Cass County was officially organized on March 3, 1835.  It is named after Lewis Cass, a United States Senator from Michigan.  Cass County was first called Van Buren County in 1835.  The county changed its name to Cass in 1849.  The seat of Cass County is in Harrisonville.

Native Americans and the Settlers

The Harrisonville area was originally inhabited by the “DHEGILHA” Indian subgroup. Being of Siouan linguistic stock, the Osage, Quapaw, Omaha, Ponca and Kansa tribes comprise this subgroup.

The few who lived here during the early settlement of Cass County faced many hardships.  It is equally true that they faced them fearlessly and cheerfully. At no time were the early settlers in particular danger from the Indians, and the story of the early history is for the greater part a picture of peace amidst rough surroundings.

The Kansa tribal range extended southward from the Kansas-Missouri River junction as far as the northern edge of Bates County, taking in the sites of modern Pleasant Hill, Garden City, Archie and Drexel. On their southeastern border they were neighbors of the Osage, although there is no evidence that either of these tribes ever had a truly permanent settlement in the territory of Cass County.

At early camp meetings southwest of Harrisonville after the white man came, as many as five hundred Indians were often in attendance and seemed to enjoy the religious services as much as the whites, with whom they mingled on such occasions.  These Indians were reportedly Shawnees and Delawares, both of Algonquain linguistic stock.

In 1818 a grant of land in southern Missouri was made to some Delawares, but it was re-ceded by them in 1825, and most of them moved to a reservation in Kansas, while others had previously gone to Texas. Those who remained in the Harrisonville area were close relatives of the Sauk, Fox and Kickapoo tribes.

The Shawnee Indians lived and owned land four miles west of Belton, just across the Missouri-Kansas border, on what was known as the Black Bob Reservation.  Located in the southern part of Johnson County, Kansas, it was deeded to the Shawnees in the Treaty of May 10, 1844.  Because of harassment from both sides at the beginning of the Civil War, the Shawnees abandoned their lands and settled in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. At the end of the war, they found their lands in Kansas had been occupied by white settlers, and most Shawnee had to return to Indian Territory empty-handed.

Early Inhabitants

During the Spring of 1828, David Creek became the first recorded non-native settler in Cass County on a location just northwest of Pleasant Hill Cemetery. By 1833, a French trader named Blois opened a store about three miles east of the present cemetery, but soon sold his stock of goods to William H. Duncan and Walter H. Taylor. They settled on the high ground (now the North section of the Pleasant Hill Cemetery) and in 1835 sold the business to William Ferrell, an itinerant Methodist Episcopal minister, who, in 1836, sold it to William Winlock Wright and Nathan E. Harrelson. Harrelson eventually sold his interest in the business to Wright, who was for a number of years, the only storekeeper.

The First white settler on the site of modern Harrisonville was James Lackey, in 1830. Others early settlers were Humphrey Hunt, John Blythe and Dr. Joseph Hudspeth. Lackey was considered a “squatter,” as he built a cabin and enclosed a small field on the tract of public land taken for county seat purposes.

Photo by Matt Hamilton

Site of the town was fixed under an act of the Missouri General Assembly in 1835, by David Waldo of Lafayette County and Samual Hink and William Brown, both of Jackson County. In the same year, the first court met for the county, known as Van Buren County. The Justices James McClellan and William Savage, met in McClellan’s residence about three miles southeast of Peculiar on September 14, 1835. William Lyon was appointed Clerk of the Court and county government was organized, included the setting up of Grand River Township.

Harrisonville Created

In the spring of 1837 the town of Harrisonville was located by Enoch Rice, Francis Prine and Welcome Scott, who had been appointed commissioners by the state legislature in the winter of 1836. These commissioners in company with Matin Rice, the county surveyor, met at the home of John Cook on April 3, 1837 and finally decided on Lackey’s pre-emption claim. In May they laid off the town in lots 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the northeast and northwest quarters of Section 4, Township 44N., Range 31W. Within these 160 acres there were to be four streets: Wall and Pearl running east to west, Lexington and Independence going north and south, each less than forty feet wide. Fleming Harris was appointed as town commissioner on April 8, 1837.  The first town lots were sold on June 12 of that year; those facing the public square sold at $20 each, the others at $10.

“DEMOCRAT” was strongly urged as a name for the new town but was finally rejected.  Instead, the town was named after Albert G. Harrison, a U.S. representative from Missouri.

