Ozark County History
MOGenWeb Site, Johnna Quick -- Coordinator
Ozark County, 1841-1864
Ozark County was created by a legislative act of the Eleventh General Assembly of Missouri, approved January 29, 1841, twenty years after Missouri had attained statehood. Its boundaries were defined as follows:
“Beginning at the south east corner of Taney County, thence east with the State line to a point where the same crosses the ridge dividing the waters of Bennett’s Bayou, Spring, Eleven Points and Current Rivers; thence in a northwardly direction along said range line north to the township line dividing townships 27 and 28; thence west with said township line to the range line dividing 16 and 17; thence south with said range line to the place of beginning.”
The Eighteenth General Assembly redefined the boundaries of the county, December 7, 1855, as follows:
“Beginning at a point on the south boundary line of this State, where the range line dividing ranges sixteen and seventeen strikes the same; thence east with the State line to a point where the same crosses the ridge dividing the waters of Bennett’s Bayou, Spring, Eleven Points and Current rivers; thence in a northwardly direction along said ridge; to the range line dividing ranges 9 and 10; thence with said range line north, to the township line dividing (townships) 27 and 28; thence west with said township line to the southwest corner of section 34, township 28, range 16; thence south, to the township line dividing townships 26 and 27, range seventeen; thence south, to the place of beginning.”
Rockbridge, located on Bryant Fork a few miles north of present-day Gainesville and settled during the late 1830s, became the county seat of the territory because it was situated in a yellow pine forest, a natural resource that attracted many of the early settlers. It had the advantage also of being centrally located. A post office, discontinued during the Civil War, was established July 16, 1842.
On February 6, 1841, Governor Thomas Reynolds appointed Ranson Philpot sheriff of the county; and James Stumphill, Thomas Jones, and John Young were appointed justices of the county court. Elections were called, and Elijah H. Hudson was elected the county’s first representative to the Missouri House of Representatives. Pleasant J. M’Cullough was chosen tax collector.
The county court system of administrative board was operative in Missouri counties in 1841 when Governor Reynolds made the appointments for Ozark County. Missouri had three times adopted and abandoned the justice of the peace system of an administrative board, but it was destined to appear again under special laws. From 1847 to 1851 provision was made for this system in nine different counties; and in four of them, Dallas, Dunklin, Hickory, and Ozark counties, it was made mandatory. The justice of the peace system was established in Ozark County on March 3, 1851. It soon became unpopular and drew strong criticism throughout Missouri. The system allowed the state legislature to enact laws to meet local needs and, it was felt, to meddle in local affairs for political reasons. Goodspeed was quoted as criticizing the system as follows:
“This form of government soon became unpopular, as it should be, for the reason that three competent men can dispatch the people’s business much more rapidly and at much less expense, than a crowd of a dozen men… A body large enough for a legislature is certainly unnecessary and more unwieldy than is the county court.”
The justice of the peace in the hills did not always know how much authority he had, nor was he always certain of where his duties lay. Turnbo related the story, told to him by F. M. Smith of Pontiac, of a justice of the peace who sentenced a man to two years in the Missouri penitentiary for stealing his neighbor’s bacon and ordering the constable to conduct the thief to the state prison before realizing that he had gone beyond his authority. The justice sent a runner to overtake the constable with orders to bring the prisoner back for a new hearing.
Due to the unpopularity of the justice of the peace system, the General Assembly passed a law, February 12, 1853, which re-instituted the county court system in Ozark County, and divided the county into three districts for the election of judges. The districts were (No. 1) Cass, Clinton, and Richland townships; (No. 2) Boone, Jackson, and Bridges townships; and (No. 3) Benton, Marion, and Jasper townships. The Governor commissioned three men to fill the offices of county judge until elections were held the following year.
When the county was organized in 1841, it was given a well-known but bewildering name. The question as to the origin of the word “Ozark” has been one for debate among citizens of Ozark County, the Ozark Highlands, and other places of that name, for many years; and the mystery still has not been solved conclusively. Robert L. Ramsey, an authority on Missouri place names, stated that “Ozark” was in use before the 1800s; but he did not give the source for this information. It is known that the word was in use as early as 1805. In that year Thomas Ashe, an English traveler, visited the “post of the Osark [Arkansas] Post on the Arkansas River.” He commented:
“In the pioneer days the names “Arkansas” and “Ozark” were used interchangeably, and were applied to the Arkansas River, its drainage basin, the island north of it, and the post near its mouth. The region first received a distinctive name in its most rugged portion, although this was not the first part to be explored nor to be settled.”
