The White River trail had been used by
Indians in Dent County. It was later to become
one of the branches of the Trail of
Tears, which brought many Cherokees on
their forced trek to Oklahoma. Some stopped
in Dent County and many old families are
proud of a Cherokee heritage. The "trace"
wound from Sligo southwest to the Ephraim
Bressie Farm on Spring Creek north of Salem.
It left the county about the present Maples.
The first white settler was
George Cole, who cleared
and cultivated a farm on the
Meramec near Short Bend. It
was later the site of the Nelson
Mill. An abundance of
waterpower and difficulty of
transportation made mills
important in the settling of
the new land.
Some of the first settlers came in 1829,
mostly to the Meramec, Spring Creek
and Dry Fork valleys. Land could be
purchased for five cents or less an acre.
William Thornton, Daniel Troutman and
Daniel W. Wooliver were among the
1829 settlers, followed by William
Blackwell, Elisha Nelson, Jerry Potts,
Ephraim Bressie, Robert Leonard, Abner
Wingfield, Lewis Dent, Wilson
Craddock, Thomas Higginbotham, Jack
Berry, Silas Hamby, Smith Wofford,
Turkill McNeill, Dr. John Hyer, Samuel
Hyer and David Lenox.
Dent County Established - 1851
In 1851 the Missouri Assembly created
Dent County from Crawford and
Shannon Counties. It was named for
early settler Lewis Dent, who served
as the first representative. First
county officers were G.D. Breckenridge,
Samuel Hyer, Jr., and Jotham
Clark. Joseph Millsap was sheriff and
David Henderson, clerk. They met at
the Bressie Farm.
Salem as a Village
Just after the State of Missouri's Legislature passed the laws relating to Village government
in 1860, the first mayor of Salem was
appointed or elected. He was W. P. Williams,
often referred to as "Rip" from the
positive and often times violent expression
of his feelings and opinions. He lived here a
long time and was a prominent citizen
throughout his long life. He became mayor
in 1860, but how long he served is not
The civil war came in 1861, and city governments
were suspended. After Williams, records show that O.A. Kenemore, a prominent
farmer with a home in Salem became mayor.
Next was E. T. Wingo, a lawyer and representative,
then C. L. Allen who was also a lawyer but
never practiced law. He did serve as Deputy Circuit
Clerk and Probate Judge. Allen was followed
by Samuel Sachs. No dates are available
listing terms of office for these mayors, but it is
likely they served from 1870 to 1881.
Courthouses in Dent County
An earlier log courthouse, built about 1851
or '52, was Dent County's first and was located
on the Wingfield farm northeast of Salem.
In 1852-53 a courthouse was built
south of the present courthouse. The building
measured about 20x40 ft and was built
by J. T. Garvin for $800. It was burned during
the civil war. The next courthouse built
in 1864, also fell victim to fire in May 1866.
The beautiful Victorian courthouse -- which is listed in the National Registry of Historic
Places -- was built in 1870 for $15,500. A.
E. Dye came to Dent County to build this
courthouse. His son, E. L. Dye, assisted him
and was to become the leading builder in the
county. W.P. Elmer in his history reports that
when the courthouse was finished pictures of
it were published in Mc-Clure's Magazine
and newspapers in the East to show the development
of the West.
Minerals are Important to the Area
Minerals have influenced the Dent County economy.
Greatest was the iron furnace built at Sligo starting in
1880 and active until 1923, 43 years. Sligo was the fourth iron
works built in the state, following Meramec, Midland and Nova
Scotia. There was plenty of iron ore -- Simmons
Hill in Salem, Orchard and Cherry Valley, Millsap, Pomeroy, Hawkins Banks, Red Hill and
Scotia. Mr. Elmer writes in his history that the
Sligo furnace was the most successful and continued
longer than any other iron furnace in
Missouri. The Sligo furnace was built on
Crooked Creek and produced 60 to 80 tons of
pig iron a day, with some runs of up to 100
tons. E.B. Sankey came from New Castle, Pa. in
1870 to survey the St.Louis-Salem and Little
Rock Railroad from Cuba to Salem. The Sligo &
Eastern Railroad ran a branch to East End to
gather wood for the kilns producing charcoal for
the furnace. Sligo’s population, in its big years
In recent times the largest mining and milling
operations were in the "New Lead Belt" some
30 miles east of Salem. St.Joe Lead started the
mining boom at Viburnum and soon other major
mining companies bought land and mineral
rights. The mines brought new families and
well-paying jobs, with many choosing to live in
Salem. Doe Run continues mining and battery reclamation in the eraea today.