On October 8, 1835 the first Harrisonville church was organized in the county two miles southwest of town known as Hopewell or New Hope Baptist.

The first house within the town was erected by Jason L. Dickey in 1836.

The first jail in Harrisonville and second for the county was established in 1838.  Its site was 312 S. Independence. One of its successors is listed among the state’s historic sites.

Photo by Matt Hamilton

Harrisonville eventually was served by railroad lines presently known as the Missouri Pacific and the Frisco. Railroad construction was responsible for the notorious “Gunn City Massacre”, the background of which began in 1857.  Cass County approved a large stock subscription for the Pacific Railroad Company. This corporation later surrendered the bonds to the new Saint Louis and Santa Fe Railroad, from whence they were still later assigned to the Land Grant Railroad & Construction Company of New York. Citizens of Cass County sought by injunction to prevent the funding of these bonds, but by legal maneuvering and collusion, a new set of bonds was issued secretly. Three men, who helped to perpetrate this swindle, including the county attorney and a judge of the county court, were shot on April 24, 1872 while on board a Katy railroad spur between Bryson, Missouri and Paola, Kansas, now known as Gunn City.

Pleasant Hill

On October 8, 1844, William Winlock Wright and his wife Malinda platted the “original town of Pleasant Hill.” It consisted of twelve blocks lying parallel (now Highway 7) and angled it northwest following the crest of the ridge. Wright’s store stood on the highest ground which is now marked by a monument in the Pleasant Hill Cemetery. Wright died in 1846 and a year later, Malinda added 12 more blocks to the original plat. These two plats are now known as “Old Town” Pleasant Hill. The three story brick tavern erected by the Wrights was a popular stop for travelers and was the center of the community until after the Civil War. Later it was a private home until it burned in 1909.

On July 19, 1865, the Pacific Railroad reached the area in the lowlands southwest of the village. The original plan was to have the line of the Pacific Railroad diverged from the main line about two miles east of “Old Town” and then down the south side of the cemetery to rejoin the line about a mile west of Pleasant Hill. But the chief engineer of the railroad was killed in a tragic train wreck and the new chief engineer changed the plan. It was rumored that those who owned the swampy ground profited greatly from this change. Thus the railroad came through where it is today and the “New Town” of Pleasant Hill was created. The businesses moved almost overnight to New Town and Old Town lost most of it businesses. The city soon became well populated and there commenced an era of growth and prosperity seldom equaled by a western town. An immense trade was carried on throughout Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas.  By 1867, the population had reached 2,200.

Photo by Matt Hamilton

Religion played a prominent role in the lives of early Pleasant Hill citizens. Soon after the first settlers came to this area, Methodist services were held in the home of Reverend Ferrell and later in the village school in 1845. When the congregation’s loyalties were divided by the Civil War, two separate churches had to be built. The first church building was erected in “Old Town” in 1848. It was used as a school house during the week. During the Civil War, it was used as a barracks for the Federal Soldiers and was burned by “bushwhackers” in 1862. After the War, the congregation grew to over 300 members and a new church building was constructed. Also in 1848, the Reverend Robert S. Symington organized the Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church. That congregation was also divided by the Civil War and two churches were built side-by-side on High Street. In 1867, the first Baptist Church was founded from a branch of the Union Baptist congregation which was formed in 1837. Most of the other church organizations were started in 1866 and 1867.

The Stone Mill was a combination corn and sawmill that was operated by a steam engine. During the height of its operation in the 1880’s, the sawmill ran day and night shipping out, by rail, walnut and oak. During the late 1890’s, however, the mill was essentially in ruins. But in 1900, George M. Kellogg built an “Opera House” on the solid two foot foundation of the old mill. The Kellogg Opera House was the center of the cultural activities of Pleasant Hill until moving pictures became more appealing to the public. By 1917, the Opera House was no longer used as an entertainment center. However, when the North Methodist Church burned, the Opera House was bought to replace it. Until 1960, the old Kellogg Opera House was the site of the Pleasant Hill Methodist Church. When they abandoned the building, it was sold in 1968 to become the Hope Baptist Temple.

