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OPINION: What's In A Name

October 7, 2021 at 11:30 a.m.

What's in a name? I, like most folks, take for granted and give little or no thought to the origin of names given to places. Now that I have called McDonald County home for these past many years, I decided it was time to discover how and why it came to be that the towns scattered throughout the Southwest Missouri area were so named. Like other unanswered questions that keep me from my sleep each night, this one had to be laid to rest.

It is commonly agreed upon that the first settlers of McDonald County, other than Native Americans, were the Miller family. In 1827 the North Carolinians, husband Valentine, wife Katy and son Levi left their home and settled in an area of the county known as Elk River Bottom. The family was industrious and, using the copper still which traveled with them, they began to make whiskey. The family later expanded its efforts and started grinding corn.

Many years ago the town of Anderson was overshadowed by Beaver Springs, an area just outside Anderson proper. Beaver Springs was a beautiful area where folks gathered on warm summer days to catch up on the goings-on and snack on homemade fried chicken.

In the year 1887, Robert Anderson came to the area and opened a small country store. That year Anderson really began to grow as the post office was opened. The town boundaries were officially recorded in 1891 when the area was surveyed.

It was the search for oil that first attracted people to the area now called Lanagan. In 1886, the drilling for oil found none of the black gold but rather discovered white sulfur spring water. Following that discovery, other attempts to locate oil resulted in the unearthing of other springs.

A group of men, including a gentleman by the name of T.C. Lanagan, bought the land with the underground springs. Railroad tracks soon found their way to the sparsely populated area which was then aptly called Sulphur Well City. However, when the railroad decided to construct a depot there, a new name was put atop the building. That name was Lanagan.

The town of Jane was an area where, during the 1800s, many names, such as Caverna, came and went. It seems that the establishment of a post office in the year 1882 settled the identity issue once and for all. Samuel L. Ross, along with others, expressed their opinions regarding the naming of the town with the new post office. Ross's submission was ultimately accepted and the town was named after his daughter, Jane.

The railroad employee and businessman from Kansas City was a man with a vision and money. In 1915, he acted on that vision and, on a piece of ground between the towns of Lanagan and Noel, built a lodge. The lodge overlooked Elk River and was advertised as a summer resort for people seeking good fishing and a respite from the hectic city life. The name, well he selected the name Ginger Blue, a Native American chief who lived near the spot in the 1700s. The town of Ginger Blue was incorporated in 1965.

The railroad was also the inspiration and driving force behind the establishment of Goodman. In 1890, the railroad came to the area now known as Goodman. Back then the sign on the train station read, "Erie Station." Eventually, the station was given a new name. It was given the last name of a member of congress, W.H. Wade. Once again the town got a new name. it was called Donahue. The town and more than 2,500 acres were filled with fruit trees so, ultimately, the town got its current name which was that of the president of the Ozark Orchard Company, Lowell Goodman.

There is little doubt when considering how Southwest City got its name. After all, the town is situated in the very most southwest corner of the state. It is a mere 6,600 feet from the cornerstone marker which marks the spot where the borders of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri meet. The town can trace its origins back to 1842 when J.P. LaMance and Burton McGhee first settled there.

Pineville is McDonald County's county seat but it wasn't always so. In 1847 Samuel Burke, the owner of the land now called Pineville, arranged to have a survey conducted. The survey allowed for nine blocks that surrounded a town square. In 1849 there was discussion regarding the location of the new county seat. The two contenders were Rutledge and Pineville.

Rutledge prevailed and the county seat remained there until 1857 when it was relocated to its current location, Pineville. The disagreement became so heated that Colpin Goss was murdered for expressing his opinion on the matter.

Pineville was originally called Maryville but it was discovered that another nearby town had already laid claim to that name. So, in 1849 it was decided that the town would from that moment on be called Pineville. The name Pineville may have been chosen because of a stand of pine trees near the square, although some say it may have been inspired by those who were familiar with Pineville, Kentucky.

Mr. T.A. Marshall was doing alright in his Elk River Township store but he thought he could do better. Eyeing an opportunity for increased business, Marshall saw the path that the railroad took as it laid its steel tracks moving southward. He decided that a new location would better serve his interests so he packed up his inventory and moved to what came to be the city of Noel. Long ago one of the finest buildings in town was the O'Jo Club House. The town of Noel was named after W.B. (Bridges) Noel who, in 1846, built a home near Butler Creek. The pioneer homesteaded 160 acres of beautiful pristine land.

What about the county itself? How did McDonald County get its name? Well, it just so happens that I know the well-deserved answer to that question. McDonald County was named after American Revolutionary War Sergeant Alexander McDonald.

The cities I've mentioned are the incorporated municipalities located within the boundaries of McDonald County. There are other towns such as Powell, Longview, Rocky Comfort and Splitlog. However, they have not chosen to incorporate.

I find that when someone is describing the location, the setting if you will, for a story they are relating to me, they frequently refer to a specific area of the county. I'm sure that some of you are familiar with Coy, Indian Springs, Cyclone and others. I can't tell you how many times someone has said to me; "come on now, you know where I'm talking about, over there near Crystal Springs." I'm quite certain I often have a bewildered and stupid look on my face.

The Ozark Mountains with all the beauty they have to offer pass through McDonald County. The grass-covered valleys are crisscrossed by slowly flowing rivers and streams and all of this beautiful land is home to a small number of good folks. So, when I hear some of those highfalutin' Missouri big-city folks from St. Louis and Kansas City calling us hillbillies; well, it almost makes me want to secede from the danged ole state. But then, as has been said, that's a story for another day.

There you have it; everything you always wanted to know about the place where you live. Well, maybe you weren't dying to receive that much information or, possibly, you really didn't care to know about your hometown. However, as for me, after all is said and done, I'm just a fraction smarter about the county I call home and the towns I often frequent. Oh yeah, now that I've discovered the answers to the previously mentioned unanswered questions, I might be able to get some sleep tonight.

Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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