Miller County History


by Peggy Smith Hake


"Once upon a time" usually begins an exciting tale of adventure, which tends to delight both old and young alike. Some real-life adventures have occurred right here in Miller County. One of which was the Zebulon Pike expedition to the Western lands.

Some wonderful history has been made here in central Missouri involving the mighty Osage River. The river, which flows northeasterly through Miller County, played a major role in the Pike Expedition.

In midsummer 1806, a young, aspiring United States army officer, Zebulon Pike, the son of a Revolutionary War soldier, led an expedition through our area. It must have been a strange sight over 200 years ago when a pair of crude river craft and their crew, accompanied by a few Indian passengers, traveled up our crooked Osage River.

A number of braves and youths of the Pawnee and Osage tribes acted as scouts for Pike's group, traveling on foot over the cliffs and dense woods, which lined the Osage in 1806. The stream in those days was quite different from what we see today-no Bagnell Dam, no vast expanse of lake waters---only clear, beautiful water winding its way among the wooded hills and cedar-capped bluffs. Its upper regions reached out to the grassy prairies to the west, which had only known the tread of the Indian's swift foot and the hoof beats of the buffalo, antelope, deer, and Indian ponies.

It was under a blistering July sun when 23 white men and their Indian escorts set out on their journey from Ft. Bellfontaine, four miles above the mouth of the Missouri River north of St. Louis. Among the party of 23 men on Pike's expedition was St. James Wilkinson, son of General James Wilkinson Sr., the military commander of the Mississippi River frontier and superintendent of Indian affairs. During this time in Missouri's history, St. Louis was a city of more than 1,000 persons and one-third were black slaves.

An Englishman, Thomas Ashe, author of TRAVELS, described St. Louis in 1806 as "a lawless and violent town since the arrival of a host of Americans". The Pike expedition traveled for 13 days before reaching the Osage River on 28 July 1806. The last settlement of any importance, Les Petit Cotes (St. Charles) had been passed a week before. Traveling the Osage was a tedious and torturous adventure. Their methods were primitive and the progress was slow as they made their way upstream against treacherous sand bars and drift piles.

It is not known for sure, but historians believe the size of Pike's boats measured about 70 feet in length and moved upstream by sails on a mast made of pine spar. Pike had gotten this pine spar in Minnesota only the year before on an expedition he had made to the upper Mississippi country. He discarded the pine spar somewhere along the Osage because it proved unpractical in navigating this stream of water. Many times the crew had to jump overboard and pull the boat upstream with long tow-ropes.

Also aboard his boats were 51 Osage and Pawnee Indians (men, boys, women, and papooses) who were being transported back to their villages near the headwaters of the Osage. These Indians had been captives of the Pottawatomie tribes and were restored to their relatives and homes.

From his personal writings, Pike recorded that a hunter's paradise was seen along the journey through Missouri. He reported a large kill of deer, bear, turkey and other game. He also recorded an encounter with a rattlesnake but since it did not strike, he spared its life. The weapons used were the long, heavy flintlock rifles of the Kentucky style, much the same type gun used at the Battle of New Orleans almost 7 years later in the War of 1812 by General Andrew Jackson and his Tennessee troops.

July 31, 1806, Pike entered what is now Miller County and traveled 18 miles on the river that day. On August 1, only 6 miles was traveled because of heavy rain. The river had raised 6 inches. On August 2, they made only 2 miles because part of the day was used to dry out their provisions and to hunt. On August 3, his party of frontiersmen passed the mouth of the Saline Creek and went on past the present site of Tuscumbia. On August 4, they traveled 10 miles with more rain; August 5 the rain continued and the river raised 13 inches so they had to once again stop and used the day to hunt. It was there that Pike encountered the rattlesnake. August 6, they made 13 miles and passed "Gravel Creek on the West" which must have been the Gravois Creek that we know today.

It was on August 6, 1806 they left our present boundaries of Miller County. After Pike and his crew left our central Missouri region, their expedition continued on westward, passing through hundreds of miles of prairies in western Kansas and eastern Colorado not knowing at the time they would be facing a horrible ordeal within a few weeks. They were subjected to days and nights of bitter cold and hunger. On one occasion, they went 4 days without any food until their commander was fortunate enough to shoot a buffalo. In those beautiful, ice-covered Rocky Mountains they experienced cold so intense that many of them froze their feet. They found no shelter from the biting cold, snow, and blizzards in the mountain wilderness of the Colorado Rockies. Miraculously they all survived.

