Located where the Missouri prairie meets the Ozark Mountains and dissected by the Osage River, this area first provided plentiful game along its bluffs and timber covered hills to a number of Indian tribes, including the Delaware, Shawnee, Kickapoo, and Sac. By far; however, the land was occupied by the Osage Indians, from which the river would later take its name.
White explorers first came to the area in 1719 and by the early 1800s, hunters, trappers, and traders were also reaping the rewards of the region. By 1820, a number of Kentucky and Tennessee farmers of English, Irish and German descent were calling the area home.
The Osage River quickly made the region a crossroads of travel and freighting and before long small riverboats were sailing up the river with supplies from St. Louis, and returning with meat, furs, grain, eggs, and whiskey, and other products.
In January 1835 the county was officially formed and commissioners were appointed to locate the new county seat as near the center of the county and the Osage River as best could be found. After a two year battle between various settlements and trading places, most specifically between Fristoe and Warsaw, the latter won the race and business of running the county began.
Over the next several decades, Benton County would be the center of a number of violent events, including a family feud that erupted into what is known as the “Slicker War,” and numerous conflicts between its own residents when the Civil War broke out.
In April 1861, a crowd of citizens raised a rebel flag on the east side of the courthouse lawn in Warsaw. However, two months later, the State of Missouri would join the conflict on the side of the Union, even though Missouri was primarily composed of Confederate sympathizers. This created numerous battles within its own state, often between people who had formerly been friends.
Quickly, a regiment of Union soldiers called the Benton County Missouri Home Guards was established on June 13, 1861. Made up of a number of Missourians primarily of German descent, they would see combat just six days later at the Battle of Cole Camp.
After the war, the county settled down as a number of small communities prospered, especially as the Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Reservoir were established.
Today, with Benton County’s long history of everything from Indians, to vigilante groups, and Civil War battles, it should come as no surprise that numerous people have described having seen long dead spirits roaming throughout the area.
Warsaw was named the Benton County Seat in 1838 but got its start as early as 1820 when Lewis Bledsoe established a ferry across the Osage River. It quickly became a crossroads community where numerous freight wagons, stagecoaches, and wagon trains passed through. Later, it was the center of the “Slicker War” and was devastated and burned during the Civil War.
Reports of ghosts that continue to roam Warsaw include a number of soldiers, both Union and Confederate, strolling within the town’s limits, as well as also along the shores of the two area lakes that surround Warsaw. One of these phantoms is reported to have a sizeable hole through his torso.
At the Bledsoe Ferry Public Use area, an old skipper has often been spied. Though his history is unknown, witnesses describe him as looking menacing.
Other stranger reports include a woman with a knife sticking out of her head, has been spied riding a horse along a highway near Warsaw. Two more women, one described as looking like an elderly sorceress, and a lady in flames have also been seen.
At Warsaw’s old cemetery, a young woman wearing a long bloody dress has been spied walking through the graveyard.
More Civil War soldiers have been spied in Lincoln, some 13 miles north of Warsaw. Near Karr Lake Dam, the phantom of a long-dead hunter has been spied dragging a dead moose in the early morning hours. Described as being terribly mangled, this particular phantom is seemingly one of the most active in the area. At Timberline Lake, the spirit of a shackled woman has been spied at the water’s edge.
East of Lincoln at Kyle Lake Dam, a lumberjack, wielding a large ax has been spied usually around midnight. His large bulk and weapon have frightened a number of witnesses over the years.
At Cole Camp, the ghost of a long-dead aircraft pilot has often been seen near a stream at Bauer Branch in the early morning hours. Allegedly, this is the spirit of a former Cole Camp resident. The reported phantom allegedly throws rocks and has been known to approach those who see him.
We’re surprised that we haven’t heard any reports of phantom Civil War soldiers here, the site of the June 1861 Battle of Cole Camp, that took the lives of 35 Union and 6 Confederate soldiers.
At the Bethel Campground Cemetery, southeast of Warsaw, witnesses say that at night, voices can be heard and blue light has been seen floating. As to the validity of any of these reports, we can only speculate.
However, Legends of America has had our own experiences at our lake cabin on the Lake of the Ozarks channel near Warsaw. Here, a psychic friend has often seen a man dressed in blue appearing at the foot of the bed. She sensed his name is Charles. Though this phantom could be that of either a Riverboat Captain or a soldier, interestingly, we found a Union soldier named Charles that had gone missing in Benton County early during the Civil War. Might his remains be hidden somewhere near this home?
Our psychic friend also sensed the spirit of a prankish little girl and we can certainly testify to the fact that “something” consistently seems to play pranks in this home. Appliances often turned on and off by themselves, large glassed-in picture frames tumble from walls, but never broke, and sounds of a fire coming from the fireplace could often be heard, when there has been no fire for months. Other strange phenomena include unexplainable sounds, including large crashing noises, when nothing had fallen, furniture that seemingly moves around on its own, and a television that turns on by itself. Since the complete renovation of our lake cabin in 2009, these “experiences” have ceased.
© Kathy Weiser, Legends of America, updated October 2019.