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Once the War of 1812-1814 was over, the Missouri Territory was considered safe for settlers. The pioneers steadily poured into the Boonslick area, looking for a new start in the frontier. They found rich soil for crops, prairies for livestock grazing, springs and streams, plus the Missouri River for water, trees for building, and fish and abundant large and small game for food. Soon, small communities were formed and in some, churches and schools were established. Farms, mills and small local businesses were important communication and trade centers in the early communities.

Many of the communities were as small as a few homes or farms near each other, and many of these settlements were never officially platted on the County map. Over time, there were over 65 named communities in Cooper County. If we divide the County into 5 parts, (below) you can see the location of some of the towns/settlements on the map, plus you can locate where some of those settlements that are no longer in existence might have been.

Railroads helped further settle the County and were very important to the economic growth of the area. The first railroad, the Missouri Pacific, was completed through Otterville, in 1860. The second, the Osage Valley and Southern Kansas, ran from Boonville to Versailles, stopping at Billingsville, Joe Town, New Palestine (Speed), Petersburg, Bunceton and Vermont. The third was the “KATY” which went through Prairie Lick, Pilot Grove, Harriston, Pleasant Green and Clifton City.

With the coming of the railroads through several small, sleepy towns they became very busy centers of commerce, attracting merchants, banks, hotels, doctors and a variety of businesses, plus they gained a major growth in population.

Since most roads at this time were rough, and often just wagon trails, trains offered passengers a comfortable way to travel, and cattle, grain and other products could be moved quickly and efficiently to larger markets, usually Saint Louis. Plus, mail was delivered to the towns by rail, instead of by horseback or carts.

However, things began to change by 1915, when early automobiles and pickup trucks became more numerous, and plank and gravel roads (but not paved), became more common. The last train to make its final trip out of Cooper County was the which left Boonville on 1986.

As local train service was eliminated, people and businesses started leaving, and some of the towns that had been well populated lost businesses and residents, as people sought jobs and/or higher wages in larger towns. While some towns became just a shadow of their former selves, others just disappeared. 

A loss of a post office seems to indicate that a town had grown too small to support one. You will notice that some post offices were closed during the Civil War. The decrease in population was also accelerated by the Great Depression and the drought during the 1930’s.

Note: Post Office column displays the delivery dates; "Never" means the place never had a post office; and "Gone" means the town does not exist anymore. 

Looking at the map below you will see that early Cooper County was dotted with towns. Eventually, many of the towns were officially platted, but some settlements remained as just settlements. Of the over 65 settlements/towns that were in early Cooper County, by 2021, only a few remain as active cities, towns, villages, or as viable unincorporated areas.

Townships map Township and Towns


Memorabilia of Cooper County, Missouri, 2020 PDF Edition

Discover Cooper County by Ann Betteridge


When we look at the history of Cooper County, we see that a few towns were originally settlements, then became towns, or cities, and have been active since the early 1820's. Yet, others had a good start, but after a few years, the population was greatly diminished and, in some cases, almost all traces of those early towns are totally gone. 


Cooper County’s population was greatly affected by its history and available means of travel

Some Background:

Cooper is one of 115 counties in Missouri.

As of 7/1/2022, Cooper County had a population of 17,059, with a total of 7,282 households. Cooper ranks #62 in size of Missouri County populations. The growth rate for 2020 to 2022 was 0.11%.  For 2022-2027 it is forecast to be 0.01%.

Source: HomeTownLocator


When we examine the history of Cooper County, we are lead to wonder why early residents chose to make the trip. Why did they choose to come, and why might they have decided to stay or leave? We find many reasons to come, and which events influenced population growth and decline.


Adventurers – The challenge to come to a new area of the country, to live off the land, perhaps find gold, silver or other treasure, or to become famous for an unusual deed encouraged some to come.

A Second Chance at the Good Life – They may have had a less than desirable background and the newly opened territory might have given them a chance to redeem themselves and start life over.


Early Settlers – They came to stay. They proved that Missouri was a wonderful place to settle. Abundant wildlife, fertile ground, plenty of water and timber, and land was free or not expensive.


Transportation – Missouri was blessed with several early means of travel by land and water - ferries, wagons, stage coach’s (but no roads)


, Steam Boats, and later, railroads, cars and trucks.


Wars – we need to factor in that during the Civil War, World War I, II, and later wars, many local men and women died and did not return home to start or maintain families. Some families left the area and relocated elsewhere after the death of a loved one.


Depression – The depression of the 1930's had some serious effects on the population, yet some towns regained much of their earlier strength and population, while others did not. 



