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The first settlement within the limits of Ralls county was made by French traders, near the salt spring at Saverton in 1774.
Samuel Gilbert, a Kentuckian, came to this point in 1808 with his family seeking a home in the new territory. He stopped at Cape Au Gris (now in Lincoln County) and was told of the “salt springs” up the river located at a point known as “Little Prairie”. Victor La Grota, one of the settlers, had some sort of a claim to the springs an (sic) adjacent territory and was the leader of the settlement. Gilbert bought his claim and having secured sufficient kettles began the manufacture of salt for commercial purposes.
Another settlement of this area as reported, was Bouvet’s Lick or Bouvet’s Salt Springs later called La Bastain – now known as Spalding Springs. This was a flourishing salt center of the later part of the eighteenth century, about 1790.
And then Freemore’s Lick, settled about 1799 by James Freemore De Lauriere, the scene of one of the bloodiest massacres that ever occurred in northeast Missouri. The early settlers had little trouble with the Indians except for an occasional outbreak until the war of 1812.
The women and children being in comparative safe quarters, the men were at liberty to go to war and pursue the savages with greater success. Captain Musick, Captain Riggs and others with small companies of daring determined volunteers operated in this section. Captain Musick, with a few men, encountered a band of Indians near Gilbert’s Salt Works, just south of the present site of Saverton and fought a fierce combat in which the whites were defeated, losing five or six of their number. John Duff, Levi Tanzey and Charles Lucas, besides others whose names have not been learned, were left dead on the field of battle and John Whiteside was mortally wounded.
An Early Battle
Fort Mason stood on the ground of Martha A. Taylor, just about two miles south of Gilbert’s Salt Works and was used as a rendezvous for the rangers under Captains Musick, Calaway and others until destroyed by fire, supposedly set by the Indians.
The conflict here spoken of, is the only one which took place within the present limits of Ralls county, during the British war. But we have an account of another that took place somewhere along Spencer creek, as told by descendants of some of the pioneers. At this point there was a flourishing salt manufacturing works, located here, owned and operated by De Laurier and that the Indians became resentful because the men, being at the scene of the salt springs, kept the buffalo, deer and other wild game from coming to get the salt they craved, and thus ruining their hunting grounds.
The Indians set upon the camp and killed and scalped all with the exception of De Lauriere and the story is that he escaped and rode his horse until he gave out and then ran until he reached Fort Buffalo below Louisiana.
Freemore’s Lick for many years, was a rendezvous for lovers of the mineral waters that ebbed from this spring, and was a meeting place for neighbors and persons over the county, out for their Sunday drive.
In 1870 Thomas Barkley bought the five acres surrounding the spring and deeded it to the Ralls County Court in the hope that it would be made into a county park, but inadvertently this transaction was lost sight of as the road leading to it, although a county road, has been closed off and these springs now being fenced and treated as private property.
New London, the present county seat of Ralls county, although not incorporated or formally laid out until 1819, bears the anomalous distinction of being older than its mother, Ralls county 1820, and its grandmother, the state of Missouri 1821; was founded in 1800 by William Jameson, a Virginian who had moved to the new territory, being employed by the Spanish lieutenant governor De Lassus to assist and locate homeseekers in this vast new territory. Mr. Jameson laid off 800 arpens, about 680.56 acres, on which New London is located, and bought it for $49.50. Perry, Missouri was settled in by many hardy settlers as early as 1818 but it was not until 1866 that Perry was incorporated as a village.
Henry Wolfe a native of Canada, operated the first store and post office there in 1832.
Perry is located twenty miles southwest of New London on state route 26 and is served by the Hannibal St. Louis railroad and now has a population of better than 900 people.
It is a thriving metropolis being in the center of a good agricultural community and the land is heavily underlaid with coal that is mined for commercial purposes.
Center, a town of 600 inhabitants is located ten miles southwest of New London, and is the geometrical center of Ralls county, being laid out and plated in 1880.
Center is served by the Hannibal and St. Louis railroad and tural (sic) community.
Saverton, formerly known as Little Prairie was settled by Samuel Gilbert in 1808 and was laid out in 1819. Madisonville was laid out in 1836 and was for years a trading center, and gave indications of being one of the county’s larger towns for many years. Rensselaer, on the M.K. & T. railroad was laid out in 1861 by Joshua P. Richards. There are several other small hamlets in the county. Ilasco, started after the Atlas cement plant was built near Hannibal 35 years ago, is the largest unincorporated place in the county.
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