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.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Bois D'Arc

Bois D'Arc, Missouri, in western Greene County is an interesting place, because of its name, if for no other reason. Bois D'Arc was named after the bois d'arc or bodark tree, sometimes called the Osage orange because of the large, inedible fruit it bears, or the Hedge apple, because many such trees were used to form windbreaks or hedges. Bois d'arc is French for "wood of the bow," and the bois d'arc tree was used by the Osage Indians in early-day America for making bows. The tree was used extensively for making hedge rows in the Greene County area and elsewhere in the Ozarks at the time Bois D'Arc came into being. Many such trees had been planted, in particular, in the immediate vicinity of the selected site for Bois D'Arc. Thus the name of the tree was adopted as the name of the town.
According to Perry Mason, a longtime resident of Bois D'Arc in 1956 when he wrote a short piece in the Springfield Daily News about how the town got its name, the name was also selected in part because its residents wanted a name that was in keeping with the neighboring towns of Ash Grove and Walnut Grove, which were also named after trees. Mason said Bois D'Arc was founded about the time of the Civil War. Other sources suggest that there was a post office named Bois D'Arc in the area as early as 1847 but that the town was not actually founded until 1872, when a man named John Bymaster moved to the current site of Bois D'Arc and had the post office, which was located a couple of miles to the southeast, moved to the new town, known as New Bois D'Arc at first to distinguish it from the old post office site. By 1876, however, the exact name of the place had apparently still not been settled, because on that year's plat map of Greene County the town that became Bois D'Arc is identified as Little De Bois, meaning Little Woods.
In 1878, the railroad came through Bois D'Arc, and the place began to grow. By 1883, the town boasted five general stores, two drug stores, two blacksmith/repair shops, a carpenter's shop, a shoe shop, a hotel, a Masonic and Odd Fellows' lodge, and one saloon. The only church and the only school were located a couple of miles outside town, but plans were underway to erect both a church house and a school house in the booming little town.
In fact, Bois D'Arc did go on to have a thriving school system for many years, and the high school's athletic teams were quite competitive during the early to mid-1900s. However, the town began to lose population with the emergence of the automobile as the dominant mode of travel, because Bois D'Arc was located on an out-of-the-way county road rather than a main highway. By 1956, when Perry Mason wrote his piece for the Springfield newspaper, the town had dwindled to one grocery store, one filling station, a blacksmith shop, a feed mill, and a drug store, in addition to the school and a church or two. Within a year or two after this, Bois D'Arc lost its high school, when the district consolidated with Ash Grove. Although an elementary school remained at Bois D'Arc, the loss of the high school hastened the town decline, and today little remains at Bois D'Arc except the elementary school, a post office, a fire station, and a few residences.

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