The first Circuit Court met in a log cabin one mile east of West Plains, according to an 1876 account. A small, wooden courthouse was built on the square in West Plains in 1859. It was damaged during the Confederate War, in 1862. In the fall of 1863, guerrillas burned West Plains, devastating the community. Not one person remained. The county was reorganized three years later, but all of the county records were destroyed in an 1866 fire.
A second courthouse was built in West Plains in 1869. It was a small, three-room, frame building, about 24 by 30 feet.
There were 14,762 households out of which 32.70% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 58.80% were married couples living together, 9.90% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.10% were non-families. 25.00% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.30% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.47 and the average family size was 2.94.
In the county the population was spread out with 26.00% under the age of 18, 7.80% from 18 to 24, 26.20% from 25 to 44, 23.30% from 45 to 64, and 16.80% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 93.60 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.50 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $25,628, and the median income for a family was $30,534. Males had a median income of $22,960 versus $16,968 for females. The per capita income for the county was $13,959. About 14.00% of families and 18.70% of the population were below the poverty line, including 26.30% of those under age 18 and 14.00% of those age 65 or over.