Dent County, Missouri

Dent County, Missouri

Map of Missouri highlighting Dent County
Location in the U.S. state of Missouri
Map of the United States highlighting Missouri
Missouri's location in the U.S.
Founded February 10, 1851
Named for Lewis Dent, a pioneer settler
Seat Salem
Largest city Salem
  Total 755 sq mi (1,955 km2)
  Land 753 sq mi (1,950 km2)
  Water 1.7 sq mi (4 km2), 0.2%
Population (est.)
  (2015) 15,593
  Density 21/sq mi (8/km²)
Congressional district 8th
Time zone Central: UTC-6/-5

Dent County is a county located in the U.S. state of Missouri. As of the 2010 census, the population was 15,657.[1] The largest city and county seat is Salem.[2] The county was officially organized on February 10, 1851 by Dustin Counts & Nicholas Berardy, and is named after state representative Lewis Dent, a pioneer settler who arrived in Missouri from Virginia in 1835.


Henry Rowe Schoolcraft was one of the earliest visitors to Dent County, which was then unmapped and unknown. In 1818, Schoolcraft and Levi Pettibone left Potosi, Missouri on an adventure that often left them hungry, lost, lonely and in danger. They started headed west from Potosi on a trail that is now followed by Highway 8, then turned south through southern Dent and Shannon counties, where Schoolcraft found the Current River, "a fine stream with fertile banks and clear, sparkling water.” Today the river attracts tourists who launch canoes by the thousands during the summer to enjoy the fast-moving water of the Current and Jack's Fork Rivers in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Schoolcraft traveled to the area of today's Springfield, Missouri, then went east on White River and finally back to Potosi, completing a journey of 89 days.

The White River trail had long been used by Native Americans in Dent County. It later became one of the branches of the Trail of Tears, which saw many Cherokees pass through on their forced trek to Oklahoma. Some stopped in Dent County and many old families take pride in their 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 town of Maples.

The first white settler was George Cole, who cleared 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, Nicholas Berardy, 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.

In 1851 the Missouri Assembly created Dent County from Crawford and Shannon counties. It was named for early settler Lewis Dent,[3] who served as the first representative. G.D. Breckenridge, Samuel Hyer, Jr., and Jotham Clark were the first elected county officials. Joseph Millsap served as sheriff and David Henderson as clerk. They met at the Bressie Farm.

The first mayor of Salem was appointed or elected just after the Missouri state legislature passed the laws relating to village government in 1860. He was W.P. Williams, often referred to as "Rip" from the positive and often violent expression of his feelings and opinions. He lived in Dent County a long time and was a prominent citizen throughout his long life. He became mayor in 1860, but how long he served is unknown. The American Civil War came about 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. E.T. Wingo, a lawyer and representative, was next, followed by C.L. Allen, who was also a lawyer but never practiced law. He did, however, serve as Deputy Circuit Clerk and Probate Judge. Allen was succeeded by Samuel Sachs. No dates are available listing terms of office for these mayors, but it is likely they served from 1870 to 1881.

An earlier log courthouse, built about 1851 or 1852, 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 20 by 40 feet (12 m) 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 Register 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 McClure's Magazine and newspapers in the East to show the development of the West.

Minerals have greatly influenced the Dent County economy. The iron furnace, built at Sligo, was the greatest, 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. 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, Pennsylvania 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 reached 1,000.

In recent times the largest mining and milling operations were in the "New Lead Belt" some 30 miles (48 km) east of Salem. St. Joe Lead started the mining boom at Viburnum in neighboring Iron County 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 in nearby St. Francois County continues mining and battery reclamation in the area 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 around 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 on May 8, 1942. The telephone system was sold to United Telephone, now Sprint.

Salem led the world in the production and shipping of railroad ties for a time. 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, Bunker-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 Great Depression years brought many changes. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) brought young men to the area, many of whom stayed. There were CCC camps at Boss and Indian Trail. In the 13,503 acres (54.64 km2) of the Indian Trail Conservation Area, crews built most of the area's 55 miles (89 km) 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 Street Mall) was the first. After World War II the Industrial Building Corporation raised funds for the International Shoe Factory. Other factories followed, including Salem Sportswear, Barad Lingerie, Paramount Cap and Hagale. Today, foreign competition has all but wiped out the local needlework industry.