Pike has been credited with reaching Colorado's beautiful mountain lying west of Colorado Springs. Today we know this majestic mountain as "Pike's Peak" where it lifts heavenward far above the clouds, clad with snow at its summit most of the year round. Pike never climbed this mountain that is named for him. He called it "Grand Mountain" and never knew it would eventually bear his name.

During the early 1980s I took a tour of to top of that fabulous mountain and I can well understand what inspired Katherine Lee Bates, author of the poem and song, "America the Beautiful", to record her immortal words-"Oh, beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain; for purple-mounted majesties, above the fruited plain." Katherine, a visiting English professor, stood on the summit of Zebulon Pike's Peak, 14,100 feet above the earth, viewing a continuous panorama of breath taking scenery of the great plains to the east; the Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico to the south; and an astounding view of mile upon mile of snow-capped giants to the west...............

We Missourians feel we are a part of that vast mountain in Colorado because Zebulon Pike touched our homeland of the Osage here in central Missouri, cutting a path westward on our mighty Osage River, paving the way toward those magnificent Rockies with the labor of rugged frontiersmen and our native Osage Indian scouts.


A few weeks ago I received a letter from the editor of EAST TENNESSEE ROOTS, a quarterly magazine of Tennessee Valley Publications in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The editor asked if I could research and write a story for their publication concerning the East Tennessee pioneering families who migrated westward and settled in Central Missouri prior to the Civil War. That seemed like quite a challenge, so I began my quest to see what interesting things I could learn. It didn't take long! I was astounded to learn that a vast migration occurred in the mid 19th century out of the beautiful hills of East Tennessee to the new land that was made available to those pioneering families who had so much courage and stamina.

An early day settler of Central Missouri, Robinson Garnett Smith, wrote a letter back to some of his kinfolk's in southeast Kentucky (in the Cumberland Gap area of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia) and gave this enthusiastic report: "Crops look promising and I do say I never saw such corn in my life. The stalks are so large that when we come to gather it we have to take ladders to climb up the stalk. I am in a promised land where you have no need to work the land; it is so rich you may plant a crowbar at night and it will sprout ten penny nails by morning." (From: Official Manual, State of Missouri, 1979-1980.)

The pioneering spirit of our ancestors drove them onward to a new and. something hidden behind the ranges' was the beckoning call that kept them ever on the move westward. It is said that every man was a modern-day Moses because be hoped to see the 'Promised Land' in his own lifetime.

Perhaps that was the driving spirit that brought so many East Tennessee families into Central Missouri in the 1830s through the 1860s.

Land was cheap in Missouri's early days, .50 cents an acre, so it took only a small amount of cash to get a start in farming. Settlers from East Tennessee, the Carolinas, Virginia, and Kentucky came to Mid-Missouri in the late 1830s and onward to Civil War times. The usual pattern was for these pioneers to build a home, usually near a stream of spring, and then some enterprising person would construct a mill for grinding grain then more settlers would be influenced to come into the area...thus a settlement was begun.

I have been to East Tennessee and researched some of my ancestral families who once resided in the counties of Grainger, Claiborne, McMinn, Meigs, Roane, and Union. The land there is so beautiful and for the life of me, I cannot imagine green Tennessee valleys and cedar-clad hills.

While in East Tennessee I researched for my ancestral family why my ancestors wanted to leave the gorgeous mountains and green valleys of the Cumberland Gap region or the rolling hills and ridges of the Cinch Mountain area. Missouri was a long, tiresome trip in those days, traveling by covered wagon over mountains, through valleys, crossing treacherous rivers and onward mile after mile after mile.

They brought only the necessary Items and left behind their homes, lands, friends and family Once arriving at their destination, after weeks of traveling, the cycle began all over...building a new home, clearing the land, planting crops, building new schools and churches.

