Since the day on which this township was christened, time has been at work. The wheels of progress have been turned westward, and by skill and industry the intelligent sons of toil have developed the natural resources which the liberal hand of the Omnipotent has so freely distributed among them. Situated under a genial sky in a latitude where the healthful climate makes living a luxury, where liberty, honesty of purpose and high regard for the welfare of the community hold full sway,live some of the best families of the county. May not their children with relevancy and due respect, honor the names of their respected sires? A few biographical sketches of to-day may appear meaningless and out of place, but perhaps ere the sands of time have worn through a century hence, the palest will have been venerated and baptized with tears from sympathizing. friends, whose hearts almost melted in love and admiration, mixed with sadness for those who have retired to the city of the dead.
Many of those who were born, and reared here can reflectingly call to memory, "the house where I was born," the rural home, where the log cabin, in its primitive grotesqueness, stood by the little woods that skirted the stream. Soon after this followed the little log school house by the roadside, and the well remembered schoolmaster who, with rod in hand, ruled the little school.
Progress and enterprise have brought wealth and affluence to many of the early settlers. The circumstances of the war developed many unfortunate occurrences in the loss of property, but this has been restored, and in the lapse of nearly twenty years, but little remains to tell the sad story that once this beautiful little rural spot witnessed the passage of. armed men, and neighbors' hands raised against each other.
NAME. —It is quite common to notice the importance attached to a name. Individuals, objects and places alike become conspicuous. The name of a township, after years of familiarity, becomes a common household word. We care not where the individual may roam, he will still tenderly recall the name of his home township.
Prairie Township derives its name from its most striking physical feature, that of its broad expanse of elegant prairie land; and could anything be more appropriately or fitly named? Its beautiful rolling prairies covered with well-tilled farms give it in spring time the appearance of a vast sea of emerald green. It occupies the prairie divide between the Muddy and Flat Creek, and is nearly wholly prairie land.
ORGANIZATION. —The township was originally a part of Elk Fork, but as the county was settled up and needs of a municipal government became greater, the townships were subdivided, and from the original Elk Fork Township was made what is now Elk Fork, Washington, Green Ridge and Prairie. It occupies township forty five, range twenty-two, and is an exact square, being six miles each ways. Its northern border touches Dresden Township; its eastern, Sedalia and Flat Creek; its southern Washington, and its western, Elk Fork.
CONFIGURATION. —The land as we have said is principally rolling prairie, and is nearly all susceptible of cultivation. The streams that cross the township are Camp Branch and Coon Creek. These two streams are bordered by some timber, but the greater part is merely brush, affording shade for stock only.
EARLY SETTLERS. —The early;settlers of the township located in the northwestern part of it, and among them were Daniel N. Botts, A. G. Pemberton, J. C. Donnahue, J. H. Lewis, A. Shobe, Jackson Quisenberry, W. P. Hawley, Athel Wolf. These were early parties who opened the county to settlement, and later came Robert Fowler, who has sons yet living in the county. D. C. Whitsett, M. F. P. Woodson, A. G. McClung, T. J. Lester, G. W. Rayburn, D. H. Bagby, Jos. and James W. Cole came at a somewhat later day.
RESOURCES. —As a farming community this has had the advantages that could be sought. It has deep, rich soil, and its products are inferior to none in the county. In its borders are found no minerals of any account. A few years ago in the southeastern part there was some prospecting for lead, but it was not found in quantities sufficient to pay for working. The shipping facilities are good, the township being crossed from northeast to southwest by the M. K. & T. Railroad. It is near enough to Sedalia to put it in easy connection with that excellent shipping point by its wagon roads, and in the fall the roads are lined with loaded wagons, bearing to market the products of its farms.
CHURCHES. —In an early day the members of the Christian Church, by the aid of some of the other denominations, built a church house near the north line of this township, but the members were few and they soon scattered and the house fell into decay and was torn down. An old cemetery still marks the place. Messrs. J. C. Donnahue, John Gray, A. Shobe, Brice McVoy, Jackson Quisenberry and Ephraim H. Carrington were the principal supporters of that church. The house was built for church and school purposes. Ephraim H. Carrington was the first person buried in the cemetery. Charles Lewis donated the land for the church and cemetery.
Camp Branch Baptist Church was organized in February, 1877, by W H. Rodgers, assisted by Rev. E. H. Burchfield, of Brownsville, D. H. Thompson, J. Letts and S. Keel. The original members were Zalman Haight, Mrs. Haight, Samuel Arnett, Mrs. L. Arnett, Sarah Malcom, and Mrs. N. Rayburn. Members of other Baptist churches assisted in the organization as required by the Baptist Church rules. Their services have been held at school houses and private dwellings. They have held several stated meetings with success and the membership has increased to twenty-five members. Recently the official members of the church have secured ground, and are now collecting funds and material to erect a church building. Plans and specifications are already adopted, and the matter is in the hands of a building committee, to procure necessary means for erecting the house. Messrs.G. W. Rayburn, J.W.Cole and building committee, of which Mr. Rayburn is chairman, and knows no such thing as fail in that sort of an enterprise. The house will be built. This church belongs to the Missionary Baptist Association. Rev. W. H Rodgers has served this church since its organization, for small compensation. He is a zealous minister, and is true to the land-marks of the church of his choice.
