1820 - 1914
Ray County was organized as a county by an act approved on November 16, 1820. It was named for John Ray of Howard County who served as a delegate to the Missouri Constitutional Convention at St. Louis in June, 1820.
The area to constitute Ray County was first designated by a division of Howard County. It was defined as “all the territory west of Grand River, east of the west line of the state and north to the Iowa line shall be Ray County,” comprising an area which now constitutes 12 counties: Worth, Gentry, DeKalb, Clinton, Clay, Ray, Harrison, Mercer, Grundy, Daviess, Livingston, and Carroll.
The first white family known to settle in what is now Ray County was the family of John Vanderpool. They moved from Tennessee to a site near the present town of Hardin in August 1815.
A legislative commission was selected to locate the first courthouse and jail in Ray County, shortly after the approval of the act providing for the organization of the county. The commissioners were: Isaac Martin, James Wells, John Harris, John Turner, and Jonathan Liggett. The commissioners chose a temporary site at Bluffton, which was located between the present communities of Camden and Fleming.
The first term of the Ray County Circuit Court was held at Bluffton on Monday, February 19, 1821. Circuit Judge David Todd appeared on that date with a commission from Governor Alexander McNair (Missouri’s first Governor) as judge of the first judicial circuit. Hamilton R. Gamble was present as the first prosecuting attorney for the first judicial circuit. John Harris was appointed as the first Sheriff of Ray County and William L. Smith was named as the first Clerk of the Circuit Court.
Ray County residents evidenced predilections for strong drink at an early period in the history of the county as the first case tried in circuit court was that of the State vs. Lewis Richards. Richards was charged with selling whiskey without a license.
The Ray County Circuit Court continued to meet at Bluffton in the tavern of Timothy Riggs until the November term, 1828, when the court was adjourned to meet in Richmond. The County Court met for the first time at Bluffton. Its members were John Thornton, Isaac Martin and Elisha Camron. They first held County Court on April 2, 1821.
The first public road in Ray County was established in April 1821, extending from Bluffton to John Thornton’s mill by order of the court of which Thornton was a member. Isaac Martin, also a member of the first county court, was named by the court as the first road overseer. A census of the inhabitants of Ray County was first taken in September 1821 by John Harris. He reported an enumeration of 1,789 persons. He received $34 for taking the census.
A commission was selected by the County Court in April 1827 to locate a site for building a county courthouse. They chose the present site of the Richmond courthouse square. The present side was then a part of the farms of John Wollard, William B. Martin, and William Thornton. The site was adopted by an election.
The Richmond town lot auction was held on October 15, 1827. The plat was accepted on October 22. It required approximately 12 months to erect the necessary public buildings in Richmond. William S. Miller was appointed commissioner of the public property.
The first County Court in Richmond was held near the present site in the home of George Woodard. The members of the court at that time were William P. Thompson, Sebourn J. Miller, and Isaac Allen. George Woodard served as clerk. The first courthouse in Richmond was completed on March 5, 1829.
The first county jail at Richmond was completed in November 1828.
The first marriage certificate in Ray County was issued to Owen Thorp ad Elizabeth Hiett on June 10, 1821.
The first coroner’s inquest was in August 1823 on the body of James Buchanan. Fishing River Township was one of the three original townships in Ray County, being established in 1821, including the area which now constitutes the counties of Clay, Clinton, DeKalb, Gentry and Worth.
The boundaries for the present Fishing River Township in Ray County was established in November 1826. Richmond Township, when first established, included a much larger area than it now embraces. It was first known as Bluffton Township. The name was changed in 1829. It originally included all of what is now Knoxville Township, the greater part of Camden Township, a part of the present Grape Grove Township, and an area which now constitutes a part of other counties.
Captain Jacob Riffe was the first white settler in this township in 1818. Grape Grove Township was established on July 2, 1838. The boundaries of this township have not been changed to the present date. It is believed there were no permanent settlers in the limits of Grape Grove Township prior to 1830.
Camden Township was established on July 5, 1841. In 1880, it contained post offices at Camden, Albany, Orrick, and Henry. Knoxville Township was also established in 1841. It is believed to have been first settled in 1833.
The town site of Knoxville was settled early in 1834. It was first called “Buncombe”. Polk Township was established on July 29, 1845, by a division of Fishing River Township. The first settlers were reported in the area of that township in 1825.
Orrick Township was the last of the eight townships to be established, although the town of Orrick was established on May 25, 1869, when the Wabash Railway Station was opened at that place. It was named for John Cromwell Orrick who served as a captain in the Federal Army during the Civil War.