My Missouri homeland is beautiful also; Miller County is divided by the mighty Osage River with smaller tributaries reaching across the land. To the South is the land of the Big Richwoods the terrain rugged and beautiful. To the North is the rolling prairie land of Saline and Franklin townships where the rich soil produced wonderful crops. In my Big Tavern Creek valley, south of the Osage River, the land looks very much like the Clinch Valleys of Tennessee. When my ancestors migrated to Miller County in the late 1830's and early 1840's, the land looked much the same as today, so I am sure they were reminded of their earlier homes.

Names including Wyrick, Rook, Jones, Monroe, Dyer, Colvin, Cheek, Phipps, all of Grainger/Union Counties; Jenkins & Freeman in Claiborne County; Shelton, Lawson, Burks & Roberds in McMinn Co; Rowden & Crain/Crane in Roane and Meigs Co. The allied families who married into these families included Kitts, Norvell, Newton, Brandon, Green, McNabb, Renfrow, Elsey, DeLozier, and Johnson. The old records are in wonderful order and easy to research in most of the county courthouses I visited.

There were other familiar names I found as I researched in those Eastern Tennessee courthouses including: Benjamin Shields, Jesse Poor, Wyatt Stubblefield, Jehu Carnes, John Wigington, Char1es Martin, Jonathan Hale, William R. Wright, and his wife, Lucy Moon. Larkin Shelton and his wife Martha Melton, Sterling Shelton and his wife Charlotte Gregory, Thomas Shelton and his wife, Elizabeth Wright...all these people came to Miller County.

Missouri did not hold on to all these pioneers who ventured from Tennessee. The gold rush of 1848 and the Donation Land Act of 1850 sent them on the 'wings of flight' once again. Some migrated to the gold fields of California while others formed wagon trains in mass movement to Oregon Territory. Had not the vast waters of the Pacific Ocean been in the way, I am sure they would have continued resettling and homesteading new land until they reached the eastern coast of China! Did your ancestor come from East Tennessee? The following surnames were found in the 1850 census of Miller County who gave their place of birth as Tennessee: Allen, Armstrong, Abbott, Burris, Burks, Bills, Bond, Bradford, Brasier, Berry, Bilyeu, Bowlin, Breeden, Beard, Barr, Ball, Beal, Colvin, Coker, Carleton, Caulk, Barnhart, Brandon, Branham, Capps, Birdson, Castleman, Blize, Cross, Craig, Cogburn, Clark, Compton, Davis, Denny, Denton, Duncan, Dickerson, Dyer, Donaldson, Dixon, Etter, Fulkerson, Fancher, Freeman, Grady, Green, Goss, Glenn, Gott, Howell, Hawkins, Henderson, Hook, Henderson, Jenkins, Johnston, Kirkendoll, Killmer, Lawson, Long, Hix, Lynch, McCowell, Mulkey, Manning, McComb, Nolen, Newton, Oneal, Powell, Popejoy, Phillips, Pittman, Pemberton, Roark, Russell, Rowden, Renfrow, Record, Richardson, Roberts, Smith, Stubblefield, Starling, Sullins, Stephens, Shoemaker, Scott, Sorter, Turner, Taylor, Stephens, Thornsberry, Vann, Vernon Vanderpool, Van Hooser, Vaughan, Wyrick, Wilkes, Wilson, Wiseman, Workman, Witt, Williams, Winfrey, West.


Miller County is in the central part of Missouri, bounded on the north by Morgan, Moniteau and Cole; east by Cole, Osage, and Maries; south by Pulaski and Camden; and west by Camden and Morgan counties; area 380,000 acres.

The territory now comprising Miller County was a hunting ground of the Osage Indians. As late as 1822, they had a village on Tavern Creek, near the mouth of Barren Fork. About the beginning of the century adventurous hunters and trappers visited the country, and later traders followed in their footsteps. Along the Osage was a well-worn trail, and along this the pioneers wended their way. It is not known that any of the early hunters in the territory became permanent settlers. The first white man to make his home in the county, according to the most reliable authorities, was Seneca R. Y. Day, who settled near the mouth of Tavern Creek in 1815.