Fortescue Cuming, a traveler and writer, who toured the west in 1807-1809, mentioned the “Poste Aux Arkansas” and noted seeing “Ozark Island”, an island in the Mississippi River, and the “settlement of Arkansas or Ozark.” Christian Schultz, a German traveler who toured the west in 1807-1808, mentioned the “Ozark Indians”. Another traveler who journeyed through the area in 1809, John Bradbury, wrote: “I had intended to remove from the St. Louis to Ozark (or more properly, Aux Aucs) on the Arkansas…” In 1819 Nuttall noted that “the aboriginies of this territory, now commonly called the Arkansas or Quapaws and Osarks, do not at this time number more than about two hundred warriors.” In describing the Quapaws, Nuttall stated:
“The name Akansa or Arkansa, as I have been generally assured by the natives of this territory, is now, I am persuaded, scarcely ever employed; they generally call themselves O-quah-pa or Osark, from which last epithet, in all probability, has been derived the name of the river and its people; indeed, I have heard old French residents in this country term it Riviere des Arks or d’osark.”
Later he wrote: “About noon we landed at one of the Quapaw or Osark villages, but found only three houses constructed of bark, and those unoccupied.” That same day he noted: “This evening we were visited by three young men, a boy, and a squaw of the Osarks, a band of the Quapaws.”
William Darby (1775-1854), a Pennsylvania geographer who helped survey the boundary between the United States and Canada, published a gazetteer in 1833 in which he stated that “Ozark” was a provincial vulgarism, the hunter’s name for Arkansas. He stated that the name was given to the [-zs--rne] Mountains, located between the Arkansas and Red rivers, by some writers and map makers. George Featherstonbaugh, recording incidences of his scientific tour through the Ozarks in 1834-1835, spoke of the word “Ozarks” as a corruption of the French phrase “Aux Arcs” which was, according to him, an abbreviation of “aux Arkansas”. Schoolcraft, in his work published in 1853, stated that “the term appears to me to be compounded from Osage and Arkansas.”
A. M. Haswell, an Ozark historian, reiterated Featherstonbaugh’s interpretation and wrote that the word was begun by the French, who, when going to the Arkansas Mountains, used the phrase, “Aux Arcs”. Ward Dorrance, in his book Three Ozark Streams, commented:
“It was the custom among the colonists to abbreviate geographical and tribal names: hence les Cahokias became les Cahos; les Kaskaskias, les Kas. Similarly, les Arkansas gave les Arcs. And in the French archives kept at the Jefferson Memorial in St. Louis I frequently find the phrase Aux Arcs, meaning on the river, at the post, or in the country of the Arkansas.”
George R. Stewart, in his book Names on the Land, wrote: “….during these years the French, like the English, filled the map with hundreds of little names in all the usual ways. Even more than the English, they liked to clip the long Indian names saying Pe’ for Peonarea, Moin for Moingona, Ark for Arkansas, and Ka for Kansas. So it happens that the Kansas River is--Kaw, and from a phonetic English spelling of the phrase “Aux Arks” came Ozark.”
In the Handbook of American Indians, Frederick Webb Hodge noted that the word “Ozark” was a gentes of the Quapaw language and that the term was “at one time applied to a local band of Quapaw, from their residence in the Ozark Mountain region of Missouri and Arkansas.” He wrote that the spelling “Ozark” was an American rendering of the French “Aux Arcs”, intended to designate the early French post among the Arkansas (Quapaw), about the present Arkansas Post, Arkansas. John F. McDermott wrote in his book Glossary of Mississippi Valley French that “(Les) Arcs” meant “to the Arkansas country” and that “Aux Arcs” meant “the Arkansas, in the Arkansas Country, or at the Poste des Arkansas.”
A completely different translation of “Aux Arcs” was given by Thwaites in an editor’s footnote in Edwin James’ account of Long’s expedition. Thwaites stated that “Ozark” was a corruption of the French “Aux Arcs”, meaning “with bows” and was applied to the Indians of Missouri and Arkansas. A writer for the Kansas City Times also translated the phrase to mean “with bows”. According to the Times, “Aux Arcs” was descriptive of a band of Quapaw Indians who inhabited the highland region of Missouri and Arkansas and was equivalent to the English term “bow carriers”.
One theory presented by Thomas Beveridge in an article in the Ozark Mountaineer was that “Ozark” was derived from the French expression “bois Aux Arcs”, translated “wood for bows”, which was applied to the Indians that came to the area for wood to make their bows. According to this theory, the expression “bois Aux Arcs” was contracted to “Aux Arcs” and then anglicized to the modern spelling. Beveridge noted that the Osage Orange Tree, because of its properties as a bow wood, was also called “Bois aux Arcs”. Another translation was presented by David Eaton, an authority on Missouri place names. Eaton translated “Aus Arcs” to mean “the mountains at the bends of the river.” He stated that the expression referred to the bends in the White River and were applied to the Ozark Mountains.
