Freedom's Frontier Heritage Traveler

Ray County, Missouri: Little Dixie, Partisan Rangers and a Poor Farm

Ray County, Missouri

Ray County was organized in 1820, and on January 1, 1821, when Missouri became a state, Ray County was one of the original 14 counties and included the entire northwest corner of the state. Richmond became the permanent county seat in 1827. Today, that same large northwest corner is divided into twelve separate counties.

At the Ray County Courthouse in historic Richmond, Missouri above the doorway written in stone it states “Obedience to Law is Liberty”. A former courthouse had to be moved in order to make way for construction. It is rumored that at least one county employee continued to work in the old courthouse while it was being moved. It was said he climbed up a ladder to gain access to his office to keep on working. – Image courtesy: Ray County Historical Society

Little Dixie Stories here are grown deep in Missouri soil.  They are stories of freedom: freedom to live and prosper as our nation’s laws at that time allowed, including the freedom to engage in “the peculiar institution” of slavery although not all residents owned slaves. Throughout our nation’s history, slavery was a way of life and an economic system that benefited not only slave owners, but businessmen as well.  While slaveholders enjoyed this and other freedoms, slaves were seen as “property” in Little Dixie and elsewhere in the country. Little Dixie was a vast expanse of land stretching from one side of the Missouri state line to the other along the Missouri River to the north and to the south. More than half of Missouri’s slave owners were in this 17-county region.  Some slave owners owned up to 30 slaves at a time while others had as little as one. Labor intensive crops like hemp, cotton and tobacco were mainstays of the Little Dixie economy. Folks from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and the Carolinas settled much of this area.  Like many emigrants who moved to new lands, their customs came along with them.

Map of Missouri Counties with Little Dixie shown in red.  -courtesy Ray County Historical Society

Map of Missouri Counties with Little Dixie shown in red. -Image courtesy: Ray County Historical Society


Partisan Rangers

Partisan Rangers were considered an “irregular” military group formed to provide protection and offensive tactics against the enemy. Many times, unconventional tactics were used. They carried out missions to disrupt regular military actions that were deemed a threat.

Partisan Ranger Act
In an effort to organize guerrillas in the border states, the Confederate Congress passed the Partisan Ranger Act in April, 1862.  It largely failed to impart military discipline or coordination, but guerrilla leaders like Quantrill used the act to recruit new members, create a basic command structure and legitimize their actions. This proclamation promised arms and ammunition to men who joined the camps “now in the brush”.  It also stated that men who reported the locations of guerrillas or attempted to leave the state “to prevent being called in the service will be deemed enemies of the ‘South’ and treated accordingly.” Source:Ray County Historical Society

William "Bloody Bill" Anderson

During the Battle of Albany in 1864, Capt Bill Anderson, “Bloody Bill”, was killed by federal troops. Ten other Partisan Rangers also died. -Image courtesy: Ray County Historical Society

Ray County Poor Farm Have you heard the phrase “you’re going to end up in the poor house!”?  Poor houses or poor farms were a reality for many of the states’ aged and destitute. The state charged each county with providing them with a place they could call home.

Clipping of the Missouri excerpt from a U.S. Government report summarizing poor laws in 1904. Source:

Built in 1910 for $19,491 after the county declared the original Ray County Poor Farm was in disrepair, the “new” poor farm was constructed with electricity and indoor plumbing (quite a modernization for that time and area).  The Ray County Poor Farm was operated from 1910 to 1960.  It became a private rest home from 1960 to 1971. Being continuously owned by Ray County, in 1974, the stately structure  became home to the Ray County Historical Society and Museum.  Tucked inside the museum are artifacts that date back to the 1800s.  The Ray County Genealogical Society operates an extensive research library at the museum, with volunteers who are always ready to assist.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places under its original name, Ray County Poor Farm in 1979.


Museum hours: 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Wednesday – Saturday
Closed: Sunday, Monday and Tuesday
Admission: $2 suggested donation – Ray County residents admitted free
Address: 901 W. Royle Street, Richmond, MO

Civil War Interpretive Panels

Civil War Interpretive Panels were dedicated  by the Ray County Historical Society and the Missouri State Parks during the Battle of Albany 150th Anniversary event in October, 2014.  One panel has been placed on the grounds of the Ray County courthouse and the other rests near the site of the Battle of Albany.

Ray County Battle of Albany sign 10983036_10206068764226606_23018186_o photos courtesy: Ray County Historical Society

Special thanks to Linda Emley, Museum Manager, Ray County Museum,  for sharing her extensive research and knowledge.  ~KQ

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This entry was posted on February 5, 2015 by in heritage travel, Heritage Traveler, Historic Sites, Little Dixie, Missouri, Museums, Ray County.


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