Miller County territory was included in Cole County when the latter was organized in 1820, and remained so until February 6, 1837, when the legislative act creating Miller County out of the southern part of Cole County was approved. The county was named in honor of John Miller, who was Governor of Missouri, 1826-28.

There were no schools in the county until after 1830. The report of the school superintendents in 1899 showed the number of public schools in the county as eighty-six.

During the Civil War, Miller County supplied about 1, 000 men to both side, about 700 serving on the Federal side and the remainder on the Southern, mostly under General Parsons. There was considerable bushwhacking, a little skirmishing, but no regular engagements within its limits. The county quickly recovered from the effects of the war soon after peace was declared.


Between July 31-August 6, 1806, the famous expedition of Zebulon M. Pike passed through present day Miller County. They traveled the Osage River on their way west, eventually reaching Colorado.

July 20, 1826, the first land entry was made, in what is now Miller County, by William Miller. It was in Section 23, Twp. 42, Range 14, near Spring Garden.

In 1834, the first water mill was built in Miller County by William Brockman on the Saline creek and a few years later, William Williams built the second mill in the county. The first steam mill was built in 1853 by John Humes near Mt. Pleasant.

Miller County was established as a county on February 6, 1837. The area north of the Osage River had been part of Cole County and the area south of the Osage had been part of Pulaski County.

At the June, 1837 county court, first merchants licenses were issued to W. P. Dickson/Dixon, Zachariah Price, and Andrew Burris.

In July, 1837, the county was road-districted and the first ferry permit was granted to Cornelius P. Davidson at Tuscumbia.

On Dec. 21, 1837, the first post office in the county was established at Tuscumbia with James Pryor Harrison as the first postmaster. Mail was delivered on horseback once a week from Waynesville to Jefferson City via Tuscumbia.

In 1839, the first courthouse was built (a 35 ft. by 20 ft. log building) and the first jail (19 ft. square) was built about the same time, a short distance north of the log courthouse. The second courthouse was built in 1859. It was a two-story brick building with a gabled roof measuring 40 ft. by 56 ft. A low bid of $6,000 was let to Robert McKim for the construction. In 1865, a stone jail was built in the courtyard. In 1879, one cell of it was leased to the town of Tuscumbia for a calaboose.

On Feb. 4, 1840, the county court divided Miller County into 14 school districts. In 1840, the financial statement of Miller County showed $243.10 received and $455.75 expended. In 1860, these had increased to $2,410.16 received and $2,312.76 expended. The financial condition of the county improved over the four decades between 1840 and 1880.

The first marriage in the county was performed on Feb. 26, 1837. Sims Brockman married Rachel Gartin, by Andrew Kingery, a minister of the gospel.

On Nov. 6, 1837, the county court issued a merchants license to Wm. H. Pulliam, who had a frontier general store near the present site of Iberia.

In 1851, Miller County had four post office sites......Iberia, Pleasant Mount, Rocky Mount, and Tuscumbia.

The oldest road in Miller County was the Springfield-Jefferson City road, running generally north and south passing through Tuscumbia. Another old road was the Little Piney River-Versailles road taking a northwesterly direction through Iberia and Tuscumbia.

In 1840, the first paupers were farmed out by the county court.

Miller County once had a township named Reed. It was formed in 1837 from part of Equality Township; was soon abolished.

In 1855, the first river improvement was voted on.

October 3, 1860, the original plat of the town of Iberia was filed for record by Henry M. Dickerson with only two streets laid out....Main St. and St. Louis St.

In the 1860s and 70s, Jesse and Frank James, the well-known Missouri outlaws, frequented the backwoods trails of Miller County. They visited their cousin, Mildred James Wall and her husband, Jim Wall, at their trading post in southern Richwoods Township called Faith.

In 1870, the first Catholic Church in the county was built at Old St. Elizabeth on the east bank of the Osage River. The town and church was founded by an Irishman named Owen Riggs.

In 1870 the first newspaper in the county was established at Tuscumbia called THE OSAGE VALLEY SENTINEL. Other early newspapers included The Tuscumbia Republican, The Gospel Messenger, The Miller County Vindicator, The Eye Opener, Osage Valley Record, The Western Preacher, The Miller County Vidette, The Helmet, The Osage Valley Banner, The Iberia Intelligencer, The Iberia Impetus, The Iberia Advocate, The Iberia Headlight and others.......