Today's largest employer in Dent County, U.S. 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 U.S. Foodservice. The Craigs 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 1950s, 60s and 70s, 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.

In 2012 Salem attracted widespread media attention when it impounded a Labrador retriever accused of biting a child during a backyard play-date.[4][5] Missouri state investigators became involved when allegations that the city was abusing the dog were reported to the Missouri attorney general's office.[6] The dog, Phineas, was eventually scheduled to be euthanized and a judge ruled in favor of the city.[7] Legal action from the dog's owners attracted attention from national news outlets, social media, and even a professional athlete when St. Louis Blues hockey player David Backes publicly spoke out.[8] After months of legal action a new court date was scheduled for May 23, 2013.[9] The story attracted national attention when national outlets started carrying the story. More legal wrangling occurred and a final courtdate was again set in October 2013. A week before that final hearing, Phineas was kidnapped from the veterinarian clinic at which he was boarded. The judge at the hearing determined that Phineas had never bitten and ordered Phineas returned to the family at which time the person who had stolen Phineas returned him to the care of his owners.[10][11] The result of the case was that local powers in the 4th Class city arrangement were redistributed and at the next local election, the mayor of fourteen years was replaced by the veterinarian who boarded the yellow Labrador retriever.[12]

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.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 755 square miles (1,960 km2), of which 753 square miles (1,950 km2) is land and 1.7 square miles (4.4 km2) (0.2%) is water.[13]

Adjacent counties

National protected areas


Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 201515,593[14]−0.4%
U.S. Decennial Census[15]
1790-1960[16] 1900-1990[17]
1990-2000[18] 2010-2015[1]

As of the census[19] of 2000, there were 14,927 people, 5,982 households, and 4,277 families residing in the county. The population density was 20 people per square mile (8/km²). There were 6,994 housing units at an average density of 9 per square mile (4/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 97.07% White, 0.40% Black or African American, 0.73% Native American, 0.21% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.17% from other races, and 1.41% from two or more races. Approximately 0.75% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 5,982 households out of which 30.60% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 59.00% were married couples living together, 9.10% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.50% were non-families. 25.00% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.10% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.45 and the average family size was 2.90.

In the county the population was spread out with 24.90% under the age of 18, 7.60% from 18 to 24, 25.60% from 25 to 44, 24.10% from 45 to 64, and 17.70% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 94.30 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.70 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $32,991, and the median income for a family was $40,258. Males had a median income of $26,590 versus $17,500 for females. The per capita income for the county was $16,728. About 12.70% of families and 17.20% of the population were below the poverty line, including 24.30% of those under age 18 and 12.20% of those age 65 or over.


According to the Association of Religion Data Archives County Membership Report (2000), Dent County is a part of the Bible Belt with evangelical Protestantism being the majority religion. The most predominant denominations among residents in Dent County who adhere to a religion are Southern Baptists (67.22%), Atheists (12.08%), Pentecostals (6.43%), and Roman Catholics (5.91%).


Major highways




The Democratic Party holds a majority of elected offices in the county, as eight of the county's 14 elected officials are Democrats; however, the county's three commissioners are all Republicans.

On July 13, 2015 the county commissioners, Darrell Skiles (R), Dennis Purcell (R), and Gary Larson (R) voted unanimously to lower all flags to half staff every month on the 26th for a year to protest the Supreme Court decision regarding same sex marriage rights.

On July 14, 2015 the county commissioners reversed their decision to lower the flag citing improper flag protocol concerns.[20]

Dent County, Missouri
Elected countywide officials
Assessor Brenda Bell Democratic
Circuit Clerk Ruth Ann Lough Williams Democratic
County Clerk Angie Curley Democratic
Collector Dennis O. Medlock Democratic
Darrell Skiles Republican
(District 1)
Dennis Purcell Republican
(District 2)
Gary Larson Republican
Coroner Gina White Democratic
Prosecuting Attorney Sidney Pearson III Democratic
Public Administrator Larry Edwards Republican
Recorder Cindy Ard Republican
Sheriff Rick Stallings Democratic
Surveyor Craig Ruble Democratic
Treasurer Denita Williams Republican


