The Legend of the Kingdom of Callaway
A Kingdom in Missouri
Many details of the 1861 incident that led to Callaway County’s implied declaration of independence from federal and state government are unclear today. During the 1920s, author Ovid Bell had interviewed some of the remaining participants in order to develop a greater understanding of what happened and where. Portions of those eyewitness accounts are included in his booklet, “The Story of the Kingdom of Callaway,”1 first published in 1952 and reprinted in 1995 by the Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society.
Newspaper reports of the day, as well as letters to the editors, provided additional information and perhaps added a bit of fuel to the controversy. Those papers included the Louisiana Journal (from the town of Louisiana, located on the Mississippi River in Pike County, Missouri), the Fulton Evening News (from Fulton, Missouri, the county seat of Callaway County), the Missouri Statesman, of Columbia, and the St. Louis Evening News, among others.
In the Civil War of 1861-1865, Missouri was a border state. The loyalties of its population were divided between the Union (North) and the Confederacy (South).
Callaway County, of which the town of Fulton was the county seat, leaned heavily toward southern sympathies due in part to its dependence on slave labor for the local agricultural industry. Further dividing the citizens was a movement favoring secession of the state of Missouri from the Union. Some who sided with the southern cause regarding slavery did not favor secession.
The executive branch of Missouri's state government had been operating under provisional status since July 1861. In an emergency state convention the Democratic governor, Claiborne Jackson, was unseated by Union sympathizers amidst charges of treason. He had been elected as an anti-secessionist, but apparently was actually working with the Confederacy on a plan for secession. Union militia troops involved in the incident described here were organized under the provisional Republican governor, Hamilton R. Gamble.
By some unknown mode, word was received in Callaway County that it was about to be invaded by Union forces from nearby Pike County. Colonel Jefferson Jones responded to this threat by assembling at least 300 men (those who were not already serving in the Confederate army) to set up camp at Brown’s Spring, along Auxvasse Creek, and train as a militia group to fend off the invaders. According to Ovid Bell, this location was about three miles northwest of what was the village of McCredie at the time of his writing. McCredie was located near the present-day village of Kingdom City at I-70 and US 54.
By October 22, the Union militia troops led by Colonel T.J.C. Fagg, under the command of General John B. Henderson, had arrived near Wellsville, in neighboring Montgomery County to the east. This location would have been approximately 30 miles from the Jones camp at Brown's Spring in Callaway County. The movement of Colonel Fagg’s forces from Pike County to Wellsville may have stirred rumors of a plan to invade Callaway. According to a master's thesis by Andrew Saeger2, they may actually have been stationed there to guard the North Missouri railroad line.
Pike County's Louisiana Journal reported that Colonel Fagg's regiment, which included two cavalry companies, was stationed near Wellsville. The paper added that the company was in search of a "Secesh" camp in that area.
According to the Fulton Evening News, the buildup of Jones' "Rebel" force continued. Along with additional volunteers from Callaway, a number of cavalrymen joined them from the adjacent counties of Boone to the west, and Audrain to the north. Meanwhile, some of the men returned home, or left temporarily and returned bringing others.
It should be noted that although Jefferson Jones was referred to as Colonel Jones, he had never been associated with any official military organization.
From Brown’s spring, Jones moved his fluctuating forces a few miles northward to Dyer’s Mill for more training, then to Stringfield’s Store, closer to the northeast corner of Callaway, and thus closer to Wellsville in northwest Montgomery. At this point, scouts were sent from each camp in order to size up the other. As well as a few personal arms, the Jones arsenal included at least one log painted black to resemble a cannon when positioned between wagon wheels in the underbrush.
Jefferson Jones sent two riders into the Union camp at Wellsville, carrying a letter addressed to Brigadier General Henderson. In the letter, Jones offered to disband his troops in exchange for an agreement that Henderson “refrain from invading, molesting, or occupying Callaway County.” Jones also stated that he had no connection to the Missouri State Guard or to the Confederate Army, and that his purpose was simply to protect his county from invasion.
Colonel Fagg was not there at the time, and two of his officers held the messengers overnight pending the arrival of General Henderson at the camp the next day. Henderson sent a reply back to Jones, and Jones then responded the following day. It is here that the historical record becomes particularly unclear.
Basically, both sides claimed that the other had agreed to a set of proposed terms rather than face the consequences, and then decamped. However, legend has it that Henderson dealt with Jones as if he were representing a sovereign nation. Further complicating matters is the fact that after Union troops ransacked Jones’ farm a couple of months later, Jones stated that he was then unable to find any written record of the accord reached between the two “except one letter”.
While Jefferson Jones was possibly the first to designate Callaway County a "kingdom," many accounts credit John Sampson, a secessionist who later became a state representative from the county. According to Ovid Bell's book, during an 1862 legislative committee loyalty determination, Sampson was said to have declared, "I am from the Kingdom of Callaway, six feet, four and one-half inches tall, and all South, by God!"
Riders from the Jones camp delivered his reply to Henderson in the early morning. After they returned, it was announced to the troops that a compromise had been reached. Henderson’s men would be returning to Pike County, and Jones’ men were free to go home. According to Ovid Bell, the agreement included assurance that Callaway would not be invaded by federal forces at any time in the future, and it was at this point that the county theoretically became a kingdom.
Federal troops led by Brigadier General Chester Harding arrived in Fulton in response to a rumor that Rebel forces led by Jones were planning to blow up railroad bridges. There they were told of the treaty, and since Harding saw no impending threat and was not prepared to leave occupying troops in the area, he later stated that he decided to honor the agreement and withdrew from the county.
Various accounts state that a treaty was signed which set Callaway apart from the state and pronounced it a kingdom; however, the reality may be somewhat less dramatic. According to the Saeger thesis, the agreement reached between Jones and Henderson was a non-aggression pact only, possibly based on the fact that Jones represented no government entity. Thus, confusion reigned when Henderson’s men occupied Fulton shortly afterward.
Troops under the command of General Henderson, augmented by additional militiamen from other nearby counties, arrived in Fulton from Wellsville in the first few days of November. They set up an occupation headquarters in Fulton and remained in the county for at least the rest of the month, failing to acknowledge the treaty described by Jefferson Jones. According to the Bell account, Jones and his men continued to adhere to the terms of the compromise.
There is apparently no surviving record of the details of the agreement. According to the Saeger thesis, the only mention of it in official war records is a report filed by General Harding stating that he learned of the treaty from citizens when he arrived in Fulton on October 29.
Jefferson Jones was subsequently arrested, tried by a military court, and imprisoned at least twice, along with members of his family. He stated that his farm was pillaged during this time. Following the war, he was again elected to the state House of Representatives in 1875. He died in 1879.
In 1862, John B. Henderson was appointed to serve out the US Senate term of Trusten Polk, who maintained secessionist sympathies. Henderson remained in the Senate for seven years. Following that, he practiced law in St. Louis and later retired to Washington. He died in 1913.
Legacy and Flag
Special thanks to:
Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society
513 Court Street
Fulton, MO 65251
1. Bell, Ovid. The Story of the Kingdom of Callaway. Fulton, MO: Published by the Author. 1952. Reprinted by permission: Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society. 1995.
2. Saeger, A.M. The Kingdom of Callaway: Callaway County, Missouri During the Civil War. 2013. Northwest Missouri State University, master’s thesis. https://www.nwmissouri.edu/library/theses/2013/SaegerAndrew.pdf.
3. Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society.
© 2019 KT Dunn