Cooper County population was greatly influenced by many events

1810 – The Cole families settled in what would become Cooper County

1812 – Lamine was settled

1812 – War of 1812-1814 in Cooper County

1816 – Hannah Cole’s sons operated the first ferry between Cooper and Howard Counties

1818 – Cooper became a County

1819 – First Steamboat on the Missouri River

1820 – Missouri Packet - First steam boat to sink in the Missouri River near Boonville

1821 – Missouri became the 24th state

1821 – Trade Route to Santa Fe opened (Santa Fe Trail)

1827 – Town of Franklin, located across from Boonville, washed away in a major flood of the Missouri River

1860’s – Stage Coaches carried passengers and the mail

1860 – First railroad established in the County (Missouri Pacific)

1861 - 1864 – Civil War – two battles and two occupations in Cooper County during years

1861 – Missouri was the first state to emancipate all enslaved persons

1901 – First automobile driven in Cooper County/road improvement began

1914 - 1918 – World War I in Europe

1918 - 1919 – Many died from the “Spanish” Flu.  (NO Cooper County figures available)

1930 -1939 – Nation-wide Depression

1940 - 1945 – World War II

1943 – Highway 40 Bridge over the Missouri River connects Howard County to Cooper County

1960 –  Route I-70 by-passes Boonville, but passes through Cooper County

Population Growth in Cooper County

Missouri became the 24th state on August 10, 1821. Cooper County was established when Howard County was divided into what was to become Cooper County along the Missouri River. Following the War of 1812, the population of Cooper and the surrounding area began to increase, especially along the Missouri River. The majority of early settlers were from Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and the Carolinas.  Settlers from Germany and Ireland helped to increase the population. In the year 1820, only about 12% of the population of Missouri was foreign born. 

According to the 1820 US Census, Cooper County had a population of 6,959, but the population ten years later was only 6,904, a loss of 55. However, a good case can be made for an increase of more than 8,700 rather than the official drop. In November 1820, after the 1820 census had been taken, three counties were formed out of Cooper County: Cole, Lafayette, and Saline. Their 1830 census totals were 3,023; 2,912; and 2.873 respectively. Had those counties not been established, these figures would have been part of Cooper Counties totals.

Sources: Discover Cooper County by Ann Betteridge and A History of Pilot Grove.


The population numbers increased with each census until 1890, when Cooper County had a population of 22,707. From then on, the population started to decline to 14,643 in 1980. Cooper County has continued to slowly grow, and the US Census of 2010 showed a population of 17,601, but in 2020 it was 17,103. 

Although there are many small, unincorporated communities in Cooper County, there have been only six incorporated cities.

Boonville was already platted when Missouri became a state in 1821, but it wasn't incorporated until 1839. Its first official census wasn't taken until 1850. There were 2,326 residents in Boonville that year, the smallest ever recorded for the city at that time, but Boonville, the County Seat of Cooper County, continued to grow.

The numbers weren't always higher than the previous count, but they tended to go up. The highest count recorded in Cooper County population was 21,596 in 1880 and 22,707 in 1890. By 1990 the total population had dropped to 14,835. In the 2010 Census it climbed back to 17,601, but dropped back to 17,103 in 2020.

In order of establishment, Otterville became the second city in Cooper County. Platted in 1837, Otterville didn't have an official census until 1880 and recorded 505 residents.

Source: Wikipedia

The population was pretty stable and peaked at 507 in 1990. In 2010, the official population was 454.

The other four cities were established in the space of twenty years: Bunceton in 1868, Pilot Grove in 1873, Prairie Home in 1874, and Blackwater in 1887. Bunceton had 493 residents in 1890 and no census was reported in 1900. The population for the next two census reports of 1910, and 1920 was 788, and 860 respectively. Growth after 1920 never increased. The official population in 2010 was 354.

Pilot Grove and Prairie Home were founded just a year apart, in 1873 and 1874. Pilot Grove started with 209 residents at their first census in 1880 and in 2010 reached 768. Prairie Home's census was similar. They started with a low of 43 in 1880 and by 2010 they had reached 280.

Blackwater was the last of the current six incorporated cities in Cooper County. Founded in 1887, their first census wasn't taken until 1900 and it recorded a population of 285. The community grew until 1930, when the population peaked at 506. The number of residents and businesses continued to decline with only a minor spike in 1980 until the 2010 census showed Blackwater at just under 60 percent of its first headcount.

While many towns and communities have existed in Cooper County over the past two hundred years, there are only six official towns there today: Blackwater, Boonville, Bunceton, Otterville, Pilot Grove, and Prairie Home.

Using only the census records, the smallest town in Cooper County was Prairie Home in 1880 with a population of 43. It reached its peak of 2010 with 280. The smallest town by population today is Blackwater. It started with 285 in 1900, topped out in 1930 with 506, and has now dropped below 200: 199 in 2000 and 162 in 2010.

Otterville started with 505 people in 1880 and peaked in 1990 with 507. Currently, Otterville’s 2010 population was 454.

Pilot Grove and Bunceton appeared to have competed for fifty years for the title of “Second largest town in Cooper County.” While Pilot Grove started first, the population in 1880 was only 209. Bunceton’s population was officially 493 by 1890 but only had 493 people to Pilot Grove’s 560. By 1900, Bunceton had taken the lead from Pilot Grove: 856 to 631. For the next three decades, Bunceton was the second largest town in Cooper County, with Pilot Grove in third place. In 1940, the tables turned. Pilot Grove had exactly 100 more people than Bunceton. While Pilot Grove’s population has had its ups and downs, it has managed to maintain its number two spot in the county with its highest population of 768 being recorded in 2010. Using only the census records, the smallest town in Cooper County was Prairie Home in 1880, with a population of 43. It reached its peak in 2010 with 280.

Sources: Adapted from Discover Copper County, by Ann Betteridge and Historically Yours by Elizabeth Davis

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