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Callaway historyA nine-foot obelisk marks the remains of the Prince of Callaway County, Col. Jefferson Franklin Jones.
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Courtesy of the Kingdom of Callaway County Historical Society
Colonel Jefferson Franklin Jones
Colonel Jefferson Franklin Jones
The Prince Behind the Kingdom of Callaway County by Martin Northway
Prince Col. Jefferson Franklin Jones
It is sometimes said that Missouri has 113 counties but only one kingdom—the Kingdom of Callaway. That enduring nickname dates back 150 years, to when ragtag Callaway County volunteers stared down Union militia and exacted a non-invasion “treaty.” The rebels were led by a local political figure, Col. Jefferson Franklin Jones.
That prince who seized the day to create a kingdom was more than legend. He was “one of the most picturesque characters who has ever lived in Callaway County,” wrote local historian Ovid Bell. Like most of Callaway’s early settlers, Jones was from the Upper South, born in Kentucky in 1817. Fortune marked him as a fair-haired boy in county politics.
Arriving in 1840, he excelled in his studies and read law under John Jameson, the foremost attorney in Fulton, the county seat. Jameson served three terms in Congress from 1839 to 1849, and Jones often stumped the county for his mentor. Jones was admitted to the bar in 1843 and in 1844 married Sally Ann Jameson, Jameson’s niece. They set up housekeeping in a large log cabin on Court Street in Fulton, ultimately producing 16 children; 11 survived childhood.
Highly successful, Jones is remembered as the first witness for the prosecution in the case of Celia, a slave tried and convicted of the 1855 murder of her master, the subject of Melton A. McLaurin’s book, Celia, A Slave.
Before the Civil War, Jones was a captain of militia. Regular musters to hone citizen volunteers were also occasions for eating and drinking, wrestling matches, cock and dog fights—and politicking. In 1856, Jones was elected to a term as Callaway County’s state representative.
He did not stand for reelection, seemingly preoccupied with improving a large farm and constructing a Southern-style manor in northern Callaway County, just south of the Audrain County line. He and his family moved into their home in 1859. The two-story structure with a cupola on top, from which he could survey an estate including perhaps 20 slaves, reflected the owner: somewhat pretentious, substantial, stout. A period photograph shows a well-groomed, clean-shaven man of broad countenance. On the eve of war, he was a well-fed 250 plus pounds, exuding confidence, competence, and success.
Local politics took a back seat in 1860, when Callaway County overwhelmingly rejected the anti-slavery campaign of Republican Abraham Lincoln, who received only 15 of 2,632 votes cast for the four presidential candidates. But like most of Missouri, Callaway seemed inclined to reject secession when other slave states withdrew from the Union, even though Callaway leaned Southern in political views. Jones ran for the state’s special convention as a forthright secessionist but was rejected, and the convention voted against secession.
Escalating events in the spring of 1861 quickly realigned Missouri loyalties. When secessionist Gov. Claiborne Fox Jackson asked for volunteers to oppose possible Union invasion, Callaway quickly enrolled several companies into Gen. Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guard.
The first unit, the Callaway Guards, included a half dozen Westminster College students; Capt. Daniel H. McIntyre later became Missouri attorney general from 1881 to 1885. While these men were away fighting at Carthage and elsewhere, on July 17, local volunteers and elements of Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Harris’s recruiting brigade of Missouri State Guard cavalry clashed just outside Fulton with a battalion of German Home Guard (U.S. Reserve Corps) infantry.
The Unionists claimed victory but failed to prevent the transit of Harris’s force. Briefl y, Fulton was occupied by Union troops. Callaway watched with alarm in September as thousands of Union troops arrived across the river at Jefferson City to defend the provisional Union government there and to pursue Gen. Price’s much smaller force.
In late October, a local minuteman group, the A to Z’s, alerted Jones that 400 to 500 Union militia from Pike County were ransacking homes and intending to invade northern Callaway. Volunteers were to assemble at Brown’s Spring on Auxvasse Creek, northwest of present day Kingdom City.