During the 1870s, horse racing, embezzlements, abortion, burglary, and a few new cases came up in the courts and by the 1880s, almost every variety of cases, known to most circuit courts, appeared in Miller County.

In 1875, the first County Farm Superintendent, J. C. Hoff, was appointed.

Aurora Springs was the county's largest town during the 1880s and 90s, due to the discovery of mineral springs in the region. In 1881, approximately 20 new buildings sprang up in the 'boom town'. When the railroad bypassed the town, it began to decline and almost disappeared. In 1890, its population was 421 persons.

The original plat of the town of Eldon was filed by George R. Weeks on March 15, 1882. The town became a reality after the railroad bypassed Aurora Springs to the south and was built a few miles further north.

In 1883, the first railroad tax was paid to the county by the Jefferson City, Lebanon, and Southwestern Railroad.

By 1889, the county had never issued any bonds. Funds were taken from the Road and Canal Fund and the Internal Improvement Fund.

In 1888, the county had 18 ¾ miles of railroad tracks within its boundaries. The property was assessed at $71,285.09 for the railroad and $1,500 for the telegraph system.

In 1889, Miller County's first bank was established at Olean on August 20th, the Miller County Exchange Bank........Olean, in the extreme northern section of the county, has been known by four different names----Proctor, Cove, Chester, and finally Olean.

Cynthia Hawkins Spearman, a well-known schoolteacher of the 19th century in the county, was the first woman elected to a county office. She served as Superintendent of Public Schools of Miller County during 1895 and 1896.

In 1889, Eldon had three hotels built in the new city which sprang up around the railroad tracks........The Cottage, operated by Mrs. Hattie James; The Goss House owned by J. Goss; and The Eldon Hotel, operated by John Brickey.

By 1889, Eldon had only had one newspaper, The Eldon News, published by L. F. Hart as a Republican newspaper. It only existed for a few months in 1886.

On June 5, 1913, the town board of Iberia (incorporated as a town in 1875) ordered five electric lights to be installed on the streets.

In 1918, the great influenza plague, which took many lives across America, ran rampant in Miller County. On Oct. 5, 1918, John Ferguson, chairman of Iberia's town board, ordered through a proclamation..."all schools, churches, and public places be closed during the prevalence of this influenza epidemic."

On August 17, 1924, Wm. Jennings Bryan, famed attorney, made a short address in Eldon. He spoke to the crowd from the rear car of the Rock Island-Colorado flyer.

On March 27, 1929, the county court awarded the contract to construct a new jail to W. W. Hocker of Sedalia. The bid was $7,249.36. Final cost was almost $10,000.

Construction began on a dam across the Osage River on August 6,'s Bagnell Dam.

The new county home (also once called an almshouse) was opened on August 4, 1931. It was located southeast of Tuscumbia on Highway 17. It contained 198 acres of farmland.

Miller County's first historical society was formed on Nov. 18, 1931. The meeting was held at the Iberia Academy and Junior College. Officers elected were Gerard Schultz, president; Fred Spearman, vice president; and Clifford H. Clark, secretary/treasurer.

October 1, 1932, a new post office was opened and called Lake Ozark. Frank Andrews was the first postmaster.

On May 2, 1933, construction began on the new steel structural bridge across the Osage River at Tuscumbia. Final cost for construction was $145,000.

Norah Harbour Parrish, a Judge of Miller County's Probate Court in the 1930s, was the first woman to be elected as a probate judge in the state of Missouri.

The first name given to Lake of the Ozarks was Lake Benton by an Act of the General Assembly of Missouri. The builders called it Lake of the Ozarks and the popular name remained.

by Peggy Smith Hake

"Gold in California....Free Land in Oregon Territory...." These headlines caused the largest influx of western immigration in America's history. Gold was discovered in the mountain streams of California in the 1840s and in 1850, the territorial legislature of Oregon guaranteed settlers ownership of large tracts of land if they would settle it, live on it for four years, and cultivate the rich soil. At that time there were only about 13,000 people in Oregon Territory but, as the word spread, the population increased to about 55,000 by 1860. There were nearly a half-million pioneers there by 1870. They had migrated from all sections of the United States and had pulled up stakes and headed for Oregon. They also came from all parts of the world including the Germans, Swedes, and English. In 1859, Oregon became America's 33rd state.

