The third of David and Margaret (McBride) Hunter’s four sons, born August 2, 1830, was named DeWitt Clinton, after the builder of the Erie Canal. He was born while the family’s western progress found them in Illinois in 1830, but by 1837 they were in Dade County, Missouri, where his father, David Hunter, was a justice of the peace. When northern Dade was divided off as Cedar County in 1845, David became one of its first judges of the county court. DeWitt grew up on the home farm in southern Cedar County, and in 1850 headed for the California goldfields. He spent four years in the mines and met with moderate success, but he grew homesick, came back to Cedar County in 1854, and moved on over into Vernon County the same year. He clerked for a time in a store, and nothing is known of his schooling, but his natural qualifications became recognized and he was appointed the first circuit and county clerk (Brophy, 2005).
Vernon County was just getting organized, and young Hunter was present at the creation. This was the memorable 1855 first meeting of the county court in Noah Caton’s log cabin home three miles north of the present Nevada Square. Locating and naming a county seat was a first order of business. The Nevada neighborhood had acquired the name “Fairview,” for its glades of white oaks, but when the name was proposed, Hunter pointed out that a Cass County post office already bore it. “Well, then, Hunter,” the judges retorted, “you give it a name.” Hunter had spent his California years around Nevada City, and had pleasant memories of that Sierra town. He proposed the name, Nevada City, and the court, after turning over the idea, decided they liked it and adopted it (Brophy, 2005).
Hunter, also deputy county surveyor, was hustled off to lay out the new town. In May 1856 he began work on a house southwest of the Square. A. G. Anderson had earlier begun work on a “storehouse,” but his structure was blown away in a windstorm, so Hunter’s frame home was the first building to be completed in Nevada. Hunter’s house was used for a courthouse when court was first held-in Nevada, and Hunter built a smokehouse in which he allowed the grand jury to deliberate (Brophy, 2005)!
About this time Hunter married M. Kate Blake, and the Hunters became the first resident Nevadans. Miss Blake was also a Cedar Countian, the daughter of Dr. William G. Blake. Hunter was assigned to design and superintend a new courthouse. Election confirmed his appointment as circuit and county clerk. The Federal government appointed him Nevada’s first postmaster. In 1858 he was admitted to the bar, becoming Nevada’s first attorney. He was a charter member of the Osage Lodge No. 303, A.F. & A.M. (Masons), and a founding member of two local churches, the First Christian, and later, the Seventh-day Adventist, after he became a member and an able defender of the teachings of that body (Brophy, 2005).
The Kansas troubles of the late 1850s led to the sending of the state’s major military force to Vernon and Bates counties, and the organizing of local militia companies. As if Hunter didn’t have enough jobs, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the company raised in Nevada. When the Civil War broke out, Hunter, a firm champion of Southern interests, promptly identified himself with the cause of the South, and entered the State service as lieutenant. Upon the reorganization of the Vernon county battalion he became colonel of the 7th cavalry regiment, Rains’ division, Missouri State Guard, and led it at the battle of Wilson’s Creek. When his term of service had expired he entered the Confederate service and in the fall of 1862 was commissioned colonel of the 11th Missouri infantry, a regiment previously recruited by him in this section of the State. He served in Arkansas under General Hindman, taking part in the battle of Prairie Grove, until February 1, 1863, when he resigned, and raising another regiment of cavalry, joined General Shelby’s brigade, with which he was identified until the close of the war. During Shelby’s raid into Missouri, when that officer was defeated at Marshall, and his force cut in two, Colonel Hunter led 500 men over 200 miles through a hostile country safely into Arkansas (Brophy, 2005).
On May 23, 1863, a company of Federal Militia from Cedar and St. Clair counties arrived in Nevada City to exact retribution for a recent ambush by local Bushwhackers. The Union Soldiers gave local residents twenty minutes to rescue their belongings before setting fire to the town. Almost all of the public, commercial, and residential buildings were destroyed in the incident. Only a few structures were spared the torch, one of them being the old Vernon County Jail (History, 1887).
Nevada City was rebuilt after the war’s end in 1865, with the name being officially changed to Nevada in 1869 (History, 1887).
Brophy, Patrick. (2005, Sep. 8). Col. DeWitt Clinton Hunter, 1830-1904, Part One. Retrieved from nevadadailymail.com.
(1887). History of Vernon County, Missouri: St. Louis: Brown & Co., pp. 646-647.