The first probate court for Ray County was held at Richmond in 1853. James B. Turner served as the first Probate Judge from 1853 to 1864. A court of common pleas was established for Ray County on March 5, 1855. Aaron H. Conrow was appointed by the governor as its first judge. The court of common pleas was abolished by an act of the General Assembly on January 1, 1875. The records of that court were turned over to the Ray County Circuit Court. William B. Martin was the first representative in the General Assembly elected from Ray County in 1826,
Ray County’s most capable representative in the Missouri General Assembly was probably Captain James L. Farris, who was elected to that body in 1876.
Austin A. King of Richmond was the first Ray Countian elected as Governor of Missouri. King was elected in 1848. When he resigned as Circuit Judge to take the office, George W. Dunn was appointed as his successor, serving the longest tenure of the office that any judge has served in the circuit.
In the fall of 1838, the Mormon War caused considerable excitement in Ray County. A company of Mormons from Far West in Caldwell County marched into Ray County and a skirmish was fought with a company of Ray County militia under the command of Captain Samuel Bogart on November 15 1838, at “Bogart’s Battlefield” on Crooked River. The militiamen were repulsed and retreated, leaving the Mormons in control of the scene of the encounter.
Captain Patton of the Mormon forces was among those killed. Four companies of Ray County militia were among the troops under the command of Alexander W. Doniphan, brigadier- general of the Missouri militia, at the surrender of Joseph Smith and his followers at Far West on November 1, 1838.
A company of volunteers was recruited in Ray County for service in the Mexican War in 1848. The company was mustered into service on August 1, 1846, as company “G” of the Missouri Mounted Riflemen under the command of David Willcock, lieutenant-colonel.
A portion of this company accompanied Doniphan’s regiment on its historic march to Santa Fe, Monterey, and the gulf and participated in the battles of Bracito and Sacramento. Captain Isreal R. Hendley of Richmond, who commanded “G” company, was killed in action at Moro, New Mexico, on January 25, 1847.
Alexander W. Doniphan was a resident of Ray County from 1868 until his death on August 8, 1877, at Richmond. He was born in Mason County, Kentucky on July 9, 1808. He moved to Missouri where he was admitted to the Missouri Bar Association in April 1830, locating at Lexington on April 19, 1830. Three years later, he moved to Liberty and in 1836, he was elected to represent Clay County in the 9th General Assembly.
He served as brigadier- general of the Missouri militia during the Mormon War in 1836, preventing the execution of the Mormon leaders after the surrender of Far West. Doniphan’s leadership of the 1st regiment of Missouri volunteers into Mexico during the Mexican War has been ably chronicled by William E. Connelley in “Doniphan’s Expedition.”
Ray County furnished a comparatively large number of soldiers to both sides during the Civil War (or war of Northern Aggression). It has been estimated that between 500 and 800 served with the Confederate forces and approximately 1,200 with the Federal armies.
Among the officers from Ray County who served with the Confederate troops were: Colonel Benjamin A. Rives, Colonel Aaron H. Conrow, Colonel Benjamin Brown, Major William C. Parker, Major Robert J. Williams, Captain Finley L. Hubbell, Captain Kelsey McDowell, Captain Dick Early, Captain James L. Farris, and Captain G. McCuistion.
Among the Federal officers furnished by Ray County were: Colonel A.J. Barr, Colonel James W. Black, Major John Grimes, Captain Andrew Elliott, Captain George N. McGee, Captain Abraham Allen, Captain Dick Ridgell, Captain William E. Kelson, Captain Isaac N. Henry, and Captain W.D. Fortune.
The first engagement of the Civil War in Ray County was called “McVeigh’s Fight” about six miles northeast of Knoxville. On September 18, 1864, an engagement was fought at “Shaw’s Shop” near Morton.
Major John Grimes and Major Samuel P. Cox, leading a portion of a regiment of Federal troops, defeated Bill Anderson’s guerrillas near Albany in Ray County on October 27, 1864. Anderson was killed as he led a charge that was repulsed.
The final engagement of the war in Ray County was about six miles northeast of Richmond when Captain Clayton Tiffin’s Federal soldiers routed Arch Clemen’s guerrillas.
The second courthouse at Richmond was built according to a contract which was let in the fall of 1856, which was used until 1914 when the contract was let for the present courthouse.
During “The Great War” — World War I, 904 men from Ray County volunteered or were conscripted for military service. Largely through the efforts of State Senator John F. Morton, a company was recruited as “G” Company of the 140th infantry regiment.
Captain J.L. “Tuck” Milligan, later representative in Congress from the 3rd District, served as captain of that company. Other Ray County men who commanded companies during the World War were Captain Cecil M. Farris and Captain R.K. Brady.