William Walton McDonald was born to James A. and Lucinda (Hawkins) McDonald on March 24, 1821 in St. Louis County, near Bridgeton. Bridgeton being a rather large area today, a more precise location may be determined from an address W. W. McDonald gave when claiming his 1847 Bounty Land Warrant. That address was Waltonham (see Waltonham maps).
W.W. McDonald's middle name was Walton. There was a James McDonald, possibly his father, who, along with a man named James Walton, were road commissioners and built a 30 feet wide road from Central Tavern in Clayton to a bridge over Coldwater Creek. That road is now Woodson Road in St. Louis County, running through Clayton and Overland. The Waltonham Post Office was chartered in that area in 1828-1843 and again for the period 1845-1861. The conjecture is that William Walton McDonald might have owed his middle name to this father's friend, James Walton.
The McDonald name turns up early in the Pulaski County area. Archibald, James, and John McDonald were operating mills in what was Gasconade County in 1821. It appears James and John were partners in a mill and it might have been on Roubidoux Creek in present day Texas County. Archibald had a mill on the southern part of the Big Piney River in Texas County. Also operating mills on that stretch were John Baldridge, Sylvester Pattie, and Daniel Morgan Boone. Oral history in the McDonald family tells of "three McDonald brothers who came to the US before or during the revolution and fought in the war. William, James and Archibald". They may have relocated to St. Louis from Pennsylvania.
An Archibald McDonald appeared early in the history of Pulaski County. The first Circuit Court convened on August 8, 1833. An indictment was presented against Archibald McDonald "for maiming" William Black. McDonald was the first person in the county to be charged with shooting with the intent to kill, found guilty, was fined and sentenced to "one minute" in the county jail.
Left - W. W. McDonald, ca. 1878, just after the death of his first wife, Mary Jane. -Courtesy of William W. McDonald
In May of 1846, W. W. McDonald joined the Second Missouri Mounted Rifles, led by Colonel Sterling Price, to fight in the Mexican War. By August, the Second Missouri was at Fort Leavenworth on the western frontier. In October, the Missourians were turning Santa Fe into a wild west town.
Private McDonald of Captain John Dent's Company was a farrier. This was mounted army. The farrier cared for the horses and mules. A farrier is something more than a blacksmith. Although he may have shoed the stock, he also carried out veterinary duties. This training would be invaluable for McDonald in his later business venture.
Why would a young man of twenty-five join an army raised by the Governor and the politician Price? There was a mood of expansionism in the country and the Mexicans held those lands south and west of the Louisiana Purchase territories, except for Oregon Territory. Oregon was claimed by the British and the United States. Thousands of men were enlisting to fight the Mexicans who had ambushed a company of soldiers south of the Rio Grand. As an inducement to join this army, the government was offering 160 acres of land in the west (see Bounty Land Warrant).
Besides reasons of country, there were more personal ambitions. War has always been an opportunity for men to seek glory and adventure. McDonald may have been ready to seek his. Company C was commanded by John C. Dent of St. Louis. John Dent was Ulysses S. Grant's brother-in-law. Dent was a ne'er-do-well who hadn't quite found his place in a prosperous and well known St. Louis family. Grant wrote Dent that this might be his chance to make a name for himself. McDonald may have followed the same advice. How well he knew Dent and was influenced by him, we do not know. They did live in the same part of St. Louis County and W. W. followed Dent to New Mexico (see Discharge).
W. W. McDonald made his way to Pulaski County between 1848 and 1850. W.W.'s Land Warrant could be redeemed for land in the West. Land in the East was exempt. Missouri was the West, still the frontier. Whether McDonald turned his Land Warrant into Ozark land at this time is not clear. That he settled in southeastern Pulaski County in Big Piney Township on the Big Piney River is a good bet. McDonalds (Archibald, John, and James) had been on the rivers as early as 1821. Another pair of Scotch-Irish brothers settled on the Big Piney and the spring, resulting mill, and the hollow in which they were located bore their name of McCortney. Alexander McCortney (also spelled McCourtny, McCortney, McCortny) bought a large ebb and flow spring and several hundred acres on the west band of the Big Piney, beginning in 1832 (see McCortney Chain of Title). Located on the next parcel of land upstream was William R. and Peggy McCortney (see James Riden Affadavit for additional McCortney family information).
