Prairie Scene North of Cole Camp
Indian Paint Brush
Photo by Walter Moser
Cole Camp and its Environs
A Brief Description
Cole Camp is an historic town located where the Ozarks meet the great prairies in Benton County. It is dated from its first post office in 1839, and it was the site of one of the first battles of the Civil War. The town boasts of four or five buildings dating from pre-Civil War times and the downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Cole Camp Main Street - 1910
Cole Camp Main Street - 2003
The town has a strong German heritage that is still evident in the many German festivals and heritage events, and in the large number of the area residents that still speak the Low German brought over by their ancestors. It is a town that prides itself on its neatness and well kept homes as well as the orderly life of the community.
With a population of around 1025, the town offers all the services and most of the necessary shopping facilities. A number of civic organizations are active in programs to serve and enhance the city. Likewise it is a community of churches with most denominations represented. The many festivals and special events keep the town a busy place.
It's idealistic location with the rolling prairies to the north and the hills and streams to the south offer beauty and variety. Hunting and fishing are popular sports and game and fish ample.
Deer Season. Hunters checking in a kill
Photo courtesy of the Cole Camp Courier/Larry Fowler
Old homes and farmsteads dot the country side recalling years past. The rich soil of the prairie and creek bottoms provide for excellent farming with fields of tall corn, soy beans and wheat being common sights. The production of beef completes the agricultural picture of the area. It is a prosperous area for both farmers and businesses.
Being somewhat off the beaten path, the town and surrounding area have changed little over the years leaving it with its historic character and charm. Crime is virtually non-existent and modern day, urban problems few. The schools are excellent and a source of community pride, both for their academics and routinely successful athletic teams.
Cole Camp in History
The Early Settlement of Cole Camp
Cole Camp is located along what was once known as The Military Road. A man named Ezekiel Williams had surveyed a segment of this road to include the section that came through what was to become the future Benton County. Williams, Zeke, as he was known, liked the area and was to return in 1829 or 1830, settling along what became Williams Creek about four miles west of the present town site in 1829 or 1830. Here he opened a trading post and a way-station for travelers and stage coaches. He also opened a post office which he reportedly named after his home parish of Cole Camp, in Kentucky.
Zeke was a colorful person and had first settled in the area of Boonville that became his base of early operations. He was a trapper, led wagon trains along the Santa Fe Trail, was captured by the Indians and vied with the French trappers. He was at one time accused of bigamy and even murder, but was cleared of both charges. He is also reported as being the first white settler in Benton County, although French and Spanish trappers and adventurers had criss-crossed the area many years before. And a German trapper named Hogel reportedly had a camp along the Osage River where a creek joined the river. Hogel apparently moved on leaving only his name with the creek where he camped which was south west above Warsaw.
The town site of Cole Camp was first settled in the 1830s and history records that the first person to stake out a claim and build a house on the site where Cole Camp is now located was Dr. Hosea Powers. The Powers were soon joined by other settlers, the Kempers, the Blakeys and others. The Kempers were merchants and had what is believed to be the first store in Cole Camp. The Blakeys were also merchants operating a store at the corner of The Butterfield Trail and Hickory Street. Septimus Martin was another early merchant in the town.
The Blakeys soon became developers buying land from Hosea Powers and laying out the first plat of the town which was centered around the present City Park and water tower. Their activities soon gave the settlement the name of Blakey Town. Reportedly the town was also known at one time as Lick Skillet.
Oldest known plat of Cole Camp
Located on the NE quarter of Section 35 Township 43 Range 21 in Benton County
The town established by Powers and developed by the Blakeys was located at the junction of four main roads; the old Military Road which was to become the Butterfield Trail named after a stage line that operated along it from 1858-1861; the Duroc Road coming from the South and a crossing on the Osage River; the Jefferson City Road that led East to Jefferson City; and the Boonville Road, coming in from the north. This put the developing town in an advantageous position for growth and hotels and businesses soon developed and thrived.
Then, in 1839, Zeke Williams decided to move to where the action was and came to Blakey Town bringing his post office with him. Thus the town was to become known as Cole Camp because of the post office name. From this event Cole Camp dates its official existence because it now had a post office and an officially recognized name.
The first settlers were largely from Kentucky and Tennessee. Thus the first settlers were Anglo-Americans from the South and they brought with them their Southern culture and institutions, to include slavery. However, after 1835 a wave of immigrants from northern Germany began to move in to the farming areas northeast of town, bringing with them their Low German language, strong work ethic and Lutheran religion. These characteristics still tend to define the citizenry of the area.
The wave of immigrants became a deluge and soon large numbers of Germans occupied most of the farmland north, south and east of town. They came in such large numbers and were such successful farmers that they were to become the predominant group in the area, giving the community the German character it retains to this day.
Postel House - Reported to be oldest house in Cole Camp
Built before the Civil War
The town continued to grow and prosper. It had a brick school by 1854, the first having been established in 1851, just west of town. By 1860 it could boast a population of 200 as well as an elegant hotel, the Keeney Hotel, on the west edge of town. This was to become the stopping and meeting place of government officials, officers and journalists during the Civil War.