Past Gubernatorial Elections Results
Year Republican Democratic Third Parties
2012 54.20% 3,595 42.56% 2,823 3.24% 215
2008 44.71% 3,055 52.44% 3,583 2.85% 195
2004 65.18% 4,122 33.08% 2,092 1.84% 110
2000 57.39% 3,403 40.49% 2,401 2.12% 126
1996 43.87% 2,445 53.54% 2,984 2.59% 144
1992 44.33% 2,582 55.67% 3,242 0.00% 0
1988 63.56% 3,438 35.72% 1,932 0.72% 39
1984 59.58% 3,580 40.42% 2,429 0.00% 0
1980 52.30% 3,198 47.56% 2,908 0.15% 9
1976 48.13% 2,597 51.82% 2,796 0.06% 3
1972 54.54% 2,632 45.36% 2,189 0.01% 5
1968 45.69% 2,025 54.31% 2,407 0.00% 0
1964 40.11% 1,847 59.89% 2,758 0.00% 0
1960 43.12% 2,487 56.88% 3,820 0.00% 0

In the Missouri House of Representatives, all of Dent County is a part of Missouri’s 143rd District and is currently represented by Jeff Pogue, a Republican from Salem. Pogue was elected to his first term in the newly redrawn district in 2012.

In the Missouri Senate, all of Dent County is a part of Missouri’s 16th District and is currently represented by Republican Dan W. Brown of Rolla. Brown defeated incumbent Democratic State Senator Frank A. Barnitz of Lake Spring in 2010 to be elected to his first term in the Missouri Senate.


Missouri's two U.S. Senators are Democrat Claire McCaskill of Kirkwood and Republican Roy Blunt of Strafford.

McCaskill was reelected to her second term in 2012 with 54.81 percent of the statewide vote over former Republican U.S. Representative W. Todd Akin of Town & Country and Libertarian Jonathan Dine of Riverside; Dent County voters, however, supported Akin with over 53 percenet of the vote.

U.S. Senate - Class I – Dent County (2012)
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican W. Todd Akin 3,499 53.22
Democratic Claire McCaskill 2,558 38.90
Libertarian Jonathan Dine 518 7.88

Blunt was elected to his first term in 2010 with 54.23 percent of the statewide vote over former Democratic Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, Libertarian Jonathan Dine of Riverside, and Constitutionalist Jerry Beck of Novelty; Dent County voters backed Blunt with 66 and two-thirds percent of the vote.

U.S. Senate - Class III – Dent County (2010)
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican Roy Blunt 3,437 66.66
Democratic Robin Carnahan 1,370 26.57
Constitution Jerry Beck 187 3.63
Libertarian Jonathan Dine 162 3.14

All of Dent County is included in Missouri's 8th Congressional District and is currently represented by Republican Jason T. Smith of Salem in the U.S. House of Representatives. Smith won a special election on Tuesday, June 4, 2013, to complete the remaining term of former Republican U.S. Representative Jo Ann Emerson of Cape Girardeau. Emerson announced her resignation a month after being reelected with over 70 percent of the vote in the district. She resigned to become CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative.

U.S. House of Representatives - District 8 – Dent County (2012)
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican Jo Ann Emerson 5,151 78.51 +7.82
Democratic Jack Rushin 1,213 18.49 -7.12
Libertarian Rick Vandeven 197 3.00 +0.16
U.S. House of Representatives - District 8 - Special Election – Dent County (2013)
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican Jason T. Smith 2,385 86.13
Democratic Steve Hodges 351 12.68
Constitution Doug Enyart 17 0.61
Libertarian Bill Slantz 16 0.58

Political culture

Past Presidential Elections Results
Year Republican Democratic Third Parties
2012 73.20% 4,883 23.76% 1,585 3.04% 203
2008 67.78% 4,655 29.94% 2,056 2.28% 157
2004 69.31% 4,369 29.58% 1,865 1.11% 70
2000 66.73% 3,996 30.71% 1,839 2.56% 153
1996 45.90% 2,542 40.34% 2,234 13.76% 762
1992 36.16% 2,125 45.75% 2,689 17.85% 1,049
1988 54.92% 2,975 44.69% 2,421 0.39% 21
1984 57.84% 3,490 42.16% 2,544 0.00% 0
1980 56.71% 3,477 41.23% 2,528 2.06% 126
1976 45.05% 2,433 54.27% 2,931 0.69% 37
1972 63.88% 3,024 36.12% 1,710 0.00% 0
1968 50.97% 2,369 38.94% 1,810 10.09% 469
1964 38.47% 1,788 61.53% 2,860 0.00% 0
1960 55.33% 3,212 44.67% 2,593 0.00% 0

Dent County is, like most rural counties, conservative and often solidly supports Republicans at the presidential level. Bill Clinton was the last Democratic presidential nominee to win Dent County in 1992; he lost the county during his 1996 reelection bid, and since then, voters in Dent County have strongly backed Republicans.