An entirely different theory as to the origin of the word “Ozark” was presented by the Reverend W. H. Yount in a newspaper article published by the Barnard, Missouri, Bulletin in 1926. This explanation of the word dealt with the lead mining in southeast Missouri and what Yount called the theory of the Neptunian or Aqueous origin of certain rocks. According to Reverend Yount, this geological theory was promoted by a German geologist, Abraham Gottleb Werner (1750-1817), at the time Frenchmen were going to the mines of Southeast Missouri. According to Yount, Werner placed the rock formations of the earth into a few general classifications, among which were the “Azoic Rocks”. Yount wrote that the earliest French geologists found, after exploring the area, that the “Azoic Rocks” of the granite mountains of Southeast Missouri formed a great circle, roughly fifty miles in diameter. The French discovered that the mines worth working were located on the east and north segment of the “Azoic Circle”, forming an arc. Yount stated that “Azoic Arc Mountains” was a resultant phrase, and this phrase was clipped by the Anglo Saxons to “Ozark”. He also wrote that the name “Ozark” was originally applied to the St. Francis Mountains of Southeast Missouri.
Another explanation, one that is very simple, is that a mother calling her son named “Zark” (Oh, Zark! Oh, Zark!) from the field gave rise to the name. This theory (?) was suggested by the Chamber of Commerce of Ozark, Alabama, in a pamphlet entitled “Briefs about Ozark and Dale County, Alabama”. The pamphlet did supply an alternative solution, however, and that was that the town was named after an Indian tribe.
All research has pointed to the Long expedition as the first to apply the name “Ozark” to the mountains of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas. This was done between 1817 when the group first entered the Ozark region and 1820, the year of their return to the Mississippi River. At one point James noted: “…we were now at the base of that interesting group of hills, to which we have attained to give the name of the almost extinct tribe of the Ozarks…” At another time he referred to the Ozark Mountains as “an appellation by which the Arkansas River was formerly distinguished, as also the tribe of Indians, since denominated the Quapaws, inhabiting near that river.” Although James referred to the Ozark Mountains as “a hilly region not entitled to the name mountains”, he placed the name on a map of the region which was published in An Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains in 1823. James noted that the elevation of the mountains had not yet been ascertained.
For some reason unknown, Ozark County’s name was changed February 22, 1843. “Ozark” was discarded, and the county was renamed “Decatur” in honor of the naval captain of the Tripolitan War Stephen Decatur (1779-1820). The citizens of the county later protested via petition, however, asking that the name “Decatur” be dropped and the name “Ozark” be restored. Since the name “Decatur” had been given to the county “contrary to the wishes of the people”, the legislature changed the name back to “Ozark”, March 24, 1845.
The people of Ozark County were to see other changes during the few years prior to the Civil War. Two partitions of the county were made by the General Assembly in 1857; and as a result, the three northern and two eastern tiers of townships, including a major part of the yellow pine forests, were taken away, reducing the county to its present size. Rockbridge, which prior to the partitions had had the advantage of occupying a centralized county location, suddenly found itself on the northern boundary. The first partition was made in March, 1857, when Howell County, named in honor of Josiah Howell who settled at the “town spring” around 1840, was formed on the east. The western boundary of Howell County was defined November 21, 1857:
“That the range line dividing range ten and eleven west, commencing at the State line of Arkansas, thence north, with said range line, to the township line dividing township twenty-seven and twenty-eight, shall be the line dividing the county of Howell from Ozark and Douglas counties.”
The second partition was made October 19, 1857. On that date Douglas County was formed out of that part of Ozark County which lay north of the lines dividing Townships 24 and 25. Douglas County did not have a large enough population to entitle it to a representative to the General Assembly; and as a result, it was attached to Ozark County for representative purposes until it could select its own assembly man. By 1867, ten years later, the population had become large enough to meet the constitutional requirement and the county was allowed a separate representative.
Douglas and Howell counties were formed as a result of the need for a faster, less expensive, and more convenient local administrative setup. Because of the remoteness of the region and the difficulties associated with travel in the hills, and because the population had continued to grow, it had become increasingly more difficult for one county government to serve such a large area. From the beginning tax collections were inefficient, and as late as 1859, after Douglas and Howell counties were formed, they were four years in arrears.