Cole Camp in the Civil War
The Civil War was to create turmoil in the community. Relations between the Anglo-American settlers and Germans had been good in spite of cultural differences. This was to change with the coming of the war when the community became bitterly divided.
The Germans hated slavery and were fervently loyal Unionists while many of the Anglo-Americans retained their sympathies for their Southern heritage. Cole Camp, being at the hub of four major roads at that time, was to become the scene of one of the first battles of the Civil War, June 19, 1861.
A force of around 700 Home Guards were mobilize on June 13 and were to have their baptism of fire six days later. The pro Confederate Missouri Governor, Jackson, was fleeing from his defeat at Boonville but the Home Guards were blocking his escape route which would have brought him through Cole Camp. A force of Confederates was organized at Warsaw and on June 19 launched an early morning attack on the Home Guard encampment. The Home Guard was routed and the way cleared for Governor Jackson to escape.
Re-enactment of Battle of Cole Camp
Photo courtesy Darlyne Fajen
But it was not to end here. The community was to suffer terribly during the remaining four years of war with the terrorism of the bushwhackers and guerrillas, and the armies marching back and forth through the area. This created tensions and hatred that lasted many years after the war ended in what became a divided town.
Growth and the Boom Period
After the war there was another wave of German immigrants who were this time joined by several families from Bohemia and some from Poland. These later immigrants founded a Catholic Church which has thrived to this day although most of these first Catholic settlers have moved away.
After the war railroads came through the area and Cole Camp enjoyed a "boom period," with many new businesses opening and thriving. In the 1870s efforts were being made to bring a rail line through area and construction was finally started. It was 1880 when the first train came to Cole Camp. This was a narrow gage line that ran from Sedalia to Warsaw, and back. In its hey-day there were two trains a day.
The Cole Camp Depot - 1905
First automobile in Cole Camp and Benton County
The Lambert bought by F.S. Hunnefelt
A second rail line was constructed around the turn of the century but it passed north of town about one and a half miles and offered service between Kansas City and St. Louis.
The railroads also brought in an era of rowdyism reminiscent of the wild-west. Stories were told of people riding horses inside saloons, shootings and fights that were common occurrences. One street, where the saloons were located, is still referred to as "Battle Row" by some of the older residents.
The town survived these adolescent years and grew and prospered. By 1890 it boasted a population of 600. It was during this period many of the well known old businesses got started in spite of the frontier nature of the town. The rail road, however, changed the layout of the town. Whereas the business and city center had been located around what is today the City Park and water tower, this all moved in the direction of the rail road and depot which was at the north end of Maple Street. By 1900 the present down town was established and has not changed much from that time.
It should be noted that in the midst of this hectic growth there was a cultural life. In 1873 the first Cole Camp Band was organized. This organization was to go on and become one of better bands in the state, winning several awards. Churches were being established to serve the needs of a growing population and in the 1890s the Chautauqua's began visiting Cole Camp, as did circuses and other forms of entertainment.
Cole Camp was to move into the modern age with the first telephones installed in 1898. A city owned electrical system began providing electrical power around 1915, albeit only on an intermittent basis. 1893 the first bank was started and at one time the town boasted of having three banks. The Citizens Farmers Bank, which is still very much in operation, was born out of a merger of two of these banks. The building which houses this bank was built in 1898. The first automobile was seen on the streets of Cole Camp in 1905. It was a Lambert, owned by F. S. Hunefelt.
It was also during this "boom" period that many new, brick business houses sprang up, being constructed largely from brick made in local brick yards. One example is the Kreisel building at the corner of Junge and North Maple streets that dates from 1894 and which opened as a hardware store. Most all of the buildings in the historic down town were constructed during this period. Three of the oldest which still exist are The Cole Camp Inn, which reportedly dates from 1878; the old Producers Exchange from the 1880s, and the Eickhoff Building, also from the 1880s, which was a furniture manufacturing enterprise. Like many others Henry Eickhoff had moved his business from the old town to the newly developing business center. The population in 1899 was reported to be 700, as was soon to grow to more than 800.
The booming economy attracted all sorts of folks seeking a share of this prosperity. This was a time when the hotels were full and the streets filled with "dummers," as traveling salesmen were then known. Even traveling doctors came to town. And the town had its share of scam artists who came to ply their trade and abscond with local citizen's money.
The town was incorporated in 1898 and formed a regular city government providing necessary government services. Then, around 1900 the city fathers decided something had to be done about the lawlessness and rowdyism so took action to clean up the town. From here it was to become a clean, well maintained, law abiding and very conservative little community, a character it has maintained until this day.
The World Wars and the Depression
The era of prosperity lasted to the Great Depression, interrupted only by World War I that saw many Cole Camp men enlisting or being drafted into service. The town responded to the war with a patriotic zeal that has become a matter of local tradition and pride.
Cole Camp prides itself on its annual Fair and boasts it as being one of the biggest and longest lasting of any in mid-Missouri, dating the first Fair from 1916. It was interrupted for only a few years during the depression and World War II. The pride of the fair is the many beautiful floats created by local churches and organizations that are the highlight of the Fair parades.