'Moving On' had been an American habit for over 200 years. They no sooner landed at Jamestown in the early 1600s than these new Americans left the Tidewater Basin of eastern Virginia and plowed inland toward the hills of the Blue Ridge and Alleghenies. Still not satisfied, they wanted to see the other side of the mountain and discovered the canebrake country of Kentucky. Immigrants, who had settled New York, went to Ohio; left Ohio and went on to Indiana and Illinois; left Illinois and crossed the Mississippi river into Missouri Territory. Lewis and Clark had proven there was still 2,000 miles of unseen land left, so they continued to push the frontier west until the Pacific Ocean stopped them in their tracks.

The 'itch' to move west drove our ancestors to the Pacific coast through many hardships and often death on the old Oregon Trail. These pioneers had to make 15 miles a day, mostly on foot, to cross the huge mountain ranges before the early snows of autumn arrived. Yes, indeed, the way west was hard and difficult! They rode wagons, horses, pulled hand carts, and a few pushed wheel barrows, but, believe it or not, most WALKED the 2,000 miles to the Pacific! Rarely in all history had so many people picked up their earthly belongings and traveled so far over so huge a wilderness.

Many died along the is estimated that at least 20,000 pioneers perished. Most deaths were by accidents and the dreaded cholera disease. The legends of Indian massacres are highly exaggerated. Very few pioneer wagon trains were attacked by Indian warriors. Old western movies have performed a great injustice to the Native Americans by portraying them as savages attacking and slaughtering every immigrant wagon train that tried to cross the plains. The path west was dotted with gravesites of unfortunate pioneers who did not live to see their dreams fulfilled.

Old Westport (present-day Kansas City) and Independence, Missouri were 'stopping off' places for most wagon trains. The two settlements were well equipped with blacksmith shops, livery stables, and general merchandising stores where the travelers could repair and outfit their covered wagons for the long journey across the barren plains and steep mountains before reaching the green valleys of Oregon Territory. Earlier, trappers had found a better way across the Rockies than Lewis and Clark had used. They went to the south, at the end of the Wind River Range where the Continental Divide flattens into a wide plain of sand and sagebrush. They called it South Pass. It became the route for the thousands of wagons which crossed the Rockies, and thus began the Oregon Trail.

There was nothing out there from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley but the Pawnee, Sioux, Shoshone, and Bannock Indians and an uncountable number of buffalo. Why leave the fertile fields of Miller County for six months or more of exhaustion, perhaps death, in the vast western desert? Well folks, life was grim in those days. Some of the lands were still swampy and many suffered the 'ague' (chills, aches, and fever). Taxes were high and by 1840, the country was in a bad depression. The best land had been taken by the early pioneers. By 1840, nearly 400,000 settlers had poured into Missouri. The general thought was, "I want some elbow-room".

Glowing reports were given by some promoters and it sounded wonderful to these pioneers...."gentle winters, no ague, lots of free land'....this is what drove them westward. Most traveled the same route. They went northwest from Independence, Missouri to the Platte river valley of Nebraska; across the plains and onward to the gigantic Rockies, taking the Sweetwater River route to South Pass. A dividing of trails was located at South Pass in southwest Wyoming. One trail went to Oregon, the other to California. Those heading for Oregon went over the Blue Mountains, crossed the Columbia River and on into the Cascade Mountain range to the Willamette Valley. Today you can still see the wagon tracks permanently embedded in the earth. They can be seen for over 300 miles across southern Wyoming. On a trip I took in 1990, I saw the tracks in Nebraska and Wyoming. Escorting my mother, aunt, and sister-in-law in my 20th century vehicle along the old Oregon Trail, gave me a sense of the stress endured by all those pioneers. I only had to keep my fellow travelers entertained and interest for 2 much more difficult it would have been had the year been 1850 with 2,000 miles of untamed land laying before us and a journey that would have lasted six months ! ! !