Pleasant Hill often saw its sons and daughter go to war to help preserve our country’s freedoms. In particular, during the 20th Century, many heeded the call and some did not return home. Nine were lost during World War I, twenty died during World War II, three were killed in Korea, and one local resident lost his life during the Vietnam War. Many more were wounded or were POW’s. All of Pleasant Hill suffered because of their losses. Without a doubt, this community produced many real heroes during these Wars. The citizens of Pleasant Hill are very proud of their city’s remarkable past, and certainly anticipate an exciting and even more remarkable future.

Belton is Created & Grows

George W. Scott and William H. Colbern purchased about 80 acres of land on August 13, 1869, from Manzey Q. Ashby of Kentucky, who had received it a month earlier from the U.S. government. Scott and Colbern filed a plat for the 80 acres in December of 1871 and called the new town “Belton.” Belton was incorporated in 1872. It was named for one of Scott’s close friends, Captain Marcus Lindsey Belt, who helped Scott survey the land. The two had served in the Civil War together. Belton and its environs were settled largely by families from Kentucky.

High Blue, two miles west of Belton on 58 Highway, was the community’s first trading center. It was about 1,200 feet above sea level, making it the highest point between Springfield and Liberty Memorial Hill in Kansas City. Belton is located on a ridge reaching to Lee’s Summit. All water north of Main Street flows into the Little Blue River east of Kansas City. All water flowing south of Main Street goes to the Grand River and then the Osage River, finally emptying into the Missouri River 10 miles east of Jefferson City.

Early Cass County Schools

The first school in Cass County was founded in 1830 by William Crawford on Lexington Street in Pleasant Hill, near where the present Methodist Church now stands. The school house itself had been described as an “architectural wonder.” It was built of round logs with the spaces between them chinked and then filled with mud. On the inside, about five feet from the west wall and about five feet high, another log was placed running the width of the building. This log and those of the west wall supported the chimney. Fuel of any length could be used to heat it. The door was made of clapboards and on each side a piece of one log was cut out and, over these openings; greased paper was pasted to make windows. Wooden pins were driven into logs running lengthwise, just beneath the windows, upon which was laid a board for the writing desks. Seats were stools or benches made of logs.

After the Civil War, Professor Poole established a military school in Pleasant Hill in the old Missouri Governor Hamilton Gamble mansion.  Dr. William Aylette Buckner later bought the home and established a girl’s college.

In 1884, Pleasant Hill townspeople hired Professor John P. Brannock and his wife, Lydia, to teach a school of “higher education” in the “Stone College” which was officially named the “Brannock Institute.” Most of the mansion is gone now, but a part of it has been incorporated as a residence on “College Hill.” In 1904, the tower, its two windows and door were used as the front of a shop built by William Kosky, a barber and a part-time boxer. Today, the stones, windows and door from the old Pleasant Hill “Stone College” can still be seen as a part of the structure that houses the Pleasant Hill Historical Society’s Museum on Wyoming Street.

The Civil War

The year before the Civil War, twelve cities in Missouri had population of approx. 2500 or more. Harrisonville ranked 37th with a population of 675. In 1863 the town was depopulated, and most of the buildings burned, the jail among them . Fort Harrisonville was a Union stronghold for a brief period in 1863 and provided protection for loyal Union families.

The town of Pleasant Hill thrived until the Civil War. But border warfare and the infamous “Order Number 11” almost depopulated the town. It is said that by the end of the Civil War, the population of Cass County was fewer than 600 people, a direct result of Order Number 11.  During the Civil War, Missouri’s Civil War Governor, Hamilton R. Gamble, started construction of a large stone mansion in Pleasant Hill. He died before the War ended and before he could finish the mansion, but his widow and son finished it in 1866. Legend says that the family disappeared one night, leaving their evening meal uneaten on the table as though they intended to return within a few minutes. Recently, it has been discovered that Mrs. Gamble and her son are buried in Salt Lake City, Utah where they evidently escaped retribution from certain pro-southerners.

Content sourced from CassCounty.com and Pleasant Hill Historical Society

Photo by Matt Hamilton

Now, Cass County, Missouri encompasses the following cities in the southern Kansas City metro area:

  • Archie
  • Austin
  • Baldwin Park
  • Belton
  • Cleveland
  • Creighton
  • Drexel
  • East Lynne
  • Freeman
  • Garden City
  • Greenwood
  • Gunn City
  • Harrisonville
  • Lake Annette
  • Lake Winnebago
  • Loch Lloyd
  • Peculiar
  • Pleasant Hill
  • Raymore
  • Strasburg
  • West Line