In 1849, a new county was established in the southeast lowlands of Missouri. It was formed from the lower half of Wayne County, an area too large to meet the growing needs of all of its residents. The new county, approximately 36 miles long and 26 miles wide, sits at the top of the boot heel of Missouri with a comparatively small portion of the northwest
section in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. The land was covered with swamplands and forests of hardwood trees. It was sparsely settled by families from Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois and Indiana. Unlike the many French and German settlers in Missouri, these were primarily folks of English, Scottish and Irish ancestry who were hardworking, brave farmers looking for a better life for their families.
The county was named for one of the heroes of these people, a native of Kentucky, General William O. Butler. William Orlando Butler was a member of a family of military distinction. His grandfather, Thomas Butler, was a Revolutionary War hero. Thomas’ five sons also served in the Revolutionary War and were known as “the Gallant Butlers.” One of these five, Percival, was the father of William O. Butler.
Following the war, Percival was sent to Carrollton, Kentucky, as adjutant general (non-military) to the territory, and there he and his family made their home. William distinguished himself in the War of 1812 by rising from private to major. At the time Butler County was organized, General Butler was at the peak of his popularity for his service in the war with Mexico in which he served as a major general, commander of all American armies in Mexico.
General Butler was a lawyer by profession, and he ran for Vice President on the Democratic ticket with presidential candidate Lewis Cass in 1848. They were defeated by Zachary Taylor, also a Mexican war hero, and Millard Fillmore.
General Butler died in 1880 at the age of 90. The General is honored in his home state by a state park named for him. The General Butler State Resort Park is between Louisville and Cincinnati at Carrollton on Interstate Highway 75. The 19th-century historic Butler-Turpin home is in the park and contains the furnishings of the Butler family.
People and trees are the sources of most of the names of towns, villages and communities in Butler County. We began with the county, named for an illustrious man.
An uninhabited bluff on Black River was chosen to place the town that would contain the governing offices, and it was named Poplar Bluff for the beautiful poplar trees that abundantly grew there. Now with a name for their community, they set out to build a town, their county seat. By the end of 1850, a town had been started and some 10 families lived in Poplar Bluff. In 1855, the first courthouse was built, and the town continued to grow. Finally, on February 9, 1870, Poplar Bluff was incorporated.