About four years ago, St. Charles County (Missouri) Executive Steve Ehlmann, then a judge, was poking through the county courthouse basement when he discovered a stash of court documents from the early 1800s. Now, after two years of preserving and indexing by the Missouri State Archives, historians are ready to tell the public exactly what they've found. Genealogists with ancestors in St. Charles County should pay close attention.
The newly-discovered records cover a 30-year period when records were not plentiful. The first batch historians analyzed included about 7,000 pages of documents representing about 1,650 court cases and administrative actions from the years 1805 to 1835. The papers include signatures by Daniel Boone, court documents about the Spanish Southwest, and the only publicly-owned biography of William Clark, which was written for his 1820 run for governor.
State archivists Bill Glankler and Nik Henle have spent countless hours in the courthouse basement, sorting through and indexing the records from that period. Along with documents gathered from the St. Charles County Historical Society and elsewhere, the records total about 2,800 court cases of at least 10,000 pages and fill 25 cubic-foot storage boxes.
They have preserved damaged papers and indexed the information, and the index will eventually be searchable through the state archives and the county historical society. The actual documents should be on microfilm later this year.
The archivists will present their findings at the St. Charles County Historical Society's quarterly meeting on April 28. They will also give a presentation at the Missouri Conference on History in downtown St. Louis on April 19.
Lynn Morrow, director of the Local Records Preservation Program for the state archives, said, "The collection is just loaded with Howells and Zumwalts, and Callaways and Van Bibbers." Many of those families were involved in court cases or actions that give a closer look at American history. In the War of 1812, Capt. James Callaway was killed near the modern-day border of Warren and Montgomery counties. "That kind of information about the War of 1812 is as scarce as hen's teeth," Morrow said.
More court records mention Matthias "Tice" Van Bibber, a favorite hunting companion of Morgan and Nathan Boone, two of Daniel Boone's sons. It was commonly thought Van Bibber was killed on a hunting venture, Morrow said, but the court documents show that he didn't die that way at all. Van Bibber showed up several years after his supposed death working at a sawmill owned by Morgan Boone in Texas County. The court case involved the mill.
"The reach of the court is much farther than most people realize," Morrow said.
If you had ancestors in St. Charles County from the years 1805 to 1835, you need to check this new collection as soon as you can. Admittedly, it will not be online, so you may need to travel to the county courthouse.
My thanks to Rosanne (Goad) Vrugtman for telling me about this newly-found collection.