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Clay County, Missouri – A Strange Confluence of Historical Elements

By Melinda Cohenour

Or, Abraham Creek, Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War

   Genealogical research never ceases to provide a glimpse into the past and the quixotic nature of chance. Researching my pioneering families in Clay County, Missouri, provided just such an intriguing look at how fate, nature, luck, choice may result in unexpected alliances and unfortunate severing of those same relationships.

   To begin our look at the forces at work in this little tale, I must first permit you to explore with me the establishment of this northwestern corner of Missouri. French trappers first settled, temporarily, in this area of the state about 1800 on Randolph Bluff. This part of Missouri is perhaps one of the most desirable land masses in the United States, lush with forested land, originally comprised of oak, hickory, ash, walnut, hackberry and cottonwood trees replete with waterways made up of creeks and tributaries deriving from the Missouri River. Clay County fronts nearly fifty miles of this grand river, providing more than adequate water and fertile river bottom soil for farming. Early in its history, Clay County’s water aquifers could be attained by merely sinking a well to some thirty feet. The land is typically rolling meadows, interrupted here and there by precipitous and rocky bluffs. The weather is, for the most part, fully affected by all four seasons of the year: cool, breezy Springs, warm and rainy Summers, gloriously painted in the Fall with the many hues afforded by its rich forests, and Winters that bring necessary snow in most years to kill off undesired pests and provide additional melt to enrich the essential life-flow of water.

   The first permanent settlers built their cabins and broke ground for their farms in the year of 1819. Its official organizational documents are dated 2 January 1822. Named in honor of United States Representative Henry Clay of Kentucky who also served as a member of the United States Senate and, ultimately, as United States Secretary of State. The majority of pioneers in Clay County came from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, states deeply entrenched in the practice of slaveholding and many of those pioneers brought their slaves and traditions with them.

   The first orders of business in creating a new county includes the establishment of a manner in which it may be governed and its citizens protected, taxed and afforded a proper infrastructure for the conduct of personal and commercial business. Thus, early in 1822 a county court was established with appropriate judicial, clerical and policing appointments made. This brings us to the entry of our first element of fate, the appointment of Mr. David Todd as judge to the First Circuit Court in Clay County.

   To quote from History of Clay and Platte Counties, Missouri, “Judge David Todd was born in Fayette county, Ky., in 1790. He came to Missouri at an early day and located at Old Franklin, Howard county. He was well known and long remembered as an able and upright judge and a pure man. Judge Todd died at Columbia, Boone county, in 1859.”

   One anecdotal story concerning Judge Todd’s administration of his duties in this History has to do with the last recorded “affront” to the citizens of Clay County by native Indians. In May of 1823 a “roving band of Iowa Indians” on their way to the Grand River country took a liking to some horses “owned by Ezekiel Huffman and other citizens” and drove them along with them to the encampment on Grand River, “just above where Brunswick now stands.”

   Judge Todd issued a warrant directing the sheriff of Chariton county, where information from the chiefs of the tribe determined the culprits to be then located, to arrest the three horse thieves. The names of the Indians were: “given as O'ha-pa-bar-lar, or Buffalo Nose; Mon-to-kar, or White Briar, and T on-tar-ru-r/cue-clze, or Where he is Crossing. Subpoenas were also issued for War-sen-nee, or The End of Medicine; War-hu-kea, or Moccasin Awl; Monk-she-Icon-nah, a Valiant Man, Won-chee-mon-nee, “chiefs of the said Ioway nation of Indians.”

   As luck would have it, the Indians were apprehended, handed over to Judge Todd for arraignment at Fayette on the 5th of July. Brought again before Judge Todd on the 7th of July, they were remanded to the custody of the Clay County sheriff to await trial. Unfortunately, the 'slippery devils' managed to escape on the 8th of July, and although not again apprehended the stolen horses were recovered and returned to their rightful owners.

   An interesting anecdote, but not the central focus of this little story about the assimilation of bodies corporeal that have, by their familial relationships, the ingredients for the old adage: “history makes for strange bedfellows.”

