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Colorful Names

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 city names.

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 river.

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 Conway.

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 became Snowball.

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.