Like most rural areas throughout Southeast Missouri, voters in Dent County generally adhere to socially and culturally conservative principles which tend to influence their Republican leanings. In 2004, Missourians voted on a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union between a man and a woman—it overwhelmingly passed Dent County with 85.93 percent of the vote. The initiative passed the state with 71 percent of support from voters as Missouri became the first state to ban same-sex marriage. In 2006, Missourians voted on a constitutional amendment to fund and legalize embryonic stem cell research in the state—it failed in Dent County with 66.49 percent voting against the measure. The initiative narrowly passed the state with 51 percent of support from voters as Missouri became one of the first states in the nation to approve embryonic stem cell research. Despite Dent County’s longstanding tradition of supporting socially conservative platforms, voters in the county have a penchant for advancing populist causes like increasing the minimum wage. In 2006, Missourians voted on a proposition (Proposition B) to increase the minimum wage in the state to $6.50 an hour—it passed Dent County with 69.70 percent of the vote. The proposition strongly passed every single county in Missouri with 78.99 percent voting in favor as the minimum wage was increased to $6.50 an hour in the state. During the same election, voters in five other states also strongly approved increases in the minimum wage. In 2015, Dent County commissioners voted to officially mourn the US Supreme Court ruling which legalized same-sex marriage. The flags at the Dent County Courthouse and the Judicial Building were to be lowered to below half-staff on the 26th of each month for a year. However, after encountering criticism from supporters, the commissioners reversed their decision.[21]

Missouri Presidential Preference Primary (2008)

In the 2008 Missouri Presidential Preference Primary, voters in Dent County from both political parties supported candidates who finished in second place in the state at large and nationally.

Dent County, Missouri
2008 Republican primary in Missouri
John McCain 442 (22.48%)
Mike Huckabee 959 (48.78%)
Mitt Romney 411 (20.91%)
Ron Paul 127 (6.46%)
Dent County, Missouri
2008 Democratic primary in Missouri
Hillary Clinton 962 (62.23%)
Barack Obama 493 (31.89%)
John Edwards (withdrawn) 74 (4.79%)
Uncommitted 13 (1.06%)


Of adults 25 years of age and older in Dent County, 66.3% possesses a high school diploma or higher while 10.1% holds a bachelor's degree or higher as their highest educational attainment.

Public schools

Alternative and vocational schools

Colleges and universities


See also


  1. 1 2 "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved September 8, 2013.
  2. "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  3. Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 104.
  4. Dudley, Allyssa D. (14 May 2013). "THE TALE OF PHINEAS: The journey started with a dog bite in June of 2012". The Salem News. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  5. Staff (13 May 2013). "State Investigators Enter Case Of Phineas, Missouri's Lennox". North Country Gazette: Serving New York and Beyond. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  6. "State investigators look into Phineas the dog case". Fox Channel 2. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  7. Dudley, Allyssa D. (11 May 2013). "Phineas in good condition". The Salem News. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  8. Peters, Chris (17 May 2013). "David Backes taking up fight to save dog on death row". CBS Sports, CBS Broadcasting. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  9. Staff (17 May 2013). "Phineas the Dog: Court date set in Salem, Missouri over whether to euthanize". KY3. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  10. Gershman, Jacob (22 October 2013). "Phineas the Dog Escapes Death Row, but Not Home Free". Wall Street Journal.
  11. Eligon, John (27 October 2013). "Dog's Tale: From Death Row to Doorstep". New York Times.
  12. Dodd, Donald. "If change is in the wind, much of it will be in the hands of aldermen". Newspaper. Salem News Online. Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  13. "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  14. "County Totals Dataset: Population, Population Change and Estimated Components of Population Change: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2015". Retrieved July 2, 2016.
  15. "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  16. "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  17. "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  18. "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  19. "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  20. Fang, M. (2015, July 14). Missouri County Cancels ‘Mourning’ For Gay Marriage After Citizens Protest. Retrieved July 14, 2015, from

Further reading

External links

Coordinates: 37°37′N 91°30′W / 37.61°N 91.50°W / 37.61; -91.50

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