W. W. McDonald married a McCortney and tried his hand at subsistence farming. The 1850 census shows that he was married to Mary Jane McCortney and they had a daughter, Mary P., who was one month old. Soon, however, he was busy establishing himself in other ways in the early part of the decade.
Farming in McCortney Hollow, although very picturesque, did not fulfill young McDonald's ambitions. Between 1850 and 1852, the family moved to Waynesville. In 1855, he was in a cattle partnership with a man named McKee. McKee proved to be less than honorable. He took cattle to St. Louis, sold them, and kept the money. Apparently, this didn't ruin McDonald on partnership. He and Bland. N. Ballard were in a partnership in 1857, although what kind is not known.
There was only one town in Pulaski County until the railroad finally came in 1869. Waynesville was a small frontier village in the mid-nineteenth century. The county's population in 1860 was 3,835. There were 14 residences in Waynesville in 1860 with 98 citizens plus six slaves. Five of the slaves belonged to Jesse Rayl, who lived next door, on the south, to the Old Stagecoach Stop, or Waynesville House, as it was then probably known. The other slave belonged to Dr. B. G. Lenigow, the only doctor in town.
As the county seat, Waynesville was the place where all legal action occurred. In 1860, the only lawyer listed in the census was V. B. Hill. W. W. McDonald is mentioned as a lawyer in a later news dispatch and Goodspeed's history. In those days, the most expedient way to become an attorney was to "read the law" with an experienced attorney. Certainly that is what W. W. did and most likely with Vandover Berry Hill. Further testament to Hill's influence is the fact that W. W. named a son, born in 1886, Vandover Berry Hill McDonald (see List of Children).W. W. was licensed as an attorney during the Civil War but apparently didn't actively pursue that vocation.
William Walton McDonald was not a physically imposing man, being five feet, seven-and-a-half inches tall, with light complexion, dark eyes, and sandy hair. He must have been impressive in other ways, projecting competence and inspiring trust. After only two years in the area, William W. McDonald became Circuit Clerk and County Clerk in August of 1852. V. B. Hill was also the Sheriff at this time. These important county offices required a more than average degree of literacy for the time and some knowledge of the law. That he gained these public offices after such a short residency is remarkable. His status as a veteran may have had something to do with it. The influence of the McCortneys may have been another factor. Certainly, he was recognized as a man of ability and trust. He was Circuit Clerk until 1865 and was also County Clerk until 1864, as well as Postmaster from 1856 to 1859.
The County Clerk's official duties included more than just signing papers and keeping track of county business during the 1850's. In 1855, the County Court ordered McDonald to be agent for the care of the courthouse. It was ordered that he "shall set the doors wide for the exercise of religious worship, at any time when there are no legal proceedings in progress in said house, to all denominations who believe in the doctrines set forth in the Holy Scriptures." However, "a ball or dancing party, or exhibitory show...shall pay $2.50 in advance...". The County Clerk was responsible for opening and closing the building and looking after its care.
In addition to taking care of the courthouse, McDonald had a family. In 1850, McDonald was supporting his wife, Mary Jane, and an infant daughter, Mary Permelia. He was twenty-nine years old and his wife eighteen. Another daughter, Isabella Adeline, was born in 1853. Daughters Olivia (1857) and Lucinda (1860) followed. With a career blossoming in politics and law, responsibilities at the courthouse, and a young family, W. W. needed to be close to his work. These county jobs did not pay much. W. W. needed to augment his income, stay close to the square, and utilize the skills that he had.