Western Missouri is a diverse country. The Ozark mountains give way to the great plains here. Her early years were spent under a great inland sea which gradually waned and ebbed leaving limestone and sandstone in nearly every township. The later swamps became massive coal fields that brought a fleeting wealth and prosperity at the turn of the twentieth century. The gently rolling countryside once had prairie grass so tall a man on horseback could get lost and not see the wagon he was escorting. The next turn might bring sheer limestone cliffs dropping down to wide streams that brought early settlers and supplies upriver from St. Louis.
The fertile lands for farming, wide expanses of prairie suitable for grazing of livestock, timber lined streams providing an abundance of easily used building materials and few problems with native Indian populations made western Missouri an attractive destination for Americans and immigrants pushing west. It was not until 1856 when the U.S. government finally opened up the land in western Missouri for purchase that settlers could secure clear title. From then the rush was on.
Thousands of acres of land were sold and towns began to spring up to meet the needs of the increasing population. This growth would come to an abrupt end with the outbreak of the Civil War. More battles were fought in Missouri than in any other single state. Western Missouri faced incursions from Jayhawkers, Quantrill’s Raiders, John Brown’s followers and the regular forces of the Union and Confederate armies.
General Ewing’s Order # 11 sealed the fate of western Missouri. Order # 11 directed Union forces to evacuate the western counties of Jackson, Bates and Cass and to burn to the ground any structure that would provide haven and to confiscate all livestock and grain that would provide sustenance to the Confederate forces. The Union started with Bates County.
Settlers returning to their homes after the war reported only utter devastation and ruin with an occasional stone chimney standing as a lone reminder to what had been. The 1870’s were a period of tremendous rebuilding. By the 1880’s the War was in the past and progressive enterprise was the order of the day.
In 1883, W.O. Atkinson published his History of Cass and Bates County and noted the availability of stone for building purposes. “Stone, for all ordinary purposes, can be obtained in most neighborhoods, but superior building rock is not of general occurrence. Limestone, suitable for making ordinary lime, can be obtained in easy distance of most neighborhoods.”
Atkinson also examined each township and wrote about those in Bates County where stone played an important role:
Elkhart Township - “ Limestone can be quarried in many sections, of the best quality for building purposes.”
Hudson Township - “Limestone rock abounds.”
Homer Township- “There is an abundance of limestone in different parts of the township, the highest points of the prairie land being covered with it, saying nothing of the banks and beds of many of the streams.
Lone Oak Township - “Timber and building rock are abundant. Considerable of the land is hilly and broken, but good for farming.”
Mount Pleasant Township- “The surface of the land in the township is rolling, and in some localities there are rocky hills, …Any quantity of sand and limestone rock are to be found in the township… Good quarries of sandstone may be opened just south of Possum Creek. The best exposure of this sandstone is on Mound Branch, east of Butler. The rock of this quarry will favorably compare with the Warrensburg sandstone, of which it is probably the equivalent. Thirty-five feet total thickness was here observed. On Possum Creek it is about eighty feet thick.”
Rockville Township - “The surrounding country is good for farming, and some portions of the township are noted for the excellent quarries of white sandstone, which is shipped in large quantities all over the country. One of the most important quarries is located in section 2, called Laughlin’s quarry….A good sandstone quarry was noted on the prairie three miles west of Rockville, and the sandstone immediately around Rockville affords a tolerably good building material.”
Atkinson also wrote of Cass County, including its geological properties:
Big Creek Township – “Building stone, both sand and limestone, can be quarried in different localities, the former usually in the timber and the latter in the prairies and along the water courses. Some of this stone (the outcroppings), was used by the original settlers in building the chimneys to their cabins. They had no idea, however, of the exhaustless supply to be found in the quarries, just beneath the surface of the earth.”
Camp Branch Township – “There is, in many parts of the township, an abundance of good building stone cropping out near the surface.”
Dayton Township – “Building stone is found in many localities-limestone”.
Raymore Township – “Raymore, like all other townships in Cass County, is well supplied with limestone, which seems to be everywhere prevalent, and is being utilized in the building of fences and the construction of houses.”
Despite Atkinson’s descriptions of “stone abounds”, there were no significantly large deposits of consistently useable stone in the western counties, except for the limestone deposits at Carthage, Missouri.
The excellent quality of this stone for a variety of building and memorial purposes drew the best of the stone cutters, quarriers and sculptors to Carthage. By 1904, a Missouri sponsored study of the stone industry noted this of Carthage. “Although a comparatively new industry at this place, it has increased so rapidly that within eighteen years it has become the center of limestone production in this State…..Carthage limestone is fast becoming one of the most popular building materials in the middle west….”
Throughout western Missouri, the majority of the quarries were not located near railroad transportation. This meant that the stone had to be hauled by oxen or horse teams, limiting its general availability for building purposes. It was often cheaper to purchase stone from the quarriers at Carthage, than to obtain it locally.
Quarries remained small and were rarely worked on a full time basis. Stonecutters who immigrated into the area and remained frequently turned to other business pursuits to supplement their income. Land was so plentiful and of such good agricultural quality that farming often out produced the income from general stone working.
While good quality stone was of limited availability, clay for brick making was abundant. A sizable industry developed and a majority of business buildings were constructed predominately of brick. Local stone was still incorporated in the building construction. Rubble stone was used for foundations, back and side walls. Brick would dress the store
fronts frequently accented with lintels, sills and decorations of Carthage “Marble”. Stonecutters became of necessity multipurpose masons able to cut and dress stone and to lay up brick.
Many people labored to build the towns and villages of western Missouri. It took all kinds – blacksmiths, teachers, bankers, grocers, harness makers, plasters – laborers and leaders. Some towns grew, prospered and made it to the modern age. Many more enjoyed brief moments of life and today are marked only in memories and on old plat maps.
The stonecutters were part of this. Artisans in their own way, they rarely signed their names to their work. And as with all artisans, each had his own style. While you may not today know who cut the stone for the old jail in Butler, you can recognize his style on the foundation blocks of the commercial buildings on the town square. In the country graveyards, a practiced eye will tell you which monument shop erected each memorial. Their work endures today and in this study we have sought them out to give them recognition for their work and a better appreciation for labors.