The Missouri Republican reported 600 to 700 “secessionists” but that Lt. Col. T.J.C. Fagg’s Union militia, uniting with soldiers marching north from the Missouri River under Brig. Gen. Chester Harding, would be “a great overmatch for Jones’ men … we shall soon hear of their rout and dispersion.”
The Republican underestimated the mettle of Jones’s little army. Though not formally organized, many were extensively drilled at Brown’s Spring. Variously armed with squirrel rifl es and shotguns, most were adept with firearms and well mounted. To magnify their apparent strength, they reportedly fashioned two or three Quaker guns (logs painted to resemble a cannon) and one handmade oak cannon, of wonderful design and construction, reinforced with iron bands. “It was indeed a fearful instrument of carnage, equally dangerous at muzzle, breech or side,” one veteran jocularly recalled in 1905.
“It was Indian Summer time—usually a gorgeous season in Callaway County,” writes historian Bell. “Crops had been harvested and farm folk were able to relax after a summer of toil.”
Solomon P. Gilbert, later a judge, recalled that volunteers slept under blankets without tents in warm weather. “There was no rain during the time we were out. There was no discipline and the whole experience was really a good lark.”
Others were quartered in houses or farm buildings, and men in several camps were well fed by local farm women. Nudging his volunteers eastward, Jones established headquarters at Stringfield’s Store in northeastern Callaway County. The force made a ferocious appearance with campfires and their bristling Quaker cannon.
Under a flag of truce, Jones sent a letter to the Union headquarters at Wellsville in neighboring Montgomery County. He made his best lawyer’s case for withdrawal of the militia, accusing them of illegal acts against local citizens. “Your presence on our border, your arrest of our citizens, and your searchings of private dwellings have produced here the uprising of our people,” Jones wrote.
The reply came from Fagg’s superior, Brig. Gen. John Brooks Henderson, a lawyer and prominent Unionist Democrat who had taken the field. His brusque reply took a tone, rejecting Jones’s authority to make any demands whatsoever. He said that Union forces had not improperly interfered with any Callaway citizen and would not do so; in fact, Henderson claimed local Union men had been driven from their homes, their houses ransacked, and these offenses had been falsely attributed to his command.
Jones had asserted that his command was “not assembled in the interest of the Southern Confederacy,” but he insisted that the Union commander explain his “designs and purposes.”
Henderson replied, “Without intending to be harsh … you have no right to know. I now, sir, advise you and those under your command to return to your respective homes and abandon what at least seems to be an effort to sustain this rebellion against the government. In this view perfect security will be accorded to them. If they remain under arms they must abide the consequences.” Thunderation!
On October 26, Jones replied that “Your assurances of protection of life, liberty, and the quiet tranquility of home, and that you will suffer no disquietude to those under me who peaceably return to their homes, have determined me to disband the forces under my command, early in the morning.”
On October 27, Jones did so, and Henderson’s men did not enter Callaway County. Meanwhile, Gen. Harding, in transit to Fulton with troops from Hermann, learned that Jones’s men had been permitted to disperse and “were exempted from arrest or punishment for their treasonable proceedings.”
He decided to honor the agreement by withdrawing his troops, but also declared “That whole region is thoroughly disloyal. … There are not 200 Union men in the county of Callaway.” Union troops were in Fulton briefly and then retired. Coincidentally, the day after Jones’s men returned to their homes, Gov. Jackson’s General Assembly in Neosho passed an ordinance of secession.
A month later, the Confederate Congress would accept Missouri as the 12th Confederate state, and Missouri would be represented in both the U.S. and Confederate Congresses.
Some young Callaway men who had helped broker the compromise with the Union would see service as Confederate soldiers. As for Jones’s truce, Fulton would be occupied by Union troops off and on from December 1861 forward, throughout the war. Meanwhile, Gen. Henderson denied the embarrassing reports he had compromised with rebels.