Little did Cole Campers realize that the funny machine brought to town by Mr. Hunnefelt in 1905 was to drastically change the town and bring the thriving retail economy and growth to an end. The population at one point in the 1930s dropped to 700 some souls, then worked its way back to 927 where it stayed for a number of years. Today it boasts a population of slightly over 1000.
Until World War II horse drawn wagons and buggies were about as common on the dirt and gravel streets of the town as were motor driven vehicles. And most everyone kept a few chickens in the back yard, and some even a pig for butchering, along with a milk cow. Farmers came to town to do their necessary shopping, visit and gossip, but this was to change.
The rural self-sufficiency of the community and a barter economy allowed the town to survive the Depression with minimal impact. While work and social programs of the New Deal did reach the town they were looked upon with suspicion. The independent, hard working citizens did not like taking things from the government and thought the government was interfering too much and tended to look down on government made work.
World War II came and the community dug in and supported the war effort with everything possible; its money, its resources, making bandages and most of all, its young men. Many people, including young women, went to the cities to work in defense related jobs. It was a time of total commitment.
After World War II when the automobile became an integral part of American culture Cole Campers found it more exciting to drive to the cities and shop and find their entertainment and the days of Cole Camp as a significant retail center were limited. But Cole Camp survived that and its frugal conservatism allowed the town to continue to progress, although in other areas. By the end of the 1960s a thriving tourism industry was building, finding its base in a number of fine antique and craft shops that found a home in Cole Camp.
Today Cole Camp has settled in and become a beautiful, historic city, proud of its heritage, history and reputation as a neat, clean town.
Books about Cole Camp
Cole Camp is proud of its history and the community. Books on the history of the community have been published. Selections are:
Cole Camp Area
Cole Camp was named by Ezekiel Williams, who established a post office in 1830 on Williams Creek, south of the present town. Settlers from the south followed Williams, and in the 1840s an influx of German immigrants arrived to leave their mark on the area. Cole Camp maintains a cultural connection with the original settlers through year-round festivals and celebrations. In 1861, an early Civil War battle was fought nearby by the militia; the skirmish has been reenacted by descendants of those men. The area's rich history is evident in many 19th-century structures preserved in Cole Camp and neighboring communities. Tourists and day-trippers en route to the Lake of the Ozarks find a delightful mirror of an earlier era in Cole Camp, along with fine restaurants, art galleries, a winery, and antique shops.
This book is soft cover, consists of 128 pages, and can be obtained from Amazon.com. This book consists of many photographs of the town in the early days.
Kenneth L. Bird, the author, is an independent historian serving on the boards of the Cole Camp Area Historical Society and the Pettis County Historical Society. He is the author of Rails to the Osage, a history of the railroad that once served the Cole Camp area.
Cole Camp Area History, 1839-1976
This was written and published in 1976 as part of the celebration of the bi-centennial of the Nation. It was written by various individuals and includes, as an example of the contents, sections on the development of business, the churches, the schools, well known farms and other areas of interest. It also includes summaries of a number of family histories. It is 318 pages, hardbound and illustrated with many photographs.
This publication is also available on CD, the book and/or the CD may be ordered from the Cole Camp Historical Society. The prices are:
- Cole Camp Area History Book - $39.95
- Cole Camp Area History Book on CD - $19.95
- Cole Camp Area History, Book and CD - $49.95
Above items require an additional $5.00 for shipping and handling costs for each item and may be ordered by contacting the following:The Cole Camp Historical Society P.O. Box 151 Cole Camp, MO 65325 (660) 525-1741
Hier Snackt wi Plattdütsch (Here we Speak Low German).
This was written for the Sesquicentennial celebration of the Town of Cole Camp and published in 1989. It is primarily a history of the German settlement and community in the area from the mid 1830s to 1950, but it also contains a description of the town and area as it relates to the German community. It contains chapters on the first settlers, farming, the churches, Germans entering business, entertainment and the Battle of Cole Camp, along with many more subjects. It also contains a section on common Low German sayings, poems and songs common in this area. Annexes provide much detailed information about the community.
It is 366 pages, hardbound with many photos and illustrations by a local artist. It may be obtained from the Low German Club for $50.00 plus $5.00 shipping and handling by writing to:Neil Heimsoth 1111 S. Benckeser Road Cole Camp, MO 65325
Yeager Union Church History Book Available.
A history book of the Yeager Union Church containing many pictures and articles of the many events that have taken place since 1853 relative to Yeager Union Church. More information, including purchase information, can be found at the church website at http://yeager.colecampmo.com.
Plattdütscher Theoter Videos Available.
A Unique Item...A Perfect Christmas Gift
PLATTDÜTSCHER THEOTER videos of the Low German Theater
Two+ hours of fun, skits, jokes, stories and music performed completely in Low German by local people.
Order____@ $35.00 + shipping and handling
Contact:Arlene Schlesselman P.O. Box 428 Cole Camp, Missouri 65325 Phone: 660-668-3352 email:firstname.lastname@example.org
VHS videos from 1989-2003 @ $30.00 + shipping and handling