   From the History of Clay County, Missouri (Author: William H. Woodson, published by Historical Publishing Company, Topeka - Indianapolis, 1920.) we find:

   “The first circuit court was held in Clay County at the house of John Owens, in Liberty, March 4, 1822. David Todd, an uncle of the wife of Abraham Lincoln, who was Mary Todd, was judge; William L. Smith, clerk; Hamilton R. Gamble, circuit attorney, and John Harris, sheriff.”

   And later:

   “John Harris was a lineal descendant of Mary Jefferson, sister of Thomas Jefferson; Mary Jefferson married Col. John Turpin and her daughter, Obedience, married Col. John Harris.”

   Now, enters my 4th Great Grandfather Abraham Creek, son of a German architect and brick mason, Killian Creek (original Guilliam Grieg, with the Germanic name anglicized) whose fame includes both Killian Kreek’s Mill, built in Barren County, Kentucky in 1799 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the first Gibson County (Indiana) courthouse built in Princeton, Indiana in 1815. Abraham Creek was one of the earliest pioneers in Clay County, Missouri, whose name appears a couple of times in conjunct with both David Todd (as aforesaid, Mary Todd Lincoln’s uncle) where he served as one of the twelve jurors in the earliest court case in the county:

   “The next term of the circuit court was in July following (1823), and only one jury trial, that of the State vs. Jonathan Camron, who had been indicted for affray. A jury of twelve good and true men were selected to try the defendant; they were Abijah Means, Richard Chaney, Abraham Creek, John Bartleson, James Gladden, Francis T. Slaughter, Enos Vaughn, Andrew Copelin, John Carrell, Matthew Averett, Eppa Tillery and Samuel Magill, who after hearing the evidence, instructions of the court, and arguments of counsel, retired, but soon returned with a verdict, “We, the jury, find the defendant not guilty”. (Also from the History of Clay County, Missouri, by Woodson.)

   …and later we find that Abraham Creek was a neighbor to another Abraham,

   “Court Proceedings in 1826. In May the first steps were taken to build a court house; Wm. Averett was allowed $30 per year for the support of his insane son; and Abraham Lincoln (uncle of the "martyr President"), Reuben Tillery and Abraham Creek were appointed reviewers of a road from Liberty to Estes' mill, on Fishing river.

   Abraham Creek was the father of Jacob Haudenscheldt (or Howdeshell) Creek who married Virginia Lee Younger, the daughter of Colonel Charles Lee Younger and sister to Henry Washington Younger. Henry Washington Younger was a businessman with varied commercial enterprises: a mercantile business, a livery stable and extensive farmlands worked by family slaves. His grandfather, Joshua Logan Younger, was with George Washington during the exhaustive ordeal at Valley Forge and later critically wounded serving under Washington at the Battle of Brandywine. His grandmother was related to the famous Lee family of Virginia, reputed by many to be the daughter of Richard Henry Lee and Anne Aydelott. (She was not named in the Will of Richard Henry Lee, as she predeceased him by some seven years, a fact that causes some members of the Lee family to dispute her heritage.) But, more germane to this article, Henry Washington Younger was the father of Thomas Coleman, James Hardin, John Harrison and Robert Ewing Younger, better known as Cole, Jim, John and Bob Younger or, simply, as the Younger Gang. Henry Washington Younger’s slaughter at the hands of a Union thug, Capt. Irvin Walley and his gang of unscrupulous “soldiers” was the impetus that drove Cole Younger to determine it necessary to join sides in the Civil War.

   Most know of the history of the Younger Gang both during the War as Cole rode with William Clarke Quantrill along with Creek cousins, a couple of brothers-in-law and various friends including Frank and Jesse James and afterwards as the former “bushwhackers” became “civilly disobedient” in their outrage against the scourge of carpetbaggers that swarmed the South following the end of the War.

   Thus, the relatives of Abraham Creek, Abraham Lincoln (the uncle to Honest Abe), and David Todd (uncle to Mary Todd Lincoln) would find themselves embroiled in the bloodiest war in the history of the United States with much of the action centering in and around Clay County, Missouri. The juxtaposition of friendly neighbors, busy at work doing what must be done to establish a thriving community became a hotbed of hatred, revenge, and outrage that mystifies us even today.

   A quirk of fate, a chance encounter….

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