I have tried to present a scenario of pioneers crossing our vast American continent to establish new homes and new lives on that Far West Frontier. Now, I will take you on an armchair tour over the Old Oregon Trail with some Miller County, Missouri pioneers....the Bilyeus, Kinders, Sheltons, Bryants, Biggers, McCubbins, and others. The following are name of those who once lived in Miller County and then made their way West: William and Diana (Coker) Bilyeu, Peter and Jane (Coker) Bilyeu, George and Hester (Reed) Bilyeu, John M. and Hannah (Wasson) Bilyeu, Hubbard and Mary Ann Bilyeu, John and Nancy (Workman) Bilyeu, Joseph and Anna (Osborne) Bilyeu, John and Lucinda (Bilyeu) Bryant, William and Julia Ann (Bilyeu) Kinder, William and Nancy (Bilyeu) McCubbin, Creed T. and Nancy (Lane) Biggers, Mordecai and Celia (Atkinson) Lane, James H. and Olive (Spurlock) Shelton.....all these folks went to the Willamette Valley of Linn County, Oregon.

After the 1849 gold rush, members of the Bilyeu family, predominantly farmers, decided to join the migration west to the fertile fields of Oregon. Peter Bilyeu, son of John Bilyeu and the husband of Jane (Coker), was the first of the Bilyeu family to travel to Oregon Territory. He left Miller County in 1850 and traveled over the Oregon Trail eventually settling in the Willamette Valley (later Linn County). His wife, Jane, did not go with him, but chose to stay behind with her children. By 1852, some of their children left Miller County with William and Diana (Coker) Bilyeu and made the trip west. Jane still refused to join her husband in Oregon. About the same year (1852), she left Missouri with a daughter and family and re-settled in Iowa. She remained there until about 1870, and for some unknown reason, finally decided to go to Oregon to be with Peter Bilyeu after an absence of 20 years! They are buried, side by side, in Bilyeu Den Cemetery on a beautiful hillside overlooking the Willamette Valley below. I visited their graves in 1990.

According to John D. Unruh, Jr., author of the book THE PLAINS ACROSS, more overlanders than ever before trailed west in 1852. Oxen were used more than any other animal to make the long trip overland. Our Miller County ancestors were among those travelers that year. In the spring of 1852, William and Diana (Coker) Bilyeu left Miller County with their six children and joined a wagon train at Independence, Missouri. For six months they endured the long, tiresome, arduous trip, arriving in Oregon on September 16, 1852. They endured hardships that would be difficult to envision today.....hunger, freezing weather, sickness, death, and terrain that was almost impassable. New babies were born along the way and some died on the trail.

A journal exists that was written by one of the Miller County pioneers on their trail west. It describes their daily travels and the route has been easy to trace as they spoke of familiar sights along the trail........the Blue River in Kansas; Ft. Kearney, the North Platte River, Chimney Rock all in Nebraska; Ft. Laramie, Independence Rock, South Pass, Emigrant Springs all in Wyoming; Soda Springs, Ft. Hall, the Snake River in Idaho; some falls, huge mountain (Mt. Hood) in is thought one of the men of the Bilyeu clan kept this daily journal on their trip across the plains and mountains in 1852.

Those who were fortunate to make the whole trip found much work awaited them once they settled on their new land. Homes had to be built; food had to be obtained; land had to be cleared for spring planting. There was a shortage of doctors in the area and many families suffered losses after they arrived from diseases such as cholera, measles, whooping cough, pneumonia and others. Determination and perseverance was the make-up of those tough pioneers and they survived against all odds. They carved a new world out of the forests of the Northwest and their descendants numb {missing}

In 1952, the ALBANY DEMOCRAT, a newspaper in Albany, Linn County, Oregon, ran a wonderful story entitled, "Oregon's Biggest Family Holds Reunion in Albany".....The story began...."Descendants of William and Diannah/Diana (Coker) Bilyeu, comprising what is probably the largest family in Oregon, met on Sunday, August 17, 1952, to celebrate the family's 100th year in Oregon and to re-enact a scene from the pages of Bilyeu history. Over 300 family members were on hand to celebrate. Nearly 1,000 descendants of the original family live in Oregon and it is estimated over 2,000 family descendants live on the Pacific coast.....William and Diana Coker Bilyeu and their eleven children came west via the Oregon Trail in 1852, settling near Thomas Creek, north of Scio, Linn County, Oregon, after obtaining almost 3900 acres of donation land claims. The area is now known as 'The Bilyeu Den' in eastern Linn County. About 320 acres of the original land is still farmed by direct descendants of the Bilyeus........." In Bilyeu Den, in a valley of the Cascades, is Bilyeu Den Cemetery, established in 1857.

