When Cape County reached to Kansas

Tuesday, October 3, 2006
Several volunteers dressed in early 19th century attire to commemorate Cape Girardeau County's founding at a sparsely attended ceremony Monday.

The territory of Cape Girardeau County is just a fraction of what it was when the county was formed in 1812. Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones wants it all back.

With a sly look in his eye and a top hat on his head, Jones on Monday presided over a commemoration of the county's founding by reading the list of 27 counties that were formed out of the original Cape Girardeau County.

Feigning seriousness, he said the current county commission "is in the process of adopting an ordinance requiring the return of the land that has been taken from us so we can rightfully own the land to the Kansas border."

The territory taken from Cape Girardeau County over the 194 years spans some of the most spectacular scenery in the Ozarks and Missouri's third largest city, Springfield.

After the half-hour ceremony -- with Jones and fellow commissioners Larry Bock and Jay Purcell representing the county's original leaders and County Clerk Rodney Miller dressed to portray first county clerk Joseph McFerron -- Jones said he has had county archive director Jane Randol Jackson looking into the issue of lost land. "She can't find anything where anybody bought the county's land from us," he said. "But we are probably going to lose in court."

All joking aside, Monday's ceremony was part a county tribute to the bicentennial of the platting of Cape Girardeau. The event grew out an enthusiastic response by Jackson when Jones asked to help a commissioner in Daviess County, Mo., with questions about that county's courthouse. Cape Girardeau and Daviess counties used the same architect for their courthouses, both built near the beginning of the 20th century.

Cape Girardeau County Commissioners dressed as judges of the year 1812 for the commemoration of the 194th anniversary of the founding of Cape Girardeau County in Jackson Monday. From left were Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones and Commissioners Larry Bock and Jay Purcell.

Jackson put together the program, lined up the Allen Laws Oliver chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution to present the colors and wrote the script. She acknowledged that the 194th anniversary isn't special, but it gave her an opportunity to look at the oldest records in the county archive.

Those records include the minute books of the first county court and other records dating to the early 1800s. "We have all the territorial records," she said, noting that the records are contained in 35 boxes that have all been indexed.

The information available, she said, includes registered marks and brands of livestock allowed to roam freely and voter lists, including people excluded from voting because they did not live here long enough to cast a ballot.

The small audience at the event heard a reading of the Oct. 1, 1812, proclamation establishing Cape Girardeau as a county in the Territory of Missouri. Congress designated the land in the Louisiana Purchase north of Arkansas as the Missouri Territory in June 1812, to make a distinction between it and the state of Louisiana, which was also established in 1812.

The also learned about the first county officials, including Presiding Judge William Kelso, who lived at the mouth of Cape LaCroix Creek, Judge Dr. Thomas Byrne, one of the first physicians in the area, and Judge John Ramsey Jr., one of the first Anglo settlers to enter the area while it was under Spanish rule in 1795.

Miller listened as Mike Shain, news anchor of KFVS12, went over the history and described the man he was portraying as "a man of fine sense and superior education" who "bore a hard and stolid expression, and his eyes were overhung by large, projecting eyebrows."

McFerron fought a duel on a sandbar in the Mississippi River in the autumn of 1807, killing his opponent. He resigned but was re-instated and served until his death in 1821.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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