Obscure Historical Quirks

Sandy Jordan

When I read the words “Snake County” I found myself thumbing through the notes lodged in my brain. Nowhere had I heard McDonald County called that. I dug out the reference book my sister, George Pogue and two others had compiled back in 1999. “McDonald County Sesquicentennial Family Histories” I also searched the earliest history of the counties. There were two lines on the internet. A vague note from 1845.

A group of migrants, headed for Texas, were growing tired of traveling. They came to a good place, agreeable to everyone. Here they settled. By the road was a sign that said Mexico, it pointed toward a trail. The town became Mexico, Missouri.

Had someone seen such a sign? Perhaps, it had read snakes and they thought it refereed to the county name? Possibly the sign was illegible, poorly written or the reader not properly schooled? That is one possibility.

I talked to my sister who knows the county history, our genealogy and was born at the right time to know many of our ancient ancestors before they died. She had no knowledge of the reference. She reminded me in big sister mode;”don’t write it off, or call anyone liars. It may be a family reference, or a quote from someone. Don’t ever dismiss an obscure reference, it had its roots somewhere. It may one day surface in a Journal or Bible margin.” (paraphrased)

That fact it may have been a family thing is possible. Everyone I talked to mentioned the ratio of snakes to humans. Someone passing through the county may have encountered numerous copperheads and rattlesnakes. He may have woke-up with one in his bedroll. It is possible he said; “that area is Snake County.” A derogatory remark. Of course the person may have been snake bit and died. His listed place of death,”Snake County.” A tongue in cheek reference to the type of death.

Beyond that obscure speculation is another possibility. There are long standing rumors that there were Herpetologist worship going on in the different hollows. The areas from which many of the people migrated from, was known for such worship.

The speculation about the caves don’t hold water. Caverna was built near a maze of caves. Those caves were utilized by the citizens as places of refuge during the Civil War. If Scavengers, or press crews came into the area...people disappeared into those caves. Press gangs were men who forcibly impressed young men into the army….both sides. If snakes were a problem, the humans would have avoided those caves.

Since the first Davenport, in the early 1840’s, sat ax to tree there has been no verbal reference to “Snake” county. Our people are born story tellers and that obscure bit would have been grist for the mill. Someone else may have heard it, coined it or spoke it but who is obscured by time. It's lost in the swirling mist filled with ghostly riders going from ridge to ridge guarding its people, their right to be free.

- Sandy Jordan is a local writer and a founding member of The Crowder Quill literary magazine. She writes a weekly column, Bits and Pieces, for The Neosho Daily News