In 1909 a band of 23 pioneers realized the dream of bringing electric lights to Salem with
the formation of the Salem Light & Power Co. The city eventually took over the electric system
and produced electricity with two big diesel generators. When the generators could no longer
meet the demand and were costly to operate the city contracted with Show-Me-Power cooperative.
Mrs. Thomas A. Bruce organized the first telephone system. Charlie Jeffries joined the
Bruces to install the system about 1900. Homes paid $1 and stores $1.25 per month. Mrs.
Bruce suffered agony from her eyes and was blind for 30 years until her death May 8, 1942. The
telephone system was sold to United Telephone, now Sprint.
For a time Salem led the world in the production and shipping of railroad ties. While the
early lumber companies cut the vast Ozark pine forests, timber has remained a major asset, with
white oak staves for barrels, oak flooring, pallets, charcoal briquettes and lumber. The Bunker-
Cul1er Lumber Co. in Bunker was one of the area's biggest industries, and like the mines which
hauled wood for the kilns from a large area, Bunke r-Cul1er used rails to bring in logs.
Dent County has had its ups and downs economically, but is proud of its record of having five
banks during the Great Depression without a failure. The Depression years brought many changes.
The Civilian Conservation Corps brought young men to the area, many of whom stayed. There were
CCC camps at Boss and Indian Trail. In the 13,503 acres of the Indian Trail Conservation Area, crews
built most of the area's 55 miles of access roads. The Conservation Department purchased much of the
cut-over land for $2.50/acre.
Dent County's skilled
labor force made needlework
industries a natural.
Ely & Walker's four-story
factory (now the Fourth St.
Mall) was the first. After WWII the Industrial
Building Corpotation raised funds for the International
Shoe factory. Other factories followed: Salem
Sportswear, Barad Lingerie, Paramount Cap
and Hagale. Today, foreign competition has all
but wiped out the local needlework indusry.
Today's largest employer in Dent County, US Foodservice, is an institutional food business and began in Salem as
Craig Distributing. After World War II, Farris Craig started with a panel
truck and peanut vending machines. In 1986, the
Craigs sold their business to Kraft Foods, which
later sold to Alliant, and is now owned by US Foodservice. The Craig's have left their imprint on Salem with Craig Plaza, the Alice Lou
Craig Municipal Swimming Pool, the Salem Visitor Center, and the Ozark Natural and Cultural Resource Center.
After World War II and through the 50's, 60’s
and 70's Dent County underwent changes. There
were 60 one-room schools in 1950 and consolidation
reduced this number to five districts/plus high
schools in Salem and Bunker. Roads were built
and improved. Salem Memorial District
Hospital was built and became a major
industry and health provider.
With guidance from Missouri University
Extension the county became the Feeder Pig & Calf Capitol of Missouri, with huge sales in Spring and Fall auctioning
large numbers of livestock graded
into pens for size and quality. Loss of
farm population often due to the aging of
farm owners ended these sales.
The Masters Industrial
Park attracts new factories as well as serving
existing ones. The Salem TCRC is fulfilling a new role in
education and communications. Southwest Baptist
University's Salem Center is underway. And The
Commons will serve as a home for the Fall Festival
and be used for entertainment and an RV Park.
And like the pioneer families of the
1820's, new families are being attracted
by the clean air and water, educational
system, hospital and low tax rates.