In a postwar letter, Jones said that soon after the compromise, Gen. Henderson “wanted the terms of our compromise so changed as to relieve him. I told him I had no power then to make any changes and declined doing so.” He added that Henderson used reports of the tearing up of the North Missouri Railroad by rebels in December as a pretext to arrest Jones and thereby get revenge.
Jones said cavalry “came to my house, arrested me, searched my premises, took my arms and ammunition, an extra carriage and span of horses, and everything else they wanted.”
Jones was held under horrid conditions in Mexico, Missouri, Danville, and then St. Charles before he and others were to be tried by a Union military commission for railroad destruction, an offense for which the penalty was execution. Jones said that in his absence, Union cavalry (including a German regiment, referred to by the locals as “Dutch”) pilfered his property and livestock.
A letter of complaint to Union Brig. Gen. John M. Schofield produced little sympathy. Schofield promised Jones a fair hearing but added archly, “I should be gratified if you are found less guilty than I believe you to be.” But Jones was found not guilty, released “upon taking the oath of allegiance and giving bonds for future good conduct.”
He objected to the oath on principle but provided $10,000 bond and agreed to travel restrictions. Jones was dispirited upon discovering the condition of his estate. Union officers repeatedly claimed he had violated his bond and therefore forfeited his property, resulting in numerous requisitions: “It seemed as if I was to be the sport of every upstart and vandal who could muster a force.”
Absent from Jones’s own loud objections was any hint that he may have been clandestinely providing local guerrillas food, provender, and sympathy, as local lore has long indicated.
Finally, in May 1863, “without charges, or a moment’s notice,” wrote Jones, “my entire family and self were seized, under an order of banishment South, and without money, clothing, bedding, or any thing else, or an opportunity to secure such, we were forced off to St. Louis, where my wife, nine children, and a governess, were taken to one prison, and myself and eldest son to another.”
With friends’ help, all but Jones were released. He was held through July 1865, confined without charge at Gratiot Street Prison in St. Louis. He estimated harsh treatment slashed his weight from 265 to 152 pounds.
Meanwhile, the word “kingdom” was being used to describe the county of Callaway. Jones himself may have coined the term. Another story is that in 1862, a House committee questioned John Sampson’s fitness to serve as Callaway’s legislator because he had supported secession. He thundered at them, “I am from the Kingdom of Callaway, six feet, four and one-half inches tall, and all South, by God!”
Repressed by radical Republican rule and the oppressive 1865 Drake Constitution, former Confederates and sympathizers were re-enfranchised by the 1872 election, their full citizenship assured by the 1875 constitution. After helping pioneer construction of the Chicago and Alton Railroad, in 1874 Jones was returned to the Missouri House of Representatives by Callaway voters.
On March 17, 1875, Jones introduced a joint and concurrent General Assembly resolution declaring amnesty for outlaws Frank and Jesse James and others who had served as Confederate partisans. The resolution proposed pardoning them for wartime offenses but assured a fair trial for alleged postwar crimes. An amended version passed but failed to attain a necessary two-thirds majority. Jones’s health may never have recovered from his wartime incarceration. During a November 1876 speech, he suffered a stroke. After two years as an invalid, he died from a heart attack on January 24, 1879, perhaps one more casualty of war.
His great house fell into ruins decades ago, but a nine-foot obelisk nearby marks his remains in a once-tumbled cemetery reclaimed and restored 15 years ago by the Elijah P. Gates Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. A soldier’s stone attests to Jones’s brief wartime service.
Lying nearby are his wife Sally, who died in 1888, and several children, some with rare names like Octave and North East. The small plot, marked by a grove of trees and ancient yucca plants, sits amid fields once tended by slaves. An oasis for local wildlife, it remains a quiet but enduring testament to human history.