Early Cass County

Early Cass County
 
The story of the people who built and lived in the 1835 Sharp-Hopper Log Cabin which stands  at 400 E. Mechanic in Harrisonville tells much about life in early Cass County. The cabin is open for tours by contacting Cass County Historical Society at 816-380-4396 or cchsmo@gmail.com
 
he history of the Sharp-Hopper Log Cabin captures the essence of the self-reliant, rugged pioneers who settled the area now known as Cass County when it was the western edge of the frontier.  In the early 1830s, the land was pristine and bountiful, overflowing with wild game, well-watered with a blend of  timber and prairie. The land called to many back East as a Promised Land of milk and honey.
When Missouri entered the Union as a state in 1821, this land was still owned by the Osage Indians. Following the Osage Treaty in 1825, this strip along the western border of Missouri became available for purchase. White settlers streamed into the area creating Jackson County in 1826 with its county seat in Independence in 1827.
Most settlers traveled from Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky eager to clear the land, plant crops and put down roots. Samuel S. Sharp, a Virginian, arrived with his wife Frances and three children in the area northwest of Harrisonville in 1834 when it was still part of Jackson County. In 1835, the new county of Van Buren (renamed Cass in 1849) was carved out of Jackson County. Two years later in 1837, Harrisonville was platted as a town and county seat. There were no roads, no towns, and no mills within twenty miles. This was the western edge of the United States.
            Several families from Patrick County, Virginia, which lay in the rocky foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia, made the 800-mile trek west in the early 1830s  to the frontier of Jackson County, Missouri. These included the Harris, Tuggle, Shelton, Lyon and Sharp families.
Fleming and Nancy Walker (Lyon) Harris and family came from Patrick County to Jackson County between October 1830 and December 1831 with his father Reuben Harris and some siblings and families. A year or so later, Fleming Harris moved to what became Peculiar Township, Van Buren County, about two miles northwest of what is now Harrisonville.
James and Nancy (McAlexander) Tuggle and a couple of sons were in Jackson County by 1833 where James died in 1834. After that, Nancy Tuggle and her sons moved to Van Buren County. The Alfred M. Sheltons first trekked to Jackson County in 1832, but soon moved in the same area as the Harrises and Tuggles.
William and Milly (McAlexander) Lyon sold land in Patrick Co. in Oct. 1832 and moved to Missouri. The Sharps followed their relatives and neighbors in 1834-1835. Nancy Lyon Harris and Frances Lyon Sharp were sisters, daughters of William and Milly Lyon. 
            Each group loaded their ox-drawn wagons for the two-month trip and followed the Blue Ridge Mountains down the Wilderness Road, through the Cumberland Gap, across Kentucky, up the Mississippi to St. Louis, west on the Boonslick Trail to what was then southern Jackson County. Yoke for the oxen were hand-carved and massive, tough as the oxen themselves. In the early days, more plowing and hauling was done with oxen than with horses.
 
Samuel S. Sharp brought a few milk cows, a Durham bull, Poland China hogs, and a big sorrel stallion with silver mane and tail named Silver Aire. Frances brought her settin’ hens, spinning wheel, loom, cooking utensils, dishes and family necessities.
The cabin sat on a small rise and faced south possibly to take advantage of the winter sun and to catch summer’s prevailing south breeze. With opposing doors, there was almost always a breeze through the cabin when the doors and windows were open. It sat in a grove of walnut and cedar trees facing a small creek. Indians, probably Shawnee, Delaware or Osage, still camped along the creek when the settlers arrived.
The Sharp cabin is large for its time being 34’ by 18’ 3” and is made of walnut, oak, elm and maple logs grown on the property. The cabin is one story with two rooms. The east room is the kitchen with the west room the sleeping room. Each room had its own fireplace.
Tests of soil under the cabin indicate that for the first months at least, the cabin had a dirt floor. However, there was a fieldstone “yard” and stepping stones leading to outbuildings, which included a smoke house, cellar, barn and outhouse.  The stepping stones were later replaced by the bricks taken from the original fireplaces, one at each end of the house, when they were replaced by a new-fangled wood stove or two. Part of the bricks from the fireplace also formed the stove flue.
Family lore tells that the bricks for the original fireplaces, with their hand-forged andirons and pot-hooks, were hand made by slaves. Although Samuel did not own any slaves, his next-door-neighbors the Lyons did and may have loaned them for the work.  All of the nails in the original part of the cabin were square hand-forged, varying in size from one inch to two inches.
            The cabin corners are of the “notch and steeple” type as is the joint of the center wall to the outside walls. The filling between the walls is “wattles and daub”, common to the period and area. The construction of the cabin required much skill on the part of the “hewer.” The flush corners dovetail perfectly. These huge logs were lifted to the top by log slides, placed and angled, and the strong men slid the log to the top.
            Another interesting feature is the floor boards. They are of oak, four inches wide of tongue and groove, very uncommon, perhaps unique to the period. The east room floor boards, when laid, were hand-hewn on the bottom side to fit each joist upon which it rested. The inside walls were finished with hand-split lathe and covered with lime plaster held together with animal hair and straw.
            The cabin has four doors of solid walnut. The originals had been lost to vandals. The only part of the cabin made from MILLED lumber was the door casings, held in place by pegs. They are replicas made from black walnut trees surrounding the cabin in its original location. The cabin and walnut trees were donated by Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Carter in 1974 when they were threatened with destruction by the Limpus rock quarry. The cabin sat on a rise two miles north on 291 Hwy and a half mile west on 231st St.
The cabin as it looked in 1973 on the original site with siding covering the logs
 
