Van Buren: Town and Cemetery

Six miles south of Linn, Missouri, State Highway 89 crosses the Gasconade River at Rollins Ferry where the river took a shortcut on its way to join the Missouri River centuries before Europeans ever came to this land. According to historian David W. Eaton, French trappers called the Indians who lived along the Gasconade River “boastful” (gasconnade) and applied that name to the river as well.

In ancient times, the Gasconade River had flowed west from Rollins Ferry toward the present-day town of Rich Fountain and around an oxbow-shaped course back to the river’s main channel. This oxbow valley was swampy and contained a large pond until drained by settlers in 1879. The pond was called Swan Lake after the wild swans (perhaps trumpeter swans) who stopped there. Today, the valley’s rich, flat bottomland is bounded by steep forested hillsides that are dotted with farm buildings. Swan Creek, which at one time carried outflow from Swan Lake, runs through the northeastern arc of the oxbow valley.

A smaller stream called Graveyard Branch joins Swan Creek after traversing the northern arc of the Gasconade’s old oxbow. Graveyard Branch takes its name from the Van Buren Cemetery that the stream passes just above the northwestern “corner” of the oxbow valley. The cemetery had been called Goodman Graveyard well into the 20th century. The cemetery’s current name comes from a nearby town named Van Buren that was platted in the 1840s. The name reflects the political sympathies of the local settlers at that time. Martin Van Buren (1782-1762) served as both Secretary of State and Vice President under Andrew Jackson and then was elected the eighth President (1837-1841).

By 1842, Osage County resident Micajah C. Davis had applied to the federal land office in St. Louis for a land patent for the east half of the southwest quarter of Section 36. This is the 80-acre parcel on the east side of the intersection of County Roads 621 and 624. The patent would eventually be issued to him on July 1, 1848. Although Davis may not yet have had formal title to the land, he had a plat drawn up for a new town, and he filed the plat with the county on April 6, 1842 (Deed Book A, p. 140). The record to establish the town of Van Buren includes the plat or map and the following description: “The town of Van Buren layd out on the South East qr of the South West qr of Section No. 36 Township No. 43 North of the Baseline Range No. 9 west of the 5th principal meridian.”

The exact location of Van Buren within Section 36 is not stated in the record, but it must have been located at or very near the western edge of the parcel, which adjoins property that was owned by Robert Goodman. Goodman had a mill nearby, which is believed to have been located along one of the stream branches just west of the town site. Mill stones can still be seen today along the road near Van Buren Cemetery, perhaps originally from that mill. In the 1840s, Goodman also acquired the 80-acre parcel south of his mill (West half of Northwest quarter of Section 1 Township 42). A Methodist Episcopal church and its surrounding burial ground occupied the northwest corner of the parcel – a congregation established in 1838 according to the 1994 sesquicentennial publication of St. John’s United Methodist Church.

1 Van Buren location w scale

Map showing location of Van Buren town plat and cemetery

The north/south location of the town is more ambiguous, but it must have been sandwiched between the small creek to the south and the steep hillside to the north. The accompanying map redraws the plat on the 1981 edition of the USGS 7.5 Minute Series map (Westphalia East Quadrangle). In the 1840s, a creek ran south along the boundary between the Davis and Goodman properties. In later years, the creek must have been redirected west near the intersection of County Roads 621 and 624. According to the plat, the town’s rectangular grid is skewed about 9 degrees from “true north,” but the dimensioned layout appears to be skewed about 14 degrees from geographical north.

Beginning in 1842, Micajah Davis and his wife Lucy R. sold lots in the new town of Van Buren for about a year. The following grantees are listed with the deed date (not date of recording) and page number in Osage County Deed Book A.

  • Rolly W. Hanks: Block 4/Lot 15 (April 15, 1842, pp. 400-02).
  • Herman Brockman: Block 4/Lot 5; Block 5/Lot 2; and Block 6/Lot 3 (April 23, 1842, pp. 143-44).
  • Peter Johnson (Yanzen): Block 4/Lot 9 and Block 6/Lot 7 (May 5, 1842, pp. 173-74)
  • Theodore Larsch: Block 1/Lot 1; Block 3/Lot 4; Block 10/Lots 8, 10, and 12 (May 7, 1842, pp. 168-69). Larsch and his wife Ann M. soon sold Block 1/Lot 1 back to Davis (April 22, 1843, pp. 302-03).
  • Arnold Mengwasser: Block 4/Lot 7 and Block 6/Lot 5 (May 7, 1842, pp. 170-71).
  • Herman Brockman: Block 8/Lots 4 and 6 (Feb. 14, 1843, pp. 399-400).
2 Van Buren lot nos w owners

Plat of town of Van Buren identifying lot purchasers by surname initial

The lots sold are shown on the accompanying map with each grantee’s initial. From the locations of the lots purchased, it appears that most may have been acquired for businesses or on speculation. Rolly Hanks (Raleigh Hancks) apparently purchased his lot intending to build a house there, although there is no indication that he ever did. An undated document in the Osage County Historical Society’s Van Buren file that was compiled by an unknown researcher says that a brewery and store once operated at the townsite. The same researcher also notes a Methodist log church building or “meeting house,” but that was located where the Van Buren Cemetery is now. More specifically, the cemetery grounds were originally those of the church, with the earliest graves in the churchyard placed immediately adjacent to the road.

County lore also has Van Buren vying with Linn to be the county seat, but there may be less to that story than sometimes thought. The earliest proceedings of the Osage County Court, which governed the county, can be found in the Missouri State Archives (Microfilm C5058). An early reference to Van Buren can be found in the May 1842 proceedings, when the court granted Henry Brockman permission to keep a “Tavern and Inn at the Town of Van Burin” until the expiration of his license for Westphalia (p. 28). Then, in November 1842, the county court’s session was held at Van Buren (p. 35). At that time, the court entered an order “that the County Seat of Osage County be called and styled as the name of Linnvill” (p. 38). More than a year later, in February 1844, a petition was submitted to the court for the “removal of the county seat of Osage County to the Town of Van Buren as the county seat” (p. 57). The impetus for making Van Buren the county seat has been attributed to T.A. Baker and to Robert Goodman and his son-in-law Jesse C. Evans. The barely legible record, however, indicates that the petitioner was the town’s promoter, M.C. Davis. Although rejection of the request was apparently not recorded, plans were already underway that winter to build a courthouse in Linn (p. 57). Those plans continued uninterrupted the following May of 1844 (pp. 66-67).

Goodman and Evans and their families would own numerous parcels of land near Van Buren over the next several decades. On March 20, 1848, Brockman sold the following town lots to the two men in one of the last Van Buren transactions: Block 4/Lot 5; Block 5/Lot 2; Block 6/Lot 3; and Block 8/Lots 4 and 6 (Deed Book C, pp. 439-41). On October 14, 1869, Goodman and his wife Susan (Mahon) sold an acre of their land (316 links by 316 links) where the Methodist Episcopal Church South was already located to the church’s trustees (Deed Book P, p. 289). The trustees at that time were William M. Davies, Daniel M. Lambeth, H. Holloway, Jesse Miller, and George W. Evans (younger brother of Jesse C. Evans).

The Goodmans would be buried in the Van Buren Cemetery in the 1870s, marked by ornate tombstones that remain unusually well preserved. Evans served as the Osage County sheriff from 1852 to 1856. Several years after his wife died in 1871, his own health declined so much that a guardian was appointed for his minor children. Evans is probably also buried along with his wife in the Van Buren Cemetery, but his 1884 grave is unmarked. Two years before, his mother Hannah Chribbs Evans had been laid to rest there after spending her last years with her children’s families nearby.