COWGILL HISTORY IN CALDWELL COUNTY
Narrator: Mrs. Effie Cowgill Spratt of St. Joseph, Missouri
James Cowgill, son of William Cowgill was born April 2 1848 on a farm in Henry County near the town of New Castle Indiana, where he grew to manhood and where he married Pamelia Ellen Myers, September 22 1867.
Pamelia Ellen Myers, the daughter of John C. and Leah Brendle Myers was born on a farm near the town of Kingston and not far from Mirabile, Missouri on March 20, 1849.
During the Civil War or what the Southerners prefer to call the "war of the States," John C. Myers was sheriff of Caldwell County. He was a Southern sympathizer. War feeling was keen and intense in that locality. It was often worth a man's life to express an opinion on either side. There were many untimely deaths not accounted for in open battle, but by the "bushwhacking" method.
One evening in November 1862 following an election, John C. Myers was called to the door of his home, and in the presence of his family was shot to death from the dark of the night. Some twelve or fifteen men in this locality at different times met similar deaths. A number of these deaths are accounted for at pages 216 and following in the Caldwell-Livingston County History published 1886.
The wife of John C. Myers was so disturbed over the cold blooded murder of her husband, and not knowing where or when the killing would end, she gathered her family together and left the community. She took refuge in New Castle Indiana. There it was that Ellen, her youngest daughter met and married James Cowgill.
After the war was over, in 1868, the Myers family returned to reside in Caldwell County, and James and Ellen Cowgill came along with them. This is the story of how lives came together who were so forcible to impress themselves upon the development of their community and who were to broaden out and become statewide influences for good and progress.
James Cowgill came from an ancestral family of farmers and livestock raisers. In his new Missouri location he at once rented a small farm and set up an individual home, in which to reside and rear his family.
From his first forty acres he broadened and widened and extended his efforts until at one time down in the southern part of Caldwell County he owned and operated a farm of over 1500 acres of land. At the time of his death he owned and operated, clear of incumbrance, a cattle ranch at Garden City Kansas, containing over 20,000 acres of land, upon which were over 1200 head of cattle.
Nor did James Cowgill confine his efforts alone to farming, and stock raising. In the middle 80's he branched out into the Dry Goods and general merchandising business. His first venture was on South Main Street at Hamilton in a partnership with D.G. McDonald and Co. Then later he formed another partnership with Robert S. Cash and started still another store on North Main Street. These two institutions for many years were the model stores of up-to-date progress. They were successful financially. They were a credit to the town. They attracted trade for many miles away. New buildings were erected to house the stores. It was this kind of enterprises that eventually changed Hamilton's entire building front of Main Street, and developed a beautiful little city out of a theretofore country side town.
In 1888 after the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railroad built through the southern part of Caldwell County, leading into Kansas City, James Cowgill, to a great extent, gradually concentrated his efforts to that section of the county. The railroad passed through a portion of one of his farms. A town by the name of Cowgill was established there. He erected an elaborate brick hotel building. He built and established a bank. He constructed an outstanding residence and
removed his family there. He gave land for a school and established and assisted in building a Methodist and a Baptist Church.
He was elected as a Democrat to be Presiding Judge of the Caldwell County Court in 1882. He was elected and served in the Missouri State Legislature in 1890. He was elected in 1892 to membership in the Missouri State Railroad and Ware House Commission for a term of six years. This office required his residence in Kansas City, so it was that in 1892 he and his family removed from Caldwell County. While living in Kansas City he was nominated and elected Missouri State treasurer and he served four years. He served two terms or four years as Treasurer of Kansas City. He was serving his second term as Mayor of Kansas City, when early one morning in the Mayor's office in March 1922, without warning, he was stricken with a stroke of apploplexy, and died without gaining consciousness. His funeral was one of the most largely attended of any ever held in Kansas City. Dr. Burris Jenkins conducted his services. Prominent men from the wide extremities of the State were in attendance. Throngs of people for hours filed past his bier to bid a last farewell to a strong and forceful man, who had so commendably implanted himself in the hearts of those with whom he came in contact.
The children of James and Ellen Cowgill were: Effie Leah married William E. Spratt, Mae, married Duncan M. Tait, Cora Frances married George A. McWilliams, a girl baby who died in infancy, and James Cowgill, married Abbie Winters.
As an indication of the buoyancy of spirit, and of the always optimistic disposition of James Cowgill, which crowned his efforts all through life, it is related that when he first began farming, he borrowed enough money to purchase a team. Nobody could farm without horses.
In those days there were great broad acres of prairie land which laid "outdoors." There were no fences anywhere except around cultivated fields. The farmers turned their stock out to graze the commons. They would in the evening gather their cows and such stock as they needed and then turn them out again the next day.
One evening Judge Cowgill caught up one of his mortgaged horses, bridled and saddled him, and rode out to drive up their cow. The cow was not easily detached from the herd. She didn't want to leave to go home to be alone for the night in a dry lot. She broke back and as the horse was spurred up quickly into a run to head her off, they came unexpectedly upon a deep ditch. The horse strained to clear it but fell back with his head under his body, with its neck broken, and died. The rider was thrown clear and uninjured. The first thoughts were those of distress for having lost a mortgaged horse. He pondered, "How now will I ever make my crops with which to pay my debts on these horses?" Distress gripped him all over. He was in convulsions of fear and excitement. All at once he seemed to "come to," all of a sudden he became aware of the really good luck which had befallen him. It was the horse's neck that was broken and not his own.
He managed to get the saddle and bridle off the horse and trudged off for home on foot, no horse and no cow. As he approached his house his wife saw him from afar with his saddle over his shoulders and she rushed out to meet him in wonderment at what had happened. After relating the story, he said, "Well it is a good thing it was the horse's neck that was broken, for if it had been my neck it most probably would have been harder debt for you to pay alone with both horses, than for both of us with one horse."
No body ever heard James Cowgill lamentingly relate a hard luck story.
Interviewed August 1934.
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