CABIN RESCUED
 
n 1974 the Limpus Rock Quarry was expanding into the site of the cabin then owned by Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Carter. The farm had only been owned by two families since 1835, the first being the Samuel Sharp family, and the second Thomas W. and Lucy Davis Hopper, who moved out from Morgan County, Illinois, in 1881.
The Hoppers were the grandparents of Herb Carter. His mother, Annie Ruby Hopper, was born in the cabin in 1888. They went back to Illinois for a while and rented the farm to Van. E. Sharp, a grandson of Samuel. In 1911 Annie returned with her two sons and  two bachelor Hopper brothers, John and Samuel. Herb took over the farm after he returned from WW II but lived in the house across the road. For many years the cabin was rented to numerous families.
Three great-grandchildren of Samuel and Frances Sharp were living when the cabin was moved in 1974: Carl Sharp, of Peculiar, and his sisters Myrtle Sharp Pickering of Kansas City and Mabel Sharp Tonahill of San Diego, California. They were the children of Van Sharp, who was a son of Matt and Julia Sharp, who was the son of Samuel and Frances who came from Virginia in 1834.
            Mrs. C. Wayne Reid was the person most responsible for the interest in saving the cabin from the bulldozers as she learned the land had been leased to the quarry company. Herb and Kay Carter willingly donated the cabin to the Cass County Historical Society in 1974.
The cabin does not qualify to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places because it has been moved from its original location. The Cass County American Revolution Bicentennial Commission did receive a $5000 grant from federal funds to help in the restoration. Another $10,000 was raised by a Cass County Historical Society committee to rebuild the cabin.
Dismantling began on Labor Day weekend 1974. Many artifacts were found when the cabin was dismantled. Roy Ranck, Kansas City historian, numbered each piece and drew plans for its reconstruction. The cabin was originally put together with pegs and square nails, and the logs smoothed with ax and adse.  Bill Shelton, Sr. volunteered his heavy equipment and time as did John Foster and many others. The women of the Cass County Historical Society provided meals.
The original logs were walnut and oak, a very few maple and a couple pieces of elm. The longest was over 18 feet, of considerable thickness and weight. Cabin logs were not merely felled trees, but were trees felled, then halved and squared.
They were fitted together with a way of precision notching, to lock firmly and tightly as the cabin grew, all without the use of nails. Handmade wooden dowels were used in some places for greater strength. The natural taper of logs left some large spaces between logs which were filled with pieces or tree limbs, then all spaces were chinked.
The chinking was a mixture of clay, sand and hay, chaff, corn shucks, grass, animal hair, just about anything handy to make a bind. As available, lime was added to the mixture to make it waterproof. Found as space fillers between logs of this cabin were parts of a very early type bed and parts of what had been a horse-drawn hay rake, all walnut.
 
The base of the cabin was of foot-square oak sills, set on a dry laid, uncut fieldstone foundation around 16 inches wide and 24 inches deep.
 
RECONSTRUCTION
 
Reconstructing the cabin began in the spring of 1975 and was finished July 18, 1976 for Bicentennial celebrations.
 
John Foster, local builder, oversaw the reconstruction project. The note cards that had been stapled to each log detailing its position, had been eaten away by rodents over the winter, so the actual position had to be surmised from how the notches fit together. Further complicating the puzzle was the fact that the cabin was rotated 180 degrees from its previous site.
 
The cannonball bed was used by the Lyon family who came from the same area in Virginia as the Sharps. It is a rope or cord bed as the under part has holes or pegs through which rope is tightly stretched. From this comes the saying “sleep tight” meaning the ropes are pulled tight.  On top of this there might be a piece of carpet for stability, and then a tick filled with goose or chicken feathers. Ticks filled with straw and corn husks were used for the children. Trundle beds fit under the large bed, some folded up against the wall, and many slept on pallets in the loft or on the floor, often three or four in a bed.
 
The andirons in front of the fireplace were hand made locally. The corner cupboard in the kitchen was also locally made and is put together with pegs. This is where the tableware and staples were kept. Some of the ironstone dishes are of a pattern the Sharps would have used.
The spinning wheel is a Saxony type (small wheel). The wool is sheared from the sheep, washed and cleaned by picking out bits of dirt and briars. Then it is carded to separate the fibers. It is then fed into the spinning wheel to make a continuous thread. Using a loom such as the barn loom downstairs, they would weave the thread into fabric for clothing and comforters. The crochet hooks and knitting needles are hand-carved wood.
A Mrs. June B. Jones lived in the cabin from 1913 to 1921 with her parents James M. Jones (b. 1872) and Teresa Mae Garrison Jones. James had known the Hoppers in Jacksonville, Illinois.  She was the youngest of three children. June remembered when they took out one fireplace and used the brick to make a flue for the west kitchen stove. They used a rag carpet with straw under it. The children loved to sit in front of the fireplace on the beautiful rag carpet. There was a shed summer kitchen off the regular kitchen and a round walnut table close to the kitchen door.
 
Eliza Ann (Harris) Tuggle, a neighbor of the Sharps made this quilt. She lived her entire life in the Harrisonville, MO area: born Feb. 14, 1828 and died on May 5, 1907. The quilt measures 88"x70" and is hand pieced and hand quilted. The quilt was made the winter of 1852 – 53 when she was pregnant with her second child, Mary Florence (Tuggle) Jones. The quilt was passed through several generations of Amy Ledgerwood's family and most recently from her mother Vera Storms, (pictured in front of the Sharp cabin) to her.
 
Exceptional sites for in-depth information
Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area | www.freedomsfrontier.org
Missouri Kansas Conflict: Civil War on the Western Border |  www.civilwaronthewesternborder.org
Missouri / Kansas Border War Network | www.moksbwn.org
Civil War in Missouri | www.mocivilwar.org
Kansas State Historical Society | www.kshs.org