the first to be laid to rest, the
second was her husband and the third was a niece of hers, Louisa SCOTT.
It seems sad indeed that this noble woman who was so thoughtful of
others, could not be permitted to rest in the beautiful place she had
given to others, for while on a visit to Indianapolis, she fell sick and
was laid to rest there.
Mrs. Frank MERRILL(nee BUSH), was always noted for her kindness to
stranger, the homeless and the needy. Mrs. MERRILL’s home was called
“the hospital” by herself as well as others, because there was nearly
always someone there to receive her help and encouragement. Travelers
were always welcome.
Mrs. James ROBERTS, “Aunt Betsy”, was the central figure of all social
gatherings of that day as she had several grown children and lived in
one of the larger houses of the community. This same house, built
seventy years ago(1857) by Henry MULLIS still stands today and is
occupied by Rolla LAYDEN. It was the center of all young folks
gatherings, and many pleasant hours were spent beneath that roof. There
was a nice grove near her home, and this was used for public services,
such as church meetings with basket dinners following, and the
greatest of all yearly gatherings, the 4th of July celebration. This was
looked forward to as the greatest event of the year, because it brought
together all the settlers from many miles around and gave them the
opportunity of meeting socially and exchanging opinions and thoughts
that were of benefit to all. The program as a usual thing, consisted in
the reading of the Declaration of Independence, band music and oratory.
The last two named were usually supplied by Rockport, especially if it
was election year. But the greatest event of the day, especially for
the kiddies was a free dinner, which was furnished by the community. It
was laid on a table, which was loaded with all of the good eats
imaginable. There were also some firecrackers, ice cream and pink
lemonade, all of which gave the youngsters “one grand and glorious
James ROBERTS, a veteran of the Mexican War, was another memorable
character. In company with Henry BUSH, Henry MULLIS and my father, he
went to California during the gold rush, and returned by the long
steamer route around South America. He entered the Union Army in the
Civil War, and died in the service. My father Josiah SCOTT died in that
At the time of the beginning of the settlement, the nearest trading
point was Linden, or perhaps Rockport. Linden consisted of one or two
stores which supplied the barest necessities. At Rockport was a grist
mill for grinding the settlers “corn and wheat”, and a carding mill for
carding and spinning wool into yarn. This yarn was then woven into
fabrics from which the clothing of all was made.
The roads like those of all new settlements were just a trail or wagon
road, which crossed the country without bothering about section lines
and generally keeping on top of the divides.
The county furnished an abundance of wild fruits and nuts. Grapes,
gooseberries, strawberries, crab apples and plums were the most
plentiful. The plums and crab apples were of much better quality than
those to be found today. There were quantities of hazelnuts, walnuts and
hickory nuts. Wild game consisted of deer, turkeys, geese and other
birds. It was not unusual, even for many years after the founding of the
settlement to see deer near the roads and in the clearings. The ducks
and geese were most plentiful appearing in large numbers in the
lowlands, though not in such numbers as to “darken the sun” as has been
claimed by some overly enthusiastic writers of later days.
But the wild bird that made the greatest impression on my childish
was the Sand Hill Crane, while my little school friend, Becca ROBERTS,
claimed the duck with the green head(the Mallard). It was from these two
species of wild fowl that we began the study of Natural History and it
was these birds which often caused two little girls to be tardy for
school. We often paused at the pond to watch the ducks or at her
father’s wheat field to watch the cranes. We discussed their habits,
their food and their bodily characteristics, we learned why the duck
has web feet and a flat bill, while the crane has such long legs and
bill. We often took our questions to the teacher, who explained them to
us telling us why the cranes spent so much time circling high in the
air, seeking a favorable current of air to maintain its flight and the
interesting facts about wild life. Then she had us memorize
Bryant’s beautiful poem, “To a Waterfowl”, which I thought was one of
the most beautiful poems I had ever read and especially the last stanza.
“He who from zone to zone
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight
In the long way that I must tread alone
Will guide my steps aright.”
A few years later, during our last year in the country school, our
teacher, a young man asked Becca and I if we were both of the same age,
and if we were born on a leap year. He said he thought it about time for
us to have a birthday, as our age on the daily record had been twelve
for about three years. This was the last year of our childhood jokes,
for Becca’s father moved to St. Joseph and took her away, and my sister
Fanny took me to Amity Academy at College Springs.
After the county seat was removed from Linden to Rockport, that town
began to show marked improvement. It proved to be a magnet for office
holders, who apparently took it for granted that all lucrative offices
should be filled by people from that community, but who kindly left some
of the minor offices to such men as Judge KIME and Judge MERRILL.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, most of the citizens of this
community showed strong anti-slavery sentiments and the Union army
received its full quota of fighting men from them. James and Newton
ROBERTS, David WEST, Jesse MERRILL, Aaron DUNHAM, Wallace HOWELL, Harrison
DRYDEN, John SCOTT, David ROBERTS and Thomas BUSH were among those answering
the call to the colors, and the last named two died while in the service.
Wallace HOWELL was taken prisoner and spent a year
in Andersonville prison. He is still living in Oklahoma I believe.
Martin BUSH Jr. a boy of fourteen went with his brother and
being too young to enlist served three years in the commissary, after
which he enlisted and became a drummer boy. As I recall, Logan HALL was
the only one to wear the Gray, he died after the war and was buried at
News from the fighting forces was not easily obtained in those days
few newspapers and irregular mails, but the community heard it as
quickly as possible when gathered at the home of the BARTLETT family.
Mr. BARTLETT had established a little post office there and the news as
received in some paper was read aloud to all present by some citizen.
After the close of the Civil War, Center Grove and vicinity began
settle more rapidly. A few of the pro-slavery residents sold out and
moved to other parts. Their places were taken by other settlers, most
whom became industrious, law-abiding citizens, helping to build up the
community as it should have been.
In the earliest days there were no school houses nor regularly
established schools. The children received some instruction in the
homes, usually from their parent or older brothers and sisters. About
1850 however, a school was built on what is now the Charles WEST farm,
and another on the BUSH farm, near the present home of Rolla LAYDEN, I
believe. These schools were often taught by private subscription, the
teacher usually being some traveling instructor who seldom remained
long. The teachers were subject to instant dismissal at the will of
any member of the school board. The first woman teacher was a Miss.
Sultana SMITH, from Amity Academy at College Springs. She was an
efficient teacher, and her methods were similar in many ways to those
use even today.
As time passed, more new settlers arrived and better means of education
were gradually brought about. The arrival of the BARTLETT family marked
the appearance of the first permanent teachers; Herschel and William,
two older sons held teaching positions for two or three years during the
war. After that they moved to St. Joseph, where they later became the
founders of the BARTLETT banking business.
The social life of that day, while not elaborate, was none the less
enjoyable, and the days of toil which were part of pioneer life were
relieved by more or less numerous gatherings, in which all had a part.
Church was held in the school house or some private home. An occasional
preacher or some local person delivered the sermon, and the services
were marked with the same reverence found anywhere today. Spelling and
singing schools were also a source of social intercourse, and the
sessions were marked with the liveliest interest on the part of all who
attended. Quilting, sewing and husking bees, were not only an amusement
but an extending of friendships that endured through many years. “Play
parties” and dances usually concluded the evening’s entertainment.
Copyright 1998 Kathleen R. Edwards