Arkansas's Unusual Town Names Amuse Some, Intrigue Others
With an array of communities such as Hogeye, Greasy Corner, Ink,
Snowball, Romance, Apt, and Smackover, Arkansas may seem to have a monopoly on funny
Hardly. The state's southwestern neighbors in Texas have have funny town names,
such as Grit, Noodle, Cut and Shoot. Remote and Boring are small towns in Oregon.
Eden and Hell are just a few miles apart in Michigan; and even uptown New York has an
Owl's Head and Hoosick.
While some people, especially visitors, are amused by the
state's unusual town names, others are attempting to learn and record how communities
and landmarks received their identities. In Sharp County, for example, the local
historical society is engaged in writing histories about every community and school site
within its boundaries.
With over 1,300 cities, towns and communities listed on
the official Arkansas highway map, the state has perhaps 1,000 other places too small to
list. Thus, some of the most colorful and locally important places are in danger of being
lost to history.
It's clear that a majority of Arkansas places are named
for individuals. Everyone from presidents to preachers, and postmasters to prominent
ladies have been honored. Of the state's 75 counties, 60 are named for national or local
dignitaries. Among those, Arkansas has a county named for the man who introduced the
poinsettia flower to America (Poinsett). There's also one named for a tree (Lonoke, short
for Lone Oak).
A few Arkansas towns have "coined" names,
derived from parts of other names. Texarkana, for example, was created from parts of the
names of Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. A surveyor for a railroad crew is credited with
assigning this unusual town name. However, it is claimed that a steamboat operating on the Red River
carried that name long before the railroad arrived in 1873.
Paragould, in northeast Arkansas, has the distinction of being named for two railroad officials. Mr.
Paramore was president of the St. Louis A & T, and Mr. Gould was president of the Iron
Mountain and Southern when the two railroads met at the site in 1882. City fathers
combined the names in an attempt to make both happy.
Arkansas's wealth of mineral resources also apparently
helped in naming Bauxite, Marble, Limedale, Zinc, Coal Hill, Onyx, and Lead Hill.
Calamine, in Sharp County, was a zinc mining town before and after the Civil War. Surface
deposits of zinc oxide and ferric oxide (commonly called calamine) brought about this funny city name.
Oddly, the state's important petroleum industry had nothing to do with the naming of Oil Trough in
Independence County. In 1811, a band of hunters camped along the White River and staged
bear hunts into the dense canebrakes that covered hundreds of acres in the area. Over 100
bears were killed and soon the hunters ran out of a place to store the oil, which was a
valued commodity on the world market at that time. Huge trees were cut and fashioned into
troughs to hold the oil until shipment could be arranged downstream. The abandoned troughs
marked the campsite for years afterwards and became a landmark for persons traveling the
De Queen and Mena are probably the only towns in Arkansas
named for a married couple. Jan (John) DeGoeijen, a native of Holland, was an official of
the Kansas City Southern Railroad when the line was extended through western Arkansas to
Texas in the late 19th century. De Queen was a rather poor attempt at anglicizing
DeGoeijen, according to Dutch-speaking historians. DeGwen would have been closer to the
correct pronunciation. Mena, founded along the same railway in Polk County, was named in
honor of DeGoeijen's wife.
Arkansas also has two towns named for the same person.
Clinton, founded in the early 1840s, and DeWitt, established about ten years later, were
both named for New York Governor DeWitt Clinton. Clinton's fame had spread across the land
because he was a leader in building the Erie Canal.
In honor of the Native Americans who once called Arkansas
home, a number of the state's communities bear funny town names reflecting that heritage, among them
Omaha, Choctaw, Caddo Gap, Osage, Chickalha, Pocahontas and Ouachita. Arkansas Post, the
first European settlement in the lower Mississippi Valley, was named for the Quapaws who
provided the fort site in 1686.
The French influence during the 1700s is retained in such names as Bayou
Meto, the L'Anguille River, Terre Rouge Creek, Maumelle, Petit Jean and others. French
explorer Benard de La Harpe is credited with naming Little Rock in 1722 when he led a
party of soldiers up the Arkansas River in search of an "emerald stone," which
Indians said existed along the river's shoreline. La Harpe quickly determined that it was
only a green-colored rock outcropping, but named it "la petite roche" and the
name persisted almost a century before a town was established at the site. Other accounts
claim that he named the stone the "little rock" in contrast to a mammoth bluff
farther upstream at a bend in the river (today the site of Fort Roots Veterans Hospital).
Calico Rock, on the White River in Izard County, is
another landmark named by rivermen. The multi-colored limestone bluffs, painted by
minerals in the water that trickled down the sheer cliffs, reminded pioneers of the
colorful material used in making frontier clothing in the 1800s.
Toad Suck, which probably ranks at the top of the Natural State's most unusual town names, was a legendary steamboat
landing on the Arkansas River. The site reportedly had a popular tavern where liquor
flowed freely. A popular legend says the rivermen would "suck whiskey until they
swelled like toads." Another less colorful theory says the name is derived from a
French term meaning "a narrow channel in the river." The name continues today as
a U.S. Corps of Engineers Lock and Dam, a bridge, and as a popular May festival in nearby
Some names happen by
accident or mistake. When William E. Lynch opened his new trading post in 1846, tradition
says he accidentally dropped some cotton seeds while carrying provisions into the new
business. The seeds sprouted and matured in view of Mr. Lynch's customers, who started
calling it the "Cotton Plant" store. This funny town name name
became official when the post office was opened at Cotton Plant in 1853.
A misunderstanding by the postal department reportedly
resulted in the naming of a small community in Searcy County. In the late 1880s, local
citizens wanted to honor Ben Snow for his contributions to the area. They petitioned
Washington for the name "Snow Hall," but somewhere along the paper trail it
Pleasant Hill was the choice for a new post office in
Stone County back in 1905. However, the postal authorities rejected that name because
Arkansas already had a Pleasant Hill. The second choice was the number of the local school
district and it was accepted. That's how the town of Fifty-Six got its name. Izard County
also has a number for a community. Forty-Four post office opened in 1928 and served a
rural area for more than 30 years. It is said that 44 names appeared on the petition to
the postal department, thus the name.
Pine Ridge may be the only town in America named by a
radio show. It was called Waters until the "Lum and Abner" show started using
the names of real people and places in the Montgomery County village. Store owner Dick
Huddleston and others capitalized on the publicity and had the name changed to conform
with the mythical place created by the comics from Mena.
Slashes in the trunk of a huge tree on the banks of the
St. Francis River marked a safe crossing place for Indians and early pioneers in eastern
Arkansas. Some say the tree also indicated the best place for rivermen to portage their
canoes and small boats across a narrow stretch of land to another navigable stream. A town
called Marked Tree developed near the blazed tree, which stood until washed away by a
flood in 1890.
Short names often spark the greatest interest. Apt, Ink,
and Gid are examples. When railroad crews designated a junction site in Craighead County
well over a century ago, local farmers wondered about a name. One man quipped that the
"railroad people will be apt to name it." The name Apt stuck. A few men were
gathered in an Izard County country store in 1888, arguing over a name for their proposed
post office. Finally they agreed to name it for the next person to enter the business.
"Gid" Bruce provided the funny city name for Gid, Arkansas.
Local tradition says that a Polk County school teacher
sent out notes to patrons requesting possible names for their new post office. Fearing
penciled entries might be difficult to read, she requested that they please "write in
ink." Many did...and Ink was the winner.
Although the state boasts many unusual town names, very
few are unique in the nation. Exceptions include Stamps, Lepanto, and DeQueen. They are
believed to be the only towns so named in America.