McKee Chapel was organized by Rev. Geo. McKee, in 1866, the society using a school house until 1878 when, by the aid of the members friends of the church, sufficient funds were secured to erect and enclose a church building. Rev J. N. Pierce presiding elder at the time, took charge of the matter, and in due time the building was completed. The names of the original members are: John Q. Ryan, Freelove Ryan, Mr. Marian, Mrs. Marian, Leander Robinson, Margarette Robinson, A. P. Britt, Mrs. A. J. Haverly and Wm. Roley. There is a cemetery, which is under the management of the trustees of the church, connected with the church property. The following have been pastors of this church: Geo. McKee, W. W. Powell, M. Warren, Revs. Kellogg, Smith, Loutz, Oechsli, Gillispie, Hanson and A.P.Sallaway. The present number of members is forty-five.
They have a Sunday School held every Sunday, with an average attendance of forty. Henry Hill is Superintendent and R. D. Hancock, Secretary. They do not adjourn the Sunday School over winter, but continue through, bad as well as pleasant weather.
SCHOOLS. —School District No. 1 was organized March 18,1867. Mr. G. W. Rayburn, D. A. Bagby, A. P. Britt and William Kirkpatrick met, after due notice had been given, and elected officers as required by law, and had a school taught, and as soon as the necessary means could be procured, built a school house and furnished it with apparatus such as was needed for the time.
School District No. 2 was organized in 1870, a joint district, with a part in Dresden Township. The school house was built in Dresden Township, it being more convenient for obtaining a site for school purposes. The first Directors were Samuel B. Hoss, John G. McClung and David C. Whitsel. The first teacher was John D. Brown. School has been taught since, averaging about eight months each year.
School District No. 3 was organized September 14, 1871. At the first ~meeting of whinny record can be found, R. H. Delamater, J. W.Cole and W. C. Quisenberry were elected Directors. The first teacher was Alex. Dow. Professor Westlake taught a select school in this vicinity some time before this; the date is not certain.
School District No. 4. In this district Messrs. J. Ryan, N. W. Parberry, J. Parberry, and Benj. Helvin during the year 1879 took steps to organize a school district. They secured a building and had a school taught. Mr. J. Ryan was clerk of this district for many years.
School District No. 5 was organized in 1868. A school house was built in the spring following, and in September the first school was taught by Charles Franklin. Mr. Wm. H. Vannatta was the first School Director. They have about eight months school in the year. In early times from four to six mouths was the rule. The public school interests are improving and a better grade of schools are being established, and longer terms are being taught.
School District No.6 was organized about 1870, but the date of the first school is thought to be April, 1872. The first officers then elected were Sam. J. Knott, J. Grover, and John Howard, with T. J. Close as the first teacher. The first records of the school district were not to be found, the first clerk having moved away. Any earlier dates could not be procured, but the late reports of the school are very good. The terms of school are about eight months in the year.
GOOD TEMPLARS. —The friends of temperance in School District No. 1 called a meeting of the citizens of that and adjoining school districts, and organized a lodge of Good Templars, April 6, 1876, with fifteen charter members. The Officer were George W. Rayburn, W. C. T.; James Lord, W. S., and Mrs. Nancy Rayburn, W. T. This lodge has continued until the present time and the membership is now increased to fifty members.
On November 27, 1881 Mr. J. A. Nesbit organized a lodge of Good Templars in School District No. 3, with forty charter members. The officers were Richard Harris, W. C. T., and Timothy Rhodes, W.S, This lodge is increasing in numbers, and is maintaining a good temperance sentiment in the community. J. D. Helman has held the office of Lodge Deputy of the I. O. G. T. for several years, and who, together with his wife and daughter, have kept themselves busy in the cause of temperance.
INCIDENTS. —Among the incidents of the early settlers were the destructive fires on the prairies and high water in the creeks. The fire raged with great destruction frequently to the early pioneers who had neglected to plow around their little homesteads and burn the dead grass for a few rods around them. Hunting and fishing were extensively engaged in and the trophies of the chase were numerous. Some grand old-timers were had by the early hunters that came here from older settled parts of the State. When the raising of log cabins was in order, Mr. Joseph Stewart was elected by a unanimous vote as the boss of the community at cabin raising. He had a peculiar trait of getting more work out of a given number of men, in a certain length of time, than any other man in the neighborhood. In the early days of the chase in this township a party of hunters from Cooper County had a fine dog with them on one occasion whose name was Captain. During the hunt he had an encounter with some wild animals and was pretty badly hurt, so badly indeed that they were compelled to leave him at their camping place and returned for conveyance to take him to the nearest settlement. When they returned the next morning the wolves had killed the noble animal, and left nothing but his head at the place where they had left him. For many years afterward this camping place was called "Cap's Head."
Some sad experiences have been recorded in this section. On November 18,1860, Charles Lewis was killed by a tree falling upon him, and the next day, Albert Shobe died at an adjoining farm. Thus were two families of neighbors stricken with grief at nearly the same time; not a common thing for those comparatively early times. In 1873 Mr.Wm. Keightly's house was destroyed by fire, and himself, sister Addaile, and a little boy, who made his home with them, we're consumed in the fire.
Many other interesting incidents could be enumerated.
Excerpted from The History of Pettis County, Missouri, 1882.