Immigration into the county had been halted by the War of 1812 but, by 1815, there was a steady flow of people coming to the county. Settlers brought with them wagons and horses. Mules were brought in from Santa Fe after the opening of the Santa Fe trail in 1821. Settlers began to mark out roads and to cut their way through the forest. Oxen were often used for wagon transportation and continued to be used for many years.
The prairie presented few obstacles to travel, but to go through a forest was an entirely different matter. A wise selection of a route was needed or there would be lots of labor in cutting trees and fording streams.
No public roads were laid out (on paper) until 1819. But no construction work was done upon the roads nor were they thought necessary for a many years. The first petition for a public road in Cooper County was presented by B.W. Levens. It asked for the location of a road leading from Boonville to the mouth of the Moniteau Creek. The second petition for the location of a public road was by Anderson Reavis, presented on the same day. The road that was petitioned for ran from the mouth of the Grand Moniteau to the Boonville and Potosi road. When Cooper County was officially organized as a county in 1819, the stream of immigration to the south side of the river was increasing and roads were needed.
When many of us think of stage coaches we think of them in relation to the “wild west”. But stages coaches were a very important means of travel in Cooper County for many years. A stage coach was a vehicle much like an enclosed wagon with a high roof, wooden sides and doors with windows on both sides. It had an elevated seat in the front where the driver, or “whip,” was seated. Inside were seats for the passengers. The passengers sat with their baggage on their lap and mail bags under their feet. If they wanted to sleep, they had to sleep sitting up. The stage coaches were designed for travel, not comfort! They were safer than traveling alone and were often the only way to travel any distance. Roads at this time were only dirt, often rocky, and muddy after rain or snow.
Coaches were pulled by draft horses, many of them Clydesdales, because of their good temperament. Stages were pulled either by two horses or a team of four. The coaches were called “stage” coaches because the travel route was done in “stages.” Stations, or stage stops were usually 10 to 15 miles apart. The horses traveled about 5 miles per hour, and pulled the coach for two to three hours. At the end of the trip between one stop and the next, the horses were replaced by another team and the tired horses rested until the return trip. Some stages traveled 60 -70 miles a day.
At some stops a meal or beverages might be available, (at an extra cost) and some had provisions for sleeping. The cost of the journey was usually 10 to 15 cents per mile, which would be quite expensive based in today’s dollars.
In the 1830s, a stage coach depot was located along the road between Boonville and Jefferson City. Known as "Midway" the stop was about 1 ½ miles east of the present site of Prairie Home, at Tompkins' Inn. In the mid-century, stagecoaches made regular trips to various towns in Missouri. The Tipton to Boonville Stage Coaches operated in the Cooper County area from 1850 to 1860.
An interesting account of the Tipton-Boonville Stage written by Mrs. L.H. Childs appeared in The Boonville Advertiser - Rural Life Edition, in 1940.
Tipton-Boonville Stage Changed Horses at Biler Home Near Speed
One and one-half miles east of Speed, in central Cooper County, stands a dilapidated but vivid reminder of the past. On the southwest corner of the crossroads at that point is an old-fashioned log house, and to the rear, only partly standing is an old barn.
Up until 1868 this place buzzed with activity. It was the home of Mr. Abram Biler, his wife and two daughters, and the Boonville-Tipton stage coach made a regular stop there to change horses. The horses were cared for until the return trip, when they were changed again. The ladies served meals to the travelers.
Mr. William Eller told that when he was a small boy, he would hear old Mike, the driver, come down the road blowing a bugle to let the people know the stage was coming. It is said Mike could crack his whip so loud the sound would travel almost a mile in the clear air as he drove his fine horses. Sometimes the road was hard and dry, and at other times the mud was ankle deep or the snow was drifted high, but the stage went through.
The road, which now is of all-weather construction, was little more than a trail at that time. Jr. Irving Harness’ father sold the stage line a number of fine horses, as only the best animals were used to pull the coaches. It was quite a thrill for a number of small boys of the neighborhood when Mike would let them ride the stage to the bottom of the hill to the south. They never seemed to mind the tiresome walk back.
Stage coach days carried their humor and tragedy, as all generations do. When Mike would linger to talk to Miss Puss Biler, some of the passengers would grow quite impatient, but that would have no effect on Mike as he would have his little visit out before he would go.
During the last years of the Civil War period, an order was issued calling in all guns in an effort to stop guerrilla warfare. One evening, however, the report of a gun was heard and when neighbors investigated, they found M. Biler slain in his cucumber patch.
Mr. Biler is buried with many other pioneers in the old Concord cemetery. When the branch railroad was completed between Boonville and Tipton, there was no further need for the stage line and it faded into history.
Probably the last visible stage stop in Cooper County is located on the North side of Highway 5 between Boonville and Billingsville. The limestone block building was built by O.H.P. Shoemaker in 1860 and the stone was cut from a nearby quarry. He used smoother stone for the front of the building and rough-cut stone for the sides. The road in front of the house was the stage coach road/mail route to Warsaw. On the lintel above the door of the house is engraved “O.H.P. Shoemaker 1860” (see picture).
The Shoemakers were Unionist, coming originally from Kentucky and Illinois. A son (or nephew) Horace, became a Captain during the Union occupation of Boonville and organized a voluntary cavalry unit to escort the mail, guard the telegraph wires and escort captured Confederates to Jefferson City. Capt. Shoemaker became a marked man when he took a local man named Spencer from imprisonment at the Boonville courthouse to Harley Park and hanged him without a trial.
When General Price and the Confederates took control of Boonville in October 1864, Shoemaker surrendered and was confined with his family to his house in Boonville. In the dark of night, according to Van Ravensway, Spenser’s sons came for Shoemaker pretending to have orders from General Price. They took him away and Horace Shoemaker was never seen again. General Shelby was quoted later that the incident “will remain the most regrettable occurrence during the war”. East of the stone house three serious skirmishes took place that October. General Fagan stood off attacks by Union Generals Eppstein and Sanborn with heavy loss of life at Anderson’s Branch.
Mrs. Shoemaker and her family, fearing further retribution fled to Oregon. The property was parceled and sold in 1866 $2,000 to Christian Osten and John Dumolt. In 1868 The Osage Valley and Southern Kansas Railroad was completed between Boonville and Tipton and the stone house was convenient to the depot at Billingsville. New immigrants arriving from Germany by steamboat took the train to Billingsville where they found welcome in their native language with the Dumolts who were originally from Alsace Lorraine. Once the railroad came through Cooper County, there was no longer a need for the stage coaches. Interestingly, once trucks and cars became popular, there was little use for trains for transportation and most of them eventually disappeared.
The Dumolts and Fredericks lived in the stone house for many years, adding a kitchen and an extension to the living space at the back of the stone building. There were extensive log and frame stables on the property until the present owners, the Burnetts, cleared away the worn wooden structures, but saved the stone cottage and a large chiseled stone horse trough to preserve this part of Cooper County history.