The state law required that county seat towns or cities be centrally located, and as a result of the partitionment, Rockbridge was conspicuously off-center. To solve this problem five men, John Ray, Jr., Josiah Wheat, James Howell, William Phebus of Taney County, and James Arnold, a surveyor from Greene County, were commissioned to select a new county seat location. Meanwhile, the county and circuit court meetings were to be held at the William Holt residence. The commissioners were not long in doing their job. In November of 1858 Josiah Wheat, the county judge, reported to the county court meeting that fifty acres of land had been acquired at the present site of Gainesville; and in February, 1860, the circuit court meetings were held in Gainesville in February, May, and August of that year. A post office was established June 12, 1860. All research pointed to Sheriff C. D. Cain as being the first person to buy a lot at Gainesville. This lot, lot 18, was sold for five dollars in December, 1860, by James Howell. Sheriff Cain was a farmer from St. Ledger (Udall), the largest town in the county in 1860, and had served as county tax collector earlier.
It is not known how Gainesville got its name. Three theories were presented by the Ozark County Times in 1961. The Times wrote:
“Cal Hoggard, well-versed in the history of Gainesville and Ozark County, says that some time ago a certain lady, whose name he does not remember, visited this area and talked to him for some length of time. He says that she told him the town was named for one of her ancestors, a “Doctor Gaines”. But Mr. Hoggard says, he knows of no definite proof for the ladie’s claim.
Jack Smith, the oldest living pioneer in the Zanoni community says that he thinks the town may be named for “a man named Gaines” who had a little store here real early in the county’s history. But Mr. Smith cannot recall if this Gaines was here before 1860 when the town was named. Mr. Smith’s grandfather, Isaac Workman owned the first land where Gainesville is now located….”
The census reports for 1840 (Taney County), 1850, and 1860 do not list a Gaines as having lived in the county; and the same failed to turn up in the county records examined.
In 1961 the Ozark County Times commented that the town was probably named for Gainesville, Georgia. Much earlier, in 1916, David Eaton, an authority on Missouri place names, wrote that Gainesville was named in honor of the town in Georgia; but oddly enough, he misspelled the name, leaving out the “I”. The late John C. Harlin, Gainesville banker, stated that the town was named for Gainesville, Georgia, and that many of the early settlers were from that state. The 1850 government census reports, the first available reports for Ozark County, show, however, that out of a total population of 2,294, slaves included, only twenty-seven persons were born in Georgia. The reports for 1860 reveal that only thirty-two persons then living in the county were born in Georgia, and the reports for 1870 and 1880 do not list any person as having been born in that state.
According to the Times, Gainesville, Georgia, was named to honor General Edmund Pendleton Gaines. The Times wrote:
“Gainesville, the seat of Hall County Georgia, founded in 1821; Gainesville, the seat of Cooke County, Texas, settled during 1850 to 1873; and Gainesville, the seat of Alachua County, Florida, settled during 1854-1869, were all named for Gen. Edmund Pendleton Gaines (1777-1849).”
Information on the life of Edmund P. Gaines, obtained from the Dictionary of American Biography, shows that he was, indeed, an accomplished man. Born in Virginia and reared in North Carolina and Tennessee, Gaines joined the army at an early age and made it a career, taking time out at different periods in his life to practice law and work as a surveyor. At the age of twenty, the army promoted him to lieutenant; and from 1801 to 1804 he was engaged in surveying the road, named after him, from Nashville to Natchez. It was he that made the arrest of Aaron Burr. As a result of his heroism in the battle of Chrysler’s Field and the defense of Fort Erie during the War of 1812, he was promoted to brigadier-general with a Major-General’s brevet. He was awarded a congressional gold medal and received thanks from five states and swords from Virginia, New York, and Tennessee. He was engaged with Andrew Jackson in the Creek and Seminole Wars and later took part in the Black Hawk War, 1832, the Florida Indian War, 1835, and the war with Mexico. At the outbreak of the war with Mexico, he was placed in command of the Western Department of the Army. As a result of his having called troops from Alabama, Mississippi, and Missouri, supposedly without the authority to do so, he had to face a court martial trial. He was cleared, however, and later placed in command of the Eastern Department of the Army.
There can be little doubt that General Gaines was a well-known figure in the South. The Times summed it up: “Missouri pioneers who came from the southern states were familiar with the accomplishments of Gen. Gaines. Some having traveled the Gaines Trace, others having known of him through their service in the Black Hawk War and in the Mexican War.”
As was stated earlier, the origin of the name Gainesville has not been established conclusively. Since the “founding fathers” left no record of the naming of the new county seat, it can be assumed perhaps that the naming of the town was not then considered to be of prime importance. The primary concern of the founders was the establishment of a centrally located county seat. Once that job was accomplished, they could expect continued growth and a marked increase in the efficiency of the county’s administrative board. It is not known whether they then foresaw the coming of the Civil War and the chaos it was to bring.
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