Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A County By Any Other Name

Recently I wrote about towns throughout the Missouri Ozarks that changed their names at one time or another in their history. A fair number of counties in the region have also changed their names.
Present-day Camden County was organized in January 1841 and named Kinderhook County in honor of President Martin Van Buren’s residence, Kinderhook, New York. Van Buren, however, had recently suffered a crushing defeat in his 1840 bid for re-election, and his popularity continued to wane. Kinderhook County was accordingly renamed Camden County in 1843 in honor of England’s Earl of Camden. Oregon, the original county seat, was renamed Erie at the same time. Later, the county seat was moved to Linn Creek. The sites of both Erie and Linn Creek were inundated by construction of the Lake of the Ozarks in 1929. Another Linn Creek was formed to replace the old one, but the new, competing town of Camdenton was named the county seat. Martin Van Buren fell into such disfavor that Van Buren County, which was also named after the president, was rechristened Cass County near the same time Kinderhook County became Camden. (An interesting sidelight to this story is that supporters of President Van Buren used the slogan “Old Kinderhook” during his bid for re-election, and the expression was often shortened to O.K., which is thought to be the derivation of the American idiom “okay.”)
The county we know today as Dallas was organized as Niangua County in the early 1840s (exact date seems to be in question). It was formed from territory taken primarily from Polk County. The name of Niangua County was changed to Dallas County in December of 1844 in honor of vice-president-elect George M. Dallas. The naming decision was perhaps influenced by the fact that the progenitor county, Polk, had been named for the president-elect, James Knox Polk, almost ten years earlier when Polk was a congressman from Tennessee.
Ozark County was formed in 1841 from Taney County. At the time, it included most of present-day Douglas and Howell counties. Ozark County was renamed Decatur in 1843 after Decatur, Georgia, at the request of some the county’s residents, who had migrated from Georgia. In 1845, the named was changed back to Ozark.
Present-day Texas County was formed in 1843 from Shannon and Wright counties and named Ashley County after William Henry Ashley, a well-known fur trader during Missouri’s territorial days and later its first lieutenant governor. In February 1845, the county was renamed Texas in honor of the Republic of Texas. Texas had not yet been admitted to the Union at the time, but a congressional act authorizing its admission was imminent. So, the fact that Texas County was the largest county in the state, just as Texas would soon become the largest state in the Union, might have influenced the naming decision. In 1846, Houston was laid out as the county seat and named after Sam Houston, who was a leader of the Texas revolution, the republic’s first president, and one of the state’s first two U.S. senators.
Such renaming of counties, of course, has not been limited just to Missouri’s part of the Ozarks. Marion County, Arkansas, for instance, was formed from Izard County in 1835 as Marion County, but the name was immediately changed to Searcy County by the Arkansas General Assembly. In 1836, the county petitioned for the name to revert to Marion, and the General Assembly agreed. Marion County is named in honor of Revolutionary War general Francis Marion, known as the swamp fox.


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