  • This is the final resting place for many of the Oregon pioneers of the Bilyeu family including:
  • William Bilyeu 17 Mar 1795-25 Jun 1879
  • Diana Coker Bilyeu 7 Jan 1801- 9 Mar 1877
  • Peter Bilyeu 29 Sep 1802-21 Jul 1877
  • Jane Bilyeu 4 Dec 1801- 9 Apr 1878
  • (Pioneers of 1850)
  • John L. Bilyeu 23 Jul 1824-18 Dec 1892
  • Nancy Workman Bilyeu 10 Nov 1828-23 Jan 1927
  • There are about 40 other gravestones in Bilyeu Den Cemetery with the name Bilyeu on them. Other cemeteries in Linn County, Oregon with Miller County pioneers buried in them include Franklin Butte Cemetery near Scio; Providence Cemetery near Scio; Miller Cemetery near Scio; Pine Grove Cemetery near Halsy; and Alford Cemetery near Harrisburg.

    I do not know how many of the Oregon Bilyeu, Kinder, McCubbin, Bryant, Shelton, Lane and Biggers families ever came came back to Missouri for visits…perhaps none, until later generations. In the 1890s, a son of Creed T. Biggers came through Miller County on his way to New York City. He visited the site of his birth in 1848. It was owned by the Spearman family in the 1890s and was located west of Iberia near the Barren Fork creek.

    In our modern age, with genealogy so popular, Miller County has been visited by descendents of the Oregon Bilyeu families who were researching their ancestors that once lived in our county. I have become acquainted with several of these descendants and we have exchanged information and materials concerning our families. In 1990, as I stated before, I took a marvelous trip to the Willamette Valley of Oregon and visited the land where my great, great, great grandparents lived and died. They were Peter and Jane (Coker) Bilyeu who married in Overton County, Tennessee in 1821; moved to Miller County in the mid 1830s; he moved to Oregon in 1850; she followed him there about 1870 and both are buried in Bilyeu Den Cemetery in Linn County. On a cold, rainy day in early June 1990, I drove to the Bilyeu Den country of Linn County and searched for the graves of my ancestors. While Bonnie, my sister-in-law, held an umbrella over my head, we trudged through the west grass of Bilyeu Den and i took photographs of as many graves as I could find. It was not too easy hobbling along with gout in my right foot, but we accomplished what I had driven 2,000 miles to do......I found the final resting place of my ancestors. You would have to be a lover of family history and genealogy to understand my joy!

    Remember, as you live out your comfortable 20th century life, those who came before us made many sacrifices and overcame almost insurmountable odds so that we can benefit by the hardships and labors of our ancestors. We often forget and overlook our heritage. We should always take pride in it and try to preserve it for those generations yet to come. Our forefathers carved out a new country from the Tidewater marshes of Virginia to the timbered forests of Oregon and California and left a portion of that heritage in Miller county as they stopped off here temporarily.....just long enough to be a part of our 165 years of history ..............(Miller County was founded in February 1837)

  • "Gone West", Volume 3, No.1, The Jefferson National Expansion Historical Assn.
  • "Oregon Trail", National Geographic, Volume 170, No. 2, August 1986
  • "Scio in the Forks of the Santiam" by Carol Bates, Gates Graphics 1987
  • "Westward Ho" by George Hendrix from Midwest Living Magazine, April 1987.
  • "A Celebration of the Bilyeu Heritage", by Virginia Bilyeu 1982
  • "Pioneer Families of Miller County, Missouri" by Peggy Smith Hake 1990
  • "Historic Sites Along the Oregon Trail", Patrice Press, Inc. 1987 (available at National Park Historic Sites)

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