The word Gasconade probably came from the French word gascon, meaning boaster or braggart. As the story goes, people who lived along the river were inclined to brag about their exploits when they returned to St. Louis. Early French explorers, hunters and trappers gave the area’s rivers and streams French names—Bourbeuse, Gasconade, Frene, Berger, Boeuf and Loutre.
One of Missouri’s original counties, the name Gasconade was applied to an immense area, from Franklin County to the Kansas border and south from Missouri River to present-day Licking. Daniel Morgan Boone, son of the famous pioneer, was appointed a Territorial Legislature commissioner in December, 1820. He also served as one of the first justices of the Gasconade County Court.
A large portion of the administrative territory was soon removed, but Crawford County remained part of Gasconade until 1829. In 1841, Osage County was formed, and Maries County was organized in 1855.
The first county seat was in Gasconade City, near the mouth of the Gasconade River. Because of frequent flooding the county seat was moved to Bartonville, also on the Gasconade River, then in 1830 to Mt. Sterling. Hermann became the county seat after a countywide vote in 1842
European migration to Gasconade County began in earnest in 1837 when the Philadelphia Settlement Society bought 11,000 acres along the Missouri River for the purpose of establishing Hermann, a colony in the New World that was to be “German in every particular.”
By 1850 European immigrants, mainly from Germany, started settling farther south in the county. One documented group came with Rev. August Rauschenbusch from Altena in Westphalia, Germany, to Mt. Sterling. Others quickly settled the areas around Old Bland (found on an 1875 map as New Bremen), Woollam, Drake, Bay, and Bem, building communities around a general store, church, black smith and post office.
Although the dominant new ethnic group was German, Swiss settlers founded the village of Swiss; around 1855, Polish immigrants settled north of Owensville, and Bohemians settled south of Owensville.
A Golden Age of German Culture
The time between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of World War I was a golden age of German culture in Gasconade County and in Missouri. Immigrants had become loyal Americans while raising their families and enjoying their German traditions, language and culture.
First-generation immigrants maintained German as their dominant language throughout their lives, but second and third generation Americans attended schools where they needed to speak English and were gradually assimilated into the broader communities.
Anti-German sentiment at time of World War I dealt a severe blow to the county’s German culture. A state edict forbade the use of the German language. Church services in German were phased out and were eventually replaced by English. Some towns even changed their names—Potsdam became Pershing, for example.
Prohibition dealt the county an economic blow, especially in Hermann, where winemaking was a major source of income and employment.
Gasconade County Today
- Population: 15,222
- Assessed valuation: $235,864,164
- Area: 521 square miles
- Hermann (county seat)
- Owensville (largest town)
- Mount Sterling
- Stony Hill